There are some days when I am at odds with myself and the world in general… I never doubt my choice to stop drinking for today, but there are certainly times when it would be so much easier to just get drunk! I started drinking when I was a tween and I never learned how to socialise without the aid of a substance which directly affects your frontal lobe and thereby lowers inhibitions, increases confidence and just makes you feel more relaxed. Well that’s what it did for me. I discovered that once I stopped drinking I was not as comfortable at parties or in the company of strangers as I had been from the age of twelve, through my twenties and well into my thirties. I went back to being that awkward young girl who was not sure how to express her thoughts and opinions in a social setting.
When I finally did give up drinking I was in my mid-thirties and suddenly the world after dark seemed like a very daunting and inhospitable place. I soon began to understand that I had never acquired the self confidence to speak to strangers, to mingle at a party or to carry a conversation in a crowded room without the cushioning security of alcohol. When sober I saw for the first time that I had to dig deep and find the pure self-worth within myself, not simply slam back a tequila and just trust that it was there. I’m not sure that I’m actually making myself clear. It felt as though I was living in a foreign body and that I was having to rediscover who I was with friends and family. At the time I was living abroad and my peer group were my source of courage and support when I first decided to put my drinking days to rest. They couldn’t have been more dubious when I declared that I was done for good. They’d heard it all before. They’d seen me the “morning after the night before” pale and shaking stating the very same thing and I am not at all surprised that they didn’t believe me that time.
The problem was that my blackouts were becoming far more regular, I was missing more work days and my aggression levels were of some concern to those around me. These things didn’t really bother me, I was either too drunk or hungover to care about anything. I really wouldn’t listen to anyone after I’d had that one drink too many, vehemently declaring that I was not going home, not taking advice and that I didn’t need to be looked after. I’d stay out all night, drinking with complete strangers and somehow managing to find my way home at ungodly hours, if at all. I was tearing through money with no regard and had bar tabs in more than one establishment. But since I was a regular in more than one drinking hole the managers and owners seemed to believe that I was good for it and I’d insist in spending obscene amounts of money buying rounds of drinks so that I was not drinking alone. That was what alcoholics did, and I was not an alcoholic!
And of course there were copious mornings when I’d wake up with a hollow feeling gnawing at my insides, wondering whether I’d fought with a friend, been ridiculous or even driven home, when I could hardly walk. The emptiness could always be filled with a few drinks though. I have to admit that besides the very rare occasion I never ever drank in the mornings. I don’t recall ever having a drink before I went to work to get me level. Rather I’d spend most of the day in a state of cold sweats, feeling nauseated and sick to my stomach. I’d get home from work and bury myself under the duvet and sleep it off. It was almost a form of self torture where I’d punish myself for my actions of the previous night, all the time refusing to admit that I was in any sort of trouble. I’d literally managed to talk myself out of the place where I’d been some years before when I’d entered rehab and got sober for a time. If the binges happened to fall over the weekend they hardly ever lasted more than a day and were followed by miserably lying in front of the TV watching morose movies and eating junk food. There was of course the odd time when a series of social events demanded that I simply “drink through the pain” and after a couple of stiff bourbons I’d generally be back in the game.
I thought I was having a wonderful time. I was partying, dancing, making lots of “new friends” and generally being pretty “fly by the seat of my pants”! The awful hangovers and short periods of depression were interspersed with times that were so polar opposite that it all seemed worth it at the time. It’s strange how we convince ourselves of things. When at another time in my life I’d wanted so desperately to get sober, now all I wanted to do was feel better and drinking allowed me that escape. And I had no problem feeling comfortable and self-assured. In retrospect of course it doesn’t make sense, but at the time it all seemed crystal clear. And then I stopped drinking and a whole new battle with finding my place in the world began! Where did I fit in with my friends and family? How was I supposed to act now that I was not longer the life and soul of the party, ordering trays of tequila and dancing on bar counters!? It was something that I was not prepared for…that getting well meant my life was not going to be as much fun and that I was residing in some sort of social limbo. It’s been the hardest and most arduous part of my recovery. To be honest giving up the booze was the easy part when compared with the emotional battles that were to begin being waged within me over the next weeks, months and even years. And some days those little demons still crop up, not demanding drinks but rather reassurance that I still have an important contribution to make at a social gathering.
I’ll leave it there for tonight, it’s getting late and pick up here tomorrow with how I got through the very difficult early stages of my present recovery. And why even though it has been incredibly tough at times, it has been the most incredible and rewarding endeavour of my life.
‘Til next time
“People will forget what you said
People will forget what you did
But people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)