I Started Drinking Because…

I started drinking because I thought it:

  • Made me cool. There is nothing cool about throwing up all over a pub toilet floor while your weary friend holds your damp hair away from your face for the millionth time. It’s not cool to be so drunk that you let go of your dog’s lead and watch helplessly through blurred eyes as she runs back and forth across a busy road. It’s not cool to wake up not remembering half of the night. It’s not cool to look in the mirror and see red eyes, shame and self-loathing etched into the lines on your face. It’s not cool to shout your mouth off and act like a dick.
  • Made me confident. When I drank I was a fraud. Only when under the influence did I feel confident. Without booze propping me up I was terrified – terrified of human interaction, terrified of strangers, terrified of myself. When I was sober I found it almost impossible to hold eye contact with someone for longer than a second at a time. I’d cross the street if I saw anyone I knew walking towards me, to avoid having to chat. Inside I believed I was worthless and rotten.
  • Made me interesting. Drinking turned me into a boring gob on legs. I’d rant and rave at people, attempting to drill my beliefs into them whether they cared or not. Then I’d pass out on the settee/floor/a stranger’s bed and miss most of the party.
  • Made me deep. Drinking stole all my creativity from me. It made my world small and closed off. I stopped writing, baking, thinking, dreaming big. I lived the most shallow of lives, one that revolved around drinking, the pub, being drunk, hangovers, selfish gains and self indulgence.
  • Made me one of the gang. Almost all of the people I knew as a drinker are no longer in my life. There is a handful that I still see, the ones with whom I obviously had a more significant connection with than purely getting wasted together. But mostly my old drinking buddies fell by the waste side. Wasted friendships, forgotten shared moments, meaningless connections.
  • Made me Me. How do you know who you are when you’re pouring a mind-altering toxin down your neck at every turn? How do you know how you react in a crisis? To joy? In love? As a trusted friend? How do you know how you think? What you believe in? How you want your life to pan out? You can’t know these things when you drink because you are stifling the real you; she or he is trapped within, never being allowed the opportunity to shine.

I stopped drinking when, after twenty-two years, I finally cottoned on to the fact that all the above was utter bullshit. Good decision – and one I will always stick to.

IMG_5965

Advertisements

What did I think I’d get from being sober?

When I drank:

During the years when booze was a constant in my life, I very rarely considered not consuming it. Yes, it was always at the root of all the disasters that kept on springing up, hitting me repeatedly, trying to drive the message home – “Coming back for more…? OK, here’s another drunken, messed up relationship with someone who does nothing for you; here’s an entire weekend spent lying in bed crying, not daring to face the world; take this massive blast of shame, can you believe you REALLY did that??” And yes, I was fully aware of all the health harms I was subjecting myself to, but really, I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t in a place where I held myself in especially high esteem and so it was easy to keep on knocking back the wine. Plus, in the name of denial, I think I had a fairly strong hold on the notion that I was somehow not like everyone else, that my liver would be able to withstand the regular battering, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to outrun the immense self-abuse and live well into my eighties.

lucy Is Wedding (2)

When I first quit:

I stopped drinking because I was scared to death that if I picked up one more glass of the stuff, it could kill me. I wasn’t being melodramatic – as soon as I had managed to gain some clarity on the situation I found it utterly remarkable that I hadn’t lost my life in and amongst all of my boozing adventures. The nights I had walked home in the early hours – staggered would be more apt – in ill-boding areas of town and as vulnerable as they come, like a baby bird fallen from the nest; the many, many dramatic falls down staircases and steep driveways, on the ice and in the middle of roads; countless nights in seedy pubs with seedy people who were capable of dangerous things.

So when I first quit, it was with the hope that in doing so I would save my life. I didn’t expect a lot else, other than gritting my teeth, gazing lustfully towards drinkers who appeared so happy and carefree with their alcoholic beverages to hand, and I suppose a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’ – like I was being a good girl now that I was all grown-up and dealing with my little problem.

Beneath all of that, however, I was dreading this new life I’d committed myself to. It stretched out before me like an endless parched landscape of drabness. I expected at that point to be left wanting for the rest of my days.

Now, five years on:

I’m really quite shocked at all of the goodness that’s emerged from the single act of stopping drinking. I never imagined any of it, couldn’t have seen it coming. I frequently sit back to take stock and ask myself, “Really? Is this my life? When did it change so massively?” It’s as though aliens whipped me away one night, did a major overhaul with what I was and then dumped me back down, all new and fixed.

