The Person We Could Be

“Why can’t I drink like a ‘normal’ person?”

This is a question I’m sure many of the people on Soberistas have asked themselves at one time or another; I know I have. “Why can’t I go to that party and enjoy a few drinks like everyone else, and not end up embarrassing myself or collapsing in a corner or arguing loudly and drunkenly with people?”

“Why, oh why?”

This morning I read this article in The Guardian, an incredibly sad and moving piece written by a woman whose mother drank herself to death and who, during her lifetime, was a loving mum (albeit with unresolved issues).

These two states of being are not mutually exclusive. When I drank, I was also, for the vast majority of the time, a good mum. My older daughter (the little one was born after I stopped drinking for good) has always been the apple of my eye. She saved me from a life of complete self-destruction because if anything was to pull me back from the brink, it was her gorgeous little self, born in 1999, a long time before I understood my demons and started to get a handle on them. Without her in my life, I have often supposed I wouldn’t be here at all today.

The Guardian piece made me think that there are many people in the world who just shouldn’t drink. Because we are not able “to drink like normal people”, and when we do, we turn into monsters; we change from the inside out, we are not the people we were meant to me. Donald Trump, as a famous non-drinker, cited his reasoning for abstinence as recognition of the fact that he had the alcoholic tendency in his genes; he knew he would get into trouble with drink. Trump is not a man with whom I find myself agreeing with over much, but in this case I absolutely do.

During the last six years that I’ve spent sober, I have gradually come to accept that I too ‘get into trouble with drink’. It’s a place I don’t ever want to revisit. That woman, who is not me – with the drunken mask that overshadows my real, true self – is one I never want to encounter again.

What a great thing it is to have this realisation and be able to slam the brakes on before we reach the end of the road, before we get to that place where people will describe our demise as one being brought about by alcohol. We have the chance to stop now, and not become the person who drank themselves to death. We have the chance to make new memories and show people that we are not those individuals who are governed and defined and repeatedly ruined by drink.

That chance is today, it is right now. It is the acceptance that some of us do not mix well with alcohol. And there are a lot of us; it’s not a unique condition. I believe that if we can have more conversations about alcohol misuse and the fact that many people are simply unable to drink in moderation then we will begin to get help to the people who want and need it.

Often, all it takes is a simple reflection, the chance to see in someone else one’s own behaviour. From there, a person is able to say, “That’s me. That is my story”. And usually, this marks the very beginning of turning the corner.

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Vice no more…

I have come to realise that I have an addictive personality. It was pointed out to me last night by my other (read, better) half, that I stare at my phone way too much. Upon hearing this, I had a bit of a strop, flounced off upstairs to take a bath (great bath bomb thing, as an aside, shaped like a little Christmas pudding) and after sulking for ten minutes, came to the realisation that my beloved actually had a point.

I didn’t like to admit this to myself (it has been said that I take criticism badly). It still rankles when I remember my parents telling me to apologise to someone after a fall out when I was little…ow, the pain and humiliation of saying sorry!! I am a lot better these days, however, and I scuttled downstairs (after leaving my darling phone in the bedroom) to make amends.

I have to say, once the deed had been done and the iPhone dispatched to my bedside table, I experienced a freeing sensation. I didn’t feel the need to constantly flick my eyes to the side to take a quick peek at the screen. I concentrated fully on the conversation I had with my eldest daughter (she is also a phone addict and is currently facing a proposed household post-dinner phone amnesty with fear and trepidation), we caught up with American X-Factor, and discussed it with zest and enthusiasm (we don’t get out much), rather than interspersing our viewing with frantic button pushing and finger scrolling. It was a relaxing time.

So, yet again, I must admit that my other half was right.

It’s getting to be pretty vice-free, my life these days. The booze has gone, as have the fags, no phone after dinner (until bedtime of course – got to catch up with my tweets at some time!!), very little chocolate, and Jason Vale’s vegetable juices for breakfast.

I hardly recognise myself. I am extremely happy.

Silent Voices

The Children’s Commissioner, Dr. Maggie Atkinson, has today published a report entitled ‘Silent Voices’ which highlights the impact of alcohol misuse on children. The report was commissioned owing to a growing concern about the number of children in the UK who currently live with parents who regularly binge drink, and the effect that this has on their emotional wellbeing and development. The report suggests that one in three children in the UK live with at least one parent who regularly binge drinks, and that there are approximately 460,000 children living with a single parent who regularly binge drinks.

Up until nineteen months ago, my eldest daughter (now almost fourteen) was one of those children. Before she reached the age of about eight or nine, I generally managed to keep my drinking hidden from her. She has always been a fantastic sleeper and so once she had gone to bed, I would hit the wine, safe in the knowledge that she most likely wouldn’t come downstairs. As she grew older, there would be occasions when she would stay up later (New Years Eve, Christmas, birthday celebrations, holidays, etc) and then she did witness my excessive drinking. I am ashamed to say that she saw me drunk several times.

More disturbing for her, I think, were the countless days when I had the mother of all hangovers, and I would stomp about the house like a bear with a sore head, snapping at her for the tiniest of reasons. I couldn’t be bothered to read her letters from school properly, or help her with her homework, or go swimming with her, or take her to the park. My head would be throbbing and my energy levels so depleted by the alcohol, that it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed and sit in front of mindless TV with her.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I did act like a proper mummy and devote myself and my time to my wonderful little girl, but there were many times when I did not. The hungover days began to be the norm in the last few years, and my daughter’s perception of me was one of a miserable old grump who was no fun at all. This insidious side effect of regular binge drinking has a very real and detrimental effect upon the children of binge drinkers.

The Silent Voices report, I hope, will make the Government stand up and notice how damaging binge drinking is in this country, and perhaps spur them on to doing something a little more helpful than creating the ‘Responsibility Deal’, introduced in the summer of 2010 in an effort to tackle the country’s growing drinking problem, and which appears to have been reduced to little more than a series of half-baked undertakings. If parents were regularly binging on class A drugs in the same numbers as partake in alcohol abuse, the House of Commons would be in uproar. As alcohol is legal, and enjoyed by the majority of Parliamentary ministers, concern is rather more tempered.

Parents should read this report and question whether their drinking impacts on their children. If one in three children are living with at least one binge drinker, then the effect on the next generation could be tremendous. Both my daughters now enjoy a mum who is happy and energetic and full of life, which is what every child deserves to have.

http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/publications/content_620