It was my birthday a couple of days ago; thirty-nine, the final one of my thirties. The decade began with a party at my old house; a little terraced two up, two down, that I bought upon the end of my short-lived marriage. My thirtieth birthday bash was a fancy dress do, the theme being ‘1970s debauchery’. At the start of the evening there was a power cut and my then six-year-old daughter shone a torch on my face in a blackened bedroom as I applied my make-up and set in place a sleek, bright pink wig. An hour later, fairy lights twinkled in celebration of the electricity supply returning, the music grew louder and the booze began to flow. By midnight I was lying in my bed, a bucket strategically positioned adjacent to my head to capture a seemingly never-ending stream of vomit as my guests continued to party hard downstairs without me.
Birthdays that followed have disappeared amongst the broken memory bank of my drinking days. When I look back on the first half of my thirties, I see a fractured person struggling to keep afloat in a world she didn’t understand, seeking comfort in things that could only ever bring about further damage. I see a woman who had no sense of direction beyond the shortest route to the local pub. I see someone who dragged around a heavy burden of secrecy and shame, who thought she was the only one to fall in between the two polar opposites of ‘responsible drinker’ and ‘alcoholic’.
I see a person emotionally frozen in her teens, whose self-awareness was non-existent, and who could not enter into a social situation without an unbending desire to drink and get drunk entering into her consciousness.
Of all the hopes and dreams I played around with in my early thirties, the one thing I never considered was that I might become a non-drinker. My goals were set far beyond what I was ever going to realistically achieve; I spent too much time existing in a fantasy world with my head buried deep in the sand, wildly in denial about the fact that I was, in fact, addicted to alcohol. The decade that began with an extravagant excuse for a monumental piss up, slipped and slurred its way along in a fog of drunkenness and hangovers, and all the while I was enveloped in a very real belief that I was enjoying myself.
Underneath the façade, however, I knew that all was not well. There were countless moments of blackness, when I was drowning in suicidal thoughts and feelings of wanting to depart from the person I had grown into. I hated residing in my own skin, couldn’t bear the knowledge that I really and truly wanted to be someone else.
Midway through my thirties was the pivotal point in my life when I accepted that I could not, and most likely would never be able to, moderate my alcohol consumption. Realisation of this fact has altered the course of my life forever, turning me into a completely different person to the one I was.
It’s meant that I can have a beautiful relationship with both of my daughters, and has allowed me to explore who I am and where I want to end up in life. Recognising how damaging my dependency upon alcohol was has meant that I have finally worked through issues that had been bottled up for years, bringing emotions to the surface that had never previously been felt.
Understanding and fully taking on board that I cannot drink alcohol and be safe has, ultimately, saved my life.
My thirty-ninth birthday then was a very different affair to my thirtieth. With none of the wild raucous partying of my younger years (not that this is no longer an option because I don’t drink, but it simply wasn’t what I wanted this time around), I found happiness and quiet celebration in the notion that I am now in control of my world. I am a regular person nowadays, with normal emotions and the ability to perceive life accurately and respond to events appropriately. The people in my life are there of my choosing, and I hope they all know how deeply I love them and how indebted I am to them for standing by me during my booze-filled days. They must have seen a glimmer of what lay beneath the mess and destruction left in the wake of all the wine I was drinking, and hung around in the hope that I might one day see it too.
So now I am at the very start of the final year of my thirties, a time I will never be able to revisit. I intend to fill it full of very happy memories, ones that I can hang on to and smile when I recall them. And always to remember how, despite the first half of the decade representing nothing more than wasted money and an over-worked liver, the second, alcohol-free half has brought me nothing but happiness.