|Water never tasted so good...honestly|
Welcome to month four of sobriety. If you had asked me back in January I would have told you that I’d stopped drinking alcohol – which in my case amounted to red wine as I didn’t really drink anything else - for a year to see how it felt because…well just to see if I could.
If you had asked me if I had a drink problem I would have said no. I regularly had a month off. I occasionally didn’t drink every day. I only drank red wine because I loved the taste. I didn’t drink in the morning. I didn’t often have a hangover. I hardly ever embarrassed myself because I was drunk. I couldn’t remember the last time I drank to oblivion. I didn’t put myself in dangerous drunken situations. I have never been at the wheel of a car after a drink. I hadn’t angrily thrown stuff after a bottle of wine for years.
I didn’t find it difficult to give up daily red wine drinking in January, with so many others doing dry January it is almost expected. I have done it before and always been disappointed not to feel any great improvements; no weight-loss; no better sleep; no more bounce. I have always noticed that without wine I crave sugar so it was no surprise that I substituted wine with chocolate, cakes and biscuits.
By February most friends were having after-work-drinks whilst I was still on a pint of lime and soda. I noticed that I was irritable, snappy and negative. I couldn’t bring myself to socialise, wanted to go to bed at 8 pm and was seriously annoyed that I wasn’t feeling fabulous. What on earth was the point of abstaining if I couldn’t find any positive benefits?
In March I was at the base of the stress-dip that accompanies the rhythm of publishing a quarterly magazine. I had got through the January deadline but this was tougher. At the end of particularly difficult days I really wanted a bottle of wine; I wasn’t sure I had the willpower, how else was I going to deal with the pressure? And I still hadn’t lost any weight, was still waking up at 3 am, hated going out at night; what on earth was the point? But I am the kind of person that when I say I am going to do something I stick to it. I had said I was doing this for a year and so I would.
Last night - a Friday - I went to a Yoga class at 7pm. It has been another long work week, in the past a Friday would most certainly have involved wine. As I left the yoga studio I walked past bars full of happy Friday evening drinkers: Friends, colleagues, lovers, families, chatting, enjoying each other’s company, sharing gossip and news over wine, beer or cocktails. I started to cry. I can’t ever recall feeling so lonely.
Not drinking has forced me to look hard at myself and my relationship not only to alcohol but to other people in my life, to my past, my other habits; to how drinking has shaped the person I am at 54 after 40 years of loving to drink. I have started to question what it would take to label myself an alcoholic. In the past my definition of that would have been to do with the amount of alcohol consumed, the inability to control one’s drinking and the behavioural changes that being addicted to alcohol induced. I tell myself that I don’t have a drink problem and yet I have problems that alcohol seems to be the only solution to; without the soothing effect a drink brings about I feel as if I have been stripped of my protective armour. And facing up to this isn’t easy; giving up wine has meant that I have had to give up parts of my identity.
On that journey home last night I wondered how different my life would have been if I had discovered that I could tolerate uncomfortable situations without a drink. Or even, take myself out of those situations rather than drinking to survive them. At fourteen I had learnt that the fear of being in dangerous places – hanging out with older cool types who took drugs and thought nothing of having sex in front of me – could be eased with Lambrusco. By sixteen I was brave enough to sleep with anyone who gave me a modicum of attention as long as I had already imbibed a couple of glasses of wine. Like many girls I didn’t consider I could use the term rape because I had bought it on myself by being drunk; a night out involving wine but ending with me saying no and locking my door didn’t stop him shimmying a drainpipe and climbing into my bedroom window, but hey that couldn’t be rape could it because, although I was bruised from him holding me down, I had been drinking and flirting with him all night in a club?
And then there were the times when wine enabled me to confidently dance on tables, fall in love and tolerate idiots. And how wine had subdued my opinions so I didn’t stand out: “have a drink and shut up.” And the family occasions where drink enabled me to feel loved. Or were wine smoothed the way to connections….the list goes on. Good and Bad.
I wish that I hadn’t drunk so much in front of my daughters. I wish that I had realised that drinking was a choice. I wish that I had said “fuck off” to those telling me that without wine I was boring, or that I was an outsider who was even weirder without a drink. I wish I had been stronger younger. I wish I could go back and provide protection to that child who started drinking because she wanted to be accepted, loved and didn’t want to be scared anymore.
These are all thoughts I wish I wasn’t having and I can’t have a glass of wine to push them away. I tell myself that I am proud to have got to month four, that I have more energy, my brain is sharper, I am a better person for facing my demons. It doesn’t erase the painful emotions that bubble just below the surface and threaten to spill over as once more I am on the outside looking in.
In some respects the child I was at fourteen had merely been numbed with alcohol for the past forty years. She was waiting for sobriety to re-emerge; vulnerable, uncertain, insecure; a bundle of troubled emotions. So how can I support her? I don’t want or need to drink, so I need a new way to be. I had no idea that the prop was actually scaffolding.
I don’t want to come across as negative; I know that this was – is – a good idea. I know that I will come through this year with greater self-knowledge. The current mental space, where I regret my past reliance on alcohol, I am upset with the choices I made and am cross that I probably could have been an unbelievably successful woman if I hadn’t let wine take away my personal power, will pass. Nonetheless, I am excited that it isn’t too late to change – it never is – and I’m not too old to take on the world stone-cold-sober. So bring on the next four months, I am ready for anything as long as I have a stash of chocolate biscuits.