The Best Birthday Present

On Wednesday, my eldest daughter will be sixteen. When I consider her age, I am starkly reminded of the swift passage of time and how much things have changed during the years she has spent on earth.

My eldest daughter, then three, with me and our beloved Mowgli

My eldest daughter, then three, with me aged twenty-six – 2002

I’m taking her away for a few days for her main present but I want to buy her a keepsake too, a special reminder of her first ‘grown-up’ birthday. But no matter what I end up choosing for her gift, I know that she has already received the best one I could ever give to her – a mum who doesn’t drink alcohol, and specifically, this mum who doesn’t drink alcohol.

There are, of course, many mums out there who drink and who can manage their intake of alcohol sufficiently well that it has no detrimental impact upon their children. But I wasn’t one of them.

Although I was never knocking the vodka back at 7 am or staggering up to the school gates at home time with bottles clanking in a plastic bag, I certainly prioritised alcohol fairly highly in my life, and it frequently affected my eldest child in a number of ways.

For a start, I used to rush through her bedtime stories in order to speedily tie up the day’s parenting duties. My desire to do so was, of course, due to the bottles of cold, white wine that would inevitably be resting in the fridge downstairs, the beads of condensation that coated the glass inviting me to dive in.

Secondly, I would frequently plan my spare time around drinking. This might have meant organising a little dinner party for friends (read, major piss-up), or a get-together in the local pub beer garden – somewhere where the kids could play, obviously, whilst the adults grew steadily more inebriated and less responsible. Sometimes it meant calling on the help of a babysitter so that I could indulge in my wish to achieve total mental obliteration via alcohol consumption.

Thirdly, the after effects of my drinking were apparent to anyone in my company, including my child. The lethargy and bad moods were almost certainly picked up on regularly by my daughter, although she probably had no idea why I was snapping at her for no good reason or why I had no energy to do anything other than lie around watching TV.

There were no major catastrophes, thank God. No medical emergencies where I was too out of it to respond quickly and appropriately. No occasions where I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed to take her to school or collect her in the afternoons. I never lost my job or was threatened with losing my child to the care of the social services because I was deemed incapable of looking after her.

But there was a catalogue of alcohol-induced depressive episodes, unpredictable moods, of silly and irresponsible life choices that affected my daughter’s upbringing, of money spent on fags and booze that could have gone towards things of benefit to the two of us. And there was the relentless display of how a grown woman acts – an example that I set, week in and week out, that revolved around escaping my reality and living recklessly.

And so, the best gift I could ever have given my lovely daughter is the one I gave her almost four years ago, and which is the opposite of all of the above; a mum who is present and engaged with her children, a mum who is fit, healthy and cooks nutritious meals, encouraging an interest in a healthy lifestyle in both her children; a mum who displays a level mood, who doesn’t bite her children’s heads off for no reason, a mum who is up at 6 am most days taking care of running the house and providing a secure upbringing for her family, a mum who can be relied upon not to embarrass her children by being out of it; a mum who doesn’t drink alcohol.

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‘Abstinence Is Bad For You’ -Thoughts On Irresponsible Health Claims

When I woke up this morning I saw that someone had posted an article on the Soberistas Facebook page which was all about a body of medical ‘evidence’ pointing towards abstinence being bad for a person’s health. Hmm, helpful I thought. And promptly deleted it. I’m all for free speech and it’s nice that someone had thought of Soberistas and wanted to contribute a little something to our Facebook page, but these types of articles are just not helpful to those of us who cannot moderate.

As a drinker, if you had shown me literature of this nature I would have seen it as a green light to continue necking wine as though it was water and I had been lying stranded in a desert for days on end. I must not stop drinking – there it is in black and white! I am far healthier if I down booze than not, no matter what sort of scrapes I find myself in as a result, and no matter how much damage I wield upon my poor, alcohol-soaked body!

It is possible to produce findings that support any theory if one restricts their study to a small enough group (for instance, the ninety-year-old man who has smoked fifty fags a day since he was twelve). But there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that alcohol consumption which exceeds government guidelines (14 units for a woman and 21 units for a man) is highly detrimental to a person’s health, and is a causal factor in over 200 different conditions and diseases (see WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014).

Well then, let’s just restrict our drinking to recommended limits and maintain a strict ‘three days off the booze’ policy each week, one could argue.

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OK, let’s get real for a moment. Firstly, how many people do you know who drink alcohol and who consistently stick to government guidelines? I can think of a couple. Secondly, there are many, many individuals who have no off switch. Despite the best of intentions, these people (me included) do not have the capability to stop at one or two glasses but, once started, go on to drink way more than ‘safe’ amounts and subsequently end up in any number of dangerous situations. Alcohol for me (and others in the same boat) is poison – plain and simple. It is a devilish substance that perpetually leads us to a place of shame, embarrassment, debilitating hangovers, irresponsible parenting, thoughtlessness, selfishness, carelessness, and low self-esteem. It is a drug which, when consumed in excess, sometimes results in unintended sexual encounters, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, altered personalities, domestic violence and occasionally, suicide. Alcohol, for those of us who cannot control the amount we consume once we start drinking, is the stuff of nightmares – for us, and all of the people in our lives.

For anyone with an off switch nicely intact, these consequences to boozing are more than likely challenging to comprehend. Some of these people may find it amusing to post articles about abstinence being bad for one’s health on the Soberistas Facebook page (and other online, open forums which have been established for the use of people who struggle with alcohol dependencies and not for those who have no problem in moderating). Should such contributors ever find themselves crossing the invisible line into alcohol addiction or should they become closely entangled with someone else who has a problematic relationship with booze, they probably would not find things quite so amusing or trivial. Until then, I am happy to delete their postings should I consider them unhelpful to those of us who are bravely managing a dependency upon alcohol – that substance which is so prevalent, so unregulated, and so bloody damaging to so many people.