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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In which our heroine is unabashedly bitchy about drinkers

So, I have this enormous party to go to this weekend, and I would like to be catty about it please. It’s being organised by my in-laws, so right off the bat you know there’s going to be some sort of eye rolling from me. And they’re drinkers. They’re not problem drinkers, per se – at least, I’ve never thought of them as such, except for my father-in-law, who was – but they’re the type who can’t possibly contemplate celebrating any occasion without copious food and alcohol.

Both my mother-in-law and husband hit milestone birthdays this year, and their birthdays being close together, it was decided that the whole family should rent a large holiday home and have a weekend away to celebrate. Saturday night is the actual party, for which invitations have been sent to a number of other people.

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This is what the invitation says that guests should bring, in addition to ‘dancing shoes’:

Healthy livers
Staying power
Paracetamol
Alcohol

It’s nice to have the angle of the event right out front, isn’t it?

Further emails are being sent to the extended family by my mother-in-law’s sister, who, a late invitee, has taken over the organising and delegated us all to cater a meal. Because goodness knows, if we have to make ourselves a piece of toast at any point during this four day extravaganza, it will be RUINED.

Here are some extracts from today:

‘Don’t forget, whoever is catering Sunday breakfast, to bring plenty of bacon and eggs – there’ll be some delicate stomachs!’
‘No entry without wine, and teetotallers are not invited!’

Teetotallers are not invited.

Oh, look. I know they’re just excited, and trying to set the scene for a wild party. But come the fuck on. LH is turning forty this year, and these invitations are being sent out by his parents’ generation. This is not a party for eighteen year olds, of whom I would forgive a little gaucheness.

Can we seriously not think of a way to indicate that this is a big party and everyone should have fun without hammering the alcohol references? For that matter, can we not contemplate the possibility that one can have fun at a party without alcohol? Especially given that the attendees include LH’s 85 year old grandmother, and five children under the age of seven?

Can we not be grateful that our daughter-in-law, being sober, has offered to cater Sunday breakfast on the grounds that she won’t be hungover, rather than making disparaging remarks about teetotallers?

It is just so damn juvenile, you guys. I don’t actually think that there will be any sort of big deal made on the night about me not drinking, and if there is I can more than hold my own. It’s just…it’s just so juvenile! SO. JUVENILE.

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I don’t care if people drink. I keep alcohol in my house, I pour it for guests. But how do you get to the age of sixty-odd and never move on from the idea that you can’t have fun without getting drunk?

But of course, I used to think that as well. I didn’t say it out loud, because I knew that not everybody thought that way, and I knew that it was a deviant way of thinking. I knew that I should be able to at least pretend to have fun without alcohol. My in-laws are a very insular mob; they are one another’s main social circle, so maybe they’ve just never stepped outside that paradigm. I should probably not be bitchy about it, and instead say something poignant about the insidious way in which alcohol marketing has ingrained this association between fun and drinking into our lives.

But I can’t be arsed. I have to go and spend three days with a bunch of sixty year olds who are carrying on like eighteen year olds at their first keg party, and by the way also my mother-in-law hates her son-in-law and has asked her brother-in-law (following this?) to Speak To Him because, I don’t know, maybe only men can speak to men or something. And oh my God it is going to be so bad, SO BAD. And also so drunken.

Will I update you? Of course I will!

Maintaining the rage

I was thinking about Wolfie today. You know Wolfie. Maybe you call him Al, or your addict voice, or the devil on your shoulder. Whatever your term for it, you’ve probably found it very helpful to anthropomorphise the part of you that enables your addiction, and – this is crucial – to separate it from yourself.

One of the bewildering things about being an addict, both when you’re in the throes of the addiction and once you’re out the other side, is the cognitive dissonance that’s required to maintain your habit. Once you’re out, it’s easy to feel total incredulity; was that really me? Did I say and think and do those things? Why would I…I mean, integrity and generosity are part of my personality and yet… It can go on and on, that reasoning and self flagellation. One way to make peace with it is to accept that the addict voice is inside you, but isn’t the true you; its only focus, its one motivation, is to feed the addiction. Questioning its ways is rather like a newly pregnant woman wondering why she’s doing something as illogical as throwing up her breakfast. There’s a parasite inside her, is why, and it plays by its own rules.

My Wolfie is an abusive partner, by the way. That’s the metaphor I find most useful, to understand what went on and who I became and why. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the fact that even as we anthromorphise our addictions, bestow them with names so as to drain them of power, we divert attention away from the biggest baddest wolf of them all: the alcohol industry.

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Alcohol is the only drug left that is able to advertise freely, and the people who profit from it make the most of it. Not drinking is so unusual that it’s considered socially unacceptable in many cultures, including my own. I met a teetotal bloke the other day who told me that he was so sick of the judgement that he had started claiming to be an alcoholic in recovery, because at least that gave him a ‘reason’ not to drink. It’s madness.

Western society favours individualism. The idea of ‘taking responsibility for yourself’ and doing things on your own and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is invested with huge moral power. Nobody wants to be seen to be whining, or shifting responsibility, or blaming others. Don’t be a tattletale, we tell our children.

But to press the narrative of individual responsibility is to ignore something that we all already know, which is that advertising works. Huge corporations, filled with thought leaders who are highly qualified in their fields, do not spend billions of dollars every year on a losing strategy. They advertise because advertising works, and they pay extremely dedicated people extremely large amounts of money to come up with ways to make that advertising more effective and more ubiquitous all the time.

Here is something else that we all know. Alcohol is a drug. It is, by its very nature, addictive. Not everybody gets addicted to it, but a lot of people do. It’s about one in ten, in fact.

So we take an addictive drug, and we allow the people who sell that drug to spend vast amounts of money on selling it to us, more and more of it, in more insidious ways all the time. And some of us do what all that advertising is designed to make us do, which is drink regularly. And some of us do what the drug is designed to make us do, which is get addicted to it.

And then what do we do? We call it a disease. We call it Wolfie. We call it a personal struggle with our inner demons, and we admit our failings and we spend the rest of our fucking lives worrying about ‘falling’ once more, strategising to slip through the cracks in the huge net thrown over us by the behemoth alcohol industry, and apologising to our friends for the inconvenience while we do it.

I spent today writing an article about the hidden alcohol in food, because it’s not enough that the stuff infiltrates the rest of our lives, now we have to be wary about eating it as well. I included tips on how to refuse your great-aunt’s tiramisu without offending her, because obviously we, the sober ones, are the problem here, and we don’t want any awkwardness, right?

Today, I am maintaining the rage. It’s not personal rage. Not drinking is not a problem for me right now, and I’m happy to accept that I’m not going to drink again. It’s rage against the industry that spends a fortune on selling us lies, and makes us sick and weak and desperately unhappy, and against which, for some reason, we never push back. Because we don’t want to be killjoys, or ruin the fun for the normies, or look like whingers. Because it’s our fault we’re alcoholics, and it’s our struggle to face. Because, for some reason, even those of us who are direct victims of the alcohol industry still feel like we need to include a caveat – of course I’m not saying nobody should be able to enjoy a crisp glass of white wine! – defending it.

Fuck that, you guys. Seriously. This is total crap, and it needs to end.
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