Today, as you read this, I will have been sober for 365 days: my first year.
When most people think of an alcoholic, they might think of a dirty man on a park bench, huddled in his overcoat, cradling a brown paper bag wrapped around a bottle.
Most people don’t think of a middle-aged and middle-class woman in comfortable circumstances; a woman with a loving family, a satisfying business, apparently fulfilled in her life.
You probably don’t think of Mary Wednesday.
I wrote of my problem with alcohol, and my reasons for drinking, in my blog “The Demon Drink,” published 11th July 2018. That marked the beginning of my struggle to become sober.
Nobody intends to become an alcoholic, and it takes a long time to admit that’s what you are. Alcohol steals so stealthily from you that you don’t notice it’s happening.
“Well, I know I drink too much, but at least I don’t drink a half-bottle of gin in an evening.” Until you do.
“Well, I know I drink too much, but at least I don’t drink in the morning.” Until you do.
“Well, I know I drink too much but at least I don’t get falling down drunk or pass out.” Until you’re lying on the floor with no recollection of how you got there.
“Well, I know I drink too much but at least I there aren’t bottles hidden all over the house.” Until there are.
“Well. I know I drink too much, but at least I never drive drunk.” Until it’s 11.30pm and the gin bottle is empty and you’re driving to the 24hr garage round the corner to buy some more.
I can’t tell you a particular precipitating incident; I just remember realising one morning, as I was drinking neat gin straight from the bottle, that I couldn’t lie to myself anymore: I was an alcoholic.
My shame was complete – at that point. I couldn’t face enrolling with AA where I would have to start with the words, “Hello, my name is Mary, and I am an alcoholic.” I just couldn’t do it. But I had to quit. I was going to quit.
In fact, I had just quit.
I had started so many times before; there were so many Day Ones behind me. I had to try something different.
Every time before, I had failed because I underestimated the power of my addiction. This time I realised, if I wanted to break free, I had to throw EVERYTHING at it.
I gave myself permission to do whatever it took. When my family would play the “Let’s make Mummy Wrong” game, instead of walking out and heading for the gin, I gave myself the freedom to scream at them, to swear, to throw things and to slam doors.
I gave myself permission to say, “If you don’t like what I’ve cooked, then make your own damn’ dinner!” and, “If you want it clean, then clean it yourself.”
I gave myself permission to walk out – to walk out forever – if that’s what it took to get sober and stay sober.
Getting sober was my only priority.
I downloaded a sober app – Easyquit Drinking – which is a great tool. I joined Facebook groups dedicated to quitting. Those were of limited help, but I’ve made some very good (sober) friends. I watched videos on how to stop drinking and read everything I could find on the subject. “The Naked Mind” by Annie Grace was a complete game-changer for me – except this wasn’t a game.
The general advice is to go public on this, so it makes it harder to quit quitting. But I didn’t even tell my family. I told only two very close friends who I knew I could trust completely. I knew I could rely on them not just for support but for understanding, without an atom of judgement, should I fail. My daughters noticed after six weeks but my husband has never commented.
What I didn’t do was throw out all the bottles. We live in a world where alcohol is ubiquitous: we can’t just escape from it. I had to learn to walk past those bottles and be stronger than my addiction living inside.
It was hard. It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. But, in the end, it was simple: I wasn’t going to give in. I’ve read books about torture and those who come through it say the same: “They could do anything to me; they could kill me by painful increments, but I knew I they would never break me.” At times it did seem like torture. The worst day was day 87 when I went through seven hours of non-stop cravings. Apparently, the three-month mark often triggers such a challenge.
So, a year sober. What does sober look like?
It means sleeping through the night instead of waking at 2.30am with a dry mouth and the thought, “I wish I hadn’t drunk so much.” It means a clear head and easy stomach in the morning. It means I don’t shake in the shower. It means knowing I am always safe to drive; to pick up my daughters at any time and anywhere, should they need it. It means not constantly thinking about my next drink.
Most of all it means looking in the mirror with self-respect.
I’m an alcoholic who doesn’t drink and never will. I have my self-respect back; I have my soul, and I won’t part with it again.
A Moodscope member.