FullSizeRender

The things that have happened are direct consequences of me no longer drinking – mostly they’ve arisen because I got my confidence and self-esteem back, which led me to making better choices. I found the nerve to say no sometimes, without being terrified that the person I was saying it to would hate me for it. I challenged myself with new experiences, things that resulted in me meeting new people and making friends, because instead of only ever wanting to drink, and drink and drink, I needed – and chose – to seek out more from life. I found the courage required to take risks, but calculated ones that didn’t wind up in disaster as they always had in the past. I began to believe that people might actually like me, and so I stopped being so defensive and paranoid, and I opened up to the world in return. I got to know who I am deep down and what I need in order to be happy, and then I had the self-belief to go out and get it.

I never foresaw any of this when I decided to stop drinking, because all I thought I was doing in making that choice was reducing the risk of dying before my time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, born entirely out of fear and one that I felt was going to be a hardship and something that would drag me down and make me miserable forever.

How wrong I was, how unbelievably naïve – and how grateful I am that I did it anyway.

Thirty-something

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.

roc1

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.

Why You Shouldn’t Fear Taking the Alcohol-free Leap

An alcoholic drink represents all manner of things to those who succumb to its perceived charms – it’s the social lubricant, especially attractive to the shy drinker. It’s the sexual provocateur, enticing and tempting to anyone looking for a little Dutch courage in the bedroom. It’s the emotional anaesthetic, perfect for blotting out the less desirable aspects of our lives.

But when alcohol begins to lose its magical properties and undergoes a gradual metamorphosis into a foul, domineering, mind-twisting liquid, one which causes the drinker to regard it with equal measures of love and hatred, then it’s time to consider a life free from its influence. However, this is not straightforward, largely because as we stand on the brink of the unknown, we often become paralysed with fear. Human beings don’t like change; we frequently become accustomed to our personal habits and ways, and a step into virgin territory constitutes a massive no-no for many people, in a myriad of different situations and for a variety of reasons.

Letting go of a reliance on alcohol evokes terror in the most apparently outgoing and self-confident types. The concept of existing as a free entity, minus the liquid crutch which supports the drinker at every turn from teenage escapades to wedding days to each and every Christmas, is nothing short of bizarre to the intrepid explorer about to embark upon the road to sobriety.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

But the reality of facing life’s challenges without regularly reaching for a can of cold beer or twisting the cork from an expensive bottle of red, can be a pleasant surprise. The difficulties that inevitably crop up as we negotiate the twists and turns of our individual worlds appear to be nowhere near the insurmountable obstacles they did when hangovers and alcohol-induced depression and anxiety were thrown into the mix. Funnily enough, the drink, which many consider is helping them to cope, usually turns out to be the very substance that’s capping their ability to deal with things rationally in the first place.

The false confidence we believe to be intrinsically ours when out socialising often serves as an unflattering mask, and when it falls away in the morning we are left with nothing more than a series of half-memories and a niggling worry that, in the boozy heat of the moment, we acted or spoke in a way which now fills us with remorse and shame.

Whether we choose to drink alcohol or to abstain, life will remain the same; convoluted, at times tricky to navigate, and an emotional roller-coaster. We will be subjected to the same occasions of sadness, exuberance, anger, reluctance and disappointment, no matter if we turn to the bottle or turn the other cheek.

What are revolutionary are the concepts of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and a rational mind. These qualities will be allowed to slowly emerge once the alcohol has been laid to rest, thus the stresses and challenges that seemed so frightening to a person at the very start of their sober journey are eminently more manageable than he or she could ever have imagined when regularly drinking.

Accepting this fact demands a huge leap of faith, but it’s one which is absolutely worth taking.

Martini, Soberistas and Me, by Claire Blank

I remember well the first time I got drunk. Martini ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere’ was my poison (well it was the Eighties!) and when I arrived at a friend’s party one night, bottle in hand, I imagined that I would soon be glamorous and sophisticated. It didn’t quite pan out like that. Swigging straight from the bottle in the Portakabin toilets of our local scout hut was a long way from the TV commercial featuring a glamorous woman in a white bikini running along a tropical beach to embrace her lover. But I was thirteen years old, I didn’t have a tropical beach to go to, or a handsome boyfriend to embrace, so this would have to do.

I remember even now how vile that peppery liquid tasted, yet somehow at thirteen I just knew that I must persevere, for this was the sure-fire way to adulthood and acceptance. At thirteen I was skinny, shy, a bit of a swot and woefully lacking in self-confidence. I was bullied relentlessly at school, but with that first taste of Martini I suddenly felt powerful, attractive, confident. And that was it – the start of a twenty seven year love affair with alcohol.

Since becoming involved with Soberistas in November 2012, I have learned that my story is not unfamiliar. There are now fourteen thousand members worldwide – thousands of us whose stories are different yet the same; Shy girl / boy with low self esteem meets alcohol and BOOM! For many, me included, alcohol is not seen as particularly problematic until a way down the line. Why would it if it does not appear to be causing you any major health problems (yet), and when half the population appears to be doing just as you are?

