If only…

If only I was taller…it’s being this short (5ft) that makes me unhappy, it’s embarrassing having to ask for things off high shelves in the supermarket, to have your feet swinging above the ground when sitting on a chair, like a toddler on a potty.

If only I was thinner…small bottom = direct correlation to happiness, surely?

If only I had a new carpet in the sitting room…I need a new carpet, this current scruffy rug is making me miserable.

If only I had a new laptop…this old one is outdated, I NEED a new one, I need a MacBook…a MacBook, that would make me happy…happier…

Absolute verbatim examples of the kind of crap that goes around my head.  Talk about being a victim of your own self-created, non-existent-in-the-real-world misery!  Reading back on these examples is not only embarrassing, it’s certifiably insane.  Trying to find ‘happiness’ from ‘things’, we all know it doesn’t work.  We get the prized ‘thing’, holding it above our heads like a scene from The Lion King, and within days (if not minutes), the momentary ecstasy has been usurped by the ‘need’ for the next ‘thing.’ It reminds me of when I was drinking, the initial first drink relieved the incessant internal dialogue of “should I, shouldn’t I” which, as soon as you had given in to that first one, was quickly superseded by anxiety over where the next one was coming from and was eventually replaced with “I wish I hadn’t”.  

But being happy is surely the ultimate life goal?  Don’t we put ourselves through the challenges of life in order to make ourselves happier?  The tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, tucked away in the Himalyas between China and India, is known worldwide for its innovative Gross National Happiness Index, a measurement tool used to incentivise state policies that increase the well-being of its people.  When I read this I wondered what such state policies could be?  National access to MacBooks?  Average heights for women above 5ft 5? A CarpetRight on every corner? Free access to beautiful carpets? In my research for happy nations I stumbled across Finland (not literally, you don’t stumble across a country – actually, on second thoughts, that’s not strictly true, as someone who has stumbled, drunk, around many a country), Finland was allegedly the happiest nation on earth.  

I liked the sound of The Finns, who so pride themselves on their stoicism that they have a word for their national ‘grit’: “Sisu,” and who have been named the happiest people in the world for the third year in a row.  So, what was their secret?  The editor of the Happiness Report reckons that the Finns’ happiness stems from Trust.  They trust each other, care about each other and that’s what fundamentally makes for a better life.  

It reminded me of when I was at most recently at my happiest.  Last year to be precise, for six months between April and October.  I was fundamentally happier than I’ve been for a long time.  The reason?  I’d stopped drinking, completely.  Not drinking per se didn’t make me happier, it was bloody hard, especially at first and there were lots of times of anxiety, upset, questioning of whether or not I needed to totally abstain, feeling uncomfortable in situations, tears, new addictions came to the fore…you name it, it happened.  But one huge, unforeseen benefit was the ability to trust myself again.  

When you have been caning the booze, for twenty-odd years, like I was, it is not without consequence. Alcohol destroys your natural confidence and that, coupled with endless failed attempts at packing it in, making a fool of yourself in public, hiding your problem, feeling like an idiot most of the time, erodes your self-belief and your self-worth.  When I gave up last year, I learned to trust myself again, I was beyond happy that I could be relied upon for actually achieving something I set out to do. 

Not drinking didn’t of its own volition make me happier.  It took hard work and some very unhappy days, but I see it as a trade-off.  A trade-off between anxiety, sleepless nights, self-doubt, self-deprecation and ultimately trading your life goals of happiness for momentary ‘fun’.  Fun and happiness are not the same.  Achieving something you set out do, enjoying the unforeseen benefits of abstinence: looking after yourself, having deeper, more authentic relationships and friendships, having trust in yourself and those around you, trusting your own decisions knowing they are made in the full light of a sober brain, these are the things that can make you happier. 

