People often ask me if not drinking alcohol causes problems and mostly I'm getting used to it. The first year is a really critical one in terms of the calendar of events that an alcoholic must learn to go through; the first Christmas, the first birthday, New Year's Eve, the 6 nations, etc. All those moments that in a previous life would have been possible sprees, opportunities to let hair down or, in my case, stressful times that I would worry about for weeks ahead and then rue for weeks afterwards. I would consider not drinking and then decide on a drink plan to ensure that I wouldn't get drunk before failing miserably and possibly with dire consequences. There are also events that don't happen on an annual basis such as weddings and funerals and they can cause considerable damage to an alcoholic in recovery. It seems that I was fortunate (not that it felt like it at the time) to have my first wedding in sobriety on my 6 month birthday, not mine of course but my husband's niece. It was preceded by the hen do which was possibly more foreboding than the wedding. A bunch of bright young beautiful successful 30 somethings, all doomed to heighten all my shortcomings and, as we term them in AA, my 'less thans'. By the way, we also have our 'more thans', moments when we feel holier than thou and better than everyone else, the ego coming into play and sometimes more challenging to deal with. In the end, I sailed through both events, thanks to handing over to my HP and living in the moment. It was fascinating watching other people drinking without envying every sip and seeing for myself the range of effects that alcohol has on people and the consequent impact on others. The emotional nightmare who leans on everyone for support, sharing her deepest woes with complete strangers; drinking stories regaled as if they were badges of honour regardless of the trauma caused to others; people devastated by their partner’s behaviour; non-jokes resulting in howls of laughter. And then, the joy of the hangover, now that was fantastic and I have to work really hard at not being holier than thou. The downing of paracetamol, pints of water, buckets of coffee and the complete loss of a day. It was also great to dance again and realise how much that drinking had taken away from me.
These past weeks have seen some different challenges. For one, we have been camping and going to sleep on rough sloped ground in a gale whilst sober is a challenge I hadn't seen coming. Likewise, sitting with friends who were sharing a bottle of one of my favourite wines was another. The temptation to accept a sniff was overwhelming but perseverance held in and I got through it. I had to distance myself as memories of it flooded back. The scent of it filled my nostrils, the taste of it on both my tongue and the back of my throat bounced around my head. Memories of how relaxed I felt after that initial sip, my body aching to feel that again. I was practically sat on my hands during dinner, sipping at my soft drink and blanking out any discussion related to it. Fortunately my head also tuned me into possible consequences of that sip, the heated arguments that could follow and the tension that would be unbearable. At an AA meeting post-holiday, I likened my relationship with consequences to the ticking of terms and conditions boxes. Every drink I take comes with my associated ticking of the box without reading the small print; I may have been fully aware of the implications but I was certainly not interested in accepting the responsibility of my actions. It’s an awful thing to write; how can I possibly not take that responsibility and yet it is the story of every addict regardless of vice. There is a complete detachment of logical and reasonable behaviour, families and friends are caught up in the tornado whipped up by an alcoholic frenzy. All the while, the alcoholic continues to beat themselves up, attempts to fix wrong after wrong, completely oblivious to the path of destruction lying around them. For many, it can take years to realise and own these consequences, for some it can be too much and they will never come to terms with it. For me, I can see what I have done but I am struggling to make appropriate amends and struggling to always change my behaviour from what is expected. The good news is that I made it through the holidays, I felt relaxed for the most of it and I’m now using September as a refresh point. I know my shortcomings and I am working at them, how much better can it get?