I had a nasty drinking dream last night.
There had been a party, and I woke with an awful hangover. In the kitchen and on the floor were cups of nasty, cheap alcohol; Polish vodka mixed with synthetic orange squash, warm beers, sour red wine. I went into the kitchen and looked at the glasses of orange-flavoured spirits. I thought about drinking one. Just to ease the hangover. After which I’d stop, stop properly. It wouldn’t even count as a relapse – just one mistake made at a party, and one drink to get over the hangover. It did mean I’d be drinking in the morning, which I never did (except for that one time that I did do that), but. Oh, I felt so bad. Just this once.
I felt helpless, and ashamed in advance that I knew I was going to give in, and angry. Backed into a corner by the situation, by the alcohol itself, by my awful, pathetic self. A mix of emotions more toxic and unpleasant tasting than the drink I was about to drink.
If there’s one redeeming feature about these dreams, it’s that it makes waking up seem like a relief, no matter how dark and cold the day.
What fascinates me about these dreams, and why I have begged your indulgence in relating one, is that they remind me so vividly of the awful, ugly battles that went on inside myself. The justification, the ‘it’s just this one’, the ‘never again’. And the searing, acidic loathing of self that corrodes every good and positive thought. And the anger, and the despair. The division that happens inside the mind, when you simultaneously think ‘Oh, I’m just having this drink in the morning on this one occasion. It’s never been this bad before and I’ll never do it again. Just once doesn’t count’ and ‘You are a failure, an awful person, a pathetic waste of space who can’t even keep a simple promise to yourself’. It tears you apart.
The mind of an addict is such an ugly, twisted wasteland of a place. Anyone who thinks that moderation is just a matter of self-discipline, that addiction is a moral weakness, is not a person who has been there. It is so hard. It is SO HARD to hate yourself like that. To wake up every morning with a sense of excoriating shame, to walk through a day pretending to be normal while your body tries to process physical toxins that are slowly killing you, and your mind struggles under the weight of a chemical depressant. To swear to yourself, day after day, that you will stop doing this to yourself, and to break that oath night after night.
Nobody, ever, would choose to live that way. What keeps us there is fear, and it’s hard to understand how a bit of nervousness could keep a person locked in a prison of their own making, but fear is a powerful thing. Addiction feeds itself. The longer you are in its throes, the more you are likely to hate yourself, to believe that you can’t cope ‘on your own’, and the scarier it seems to face the world as your authentic self.
Today I am furious at the toll that addiction takes. And I’m furious with myself, or perhaps with the limitations of language, because I can’t find the right words to tell someone who is still trapped in the cycle what it is like to break free.
It is like this. You are walking through a dystopian landscape, where twisted trees rear up in your path and mud sucks at your feet. The light is dim, yellowed, sickly. The ground is dead. There may be laughter somewhere nearby, but the foliage distorts the sound. Every step is an effort, and all you want is to find the way out but it is your own fault that you are here, and the laughter is definitely mocking.
And then it ends. The sky clears and the air is pure. You breathe freely. The only sound is the gentle rustle of leaves, and the ground is dry, and flat, and clear. It no longer takes all of your energy to lift one foot and then another, and you can walk briskly, or meander, or run. You’re not scared. You’re not confused. You’re not lost.
There is something to walk towards.