My own sobriety story has not been an all-out success.  But I’m taking a leaf out of the Finns’ book and will carry on with “Sisu”, never giving up in my attempt at giving up, for good.  At the moment it is going well but I know that hard times will come again so as a kind of Bhutanese-Finn hybrid I build my own nation of happiness using my sobriety as the key definer of my own Happiness Index.  

Embracing Change in Unprecedented Times

Strange times. Unprecedented.

‘Unprecedented,’ a word that has been used an unprecedented number of times recently in the news and in our conversations. It’s a time for new words to our vocabulary, or if not new, then words that were unusual in times B.C (by B.C I mean Before Covid). “Herd Immunity”, “Self-Isolation”, ‘Furlough”, “Pandemic” and of course “Coronavirus”. Pandemic is a word I hadn’t used since my time as a History student and was in relation to the likes of The Great Plague or The Spanish Flu. One thing I did learn as a historian was that pandemics have always been great agents of change.

Change it would seem is possible. Things we deemed essential to modern life and impossible to stop, have stopped. Planes are not flying, children are off school, shops are closed, pubs are closed – my own pub is closed. Everything I deemed as normal life has shifted enormously. Now, I’m a looooooong way off suggesting that this episode of history is a positive thing, but one thing I am open to is the possibility of permanent change. I’ve already learned that I am in no rush to get to back to the stressful demands of my B.C life. I’m worried of course, the same worries many of us have at the moment about my family, my livelihood, finances…but…alongside the uncertainty and the worry I’m embracing the fact that I, along with everyone else, can not control what it is going to happen.

The fight against Covid19 is not like war in the sense of Kitchener’s rousing ‘Your Country Needs You.’ All we are required to do is stay at home. I know that can be difficult but it is not like we are being ripped from our families and asked to live in trenches for four years. All we have to do is hunker down, settle, watch TV (not overdose on the news however), and keep in contact with our nearest and dearest, albeit on a screen. Yet I feel a huge pressure to do something life changing and constructive with this time, and I know that this is not just me, many of us seem to think this unforeseen break from work should be used to do something huge.

I’ve seen comments about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear (or it may have been Macbeth, or Othello, or Anthony and Cleopatra…I can’t remember), when isolating against plague. No pressure there then. But Shakespeare was holed up in his country retreat, no 24-hour rolling news, no daily Zoom meetings or WhatsApp family roll calls (I didn’t even know I had an aunt Mary until this). It was different, so back off with the self pressure. However, talking of literature, Marquez’s ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ keeps popping into my head, not for the content of the story so much as the title, as I want to launch my own ‘Love in the time of Coronavirus.’

I have made a decision to use this time not as an opportunity to create my Magnum Opus, but to reaffirm my own love story: with sobriety. As a serial relapsing alcoholic, albeit not had a drink for a few months now and who has had three times as many sober days than drinking for nearly a year, I have always given myself reasons to believe that giving up drinking ‘for life’ is too difficult: it’s not the right time, I work in the alcohol industry, I’m surrounded by booze all day, my friends don’t support my decision and I like my social life too much. Always a reason. Covid19 has suddenly and inadvertently meant that the distractions I perceived as detrimental to my long term recovery have disappeared.

So, it is time to create my own ‘Love in the time of Coronavirus’, I am making a commitment, like a marriage, to sobriety. You don’t enter into a marriage (I’m saying this purely speculatively by the way, being a spinster), thinking that ‘this won’t last.’ It takes commitment, it takes faith and you can’t go running for the wine aisle every time things get rocky. It’s a commitment for life, for better, for worse. I am embracing this time as my once lifetime opportunity to let my neurological pathways stand a chance at rewiring themselves and to concentrate fully and remind myself fully of all the reasons why I love the sober life, through thick and thin.

Pandemics: agents for great change. Unexpected time on our hands, the desire to do something life changing and constructive. If you really want to do your ‘Your Country Needs You’ bit, keep yourself as healthy as possible. It’s time to take responsibility for ourselves and for our health as best we can and if that includes giving up alcohol, embrace this opportunity for change, for as demonstrated, change can happen, no planes in the sky, no shops open, the unimaginable is possible. Being asked to stay at home, no distractions or usual opportunities/excuses to fall off the wagon. I am using this period as an opportunity to make a solid commitment to myself, and to the NHS, that I will do my best to keep myself healthy. The biggest threat to my health was always my drinking so that commitment is that I won’t drink.

We are in this pandemic together and together we shall overcome it. It reminds me of my years struggling with alcoholism. I learned that difficult dichotomy that it is very difficult to tackle it alone, yet only I can do it. Connecting with those going through the same process helps, so if you want to look back on The Great Plague of 2020 and ask yourself what you did, why not reach out, ask for help, say hi, and then you can say that you did your best to create or reaffirm your healthier, alcohol free life.

A Letter

In these days of social media saturation it can be easy for us to feel disappointed. Disappointed that we don’t have the right accoutrements for the ‘right’ life: don’t visit the right restaurants, live in the right house, take the right holidays, wear the right clothes, you know the drill. The danger of comparison and succumbing to the green eyed monster. If you were to actually believe the carefully constructed glimpses of life crap you see on Instagram it would be enough to drive you to drink.

To be honest, I’ve never given a shit about any of that life comparison stuff. Have confidence in your own taste has always been my motto, even though that ‘taste’ was mainly towards wine. However, recently I’ve been feeling disappointed. Not with my life status, but in my progression with my sobriety.

If you have read my previous blogs you will know that I packed in a long and tumultuous drinking career on 29th April 2019 – and I did this alone. By alone I mean that I did not follow a Recovery Program or attend A.A, but what I did do was engage with some like-minded people on social media who were going through the same process and they became vital in keeping me on track. And it worked. Or at least it worked right up until I launched myself off the wagon towards the end of the year. The upshot of that was two-fold, I felt like I’d let my peers down, that they had wasted their time with me, and I felt that I was no longer entitled to feel the pride I had before.

I was down in the dumps, on a real Debbie-Downer. Even though I’ve since given up drinking again (I’ve not touched a drop this year), I still felt like I didn’t quite ‘get it’, that I was an imposter amongst the soberites in my circle and that I was failing where my peers were succeeding. Where did this come from? This mad comparison? I suddenly realised that had ‘me’ of a year ago been told that she had finally started to control her relationship with alcohol and had gone more than three quarters of a year with just a few drinks, well, she would have never believed it! So I decided to tell her – to tell myself just exactly what I’ve achieved….so I wrote myself a letter:

Dear TPL,

I know you’re scared. Terrified. I know that you don’t know what to do. Well, you do know what you need to do, but you don’t believe for a second that you can. You know what I’m talking about. That thing that occupies your every waking moment, that mad cycle that you are trapped in that when you are not thinking about how you need to give up wine, you are thinking of how to get it, how to hide it, how to drink it.

Well, are you sitting down? You’re never going to believe this. This year…this year….this year for you are going to kick the habit. You are going to stop drinking. You are going to stop drinking for nearly six months!!! I know!!! Sounds mad doesn’t it? You – you who has not gone more than 27 days without a drink in nearly 25 years (remember that 27 days, in 2013?) will finally get the demon under control.

And the best part of this, you are never going to believe the things that will happen as a result of that decision…so here’s a glimpse…

