On January 10th, 2017 I consumed the last alcoholic drink of my life. The setting of my last hurrah wasn’t glamorous, I was alone in the cinema plowing through four cans of cider. I was killing time until a GP appointment to discuss a recent bout of anxiety and insomnia that had rendered me unable to work. On the way to the doctor’s surgery, I took a picture of myself on the bus, unaware I was documenting my last drunken face. I thought I looked good but now I see a bloated, glassy-eyed 35-year-old who needed to be drunk in order to speak to a professional about her demons.
The GP was tolerant when I arrived rambling about the horrors that were keeping me awake at night. He asked about my drinking and suggested that I gave booze a break to see if it helped with my mental health issues. I had abstained in the past so thought this would be easy. I wasn’t an addict, I just wasn’t very good at moderation. I didn’t drink every day but once I started a bottle I had to finish it. I always needed to drink to the point of blackout. But I was a responsible adult who held down a job, had friends, dated, exercised, cared for a sick parent and ate well — addicts can’t do all that, surely?
Each previous period of sobriety was prefaced by an “event” — the time I ended up in hospital after falling down a flight of stairs, when I was too drunk to fend off a sexual assault or that time I blacked out after drinking too much at a child’s birthday party. I had accrued enough scars and tales of drunken antics to amuse and concern loved ones in equal measure. For every Dry January there followed a very Wet February. This time was different — I realised I needed to stop for good, before I caused permanent damage. I’d lost three family members to alcoholism and whilst I’d never seen myself in the same category as them (I wasn’t topping up my tea with vodka) it was dawning on me that alcohol was always going to be the cause of problems, not a solution to them.
The beginning of the year was the hardest as a series of shock bereavements tore through my friends and family and I found myself at five funerals in three months. I was desperate to drown my sorrows but I knew even one glass of wine would open the floodgates and I wouldn’t be able to stop. If you are an addict one is too many and a thousand not enough. As time passed I found I was able to deal with stressful situations without my usual crutch: I started a new job, suffered a financial crisis, had a serious health scare and experienced the worst PTSD episode of my life sober. Slowly days turned into weeks, then months and before I knew it I was facing a whole year free from alcohol.
What have I learned in the past year? Socializing sucks without alcohol when you’re socially awkward. I get panicky, then bored. Boredom leads to temptation and I struggle to resist so I avoid going out to overly boozy events. Social isolation isn’t a long term solution but it worked for me during the first few months on the wagon. Also, if you give up one vice without getting to its root cause, you will simply replace it with another. I fall easily into destructive patterns so it’s really simple for me to substitute alcohol with casual sex, sugar, junk food, spending — I’ve overdone them all this year.
Part of me hoped giving up alcohol would be the solution to all of life’s problems but the majority still exist. My insomnia worsened as the negative thoughts I would quiet with booze were now loud and clear in my mind every night. It’s not been all bad — I’ve lost some weight, made better life choices and I have so much more time on my hands now I’m not spending 48 hours at a time recovering from a hangover. I’m about to embark on some fairly intense therapy to process the issues I’ve been trying to numb for more than half my life so fingers crossed that, along with a new found enthusiasm for meditation, will help with my sleep woes.
Sobriety is largely my dirty little secret. I don’t routinely tell people I’ve given up alcohol because I’m ashamed to admit I’m an addict. I only admitted to myself that I was an addict about six months into my journey. I also think if I don’t tell people I am in recovery, less people will know I’ve fucked up if I fall off the wagon. But as a new year dawns it’s time to come out of the closet and be proud of what I’ve achieved. If I can do it anyone can.
This Dry January will kick off another year of sobriety for me. Because I’m too stubborn and determined to throw it away now.