Making it look easy: a brief history of dysfunctional drinking

In a private conversation with a friend who reads this blog the other day, I learned that I was making this sobriety thing look easy.  It was meant as a compliment.

Goodness knows, very few things in life feel as easy as they look from the outside, but I am aware that I’ve been posting relentlessly optimistic, cheerleading posts for a while now.  It helps that my life is completely amazing at the moment; I’m studying something I love, I moved into my dream house in April, last year’s financial worries have dimmed somewhat, and I’m not sure how much of that is directly attributable to sobriety or not, but it all adds up to amazing.

But this is what I want to say:  You guys are reading the success story because the failures never made it to air.

It's like alcohol was the captor, and I was the hostage, and we were in a cheesy film with no sense of irony

It’s like alcohol was the captor, and I was the hostage, and we were in a cheesy film with no sense of irony

Here is a thing that I wrote to some close friends, back in 2005, nine years ago:

I think this is a problem. But because I fall in that huge in-between area between ‘a glass of wine at a party’ and ‘guzzling mouthwash’ the doubts remain.

And I’m really scared. 

I’ve been to events where I stay stone cold sober – but only rarely, I’m so used to being tipsy when I’m being sociable that it feels really weird not to be. 

Mostly, I just get tipsy. I don’t end up an embarrassing blubbering drunk or anything. But I’m not going out and staying completely sober.

But then the two of us also have a routine of sharing a bottle of wine two or three nights a week. And when there’s wine in the fridge I have a glass or two of an evening just generally.

And when Lovely Husband’s not here – which of course is half the time – I still have a glass or two of wine of an evening. And sometimes it’s not a glass of two. It’s the best part of a bottle. Every now and then, it’s a bottle. I tell myself that if I was out I’d be drinking a similar amount. Which is true, but doesn’t make the quantities less.

I have a problem, don’t I? I’m saying that when we socialise, I drink. When we have a ‘date’ evening at home, I drink. And when I’m at home alone with nothing better to do – I drink.

I’m functional. I don’t miss work, I don’t damage relationships, I don’t spend money I don’t have, I don’t do any of the things that scream ‘alcoholic’.

I’m not going to go to an AA meeting. I don’t think this is something I can’t control, and it’s not something I feel so helpless about that I need to make a complete break from. But I needed to say this to you guys, even if I can’t yet say it to the people I love. And I need to find a way of breaking the dependence. I need to make sure I’m driving home so I can’t drink sometimes. I need to stop myself drinking at home alone.

I just needed to write that all down. 

Oh God.

What strikes me, reading that back, is not the quantities I’m talking about – it’s the fear.  And I did nothing at all about it.

Here is me again, in 2011.

I’m sober at the moment. But I’m sober because I’m pregnant. And even that might not have been enough to do it, but a very handy side-effect of pregnancy, for me, is a total aversion to alcohol.

Being sober is what’s given me the courage to post; I didn’t feel I could post if I didn’t know that I wouldn’t drink that evening. And on any given day, I didn’t know that. Well, I guess I did know; I was pretty much always going to drink. Sometimes I would manage a night alcohol-free, but then I’d tell myself that it proved that I could drink responsibly, and drink the next night. 

It’s very telling what I miss, at the moment. I don’t miss being able to have a small glass of wine at dinner. I miss drinking glass after glass of wine over an evening.  I’m scared that I’ll just go back to it as soon as it tastes good again. I’m very high functioning, and I mostly drink at home, but I know that if I continue, there’ll be a point where the consequences catch up with me.

My plan, when I posted that, was to use the pregnancy as a chance to break the habit and any physical addiction, and then stay sober.  In fact, I had been so out of control in the year before that pregnancy that I looked upon it as a chance at rescue.  I knew I needed to stop, I knew I’d be able to stop when I got pregnant, I was impatient for the pregnancy to happen because I needed the cut-off point.  I didn’t think I could quit ‘on my own’.

And then I had Little Girl, and my drinking went straight back to where it had been, and worse.