  • Firstly, you are going to have an affair. A real love thang. Now, don’t get too excited, this isn’t a hottie, this love affair is with yourself. For the first time in a long time you learn to like yourself, to trust yourself, to believe in your own reliability. For the first time in years you have actually accomplished something you set out to do – and it is a real achievement. It is difficult, so hard at first (and you knew it was going to be hard, you’ve read all the books, you know what to expect), but actually doing it? Yes, it’s difficult but you do it – and you’re proud of that, so proud you spout about it all day long on Twitter, but you should be proud, you’ve proved yourself.
  • Your sleep is infinitely better. The 3am Wine-Witch-Wake-Up-Call has gone. The improved sleep means you are far more able to deal with the days. Life is clearer, better, brighter.
  • You’re lighter – not just emotionally, but physically. All those empty calories in the wine you were pounding that you know were wreaking havoc with the size of your arse, well when they’re gone, you shrink, literally.
  • You’re fitter – this year you will climb mountains, swim miles, walk miles and miles, run, buy a bicycle and ride every day (or ride whilst the sun is shining anyway, but ODAAT and all that…ODAAT? You probably don’t know what that means, you will learn a whole new host of jargon and acronyms this year)
  • You go on holidays and don’t drink.
  • You go on holidays and remember them when you get home.
  • You look better – your skin is glowing and you get compliments, lots of compliments (which in truth cause a whole new addiction of their own, but it’s a nice one).
  • Your relationships are deeper and more authentic, remove the drink and you can really get to know people, and you do. Now, one relationship does suffer, but don’t worry it will be ok, some of those closest to you will struggle with your decisions as they literally mourn the old you, it’s painful to watch, but….but it has to be done.

So, TPL do you see where this is going. What you do this year is amazing. Life changing. There is nothing to fear. It is a huge thing that lots of people set out to do and don’t manage it – but YOU DO!

You have it all to look forward to.

And the best part? You really enjoy it.

As a quick add on, as if these incentives weren’t enough these things happen too:

  • You make a load of new contacts through your documentation of your recovery on social media, lifelong friends.
  • You get ASKED to write blogs
  • Some of your favourite writers start following you
  • And
  • And
  • and
  • and….
  • Russell Brand retweets some of your comments – I knew that would be the clincher!! 🙂

THIS is what awaits you. What are YOU waiting for?

Love TPL xxx

P.S Don’t worry too much about the falling off the wagon bit, you develop enough skills and knowledge this year to climb right back on, but, if time travel does exist and you can see this before you start your recovery: DON’T go out on 30th October…. just saying.

Being Alcohol Aware during Alcohol Awareness Week (…& I’ve had another blip)

I once read an article about a woman who could buy a box of Quality Street and just eat the odd one.  “Bollocks” I thought.  Who can do that?  When I open a box of chocolates, packet of biscuits or family bag of Doritos, I eat them.  All of them.  The behaviour has made me “Quality Street Aware” – so I just don’t buy them.  It’s a shame I’m less aware when it comes to wine.  I’ve kick-started myself into writing this blog because I’ve had another ‘blip’.  I don’t like the term ‘relapse’ and as this is my sobriety journey, I can call it what I like. Despite what seems like relentless work on recognising my own skewed relationship with alcohol, for some reason, it still has a hold over me.  It is like the shitty boyfriend: the one who keeps telling you all will be different this time, and it is for a week or so, then he goes out and sleeps with your sister.  In the end you become wary, you become “dickhead aware” and you stay away.  Why, why can I not do this with wine?  Why do I keep thinking all will be different this time?

I also once read another article about Kathleen Tynan, that she when writing, could be found immaculately dressed sitting at a desk sipping cold white wine.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I read the actual article at all, I think I read that reference in Bridget Jones’ Diary.  The reason the reference comes to mind, is that as I sit here now, writing, I’m thinking “a drink would be nice” and the Tynan reference always pops romantically into my brain.  Bridget Jones also pops in there and I think: there’s a woman I would really like to share a Chardonnay with (and I don’t even like Chardonnay).

In truth, the “a drink would be nice while I’m doing this” pops into my head during all kinds of things: painting, decorating, ironing, working, cleaning.  I heard from a woman recently who drank wine whilst on the treadmill (I can hold my hands up that I never did that – go on a treadmill that is).    Maybe a drink would be nice, would take the edge off the monotony of the task, but I’m working hard on being Alcohol Self Aware: understanding that this thinking underlies everything I do, that the thought worms its slimy way into my head, stops me thinking about anything else, until The Wine Witch’s apple looks just too juicy and red in my head, and I bite.  For the first few bites I think “this is delicious”, but the apple soon withers, Snow White-style, and I quickly realise it is rotten and poisoned – and talking of slimy worms, there’s a big fat one in the middle.

