I was never a bottle-of-vodka-at-7am type of boozer. I loved alcohol and, as I transformed from a child to a teenager, I never imagined I wouldn’t become a drinker. And I got started early, aged just thirteen. But I (almost) always managed to restrict my consumption to within the realms of social drinking, regular UK-style binge drinking – ‘fun’ drinking. Of course, there were always the exceptions, and, particularly during the last five years of my boozing life, I occasionally veered into the dark world of lone, secret drinking, and seeking a certain level of self-medication via the wine I was buying increasingly more of.
But the metaphorical wheels never fell off spectacularly. I didn’t lose my job, or invite the attention of the social services due to alcohol-related child neglect. I didn’t even look especially booze ravaged, other than on the odd mornings after very heavy, late night drinking sessions.
In fact, right up until I ended up in A&E one morning as a result of passing out after consuming three bottles of wine, I mostly managed to convince myself that the odd negative consequence of my wine habit was just part and parcel of life as a drinker. Blackouts? Didn’t everyone suffer alcohol-induced amnesia once in a while? Snogging someone who I didn’t really like (never mind be attracted to)? It was merely evidence of my rock n roll approach to life. Wiping out yet another weekend due to a debilitating hangover? Ditto the rock n roll lifestyle – I was living life in the fast lane and enjoying myself. Wasn’t I?
The truth was that there were many bad consequences of my habit but I was so accustomed to them because of the longevity of my alcohol dependency that I failed to recognise them as being the direct outcome of drinking: my snappy, uneven mood that manifested itself in me being an inpatient and unpredictable mum; the deeply entrenched feelings of self-loathing that arose each and every time I engaged in regrettable behaviour when under the influence, and lingered beyond; the fact that I struggled just to make it through the morning at work without my hangovers being noticed, ultimately meaning I never strived to excel in the workplace; the endless small change that dripped into the tills at Tesco in exchange for the odd bottle of wine and the accompanying packet of fags, amounting to somewhere in the region of £300-£400 per month; the frequent panic attacks that often rendered me struggling to breathe and terrified that I was having a heart attack. I accepted all of these as life just being the way it was, the hand I’d been dealt.
The thing is that as soon as a few months of sobriety had passed, all of the above were relegated to my history, and I quickly acknowledged that life wasn’t like that for a person who doesn’t touch alcohol. But as a drinker, I was so immersed in the world of hangovers and boozing and planning to drink, that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t see the clear downsides of excessive drinking from the alcoholic fog that I was permanently inhabiting.
If the outcomes of alcohol misuse are not catastrophic, this does not mean that life cannot be immeasurably improved upon by becoming a non-drinker. I will be eternally grateful that I tried my hand at not drinking; it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.