I started drinking at 14 years old. Something that boarding school does to a lot of people I believe! It was just what you did, vodka behind the squash courts while we lit up those Marlborough lights. At university, I drank to cover my raging social anxiety and because I felt bubbly and fun and stopped worrying about whether people liked me or not. Inevitably I had very few friends at university and gained my self-worth through a stream of dodgy relationships. When I no longer had friends to go out with, I drank at home, drank after work, drank until it was a reasonable time to go to bed so that I could forget about the day and see if tomorrow was any different. It wasn’t. At this point I couldn’t see that alcohol as the problem.
In my first job Friday night drinking was de rigueur. Drinking was now an acceptable part of the week. Everything led to Friday, it was all about Friday. Finish work, head out with all the other smart officey people, down the first 250mls of Pinot Grigio with my Marlborough lights. Stumble home at about midnight and spend the whole of Saturday feeling dreadful, Sunday feeling miserable and then starting again Monday morning. Everyone else was doing it so it must be ok. I realised later that they were on the same merry go round – and also far worse than I was. I came to see at this stage that alcohol and I were not a good combination, not that that stopped me drinking at every possible occasion.
Even after moving to Edinburgh I didn’t stop. My new work friends also liked the Friday night drinking circuit and for a while I joined in to the full! In my worse moments I looked at AA but didn’t go in case the people didn’t like me. I was also unwilling to give up my friend. I mean, the first glass of wine made me feel better didn’t it? Lighter, less worried, more full of potential. This didn’t mean I didn’t know there was a problem. One night I opened up, drunkenly, to my sister who said ‘don’t be silly you’re fine’. ‘Don’t be silly your fine’, ‘you’re not an alcoholic’, ‘you’re just drunk and overacting’, ‘you’ve not got a problem’, ‘you’re just coping’ were the phrases that would follow my constantly in the next 12 years as I tried to defeat this alcohol demon. My first husband, my GP, my family – I did not drink enough to have a problem.
I knew I did though and I couldn’t understand why everyone was fighting me, almost willing me to keep drinking. I tried to stop, over and over again. Sometimes it even lasted a few months. But eventually I started again – something too stressful, some party that I ‘needed’ to go to and couldn’t do without a glass in hand. By this stage I was counting units so my weekly intake had decreased from the 50, give or take, units a week. Now I was at a mere 27 – 36 units a week (a few more than that 14 though eh?!). A lovely hypnotherapist I went to see to help me with anxiety and drinking almost turned me away when I said I drank 3 – 4 bottles of wine a week rather than a night. In this world of fixatedly counting alcohol units – forget calorie counting, I knew the unit value for everything – I got pregnant. Every day of pregnancy was a painful battle not to have a drink. Even googling to see if drinking really would damage the baby, or how much I could have to not cause foetal alcohol syndrome. I got through 3 pregnancies without a drink and hated every single painful dragging minute of them all. No wonder I didn’t want to stop drinking if that is what every day would feel like.
After babies, I was supposed to be in mummy heaven right? To an extent I was. I adored The Bot, he was cute and funny and giggly. But I was insanely anxious and left alone with a small defenceless baby all day. It didn’t help that he got sepsis at 2 weeks old and was in hospital for 3 weeks. I started worrying constantly that he would die or I would die, it all eventually focused around carbon monoxide, the silent killer that would get us as we slept. Looking back now I think it was a form of post natal depression, but I didn’t see that. I dealt with the problem by drinking it away. Drinking it away became very easy. Every time something seemed too much, it was OK because I knew that in the evening I could have some wine and it would all go away, I was self-soothing with alcohol. I never drank during the day after I had children, only at wine o’clock (about 5pm in my household) and then I stopped by 8pm.
Moving to Egypt, where alcohol is not such a social thing, I thought it might break the cycle. But the expat circuit is all about the booze! The alcohol in Egypt it so bad that you actually develop a hangover while drinking it, but I didn’t let that small fact get in the way. Nor the fact that you had order it in advance from a special shop because you couldn’t buy it locally. You can be sure I always knew when we were running low and if I didn’t have a corkscrew, I knew how to get into the bottle with a biro casing! My loneliness and social anxiety were all soothed away by very bad booze.
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I was so confused and so desperate to be OK and be happy. Life seemed to be getting harder and harder to manage. My husband and I were very unhappy. He had never been a drinker but he’d started. We knew we’d had fun while drinking in the past so the answer was clearly to start drinking at home. We could recreate those happy time. But while it didn’t seem to affect him too badly, I was becoming consumed with guilt and shame. Every drink I had was counted and measured and I knew obsessively how many units of what to drink and when to stop each evening. My head was full and going round and round in circles of thinking about drinking. I was anxious, crying and exhausted. Even though I started to feel better after reading You can heal your life by Louise Hays, it was not enough to finally stop drinking. I knew I want to be happy, but I honestly didn’t believe I could be happy without it. How would I celebrate? How would I commiserate? How would I manage the ups and downs? How would I cope with all my feelings? But I also worried that my children might think drinking every day was normal. I worried that The Bear might think that it was OK to drink every day when you have diabetes. I was worried that I wasn’t ever fully present with them in the crucial after school up to bed time. The guilt was huge. Every day around lunch time the battle in my head started. Should I drink tonight/shouldn’t I drink tonight. This thought pattern consumed my head until 5pm when I inevitably gave in to manage the stress and guilt I had inflicted on myself. By 8pm? The guilt was back. Nothing was better.
I was in this cycle for years but I couldn’t seem to stop. When I remarried, my husband rarely drank. I couldn’t understand how he got through every day without it. He seemed to be OK at parties with nothing! He celebrated quietly or had a cup of tea – how was that exciting? How boring I thought. But he was the first person who said to me that it didn’t matter what anyone else said. If I thought my drinking was a problem then it was a problem. He supported every one of my attempts to stop and he never judged me when I started again – although I was judging myself like crazy! It took a while. I kept going and eventually in January 2018 things finally changed. Read my next post How I quit drinking to find out more