Playing the film to the end. The actual end.

‘Playing the film till the end’ is a tool that’s often suggested in sobriety. It’s the idea that instead of picturing that first, lovely, crisp glass of wine on a summer’s afternoon, you picture the entire night.

That first glass of wine. Cool and crisp and everything you’d wanted. Maybe you’re in a pub, on your way home; maybe you’re cooking dinner; maybe you’re pouring it in anticipation of a long, drawn-out bedtime with young children, because it’s a lot easier to read The Gruffalo for the 37th time in one week if you have a drink by your side.

The second glass of wine, almost immediately. How did that first glass disappear so quickly? You must be thirsty. It’s summer, after all. Or it’s winter, but the heating’s turned up. And it’s been a long stressful day. So. A second glass of wine it is.

That’s better. The edges of the day are melting slightly. Things are good. Life is lovely. You aren’t going to worry about whether to have a third glass, it’s hardly excessive, everything’s good. Third glass.

Might as well finish the bottle. Oh, and ring home to explain that you’re working late. Or you’ve smothered your children in extravagant kisses and sent them to bed, which means you’re a good parent and the drinking doesn’t matter.

Does anyone know that you’re a bottle down? Probably not. And you’re home now and the children are asleep and the housework is…well, it’ll last until tomorrow. So, second bottle – you and your partner can share a bottle, that’s a normal couple thing to do. And your husband is angry because you were late home again and he probably doesn’t believe you when you say that you were working, and the alcohol on your breath is because you and a co-worker shared a beer in the office, but he hasn’t actually come out and said that he doesn’t believe you, so you’re sticking to it. And you sang to the kids, and you did that silly dance that they love, and that’s good parenting.

And the second bottle is finished; you shared, obviously, but you took a gulp out of his when he was out of the room, although you’re not thinking about that. And you kind of … well, it’s not quite enough. One more glass would do it, definitely. But you can’t open another one. Maybe if you wait until your partner goes to bed. You did intimate that sex might be on the agenda tonight, but, well. That one more glass is more compelling. Perhaps if you tell him that you just want to finish a quick thing and you promise you’ll be up soon. Then you can open another bottle. Just one glass, hide the rest for the next day. Alright, love, up soon, no honestly, I just want to read the end of this chapter, yes of course I will actually be up.

But here you are, at the bottom of that glass, and he’ll be asleep by now, and you’ll already be tired, so, fuck it. You’ll skip washing your hair later.

And at two in the morning, you awaken on the sofa, and your mouth is dry and your head is pounding, and you need to get up and see whether you managed to hide the remains of that bottle or did you finish it, you can’t have finished it, but there it is and there’s the glass, speckled with red like dried blood and you need to rinse it and to hide the empty bottle somewhere. A litre of water, a thorough tooth brushing, slip into bed.

And lie there, awake, head pounding, everything swimming, your eyes as dry as your mouth despite the water. You can’t do this any more. You can’t do this. You can’t. No more.

Fade to black; roll credits.

But why do we stop the film there? Just because that’s the extent of the known story?

The film doesn’t stop if we don’t stop.

There you are, the next morning, snapping at the children because they’re being louder than your aching head would like. Grumpy at your partner, who has said nothing about the night before, because your life is so hard, having to get up in the mornings and attend to small children, and he’s there to complain to. Dragging into work, slightly crumpled, deodorant and slapped-on makeup substituting for a long shower and blow-dried hair. Your nice suit doesn’t fit any more; it digs into your waistline, and you’re too nauseated this morning for that, so a different skirt will do. It’s not as nice and it doesn’t match, but you’re technically dressed for work and that will have to be enough.

And you promised yourself that you’d tackle that project today, but it’s daunting and you need a clear head, so perhaps you’ll take it easy, do the basic things. Tomorrow you’ll tackle the hard job.

The free floating anxiety is bad today; you’re making it worse, checking social media and playing games, but you need to soothe yourself somehow and this is easiest.

And when you pick the kids up, you’ve told yourself that you won’t drink anything tonight. But they start squabbling in the car, and your anxiety is still there, and you feel so flat that it suddenly feels like the only way to get through the long afternoon.

And your kids never know if you’re happy silly Mum or grumpy snappy Mum, and they’ve started looking anxious every time you ask them a simple question, and they can be so irritating.

And you hate your job, and you think that maybe they hate you too, but you can’t find it in yourself to try any harder, and you can’t do anything else any more because you’re so tired, so scatty, so anxious, and change is too much to contemplate.

And your husband has stopped lingering downstairs.

And once you forget to make the kids their lunch and the school rings you to say that they had empty lunchboxes, and you feel so awful about your life that you cry at your desk and go out at lunchtime to buy a bottle of wine.

And after too many days of playing solitaire and coming in late, your boss sits you down for a serious chat.

And then another one, and then you’re gone. But you never liked that job anyway, it’s a serious chance to find a new direction in life, but really you need to stop, and think, about what you really want to do. So you persuade your partner that you need a break, a sort of sabbatical.

And the first time you want a drink at eleven in the morning, there’s nobody to stop you.

Your husband changes his hours to do school pick up because you can’t be trusted to be sober enough to drive.

Your kids don’t talk to you any more. Your eldest is a teenager. She tells you you’re disgusting. She’s ashamed of you, she tells you – your red eyes, your puffy face, your crumpled clothes and the way you always smell of stale booze. But that’s what teenagers do. It’s not you. You’re trying to get along. Your youngest tries to take care of you. She brings you cups of tea. She is desperate for your affection. She brings you a glass of wine and snuggles up to you, taking your gratitude for warmth, although she is too old for lap cuddles.

You think they probably all hate you. Nobody can be expected to live with the pain of that; you drink.

You’re so sorry. You’re so, so sorry.

Fade to black; roll credits.


36 thoughts on “Playing the film to the end. The actual end.

  1. Wow. That was so real, and familiar and possible that it made me cry. My relief that I stopped the film mid story is tempered by an underlying fear of a sequel.
    I’m protecting my sober bubble at all costs.

      • Reading it I was forced to admit that it was all so possible. That could be me.
        I’m glad you wrote it. I’m saving a copy in case I have a day when I think I can have just one glass. Because I really don’t want to tempt fate when this might be the result.

  2. Thank you for this. You are a lovely, talented writer. My children are very small right now and I am determined to change my life so that it doesn’t turn into the film that you envisioned. Powerful stuff.

  3. Great post! Playing the tape through is usually how I end up abstaining. Although mine is not always quite dramatic as that, it’s still pretty sad. I hate feeling out of control like that! I’ve got some good time under my belt right now but I’m being cautious with it. Tonight I almost said eff it but it was thinking it through til the end- knowing how I would feel tomorrow about myself- that helped me out the brakes on. Keep writing! Xo

    • Oh, I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well, Lee – I was thinking about you the other day, and hoping you just weren’t feeling the blogging thing, rather than not feeling the sobriety thing.

      • Yup, still here, still feeling the sobriety thing, just a bit quiet right now 🙂 Never giving up, just a bit cautious and taking it one day at a time. Thanks aa! x

  4. Your writing smoothly shares the seductive film and makes us realize it really isn’t so sexy at all. I’ve cried through that film before and am trying to make sure it doesn’t play in my life again.
    This writing is something you’re developing so well!

  5. Waow this was so powerful. I think it was good you played the tape forward to the actual next day, the aftermath & consequences, and ultimately where that one drink can lead to. Thank you for writing it.

  6. Having relapsed after a 70 day stint, I will say that I have never tried this approach. Once I do manage to convince myself to start again, I will be re-reading this many times. Powerful stuff!

  7. Wow.
    Like many good films it made me tear up at the end.
    Like many good films I watched (read) it again, on the look out for things I missed the first time around.
    Then, like many other films, I imagined the ending that I wanted.
    That film Sliding Doors has always been an interesting daydream topic for me. Your post gave me the opportunity to remember that I chose the different ending.
    Better make the most of that then, hey?
    Great writing.

  8. Great post. You are a truly talented writer. The bit that gets me is with the kids at the end and the possible consequences of our actions, I’ve two little ones and what you write seems so possible it’s frightening. As has been said, powerful stuff.

  9. Yup – that’s how it often looks. We all have our reels that make us reel in horror. No one has to die per se, but there is certainly damage being done. I have 25 years of tapes like this somewhere, some not as bad, some much worse. But it’s the internal stuff that shreds us.

    The one thing I was cautioned about with the play the tape through thing is that a sick mind can’t heal a sick mind. sometimes I would try to play the tape through, but my mind would play tricks on me. It would forget the bad stuff and lighten it up. It would tell me that THIS time, it will be different! All those other times…well, that was bad luck, bad timing, etc. but now, it’s going to rock.


    I can’t sit in regret from those days, and while I don’t play those tapes, I do keep them and show them to other people when they are suffering. To show them that I too was like that and that they are not alone. My tapes are for reference, not residence.

    Great post…thanks for this 🙂


  10. What an amazing, true, raw post. I loved it even though it made me feel all those awful feelings all over again. And cry.

    But that’s a really good thing because I never, ever want to forget. I’m going to link to this in a post today if that’s okay.



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  12. Great post,I can relate to the silly mom vs cranky serious mom,and oh yeah them couch thing.I haven’t been a sparkling just my example to my adult kids .My adult girl’s both have had DUI and the middle one just got arrested for driving the youngest home drunk on a suspended license it’s breaking my heart.

  13. Thank you so much for such a beautiful, thought-provoking post. Just what I needed to keep me going, as the temptation to blur the lines with drink has been lingering for me lately. As a mom of two small children, I don’t want to go down that path and this eloquently reminded me why. Great exercise too.

  14. This is fantastic. You describe the experience perfectly, my blood ran cold when I read the bit about staying downstairs to ‘finish your chapter.’

    I can’t believe I’m out of it, for now. I’m staying right here because that was horrible, that life.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Thank you! Your blog as well as many others have been my beacon on my journey to 19 days without a glass of wine. I’m expected to go to a Bbq tomorrow and I will read and reread this post to help stay the course. I’m stopping my video in the middle. Thank you!

  16. Marvellous. If I may add my own humble ending:
    Sitting on kitchen floor, looking for bottles in the back of the cupboard, behind the tins, gulping old leftovers of mystery liqueurs. Phone ringing in the distance, don’t answer it anymore, too afraid now about I how sound. Wobbling back to bed, can’t stand up anymore. Can’t work anymore. Can’t drive anymore. Can’t do up my buttons,
    Middle daughter comes home from work, slamming cupboards, shouting at someone, making messes in her wake. Barely hiding her disdain for me, not even saying hello, goodbye, fuck off to me anymore. Turning her back to me, haven’t hugged or kissed for years, hating her Mom and hating the world and hurting and hurting and so badly damaged that I am sick sick sick with pain for her and what I alone have done to my beautiful little baby.
    Drink, drink, drink.
    What, oh god, what can I do to stop this nightmare, this black lonely empty hell that is my life. The terrifying abyss of bleakness and 1000 goodbyes. Please, please, please, drink, drink, drink. I want to die, please. Go away, just go away. If I jump over the edge of the balcony, who will scrape me up?

    Mom, please stop drinking. We love you.
    Fade to today, nearly 6 months sober. Middle daughter kisses her Mom.


  17. Thank you! I’m sober for over 1/2 year now and don’ t have much cravings. But I’m always aware of the danger of arrogance sneaking in and just once thinking: ‘oh, what the hell I can have just the one.’ This really scares the shit out of me, and that is very good. I copied and pasted the whole thing and put it in my “I am NOT missing out!” document, a thing I started when I quitted and grows longer and longer. It’s a very good tool and this playing the whole film is great when I ever, ever feel like drinking again. I don’t have kids but there are so many other things I treasure that would be lost again should I start drinking again.

  18. Shit. Am I allowed to swear on here? Double shit. That broke my heart which I suppose is fairly easy seeing as I feel broken all over these days. No marriage and no kids but I relate in so many ways. 74 days sober, one minute happy and telling myself this is the best thing to ever happen to me … the next I want to sob and drink … and sob and drink .. and sob and drink. I can’t drink so I just sob. I love your writing, look forward to reading more x

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  23. Wow!! Just wow! I’ve been trying to get sober for a couple of years now. I’m only a few days in (again) and ran across your blog. Not sure how I’ve never found it before. You are me – I am you. In all my reading I’ve never come across someone who’s drinking…and feelings about drinking so closely mirrored mine. This post in particular grabbed me. I think this is my biggest motivation… and your playing it forward even farther was spot on! Thank you for sharing all of this!!!!!

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