The relief the bite of the apple offers is short-lived.  It switches off the internal dialogue, the “should I? shouldn’t I?” for a short while but that dialogue is very quickly replaced with anxiety.  Anxiety over having another one, and another one, and another one.  The task you were performing is suddenly secondary to the wine drinking which you had, half an hour ago, argued to yourself would just be a nice accompaniment.  If you’re painting or cleaning or whatever it is you are doing, that suddenly takes a lot longer as you’re obsessing over the wine.  After the relief of the first glass, by the third or fourth (usually within an hour for me), the old worries about the rate at which you’ve pounded the first two are back.  The fuzziness of the relief of the first glass is superseded by a general fuzziness and loss of control.  I hate this bit, the crossing of the nice and relaxed to the actual getting pissed, on your own, doing the ironing and starting to lose it.  The rest?  A mixture of regret and going to the toilet a lot. 

So, back to my blip.  A month after my first blip I’ve had another one.  The ‘reasoning’ behind my decision to drink is by-the-by, the danger is that I’ve now got myself into a headspace that tells me if I can go a month or so without, without too much trouble, I’m not an alcoholic.  My alcohol awareness has become compromised.  If you read my previous blogs you can appreciate that this ‘reasoning’ is… for want of a better phrase, absolute bollocks.  This thinking is dangerous because I know I will grasp that slippery slope, that I will throw away my “grippy shoes” and dive headlong onto that slope like it’s the Cresta Run.  I will, given the slightest ‘reasoning’ throw away my awareness and go for it.

I’ve talked before about how I had started the AA Step Program.  Right now, rightly or wrongly (and this is me, it is going to be wrongly), I can not commit to AA.  It’s not that I can’t commit mentally it is literally a matter of timing: my work hours are very erratic and I can’t get to meetings.  But I am still studying The Steps.  Step One suggests that the obsession around alcohol can be alleviated by resigning yourself to the fact that you are powerless over it.  That once you start if you ‘play the tape forward’ in your head you will see the mess it will get you into.  I have read countless accounts of people getting sober and their family and friends being ecstatic as playing the tape forward was like detonating a bomb and everyone around them was affected by the blast.  But what if those around you were always seemingly unaffected by the bomb? What if the detonation was more of an implosion than an explosion and the only person hurt was you? What if, by refusing to let the bomb go off you’ve become sufficiently alcohol aware that you are now seemingly adversely affecting those around you? Confused? So am I.  Let me explain.

My alcoholism did not include many sordid tales (I stress, didn’t include many, that’s not to say there weren’t any).  There was no getting arrested, no wetting myself, no blackouts, no fights, no lurid tales of naughtiness. There was some wild dancing, inappropriate and sometimes downright nasty comments, loudness and a bit of stumbling around.  But this doesn’t mean that I wasn’t affected to my core by my drinking. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t suffer, every night, when my wine witch best friend suddenly turned on me and kept me awake with her incessant cackle. I’m always aware of those consequences.  However, when I fixate enough, when I think I really want a drink, as much as I’m alcohol aware, as much as I think of the consequences, I’m also about instant gratification  (instant gratification doesn’t work, let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel a bit sordid and guilty after a bit of instant gratification?).  So, in conclusion, being ‘alcohol aware’ will get you so far, being free of the demon takes relentless, daily, hard work.

A Portrait of a Piss Artist as a Young Girl

At the end of my last blog I told how following a drink binge five months into sobriety, I had gone straight to an AA meeting the next day.  I’ve not learned too much about AA just yet, I’ve attended a few meetings, shared, I’ve read The Big Book (albeit skim-read, if I’m honest, I find the biblical tone of the BB a bit wearing). I’ve read Russell Brand’s version of The 12 Steps (far more easy-read and if I get bored I can stare at his image on the cover for few minutes to cheer myself up) and I’ve chatted to members of The Fellowship.  Aside of AA I am learning a lot.

