One of the major things I have learnt about myself since stopping drinking in April 2011 is that I am a strong person. This is not something I say lightly, as prior to becoming alcohol-free I was of the mind-set that I was emotionally weak, vulnerable and scared. In a perverse way, I almost enjoyed the knowledge that I was perpetually ‘in need’ of being protected; I actively emphasised it in relationships, and frequently fell back on it as an excuse for everything that was wrong with my life. I suppose I was attempting to retain a child-like state, too frightened to fully spread my wings as an independent adult.
Before I became a dependent drinker, I experienced years of living with an eating disorder. When I regained my sanity in that respect and began to eat healthily again upon the discovery of my first pregnancy aged twenty-two, I mistakenly believed that the underlying unhappiness that had led to anorexia had been eradicated. It hadn’t – it merely shifted its guise and several years later was manifested in my destructive drinking habits.
For all of my adult life up until the age of thirty-five I was convinced that being weak and vulnerable as a woman were attractive qualities; that I was, in some way, quite tragic in a romantic sense.
But then I stopped drinking.
The bravery did not begin the second I put down my last glass of wine. For several months, perhaps a year, I was caught up in a turbulent period of emotions; guilt, self-doubt, wishing I was ‘normal’, regret, boredom, self-hatred, learning about the person I was, managing life without the convenient crutch of booze-induced numbness.
Gradually, however, I noticed that I was becoming emotionally self-sufficient, that certain situations no longer fazed me as they had once done. My desire to be protected from life was slowly diminishing, replaced by a strong sense of wanting to take on the world, of getting out there and making my mark on it. Over time, I stopped perceiving myself as someone who was, in some way, less than others, and recognised that we are all equal, with corresponding ability and potential to achieve whatever we want to, if only we choose to apply ourselves.
After several years without alcohol, I have come to regard myself as a ‘normal’ person – normal in the sense that I am no longer frightened by such innocuous situations as speaking to a stranger when stone cold sober, or talking in front of a group of people or being proactive in chasing my dreams without being held back by an innate belief that I am not good enough. I just get on with things, and I know that I can do so without heavy reliance upon other people. We all need someone from time to time for a shoulder to cry on or to provide us with an objective viewpoint, but when you have no self-belief it’s all too easy to grip too tightly onto other people, using them like a lifeboat, convinced you will sink without them holding you above water.
I was wrong to think I was weak, but I would never have known otherwise had I not stopped drinking. For me, the subsequent journey of self-discovery has been monumental, changing the course of my life completely. We never know who we are capable of being until we quit drinking – this is something I genuinely believe to be true, for anyone who drinks compulsively like I once did.