I’m glad so many of you liked my post about drinking again. What seems to have resonated the most is the alcoholic thinking that happens before the first glass, all those justifications that roil in our heads constantly. And I have to admit that when I started writing, that bit came very easily, and in far more detail than I thought it was going to; clearly, there’s a hell of a lot of alcoholic thinking still going on in my brain.
But that’s not why I wrote it.
The realisation that I wanted to get down in print was the bit at the end. This bit:
Obviously I’m an alcoholic. I can’t even quit when I try really hard. I fucking relapsed. I’m a fuck up. I can’t get out of this. I can’t quit. I always thought I could quit when I finally decided to and I can’t. I must be an alcoholic, and most alcoholics relapse and can’t quit and keep drinking and ruin their lives. Sobriety is just beyond me, I have no willpower.
That’s the story I’ve told myself for the past two years. One of the stories. The book of my drinking isn’t so much a clean narrative as it is a collection of short stories, with conflicting narratives, different subjects and a contents page that looks something like this:
- I’m Not an Alcoholic; I’m Too Functional for That
- Everybody Drinks
- I Can Quit Any Time I Want
- I’m an Alcoholic. I Can’t Help Drinking Like This
- I’ve Drunk Heavily For Years; I Must be Able to Maintain Successfully
- One Day My Drinking Will Get Worse; That’s When I’ll Quit
- I Just Really Like Wine
Anyway, you get the idea. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves all the time. Told often enough, stories have resonance. I don’t want to go all Foucault on you guys, mostly because I’m not completely sure I ever understood Foucault in the first place, but the same societal structures and norms that dictate our stories are also dictated to by those stories. Rape culture, for example, means that rape is reported a certain way and commentary rests on the victim’s behaviour. Those stories, because they permeate our social consciousness also dictate the behaviour and modus operandi of rapists.
How the hell did I even…
Right. Stories! So, stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are tools. Or weapons, wielded badly. The whole (slightly woo, admittedly) theory behind affirmations rests on this; if we write ‘I am successful’ 200 times a day, we will start to believe that we are successful, and we will be open to opportunities in our lives that assist us to become successful because those opportunities align with our self-beliefs. We will also have cramp in our writing hand, but there’s a price to pay for everything. Where our self-belief and our environment don’t accord, we influence our environment to align with our self-beliefs. Which are, in the end, just stories.
The most powerful story I ever told myself, in my drinking days, was Chapter 3. I didn’t know that, at the time. It was just another justification for why I didn’t really have a problem. I just liked to drink, I said. It was just a habit. I’d stop when I had a proper reason. But it turned out to be a story that had more power than I realised, because I really believe it. From the second I ‘properly decided’, I have believed that I can stop.
The most dangerous one was Chapter 4, and in the last two years, I have re-read Chapter 4 so many times that the book started to fall open to those pages.
Every day that I don’t drink, I skip the other chapters, and just read Chapter 3.
But even Chapter 3 isn’t my story any more. It’s in the wrong tense. I can quit any time I like? No. Now I need a new chapter. Chapter 8. I Quit.
And then the next thing is this. One day, I’ll get bored of reading just one chapter of one book, because a book about actively drinking is a book I’ve read too many times, and I’ll write a new story. A better story. A story of romance and high adventure and probably quite a lot of chocolate. That one will be called … I have no idea what that one will be called, which is a shame because this post was all set for a dramatic exit, with sweeping panoramic views and inspirational music.
But that’s the thing about writing your own story; sometimes you change the ending.