There have been two huge revelations for me: firstly, characteristics of my alcohol addiction are evident in lots of other areas of my life, I take everything I do to the nth degree. Secondly, if I’m going to follow a Step Program, it is going to require a lot of introspection.  When I realised these things, yesterday, I cried.  I cried solidly for an hour.  I am not a crier.  I’m not even a sniffler.  For me, I’m not sure I want to introspect, to “go there”. I’m a simpleton, I can’t drink so I don’t drink but the reality of that mantra has been that I’ve often been unhappy as a non-drinker, lost.  I don’t want to be unhappy and lost so maybe, unfortunately, “there” is where I need to “go”. 

I’m a drinker.  A lush.  Being a drinker has been a fundamental part of my identity since being a teenager.  I’ve wondered where it all began.  If there was silver bullet that drove me to drink.  The conclusion is that no, there wasn’t.  I’ve had my fair share of life issues but there was no one trigger that specifically tipped me over that boundary of social drinker to the dogged, determined, obsessive drinker that I became. For me it was probably a combination of things: my personality, my relentless desire to have fun, my tendency to take everything to the extreme, my constant need for distraction from boredom and my intense dislike of negative feelings and emotions – they were to be kept firmly squashed down.  I used an external power source – alcohol – to deal with life, to deal with the relentless boredom I find in a “normal” life.  What I do now know, is that power source is more trouble than it’s worth, time to find a new one.

To say I’ve always been an alcoholic is a bit harsh (unfair to me as a toddler) but I certainly always had an obsession with pubs and drink.  My parents weren’t big drinkers, we didn’t go to pubs as kids (I was a kid in the early 1980s, well before the heady days of Whacky Warehouse and kids menus in Wetherspoons), there was rarely alcohol in the house but I had a bizarre obsession with pubs.  I have an early memory of being involved in a school project to interview local shopkeepers, it was a council estate with a traditional row of shops and a 1950s brick-built pub in the middle.  I was about 8-years old and was ecstatic when I was allocated the pub landlord as my interview (a sign of things to come?).  We 8 year olds were dispatched to do our interviews (this was long before the days of Operation Yewtree), and I was beyond excited to finally get a glimpse inside this denizen of adulthood, to finally see behind the smoky windows, to understand what a “snug” was.  Even as a child I would cross the street to get a whiff of that salty mix of stale beer, fags and rancid carpet as a pub door swung open, I was desperate to get inside one.  So you can imagine my disappointment when the landlord wouldn’t let me in as “it was no place for a little girl” (I now know that to be true, that pub is a shithole), and I had to conduct the interview on the front steps.  My obsession rolled on.

I was always desperate to stop being a kid and become an adult.  I couldn’t wait to grow up and for me the biggest symbol of that shift from kid to adult was to drink.  I went to a posh secondary school, an all-girls-bitch fest.  It was a grammar school and I’d got in on merit, the only kid from my school, but with my rough council estate accent I stood out like a fly on a wedding cake.  Yet I always had lots of friends, I was clever and mouthy and from an early age found that I had the ability to make people laugh which always served me well.  But I always relied on these personality traits, never talked at length with my friends and hid everything beneath the jokes.  I never really fitted in, even after compulsory elocution lessons to take the edge off the accent.

As a teenager I started drinking.  From the off I was really, really, really good at it.  It took me ages to get properly pissed and I could hold it.  I loved that.  Wore it like a badge of honour.  I could hold my booze and what I really loved was how drinking threw off any inhibitions, I could be funnier, more confident – and I was a favourite with the boys, and I liked them (sounds awful, but it was true, sounds awful, but some things never change).  That behaviour too I now see as symptomatic of my addictive tendency.

