Any recovery programe starts in the same way. You admit you have a problem and it consumes you. In my case, it was drink. It could easily have been any of my other self-destructive behaviour patterns, but as a starter for ten, my body decided to tackle an unfettered love of jar.
For every success story, there’s at least a thousand people ready to stick up their hands and say giving up didn’t work for them. The failure rate is depressing. Those who fail are happy to speak out. Like when you watch reality casting shows and whoever happens to be this month’s Simon Cowell-alike tells a room full of eager faces how most of them won’t have the X-factor.
So what does it feel like to be four years sober and consider yourself a success? I should add, the four-year part doesn’t matter. There’s strength in white-knuckling a single sober day.
There’s one thing of which I am sure. The decision to stop drinking saved my life.
For years, I refused to own my problem. I would drink. A lot. I’d have hangovers and dread facing people the next day. As a functioning alcoholic, my career highlights include: finding myself with no wallet in the middle of nowhere looking for a phone box to call my sleeping parents 200 miles away and ask if they can prepay a cab to get a 25-year-old me home. I’ve woken with two cracked ribs and a broken TV. I’ve found myself thrown from a cab in a foreign city covered in sick that might have been mine.
I stopped drinking much like I stopped smoking. One day it didn’t happen
Towards the end, my evenings always started the same. With the intention to limit myself to what was in the kitchen. Once I took the first sip, I couldn’t stop and wanted to keep going to that place where I got sociable and fun and brave enough to not hide away. I wanted to think nothing. Half way through any evening, I’d stumble to the nearest shop selling wine and slur my orders.
I stopped drinking much like I stopped smoking. One day it didn’t happen. The next day was the same.
It took a year of not taking a drink to deal with the dark cloud that had followed me around. Until I could do that, I was simply a guy who drank too much.
Bit by bit, I asked why I let myself get literally legless, lifting the lid of a box marked PRIVATE. I came face-to-face with the hurt of growing up an only child, with industrial grade acne, no friends, no self-confidence, a weight problem … and a preference for men. In each and every respect, I felt alone. Add them together and the feeling manifested as alcohol abuse in my adult life. I was singled out by the school playground bullies because I didn’t know how to fight back. I stood alone in bars and clubs on account of zero social skills. People didn’t bother getting to know me, because I hid away in shadows.
Drink corrected everything.
As I identified each cause, the effect lifted. A little each day … until I no longer was consumed by the desire to drink. I no longer needed to be numb.
I don’t call myself sober. I prefer to say I’m not drinking today. Mostly because it saves on the embarrassed silences when ‘fessing up to being a reformed booze bag – or the people who implore me to have just the one glass when I stay quiet.
I let myself have a drink. Because I trust that I know when and how to stop. And why. Drinking was no longer fun. The pain and anxiety that drove my love of the bottle added bubbles to my beer.
Of course, I’m not unique in this. Millions of us only drink once in a while. I have a penchant for an espresso Martini. But drinking is no longer a defined part of my life; something I do every day from 5pm until sleep takes over.
I’ve long been reluctant to write about this part of my life, even though I’ve published stories about recovery and made it the central theme of ‘Rebuilding Alexandra Small’. The thing is, I realise there are lots of drinkers like me. People who don’t accept their relationship with alcohol might be a problem. They’ll keep tumbling and hit new lows.
One of the best things I ever read is that you don’t have to hit rock-bottom to step out of the lift. You can stop self-sabotaging at any floor.
I was lucky. One day, drinking didn’t happen. I’m grateful it did. I’m grateful to Mark for making it so.
Moderation Management™ is a lay-led non-profit dedicated to reducing the harm caused by the misuse of alcohol. MM provides support through face-to-face meetings, video and phone meetings, chats, and private online support communities.