So here is the post I should have written: Happy Soberversary to me!

A few weeks ago, I bought myself a present, and I saved it up in its little parcel until last weekend, and then I finally opened it today.  It was my gift to myself, because I am one year sober.

Why didn’t I open it earlier?  Because, oh, it’s not such a big deal, and oh, well, no need to make a fuss, and oh, look how cool and insouciant I am, I don’t need gifts or rewards or treats.  I’m happy here with my herbal tea (stupid Whole30) and my crafting and my virtue.

I’ve written before about my tendency to try and do everything better than anyone else, yes?

But I got here because I gave myself the licence to be kind to myself, and have treats here and there, and believe that I was worth the fuss and the trouble that getting sober can be.  So I took the present out of the cupboard.

My presentThe woman from whom I bought this is a friend, and I told her that it was a present to celebrate a year of sobriety, and so she said that she’d wrap it up for me.  Isn’t it pretty?

This was supposed to be a victorious post, full of the fact that sobriety has transformed my life.  It has done, beyond anything I could have imagined.  I said, a year ago, that I decided to get up drinking because otherwise, nothing would change in my life.  I would plod along, raising my children with less joy than I wanted to feel, hating my job but without the courage to try something new, narrowing my horizons more and more so that the only pleasure I had left was the same bottle of wine that was trapping me.

And then I stopped drinking, thinking well, if nothing else I’ll lose some weight.  In fact, I didn’t, but every single other thing got better instead.

At Easter last year, I moved house.  That doesn’t sound like much, perhaps, but I moved to the village I have been dreaming of for eleven years, to a dream home within that dream area, with enough shabby quirk that we could afford it, and which makes it far more lovable than a highly renovated version.  And in retrospect, we could have moved here years earlier, so why didn’t we?  Inertia, fear of debt, a lack of willingness to grasp the possibility?  In the end, I just opened myself up to the fact that I wanted to move, and a friend of mine sold me her family home.  Really.

I started running.

I ate food, without guilt or fear, and I learned to go to bed early with a good book, and I started taking long baths, and my skin shone and my hair shone and – without weight loss – the contours of my face returned.

My parenting experience transformed.  I have so much more love.  So much more joy, so much more gratitude.  And so much more faith in myself, so that even when I get exasperated and yell, I forgive myself because I love them and they love me and it’s alright.  It’s better than alright.  Children need to be allowed to love their parents, and I can accept that love now, in all its sticky physical glory.

I started writing.  And then I started getting published.  And then I was laid off, and with the financial cushion that gave me, I decided to do it for a living.  One year ago, I hadn’t written anything except Facebook comments since leaving university.  And now I make my living as a writer, and I do so successfully.

If, a year ago, you had asked me what my dream life looked like, it would look like this.  I’d like to live in a huge rambling house in Village, I’d have said, with a big garden that the girls can play in, and I’d work from home as a writer, and get up early to exercise, and I’d read more and take up a craft.  And then I’d laugh because it seemed so impossible.

Sobriety made it possible.

My whole life is a gift now, but I deserve one nonetheless, and so I opened my parcel.

towel

This is a Turkish towel, hand-loomed and fair trade.  The weave is beautiful and light as a feather.  I wanted something that would last, something lovely, something that would bring me comfort and pleasure in the everyday.  It’s no use buying myself lovely jewellery that I’ll save for a special occasion that never comes, or stationery too pretty to use.  Remember my scented candle?  I have never set it alight.  In eleven months.  So, something that I need every day, something to add luxury and comfort to a necessary ritual.   Something that would be mine, my special thing, that nobody else is allowed to use because it is Mum’s special thing.

But as I unwrapped it, this symbol of triumph that I so carefully thought through, I felt sad.  And lonely.  Because I wanted people to say well done, and to have noticed, and to share my pride in me, and it felt so anti-climactic, this present that I bought myself and unwrapped myself and hung in the shower.

And then I saw the card that my lovely friend had tucked in there.

cardHappy one year, from me to me.  Well done, me.

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Fifteen reasons why I’m not an alcoholic (and one reason why I am)

1. Because I’m middle class, and I drink middle class drinks like Pinot Gris, and gin and tonics.

2. Because, in fact, there are spirits in the liquor cabinet that have been there for over a year, because I don’t like those drinks.  Alcoholics would just drink anything, right?

3. Because in Inconceivable, Ben Elton has his protagonist try and give up beer for a few weeks and he says this:

It’s surprisingly difficult to kick the sauce.  You say to yourself, ‘It can’t be that hard, I’ll just take a month off’ but then suddenly Trevor’s having a dinner party, and you have to drink for that.  Then there’s the pub dominoes team reunion coming up, and you have to drink for that.  And of course you’re having beans on toast in front of the telly tonight, and you can’t not have a drink with that.

4. So it’s obviously completely normal. 

 normal_welcome

5. Because my life has not become unmanageable. It’s trickier than it used to be, to make sure that there’s always wine in the house, because it seems to go…well, I suppose it’s just because I’m busier than I used to be, so I don’t stock up as much.  But that’s hardly taking over my life, or anything.  My life is manageable.  

6. Because my children are always on time, dressed, clean and happy.  Sometimes that means that I get to work without makeup on, and there was last week when I forgot to brush my hair, but that’s all just part of the wacky world of working motherhood.  And I’m holding down a job, after all.

7. Because when my book group discussed High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze, by Jill Stark, one woman gave up for three months as an experiment, and she said that at first it was really hard and she thought about wine all the time, but after a while she found it really relaxing not thinking about drinking.  And everyone else chimed in and said ‘Gosh, yes, I mean, I don’t have a problem or anything, but I do find that when I’m driving home from work I’m thinking now, do I have wine in the fridge?  Do I need to stop?  Can’t wait till dinner and homework are done and I can have a nice glass of something’.  And they all agreed that that was completely normal.  That’s all I do, too, really.  Sometimes I don’t exactly tell LH that I’ve bought a new bottle, but I mean.  He never asks.

8. Because on Tuesday I had a day without alcohol.

9. Because I never drink and drive.

10. Because I never drink in the mornings.  Except that one time.  But that was in extraordinary circumstances, and once doesn’t count.

vodka orange

11. Because I gave up when I was pregnant.  I just don’t have a reason to give up right now.  It’s fun.

12. Because my friend Natalie gave up for Dry July, and she only drank one glass a day anyway, but she still said it was hard to give up.  So everyone struggles, it’s just a habit thing, all habits are hard to break.  

13. Because artists drink to unlock their creativity

14. Because I’m too smart to be an alcoholic.

15. Because I don’t want to stop.

And yet.

1. Because I was unhappy, and scared, and my days were spent thinking about alcohol and hating myself and turning away from every door that might lead outside into the sunshine because I didn’t think I could live in the light of day, and yet – even unhappy, and mired in self-hatred – I wanted to drink more than I wanted to change the way I was living.

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.