This post was originally written for Crying Out Now, which is a site that provides a space for women to talk about their struggles with addiction and recovery. I have thought long and hard about publishing it on my own space too, but decided in the end that I would. Comments, as always, are welcome although I will say that gushing affirmations can make me feel uncomfortable. I really don't want to be told I'm brave and amazing for finally making the commitment to recovery that I should have made years ago. On the other hand - for those who are tempted to judge - I would like to say that it could just as easily have been you writing this post and me sitting in judgement.
Up untill quite recently, it never properly occurred to me that I was an alcoholic. I still balk at the term now - not out of any sense of denial, I know full well that I cannot drink moderately or safely - but simply because to say it seems so dramatic. It makes me think of the people I see on the benches in town on my way to work sometimes, drinking Special Brew at 9.00 in the morning. I sometimes find myself fantasising idly about joining them, about throwing all of my many balls straight up in the air and not even bothering to try to catch them again. I am drawn to it like one is to the edge of a cliff or the bank of a deep river. It's terrifying, yet strangely magnetic.
They say that alcoholism is progressive, and I don't doubt it, but I can not remember a time when I drank normally. I can not pin point where I might have 'crossed the line' because I have always drunk to excess. Even as a young teenager I would always be the one passing out in unsuitable places while my friends agonised over what to do with me. From that point on my alcoholism has gone through phases. There have been periods when I have been either drunk or hungover almost all the time. I have experienced black-outs, drunk spirits in the morning, and woken up shaking with the cold sweats. I also spent about six years trying desperately to moderate with varying degrees of torturous success. It was always going to be doomed to failure eventually. True moderate drinkers just are - they don't have to try with all their mental might. These days I make the only reasonable choice left to me, which is to be sober. See? Mine's a lime and soda.
Except when it's a gin and tonic.
You see, this was supposed to be a post all about my sobriety. About how sobriety was a righteous choice that I had made. About how I was done with self sabotage and self pity. It was going to be a post that said fuck the back story, because whether to drink or not is a simple choice to be made forever in the here and now - that talked about how I was never again going to repeat another pathetic story from my childhood because I alone was responsible for my actions - not some demon from my distant past. It was going to be a post about how my sobriety was rooted in the fertile soil of my own power, and about how - for me - there could be no higher power than that.
Except that last night I drank again. A group of us went out for a friends birthday and I could not resist the peer pressure to have a drink. I could not bring myself to spill when my friends asked me why I was not having a cocktail. I attempted a feeble, 'Oh you know, I'm not really drinking at the moment...' only to have it waved away by friends who wanted to see me have a great time. Friends who I have managed to hide so much of myself from. Friends who wanted to go to a club to get drunk and dance and flirt, and who wanted me to join in. So I broke a promise to myself and I did.
And nobody died. We drank cocktails and danced and flirted. It was fun. The only person in the whole world who knew what I was risking was me. But today I feel frightened and shocked. I feel turned inside out because I thought I had being sober pretty much sewn up. I had been completely tee-total for six months. I thought I was learning to trust myself dammit. 'You takes your responsibility, you makes your choices' had become my personal motto, and I still wholeheartedly believe that. I did make a choice last night, but it was the choice to drink. The choice to jeopardise my good life, and by the same token, my childrens good lives. Today it is unthinkable.
So now what? The fact that the night passed without incident is precisely what makes this relapse so very dangerous. How easy it is now for the devil on my shoulder to whisper seductively: "See? What's the problem? You're fine to have a few drinks every now and then. Real alcoholics drink untill they pass out every time they pick up. You can control it now." I can't. I don't want to go into lurid details about my own personal rock bottoms but I know that I can't control my drinking - that I've never been able to control it. I know that I will always be an alcoholic and that the only way I can win is to not feed my body and brain with the substance to which they are addicted.
So this is what I'm going to do: I'm going to get up, dust myself off and keep going in the same sober direction. I'm going to formulate a comprehensive plan as to how I'm going to deal with the next situation in which there is social pressure to drink (if anyone's got any tips I would be most grateful) and I'm going to takes my responsibility and makes my (better) choices. In the end what else is there?
Mine's a lime and soda.
If anyone has been affected by the issues discussed in this post then there are some fantastic blogs out there that deal (amongst other things) with the thorny subject of addiction and recovery. It is by no means a comprehensive list - I'm discovering new stuff all the time - but these are invaluable and really worth reading: