‘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.