Those are only the quotes that I have in writing, and that I could find easily.  There is the collection of alcoholic memoirs, which date back to at least 2009 and attest to the fact that I have known, for a long time, that there is something wrong.  There is also an initial attempt at a sobriety blog at the end of 2010, which lasted three days before I drank and then deleted it.  There is my attempt at Dry July, also in 2010, which lasted two days. There’s the long, terrified email that I sent to a sober friend, back in 2012 when I was very, very drunk, basically pleading for her to tell me what to do to make it stop.

I’ve posted before that I knew I was an alcoholic before I quit, and that the realisation wasn’t a blinding moment of salvation, but rather an another excuse to drink (‘I’m an alcoholic!  Of course I can’t stay sober!”).  I don’t know that I’ve ever posted about all the times that I looked into my life, felt terror, and reached for the wine glass.

Sobriety is easy.  There’s nothing easier in the world than living without alcohol.

But quitting was so fucking hard that it took me almost a decade to do it.

21 thoughts on “Making it look easy: a brief history of dysfunctional drinking

  1. I love this beyond words, so I won’t say much, other than I had a notebook, journals of stuff like this. Some I couldn’t read back if I wanted to because the handwriting is illegible because, drunk.

    So much truth here..I am sure you are helping so many people with this.

  2. Yes. I can look back at many years of “drink less” in my day times. Of plans and ideas and grand proclamations about cutting back, being responsible, only drinking one glass.
    Many years. Of soul searching, and defect finding and self criticism. But drinking. Always drinking.

    So I agree. This sobriety thing is so frigging relieving. These have been the best 7 plus months of my life. And they included a full out nervous breakdown.
    Because I’m finally back to being the real me and everything now is doable. Even hard things.

  3. When I look back on my drinking days (uh, technically years/decades, I guess), what causes me the most pain is not all the time I spent drinking, but all the time I spent desperate to quit and feeling helpless to actually do so. You are right–sobriety itself is a walk in the park compared to all that terrible, ultimately needless fear. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.

  4. hear hear. all that secret pain: so shocking but so terribly familiar.

    and like you I knew I was an alcoholic. I thought I had acceptance of that. and I was right. what I DIDN’T have acceptance of is the truth that THERE WAS SOMETHING I COULD DO ABOUT IT.

    and with my newly clear-sighted vision I can see that were were all on the same bus ride. mounting addiction leading to despair and fear. trying to moderate and failing. trying to stop completely and failing. until we find a way of communicating with the right other people about it sufficiently to enable us to stop.

    thanks as ever for a cracking post. I dearly hope that your words can be part of shortening that trajectory for those who read them. because that pain – ugh. no way to live.

  5. “Sobriety is easy. There’s nothing easier in the world than living without alcohol.
    But quitting was so fucking hard that it took me almost a decade to do it.”

    I have not travelled your journey, but in relation to other journeys these statements bring some hope and relief. Thank you for you honesty. Gina

  6. I’ve read every one of your posts and when you publish a book I’ll be first in line. Truly captivating writing; you stop me in my tracks, make me pause – eyebrows raised, laugh out loud and nod my head in agreement. Keep writing, you have such a lot to offer & if you are in the west, give me a shout :)

  7. I also was anxious to get pregnant to have an excuse to not drink. Sad, isn’t it. It should have been a giant red flag but it took having a colicky baby and going into my worst bouts of drinking to admit to myself I had a serious problem.

  8. Reblogged this on FitFatFood- Blogging to Stay Sober and commented:
    This is amazing. I can see myself in these moments of looking at the problem but not addressing it yet.

    This blog helps keep me sober, because I think I don’t have a problem then reread the pain.

    If I drink again, I will only defer again the brave decision I took last year to try to get sober. Drinking is deferring the inevitable.
    So today, I’m staying on the sober side.

  9. Well I’m 53 and alcohol free for almost 3 months for the first time ever and it really struck a chord you saying it took you a decade to stop. I drank rather like you did and had moderated gradually over the years but I see now that it took me around 20 years to finally stop! Thank you for your clear and thought provoking writing.

  10. Reblogged this on club east: indianapolis and commented:
    This is an amazing, brutally honest post from one of my favorite “post-alcohol” bloggers.

    “Sobriety is easy. There’s nothing easier in the world than living without alcohol.
    But quitting was so fucking hard that it took me almost a decade to do it.”

    Read the whole thing. And the comments rock, too.

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