Six years ago I thought I just liked a few drinks now and then. I looked forward to what is now jokingly referred to as “wine o’clock”. Little did I realise at the time, but wine o’clock had turned me into a slave.
After a particularly nasty crisis, drinking binge and resultant hangover, I realised that it was time to set myself free.
I decided not to drink alcohol ever again. At the time it seemed like a crazy decision. “What, never drink again? You unsociable weirdo, everyone drinks.” I was saying to myself.
But I’d had enough. Enough of the hangovers, of constantly feeling tired and grim, of waking up worrying what I’d said on social media the night before.
I’d had enough of having one too many on an empty stomach and falling over.
I’d had enough of getting inappropriately angry over something trivial because I was drunk.
I’d had enough of every time a crisis happened in my life, reaching for a bottle of wine to self-medicate and block out the pain. A bottle which would frequently turn into two, and sometimes more.
Married to someone who makes wine and cider in industrial quantities wasn’t helping. I didn’t even have to nip out to the shops to buy it. There was gallons of the stuff bottled up in racks under our bed.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised that alcohol was having a negative impact on my life. So I decided to compile The List.
The List comprised every bad thing that had happened in my life as a result of drinking alcohol (those I could remember, that is.)
It started with getting raped. Then, as if I hadn’t learnt my lesson, getting raped again, both times by men who had deliberately got the twenty-something me drunk to the point of passing out so they could have sex with me before I woke up the next morning. When I realised with horror that I’d been raped and was too embarrassed and frightened to do anything about it.
The List continued with example after example of things I’d done or had happen to me which only occurred because I’d been hammered.
By the time I got to the end of The List and read it over, I was horrified at how many incidents there were. Dozens of them.
I started to wonder “Am I an alcoholic?” Well if I was an alcoholic, so was almost everyone I knew, for most people I know often drink to the point of inappropriate behaviour and blackouts.
In fact the word “alcoholic” is a misnomer, conjuring up images of old men on park benches swigging from a bottle in a brown paper bag.
The alcohol problem currently swamping the UK and further afield is more accurately characterised by Yummy-Mummies perched on bar stools in elegant wine bars, gulping Prosecco (then buying more from the supermarket on their way home.)
Alcohol addict is more accurate, for alcohol is a drug, and were it introduced today it would be categorised as a Class A.
I realised that although I didn’t drink every day, I drank every time there was a crisis. And if I had to have a drink to relieve stress, that made me a stress-binge drinker. Which meant I was dependent. Which made me an alcohol addict.
Facing up to this was the hardest part of the entire process of stopping drinking alcohol. Once I realised, with honest horror, what had happened to me, the rest was an intriguing journey.
I started to research alcohol and discovered that it causes cancer and kills 3 million people a year (that’s only where the cause of death is attributed to drinking, the real figure if you include accidents, obesity, depression-related suicides and cancers is going to be many times higher.) I didn’t know drinking caused cancer, did you?
The more I thought about drinking and the more I read, I realised that I wanted to cut alcohol out of my life for good. I’d made the decision and I was going to stick to it.
Six years down the line, what have I discovered?
There has been nothing bad about stopping, everything good. As I also don’t take nicotine, caffeine, illegal or prescription drugs, I’m now completely drug free. I only know one other person who’s completely drug free. That’s quite a sobering thought…
People generally won’t be judgemental. There isn’t as much of a stigma about not-drinking as I’d thought. However…
It often makes other people uncomfortable. When people ask me why I’m not drinking and I tell them, most of them look uncomfortable and say “I’m where you were. I’d love to stop. Only it’s too hard/I don’t want to yet.” I’ve inspired some of them to try to stop, my husband now drinks a fraction of what he used to, but most people just carry on as they were. Let’s face it, if stopping drinking were easy, everyone would be doing it. But first you have to face up to the fact that you’re dependent on alcohol (the hardest part), then decide you’re not going to drink again no matter what life throws at you and stick to it (still a challenge, as alcohol is ingrained in every part of our society.)