 I had a mouth like an elocuted Tourette’s sufferer, drank and smoked liked a smoky pissed fish, I could hold my own amongst any crowd – I was popular, and in my twisted head, that was due to my drinking prowess.  I was fun, up for it Nikki and as the late 1980s rolled into the ladette culture of the 1990s I was “trendy”. To end this portrait of Nikki as a youngster, I went to university to study History.  On my first day I turned up at the halls armed with 24 bottles of wine that my aunt had given me (“to help make friends”), in a nutshell, when the wine ran out, I left.

Writing that mini history of my early drinking has made me realise that I got stuck in that thinking:  that drinking, holding your booze and being fun is symbolic of young and trendy.  But what gets you going when you’re 17, doesn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be what gets you going at 45.  In reality the fun drinking changed from being fun to an intense, unhealthy, dogged, determined obsession.  As with everything I tend to do, I took it to the nth degree and spoiled it. It became a compulsion to drink to squash down every emotion and to drown out dealing with the realities of life and facing the decisions I’d made along the way.  Drinking strips from you your ability to deal with life, strips you of your natural personality and strips you of your self-respect.

What I struggle with now is that all those raw emotions have been unleashed and I don’t have my go-to tool to drown out the constant internal dialogue. I relinquished my power to deal with life the day I started drinking and now I live in constant negotiation with the idea of manageability over abstinence and that’s what makes me unhappy. I struggle to live happily with relentless boredom.  So I’m willing to give AA, a program for living, a go because I know, really, that it has to be abstinence because for me, once I start, it becomes very, very, very, very, very, very hard to stop.

Genesis: The Creation

Genesis: The Creation (Of a Northern Piss Can)

In The Beginning…

Well, maybe not In The Beginning but last Tuesday.

The decision was made within a minute. 

Maybe not a minute, a second.

Or, maybe not a second but weeks ago.

I shoot behind the bar, grab a bottle of wine, pour it into the glass and slurp the top in a massive gulp before I have chance to change my mind.  The staff are cheering, the customers are cheering, it feels fun, it feels naughty, I feel like “I’m back”. Things are going to notch up a gear tonight, don’t look back Nikki, this is what we do, you’ll be fine, back on the wagon tomorrow.

Within forty minutes I’ve drunk the bottle.

By 4am I’m awake.  Dry mouth, guilt, heart racing, anxiety. Back sleeping on the sofa: “What the hell  have I done?”

Here’s what I did…drank two bottles of wine within a couple of hours, a few shots, a few vodka & colas.  For twenty years there was nothing new about that.  A nightly occurrence, but I’d just been alcohol free for five months.  I’m gutted.

You see I’m an alcoholic.  An “enthusiastic drinker.”  A lover of wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, shots.  Even Cinzano, even Baileys, even Midori and even Crème de Menthe if need be for fuck’s sake.  You name it, I’ll drink it.  There was no occasion that I believed couldn’t be improved by the appropriate accompanying drink: wine mostly, but beer in the sunshine, rum in the Caribbean, Whisky in Scotland, Vodka in Russia (I’ve never been to Russia but I know full well that would be the first thing I’d have done).  You get the picture, a booze romantic.  A night out? Impossible without a drink, I mean who does that? Boring gits that’s who.  I drank heavily and steadily for more than twenty years, no breaks for babies (child free), no “Dry January” (usually made it to the 3rd), nothing could stop me, I loved it…and most of all I was good at it, it was my number one skill.

I loved it so much I made it my life.  I had a short-term career in local media and post-work drinks were nightly.  5pm soon became 10pm and I boozed hard, every night for six years. We’d visit the local pub and were the life and soul of the party, so much so that as his favourite customer, The Landlord and I fell (literally fell on a number of occasions) for each other, became an item and shortly moved in together. I quickly ended up giving up my own career to run the pub.  I was 25. It was a dream come true.  A career match made in heaven.  I was EXPECTED to drink.  Plus, I was sensible (in my head), no drinking during the day, just decent wine in the evenings. It was social.  Jeez, I’d won the alcoholic lottery! Happy days!

