Today I’m 6 months free of alcohol. I tell my fellow travellers at Tribe Sober that they’re in for an amazing and wonderful journey. It has been both of those things, the hardest and by far the best thing I’ve ever done. I still have times where I envy the drinkers around me but I know that is just the addicted part of me firing up in the hope I’ll be tempted to drink again. I know in my heart though that there is no path back to drinking for me. I no longer think I deserve the self-abuse. What a relief it is to recognise that.
I can remember some fun times with alcohol but in a drinking ‘career’ that spanned decades, the fun times are almost completely overshadowed by the other times. The other times, I remember very well. Alcohol became a part of my world when I was 17. I was so young, and I fell under its control hard and fast. I was good at hiding it, I liked it to be just the two of us, to isolate myself so I could be alone with it. I would do anything to do that and I did. I lied, I stole, I behaved in ways that were so outside of myself that I didn’t recognise myself. I just knew I had to find ways of being alone with enough booze to render myself unconscious.
I let no one notice, but then no one was watching either. There was no one to care that I was drinking myself to oblivion as often as possible. No family, no friends. I liked it like that. I wanted it like that. Why? Pain, and lots of it. Sexual abuse, parental neglect, my beloved, much older sister putting a bullet in my abuser (her partner) and ending up in jail for murder. Our mother, never able to nurture us for reasons I don’t understand, retreating further into herself. My beloved father long dead, when I was 7. Not one person to help me, to ask me if I was alright. I was alone with my pain well and truly. I was 17, and my favourite thing to do was sit alone in hotel rooms (so I could have privacy) and drink. It’s where it began – my slow attempt at suicide.
Eventually I fled, I left it all behind and went to live alone in a small town a few hours away from my family and from what had happened to me. My pain I took with me. And it stayed, even as I met the love of my life, even as we built a life together I love. I became a ‘normal’ person. I did everything as it was meant to be done – I was a great wife and I became a great carer when my husband needed me to be, a good friend, a valued employee, the favourite aunt. But I carried the pain through the decades, sitting in the background, never far away. How did I manage? Hold it all together? Wine, always. On most days, year after year, decade after decade.
Many times during those years I knew alcohol was killing me. If not in body, certainly in spirit. I called AA for the first time in my early twenties. Again in my early thirties. In my late thirties I even went to a few meetings. None were a positive experience, none helped me see a happy future without drinking. So on I went, eventually believing that my identity was that of a drinker. I was a drinker, always would be. Sometimes I was able to be OK with that – it was what everyone did. I regularly thought my problem was not my drinking, it was that I was prone to worry about my drinking. I just had to stop worrying about my drinking!
In my forties and fifties I was still drinking even though I thought that by the time you get to that age you naturally cut right down. Why did I ever think that? My health had deteriorated by then, my weight creeping up and up, keeping time with my liver function which my doctor said was way too high. But I couldn’t say the words and I certainly didn’t look like a woman who was putting away 2 bottles of wine 4-7 times a week. Eventually I couldn’t ignore the heart palpitations, the anxiety, the depression, the chronic exhaustion. And worse, the mental anguish. The recognition that my slow suicide was VERY slow and news flash! I didn’t want to die! I wanted to live. I wanted to live without alcohol.
Not long after, when I was again unable to sleep, I listened to Janet Gourand’s interview with William Porter. I knew William’s work and had read his book ‘Alcohol Explained’ a few times. So I understood at last what I was doing to myself but I still couldn’t see a future without my drug. But here was Janet, a high functioning, highly successful woman who had given up drinking and WAS ENJOYING LIFE! A crack of light opened up in the darkness and that day, I joined Tribe Sober. The start. I made a start. Slipped and slipped and slipped again. But instead of being alone, the scared girl who used to love isolation and drinking, I met others who knew who I was because they were or had been there themselves. And the crack of light opened up a little more and I became proud. And hopeful. And people called me brave and brilliant. And I started to believe them.
I am 6 months alcohol free for the first time since I was 17 years old, 40 years. I am learning life properly, not through a haze of booze and regret but with a clear head and clear eyes. It’s hard, amazing, boring, exciting, wonderful and the best thing I’ve ever done. I feel calm and at peace most of the time. I’m getting my health back, giving my poor body a break for once in my life. My blood work has returned to normal, the weight is coming off with little effort from me because I now have the energy and focus to want to feed myself what I need for health. I’m meditating and exercising without having to force it. I feel like I’m a different person. With therapy I’ve left the past where it belongs and it doesn’t hurt me like it used to. I appreciate more than ever that giving up the drink is the first step and then the work can begin. I’ve done that work with commitment, every day without fail. I sometimes can’t believe what I’ve accomplished and I say it proudly here. I’m dealing with my childhood abuse, I’m allowing my body to become healthy, I’m looking after my mental health with quality sleep, meditation and exercise. I’m brilliant and brave – just ask my many friends at Tribe Sober. And it all began with one decision. I want to stop drinking. I don’t want it in my life anymore. I want to say goodbye to the bitch.
There is little that I am more proud of than the fact the I have stopped drinking. That for 6 full months now I have chosen life. The road ahead may be difficult and who knows what life will throw at me and how I will handle it. Some say a relapse is likely, I don’t know but I don’t believe anything is inevitable in life so how can that be? Miracles happen. I know because one happened to me. But the miracle isn’t something out there, something or someone who decided to shine some light on me at long last. The miracle is that I found my own power, and as it grew I was able to take step after step towards the life I want. One where I’m happy and healthy and at peace because the self-harm that I practiced for so many years is finally over. Finally. Over. There is no place and no space for you now, alcohol. I have found other things that fill me up, things that build me up, not drag me down. And among the best of them is my international group of friends who see me, and say ‘oh yes, me too’. Gold.