My life feels complete in a way it never did before. So many things I enjoy used to seem incomplete without a glass of wine. If we built a new seating area in the garden, my first thought would be “I can’t wait to sit here with a glass of wine.” Sitting outside on a sunny evening after work was completely wasted without a refreshing, chilled glass of Cava sparkling in the sunlight (I never bought into the Prosecco hype, I always preferred Cava.) Now I feel complete from the minute I wake up in the morning until the minute I fall asleep at night, without drugs. Of course needing a drug to feel complete is a classic sign of drug addiction, although few people see it that way because most people don’t even think of alcohol as a drug. I certainly didn’t.
I’m no longer fearful of saying anything stupid due to being under the influence of alcohol. I believe this fear is much more widespread than anyone is prepared to admit. To be rid of that fear is a huge release. Fear of the struggle to sound sober every time you log onto social networking of an evening because, although everyone else is in the same boat, no-one wants to admit it. “We’re all pissed but we want the world to think we’re sober.” That indicates to me that there’s a lot of hidden shame out there which is one of the reasons the growing Wine O’Clock Women problem gets so frequently swept under the carpet.
I don’t feel guilty about removing myself from events when people start to get drunk. The minute people around me start slurring their words, repeating themselves and earnestly talking nonsense, I’m out of there. I don’t judge them, I don’t give a flying fuck what they’re all doing, but now I choose not to be part of it. I go to bed early and wake up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. It’s not what everyone else is doing, it’s unconventional but it works for me.
I get more done. During the first six months alone after stopping drinking, I published four novels which were all languishing in my workroom after their final edits, awaiting publication. My life is fuller, richer and more enjoyable than it’s ever been before.
I haven’t had one anxiety attack or bout of depression since I stopped drinking alcohol. Did you know alcohol causes depression and anxiety attacks (as well as the cancer)? No, nor did I. No doctor is going to tell you to stop drinking if you tell him you’re suffering from depression and anxiety attacks, you’ll more likely just be prescribed even more drugs. The medical world is miles behind when it comes to the insidious effects of the drug alcohol, which supposedly weaves the fabric of our society together whilst in reality is tearing it apart.
Would it be OK if you went to a school social function and needles and syringes were being handed around on trays instead glasses of Prosecco? Would it be OK if every high street in Britain were lined with crack houses with names like “The Spoon and Flame”, “The Jolly Tourniquet” and “The Rake and Razorblade”? Nope. There would be widespread outrage and disgust. Yet the only difference between booze and crack or heroin is that a bunch of be-suited, powerful men in a big building in the City of London decree that you’re allowed to drink alcohol (because they’re making billions of pounds in tax from it.)
When I read over The List again, I don’t feel ashamed, I feel stupid. Stupid that I threw away so many years of my life ruled by a drug which society considers completely acceptable, but which was destroying my peace of mind, my mental balance and, at times, my finances. It was also making me fat.
Six years down the line I’m a much happier person, and one of my children told me recently that I’m a nicer person too, calmer and more positive. Apart from every other advantage, it’s worth it just for that alone.
I wish I’d done this years ago.
If you need help. Be aware that Alcoholics Anonymous is a system based on shame, control and dependence (just like the alcohol it’s supposedly replacing) and is a stomping ground for sexual abuse of vulnerable women. AA are also the originators and proponents of the notorious and, frankly, silly “Pink Cloud” theory, whereby if you stop drinking and feel happy you’ll be patronised and told you’re merely on a temporary pink cloud and doomed to failure and relapse.
This is utter bollocks. I’ve felt happy non-stop for the last six months since stopping drinking. The AA control/shame brigade just want to make you feel ashamed and dependent on them for their approval. AA also has a woefully low success rate, a mere 5–10%. Rehab is big business and a huge money spinner. Tread carefully.
Also be aware that some online stopping alcohol sites and their blogs and forums are magnets for gaslighters who get their jollies controlling and shaming vulnerable alcohol addicts struggling to stay sober. Some of these sites operate like cults where the old timers love bomb the newbies, addressing them as “Hun” and “Lovely”. With the hidden proviso that, as in every cult, you have to tow the party line. The minute someone objects to anything on the site or wants to leave, they’ll be shunned. The paying sites are also prone to being heavily censored by their money-making admin. If you want to pay to have your words censored, go for it. Not my bag, personally. I think the best way to stop drinking is to decide to stop and just stop.
It’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s certainly one of the most valuable, enjoyable and positive. Good luck…