 However, social drinking is very different to what I ended up doing.  By the time I was in my forties I was polishing off 100 units a week and there was absolutely nothing social about it.  Necking wine like we were on the brink of war rationing, no counting how much I was drinking, there was an unlimited supply behind the bar, and as the boss, there was nobody to question me.  If it was not wine, it was rum or vodka.  Keep popping back to that optic, just looks like I’m serving a customer, nobody knows it’s for me, it looks like I’m just drinking cola.

Now here’s for the sad bit…this happened. Every. Single. Night.

 I was trapped.  Trapped in a cycle of despair where a typical day looked like this: wake up 3am, dry mouth, banging head, anxiety, retreat to the sitting room, to the sofa, don’t want to disturb The Landlord, watch TV, cry, nod off.  8am: wake up, hangover, tears, ‘this is going to stop, today’. 1pm, a few hours work under my belt, I’m ok, I’ve got this.  Nap by 3pm (sleeping patterns destroyed) and by 5pm?  Well I’m back! Fully functioning and doing a deal with myself over what to drink tonight.  Crazy deals, where my thoughts were along the lines of: stick to vodka, that’s “pure”, better for you (?!), drink just decent wine, just wine, no spirits, beer – it’s less alcoholic, will make me less hungover, I’ll start tomorrow… blah, blah, blah.  By 7pm, I’m drinking again.

I trod that hamster wheel every day for years. On the outside I appeared fine.  I like the analogy of a decent car.  When I say “decent” I don’t mean like a Porsche but maybe a high spec Fiat 500 that looks nice from the outside, yet when you open the bonnet you see that the engine is shagged and someone has left a dirty protest on the seats. 

A few years ago I knew something wasn’t right.  I was anxious, my confidence had plummeted, I was eating badly, had zero energy, was emotional, a careless partner, a rubbish boss.  Something had to change.  I was getting sloppy too.  As I pounded the booze harder and harder at work people were starting to notice.  You may kid yourself that you’re functioning normally with a bottle of wine and ten spirits inside you but you’re definitely not.  I looked online, did a few tests “Am I an Alcoholic?”  The answers always came back “Yes”, the only thing I didn’t do was drink in the mornings – but even that wasn’t true if I was at an airport for a holiday, a ferry terminal, early train for a day out with friends. 

Then came the sobriety blogs and memoirs, my goodness did I identify with all that!  For 5 more years I read that stuff, telling myself I’ll start tomorrow.  The positive in reading these is that I was building knowledge, a toolkit of understanding my skewed relationship with the poison and formulating a plan in how to tackle it.  I knew, deep down, that the booze had to go. What was the alternative?  Keep boozing myself into despair and ultimately an early grave?  But I was scared.  I didn’t believe I could do it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  I liked pissed me – even if those around me thought I was about as funny as a dose of chlamydia.

After a particularly heavy wedding weekend where I walked my sister up the aisle, pissed, at 1pm, I decided to give it a go.  No AA, no SMART just me, my knowledge and some tweeting with like-minded people in recovery.  I was sober for 5 months.  Life became unrecognizable: better sleep, I was kinder, more motivated, had more confidence – the compliments alone for how much better I looked could create a whole new addiction of their own – a better boss, the list was endless. Then after five months, after weeks of questioning all I had learned and wondering if I could become a “normal drinker” I tested myself.  That test was passed (or failed, depending on which way you look at it) and it reaffirmed my love of my sobriety but also confirmed that I can not do this alone.  So right the next day I attended AA.  I’d always been scathing of AA, believed it was reserved for the “real alcoholics”, not “enthusiastic drinkers” like me.  Yet after just one meeting I loved it.  So let’s see how this next chapter of my sobriety goes.