For years I attributed my low level anxiety and low mood to physiology, never once thinking to point my finger at alcohol. How many of us are irritable with our kids / partners because we have a low level hangover? How many of us are unproductive and simply muddling through life because of low mood? When the goalposts of ‘normal’ alcohol use shift, as seems to have happened in our society, it is perhaps more difficult for an individual to see that something is wrong. In just a generation the levels of alcohol use that constitute ‘normal’ drinking have gone through the roof.

For many, the alarm bells only begin to ring when we are already well down the road of an alcohol use disorder. But maybe, just maybe, if we lose some of the stigma surrounding alcohol and its misuse, people may begin to question their habits earlier on, before they begin to slide down the slope of full blown addiction. Maybe our society is waking up to the fact that our alcohol consumption is excessive and unhealthy.

Wine glass. Broken.

My own drinking patterns were called into question when my sister Lucy Rocca (rather fortuitously!) set up Soberistas.com and in the year since its’ inception, I have realised several things;

  • It does not matter what you label it – alcoholism, alcohol dependence, alcohol misuse, binge-drinking or whatever. It does not matter if someone you know drinks way more than you. If it’s causing you problems it’s causing you problems. And you will know when it is.
  • Just because everyone else seems to be getting hammered all the time does not make it OK if you are unhappy with it. Sod everyone else and get on with sorting yourself out.
  • You are not the only person who feels as if you’re on the slippery slope – there are thousands of lovely people out there just like you. (And you can now chat to lots of them anonymously on Soberistas.com)
  • If you feel like you are already on the slippery slope you are highly unlikely to get off it without action. It sounds obvious but without effort on your part you cannot expect things to change. If you suspect that you have unhealthy issues with alcohol and do nothing about it, you are taking one hell of a gamble.

I strongly feel that by talking about alcohol issues and trying to remove some of the stigma surrounding alcohol misuse, people who are just beginning to question their relationship with booze may feel confident that they can take action. People who, up until recently, hardly believed they had a problem.

At Soberistas, nobody is preaching – we just want you to be happy.

In Her Shoes

It has been an enormous relief to discover how I truly want to live my life. When I drank regularly and heavily I experienced such a strong sense of being unanchored, as if my true personality had become adrift and was floating fruitlessly, aimlessly, amidst a life that wasn’t really mine.

I always imagined that I was a party girl and when out with friends socialising I filled the shoes of the token loudmouth, the hedonist, the one throwing pints or large glasses of Pinot Grigio back whilst smoking heavily and chatting confidently to strangers. I pursued the rock n roll lifestyle and took pride in my wayward streak.

And yet always in the back of my mind was an idea that I hadn’t found ‘it’ yet, I still hadn’t worked life out.

Now that I look back I can see that much of the depression that was once so inherent, together with my longstanding inability to like myself, came about because I was living like a chameleon with no sense of the person who I actually was. Even worse, I didn’t even realise that I was lacking this essential quality, now so glaringly obvious with a sober perspective.

When I look back on it all, it sometimes feels as though I have walked the paths of two people during my lifetime – one who was a cuckoo, albeit a thoroughly unknowing one, and the other the true me who only bobbed up to the surface following my decision to live alcohol-free. Maybe it is similar for those who have shed stones of body weight following years of being morbidly obese; the stretch marks and the memories of being perpetually under pressure to act the part of the ‘bubbly’ one the only things remaining of a discarded life once the fatness has disappeared.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I’m not shy but I am fairly quiet, especially in front of those who I don’t know very well. I much prefer the company of my family and small group of close friends to being out and about with people who are unfamiliar to me. I hate smoking and I love keeping fit. I enjoy cooking healthy food. I am something of a workaholic, and I’m definitely a perfectionist. I rarely feel stressed. I love listening to loud music especially when running or driving, I can’t get enough of reading or writing, and I enjoy being outdoors in the countryside or in a park. I don’t mind my appearance but I’m not precious about it at all. My happiest moments are those spent with my children and my partner.

None of the above sounds like the old me, although whilst I would never want to be that person I once was again, I am not full of bitterness or animosity towards the memory of her; I simply have an understanding that who I was as a drinker only ever existed because of alcohol. If I had never drunk as I used to, the imaginary woman I used to see in the mirror would never have lived.

Most importantly, I’m convinced I wouldn’t feel the gratitude for life that I feel every single day, had I never walked in somebody else’s shoes. It was a long time coming but I got here in the end.

Take Good Care of Your Self Esteem

What happens to so many people in our society as they grow from children to adults and in the process gradually shed their self-belief and confidence? Between the ages of 13 and 35 I slipped into an alcohol dependency that became so deeply embedded in who I thought I was that the revelation of the real me who came to light after becoming teetotal came as a huge surprise.

