One week sober. The longest in eight years I have gone without drinking.
Here are seven things I have been thinking about this week—alcohol as a coping mechanism, as company, punishment, routine, culture, transformer and as hell.
1. Alcohol as Coping Mechanism
I really really wanted a drink earlier today. Why did that urge come so strongly at that moment? I’d just got an email about an exciting opportunity I hope to be a part of—spending my summer studying and doing research in South America. Exciting but also—scary. Will I be good enough? Will I achieve what I need to out there? Will I enjoy it? In short—I felt insecure and nervous, so I wanted to turn to alcohol to numb those feelings. I struggled through the urge, but need to find a new coping mechanism to replace my destructive self-medication though booze.
2. Alcohol as Company
Back in London, I used to go through two bottles of wine whilst calling family and friends on the phone (if I wasn’t out in a pub). I couldn’t bear to be sober and alone with only my incessant noisy thoughts for company. Given the time difference now that I live in the US, this wine and phone marathon is no longer possible. I am having to spend more time with myself and my (sober) mind. This has been difficult, but I am looking forward to forging this connection and getting to know me, myself and I better.
3. Alcohol as Punishment
There was always that point in the night where I’d want to stop—I’d so wish I could be one of those girls who says “no” to the third glass of wine. I wished I could be that girl who isn’t always thirsty, who doesn’t need just one more sip. When this moment came I would keep drinking—because I knew I couldn’t stop, and I knew I was a failure. The wine voice switched from best friend (“we’re having fun!” “This is a great buzz!” “You’re such a fun drunk!”) to worst enemy (“you’re a worthless bitch” “look how sad you are” “you’re going to be hungover tomorrow and miss work again”). It feels wonderful to tell the wine voice to fuck off.
4. Alcohol as Routine
When you do something everyday it becomes as much a part of your routine as brushing your teeth or having your name spelt wrong on your coffee cup. Wine was such a part of my life I hadn’t been aware how much of my life it had become. I feel I have so much more time now—not just because I’m not hungover as sin every morning, but because my entire evening isn’t lost in a drunken haze.
5. Alcohol as Culture
We live in a culture where drinking is not just normalized, but celebrated. I would tentatively say that this is even more true in the UK and when you’re in your twenties. I want to expand on this in a later post, but when I tried to reach out for help in the UK before I was flatly ignored and met with a puzzled look. An educated, (seemingly) happy, (reasonably) successful woman in her twenties doesn’t have a drinking problem. Everyone drinks! If you don’t go a bit wild in your twenties, when can you? This cultural denial seems great when you want to keep drinking, but is a death wish when you need help. You fall between the cracks—you are an invisible alcoholic. I do not believe I would have made this change had I stayed in London—it is just what people do there: they drink.
6. Alcohol as Transformer
I was a fun drunk on the whole. I occasionally got emotional, I rarely got angry, I was never violent. But I also became someone I didn’t really like—not confident but cocky, not into intellectual discussion but intellectual confrontation. I would tell everyone everything about myself. It was compulsive, I couldn’t control it—sharing things I didn’t want to. Within ten minutes a total stranger would have learnt all about my sexual exploits (drunk and regretful), my life history (also drunk and regretful) and, for some reason, my vagina (don’t ask me how—it just always ended up in conversation). And I think, for the most part, people found this kind of kooky – she’s just really confident and open, really comfortable with herself. Nope, just a little girl who is in too deep and drowning. I am looking forward to privacy.
7. Alcohol as Hell
Waking up smelling like a brewery, finding bruises in the shower and not knowing how you got them, making another excuse for missing work, a hurtful comment slipping out when smashed, hurting those you love. Life becomes a shipwreck and you are alone gasping for air in a swirling ocean, screaming rasping cries for help that no-one can hear.
But now I see the land and I swim to shore.