This week I’ve spent a lot of time doing radio interviews, as The Sober Revolution and Your 6 Week Plan have both hit the book shops. This little publicity trail has led to me repeating my story over and over again, about how I ran into trouble with the bottle, why I finally made the decision to quit, and why I felt as though this has had to be a choice for life. People are interested in, and keen to understand, why there are some of us who experience a difficult relationship with alcohol while they seem to be able to take it or leave it.
There are a number of different opinions out there with regards to this, ranging from the ‘alcoholism as a disease’ model, to Jason Vale’s interpretation which suggests that anyone who regularly drinks alcohol (even in fairly small amounts) is an alcohol addict (and not an alcoholic), albeit one who is in denial.
My perception of my personal struggles with alcohol has altered quite significantly over the last few years too. For a long time I would just as likely have claimed to be an alcoholic as I would have to be an alien. Then I hit some major problems as a result of alcohol; blackouts became increasingly common, I repeatedly made some stupid life choices (mainly to do with the opposite sex, always when I was drunk) which contributed towards my unhappiness, and I couldn’t seem to escape my small world in which I never seemed to get a break. I didn’t apportion any of these things to my drinking habit for a long time, however, and it wasn’t until I woke up in hospital after a binge that I had the clarity to see what a destructive element of my existence alcohol had become.
At that moment I found it necessary to label myself ‘an alcoholic.’ It was probably linked to the fact that my self-esteem was lower than it had ever been and I needed to punish myself for my last night of boozing. I suppose that labelling myself in that way also helped me to not drink in the early days – raising the seriousness of my ‘condition’ from ‘frequent and heavy drinker’ to ‘alcoholic’ made me all the more sure that I must never touch a drop again.
But then, over time, I felt my brain come back to life and my self-confidence began to grow. As I noticed all the good things that were happening to me, now that I’d put down the bottle, I began to wonder about the label ‘alcoholic’ because I realised that I actually had no desire to drink anymore. How I felt had become so far removed from the language of ‘relapse’, ‘disease’ and ‘one day at a time’ that I felt quite irritated by the idea of pigeon-holing myself as I had done a few months earlier.
What happened was that as my self-esteem grew, so did the notion of personal responsibility and wanting a happy and healthy life for myself. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to destroy all that I had in my life as a non-drinker by pouring that first glass of wine (which for me will always lead to the rest of the bottle and beyond). I equated wine with illness, misery and addiction, and none of those things featured in my life anymore.
Gradually, being alcohol-free morphed into being my choice, and so the idea that I was somehow diseased and would be threatened by temptation for the rest of my days was/is totally bizarre. I don’t wish to make it sound an easy thing to resolve an alcohol dependency – it wasn’t and it took a hell of a lot of soul-searching and emotional pain. But now that the hard bit is over, I feel as though I am reaping the rewards of making the choice to stop drinking – which, in my opinion, is a far healthier way of looking at things than sticking the label of ‘alcoholic’ on my head and worrying about booze for the rest of my days.