As a child I was brimming with self-confidence, a little bit stubborn, a high achiever and natural leader. I threw myself gung-ho into whatever activity I was doing and thought I would reach nothing less than amazing and dizzy heights of success in whatever field I chose to venture into – post Oxbridge, of course.

Oh how reality bites – by age 14 I was drinking regularly, smoking, obsessed with boys, rather less obsessed with school work and venturing ever near to the brink of an eating disorder which fully took hold a few months later. Over the course of the next 5 years, my self-belief nosedived and by the time I was 20 I was living with an ex-con, drinking like a fish and struggling to get through my degree course. I hardly ate, smoked 20 a day and had no desire to do anything with my time other than get absolutely out of my head.

I don’t really have any definitive answers for the puzzle of how that happened. I came from a happy and secure family, I wasn’t bullied at school, there were no major traumas of which I bore deep mental scars. The only constants in the trajectory of my youth, twenties and early thirties were alcohol and cigarettes.

self-esteem

As I spend my life now without the crutch of alcohol, or of any other addiction (excluding coffee and chocolate, but they constitute small-fry in comparison to previous vices) for that matter, it seems entirely probable that the somewhat skewed path that my life took prior to quitting alcohol 2 years ago was as a direct result of too much booze. I was permanently depressed as a consequence of all that wine, I neglected to eat properly owing to a huge lack of self-esteem and some misguided belief that if I was super thin I would be super happy, and not eating caused me to suffer terrible mood swings; I self-medicated these with more wine, and the alcohol was also responsible for many of the poor choices of partner that I made over the years – many of whom I would never have been within 10 yards of had I been sober.

I see my 14 year old daughter now caught like a rabbit in the headlights, choosing whether to believe in something good for herself, or throwing it all to one side and getting on with the business of self-contempt. It seems that, especially for women, developing a sense of low self-worth is perceived as interesting at best, romantic at worse. As a teenager I fell for it hook, line and sinker, filling my head with sexy notions of messed up women, the idea that falling into a state of vulnerability and despair would somehow enhance my attractiveness; a Betty Blue for Sheffield.

Today, as a strong, positive and determined woman of 37, I see nothing to shy away from in the idea of a woman being together and able to take care of herself and her family without the need for a crutch of any sort (apart from the chocolate and the coffee – see above).

It is now my mission to pass this ideal on to my wonderful, intelligent, capable and strong teenage daughter.

2 Years to Self-Respect

I stopped drinking two years ago – I don’t remember the actual day but it was April 2011. I have learn a lot in those 24 months about how the body and mind repair themselves after years of being subjected to alcohol, and seen how it is possible to leave behind a very negative persona, full of self-doubt, low confidence and insecurities, and replace her with someone who lives and breathes optimism, self-confidence and contentment.

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when attempting to adopt a sober lifestyle is that when first embarking on this new pathway, the newly teetotal person has very low feelings of self-worth, and the powerful and persuasive inner voice that screams out ‘you don’t deserve anything good in life anyway so why try and be happy’ is difficult to ignore.

When I first emerged from that nightmarish tunnel of relentless drinking and all the awful associations that go with it, I hated myself. I found it very hard to hold a conversation with someone and hold their eye contact. I did not believe in my abilities whatsoever, I felt as though I were inferior to everyone. I had no real ambitions because I could not conceive of ever achieving anything worthwhile; I would’ve struggled to come up with a list of 10 things I liked about me.

When you have such a low opinion of yourself, it is a constant battle to stay away from alcohol, because it is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that you don’t deserve a better life than the one you are trying to escape from.

539

Over time – and this is why I am writing this today, for anyone who is fighting the urge to give in to alcohol and all its temptations in the early days of sobriety – your belief in yourself grows. Gradually you begin to think of yourself as a decent human being who is worth more than simply accepting their lot as a muted, sloshed, semi-conscious, unhealthy, foolish, out-of-control, full of shame drunk and you do consider other possibilities. Alternative lifestyle choices begin to spring up around you and surprisingly at first, you take them.

After a sufficient amount of time has passed, it becomes an incongruous idea that you might pick up a glass of toxic liquid, and drink it with the full knowledge that it will transform you into a different person. Your heart will beat faster, your words will begin to slur, you will spout nonsense, you’ll lose your sense of who you are, you will embarrass yourself by saying or doing something silly, you’ll wake up feeling dehydrated and ill, you will berate yourself for how you acted, you’ll snap at your kids, your performance at work will be below par, you won’t like yourself, you will look awful.

And with time comes such self-awareness and a feeling of actually liking yourself, that presented with the chance of having an alcoholic drink, you genuinely come to think ‘Urrgh, why would I ever do that to myself?’

At least, that’s how it has turned out for me.