I’ve thought long and hard about whether to write this. Once I decided to write it, I struggled to figure out how. Why didn’t I want to write it? Because doing so makes it true and it makes me accountable. It makes me publicly responsible for something that honestly, I’m probably 50% in denial about and the other 50%? Well, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure I have an unhealthy dependency on alcohol. That’s a hard sentence to write. An even harder sentence to write is, “It’s possible I might be an alcoholic”. It’s such a dirty word though, right? It brings to mind those sad figures on park benches with a can of Special Brew in their grubby hands at 7am in the morning. That’s not me. I’m yet to find myself on a park bench, I’m yet to inhale a bottle of Malbec for breakfast but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
If I was brave enough, I’d describe to you, in detail, the event that brought me to the realisation that there was a problem. Right now, I’m not brave enough but know this: I was lucky. Very lucky. I got away with something that could have ended in disaster. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but it was enough, for the first time in my life to shake me to my core. I scared myself to death – so much so that I immediately called my husband and explained what had happened and said, “I think I need to go to a meeting.” So, that night, I went.
You see, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem. If the horrible thing that happened, hadn’t happened, there’s every chance I would still be drinking and maybe, MAYBE, I would go my whole life drinking steadily and occasionally drinking dangerously and not suffering any serious consequences. Chances are though, that wouldn’t be the case. Maybe the serious consequence wouldn’t end in blood and guts and drama but maybe it would be the end of my marriage, or maybe it would be the loss of contracts at work, or maybe it would be my health. Either way, for now I’m not comfortable picking up a drink. I don’t want to take that chance.
Because, I’d be lying if I said that it was all about that one thing that happened. It wasn’t. There’d been a voice steadily growing more persistent in my mind in recent months. It was a voice that was starting to think about that first glass of wine pretty early on in the day. I’d count down the hours until it was ‘acceptable’ to have a drink. I’d drink 2 or 3 glasses of wine a night between 5pm and 10pm when I went to bed. Not excessive as a one off, but every night? That was too much.
Of course, it’s easy to justify. We’re mums, right? Drinking is our thing. It’s our reward at the end of the day. It’s our chance to raise a glass to ourselves for our super-humanness. It’s our adult time, our ‘me time’. As if that wasn’t enough, I come from a family of big drinkers. Really big drinkers. There’s rarely a family gathering that doesn’t end in some sort of drunken craziness. There’s likely to be singing, tears, maybe a fight or two, certainly the odd juicy conffession. Drinking is who we are. It’s what we’re known for.
I work in a very social environment. A lot of what we do is about entertaining, socialising, meeting and greeting, schmoozing. There’s Prosecco at every turn, a cocktail here and there and wine. So. Much. Wine.
If I’m honest though, there’s always a reason to drink. I’ll have a drink of wine because I had a great day, because I had a bad day. I’ll drink a bottle of wine because we’ve got friends over for dinner. I’ll share a bottle of wine with my husband because we’ve got a night in alone – except I’ll always drink more than half. I’ll drink because I’m cooking, because I’m writing, because I’m cuddled up on the sofa reading. Essentially, if the day ends in a ‘y’, I can find a reason to drink.
I haven’t had a drink now in ten days. I’m ashamed and shocked to say that’s almost certainly the longest I’ve gone without a drink in ten years. What worried me more is that, because of the nature of my husband’s work, almost 70% of what I drank, I drank on my own, in the evenings when I’d put the kids to bed. I wouldn’t get hammered, but I’d certainly drink too much to drive. That’s not great parenting.
And that’s where the buck(s fizz) stops. I’ve been a regular binge-drinker for a number of year. During those binge-drinking sessions, I’d put myself in danger a number of times. One night after having Billie, I was ‘out out’. I woke up at home, under the duvet fully dressed. I had no recollection of how I got home and, on inspecting the front yard I found a trail of my belongings starting at the pavement and finishing at my front door including my wallet, my sunglasses and my phone. Just there, on the street. It’s a miracle no one took them. When I showered that morning, I found a bruise the size of football on my thigh. If my children’s life depended on it, I couldn’t have told you how I got that bruise. What I do know is this: firstly, my children’s lives do depend on it and secondly, when Addison Lee calls you in the morning to check you’re ok, you know you’ve taken it too far. But of course, I didn’t know that. Not for sure.
On another occasion I emerged from unconsciousness to find myself being sexually assaulted by a work colleague. You’d think that was rock bottom, right? The real low? Nope. Not even close. I walked away from that job but at that point, it wasn’t enough to make me walk away from booze. In fact, I didn’t even consider it. Yes, a woman should be able to lie in the middle of the street stark-bollock naked and blind dunk without the fear of being attacked while she’s there, but, on reflection, I’m not comfortable being stark-bullock naked and blind drunk in the middle of the street. Not anymore anyway.
The real low was the event that I’m not ready to talk about. I’m not ready to put it in writing and maybe I never will be. Suffice to say, that as soon as my drinking started to affect those people I love most in the world is exactly the point at which I said, ‘Enough is enough.’
So, I’m currently not drinking. I don’t know where my journey will take me. It’s already easy for me to think that I can have a drink without ending up blind drunk and I know that I can because there were plenty of times I just had one. But the fact is, that if I keep drinking I’ll always, eventually end up blind drunk at some point and I don’t want to go there ever again. The simple fact is that if I don’t have the first drink, I won’t have the second, and the third and so on. For now then, I’m not having that first drink.
It’s scary because I’ve never done it before. I don’t know what or who lives beneath the veneer of booze. I don’t know if I’ll enjoy social situations as much or if I’ll be as enjoyable to be around in social situations. I have no idea how to answer the questions that I’ll be asked about why I’m not drinking. What I do know is that I feel good about not drinking; I know that my kids deserve the best version I can give them of myself; I know my husband always dreaded the drunken me and I know that I won’t miss those bone-crunchingly painful hangovers.
Like everything else on the blog, this is my story. It isn’t yours and I haven’t written it to pass a judgement on women and mums and how we drink. Like I said before, it’s not a problem until it’s a problem and even if my story resonates with your own, it doesn’t mean you have a problem. You could be drinking way more than me but not find yourself in compromising and dangerous positions. You could also be drinking less than me but feel very uncomfortable about your habits and the situations you find yourself in. If you are feeling concerned about your drinking, chances are you’re also reluctant to talk about it because it all feels a bit dirty and grubby and uncouth. I hear you but trust me, do talk about it. The more you do, the less massive it feels, the less ugly it sounds and the more empowered you’ll feel because for the first time, you’ll feel like you’re taking back control.
Literally, overnight, my drinking became a problem for me, and let’s face it, until that happens it doesn’t matter who the fuck else it’s a problem for.