Knowing

Words and sentences were flooding through me a few minutes ago – would have been pouring out of me had I only had the means… or perhaps not. Now that I find myself comfortably situated, keyboard at hand, I am fumbling for that fleeting erudition. It is difficult not to attribute this at least in part to a sort of cowardice, given the intended stuff of this writing. I will carry on, regardless!

Thirty seven has recently seemed to me to be awfully young to have stopped drinking alcohol forever. I am actually 37 for the second time, rather splendidly, as I spent a whole year being 37 – knowing that it was so and writing in on forms and all the things – realising only as my birth month rolled around that the birthday most recently celebrated was in fact my 36th.

Still, I don’t think that is why I have been feeling too young for such drastic steps. Rather, I suspect, it is the insidious creep of time and with it the forgetting that breeds complacency.

I always meant to chronicle my “bottom” here as a means of holding myself accountable and inuring myself to this very phenomenon, but I never quite got around to it. It came to me not in one messy breakdown, although there was plenty of that, but instead by degrees. A series of little deaths and with each a whisper that was ever more insistent; a knowledge that was there as surely as I know the year of my birth and thus my age and which I persisted even so, in misremembering.*

In August I stopped breastfeeding my baby. I loved breastfeeding and knowing as I did that this would almost certainly be the last time I loved breastfeeding him intensely. It was not enough to put the brakes on my wine drinking, though and I knew that the short, greasy hours between my collapsing into bed and nursing him in the morning were too few to imagine that all or even “enough” of the alcohol had been metabolised. I knew then.

In September, barely functioning under the weight of another brutal hangover, I was trying to make a smoothie for my boys and inadvertently switched on the immersion blender while I was scooping it out with my finger. I had to rely on my then-7 year old to help me dress my finger, maneuver the baby into the carrier and shepherd the four of us to an urgent care so I could have it stitched. I knew then.

In October I writhed with embarrassment as I sat drinking a glass of wine on a busy bar patio midway through trick or treating with my boys. I hated the judgement I felt in strangers’ eyes and hated myself, but I couldn’t do without that drink. I knew then.

In November, watching the devastating election results come in I didn’t even try to stop myself. Having drunk the one bottle we had in (never buy more than you are ok with drinking) I went out and bought two more. I abandoned myself to the desire to obliterate everything, and set about it. Although they were exceptional circumstances I woke up sick and sad and very afraid that I had crossed a line or at least peered into the abyss. I announced that I had given up alcohol and lasted 12 days. There are always exceptional circumstances. I knew then.

In December, a few days before Christmas, I left the kids with my mom on Saturday afternoon to finish up the last of my shopping. When I got back my oldest asked me where I had been. I said something vague about errands. “I know what you did,” he replied in the matter of fact way of young children. “You went to [the wine shop] and you bought wine and then you drank it in the driveway and went and put the bottle in the recycling so no one would know.” I hadn’t had anything to drink that day, nor been to the wine store, and I never drank in secret or tried to hide the bottles and to this day I don’t know how or why he came up with such a detailed tale, but I knew then that he knew, and that was worst of all.

It took me five more months of trying and failing to not know, to “get things under control,” to drink less or to not drink every day or to not drink at home or to never drink alone, and reassuring myself that resisting the voice that told me some mornings that “a drink would surely take the edge off and it’s foolish to suffer like this all day just for the sake of waiting until 5,” was itself a victory and a sign that I was not that bad after all and there was still time; but I knew then, too.

Our 10th wedding anniversary is next week, and if you had told me on my wedding day (or to be honest on our 9th anniversary) that we would not be popping champagne to celebrate because I was also celebrating 10 (and a half!) months of sobriety, I would have been a little skeptical, if not a lot incredulous.

I am happy and proud to be sober today, but it would be disingenuous to say that I am not sad as well. It was such an easy, obvious way of celebrating, of letting loose and forgetting the ordinariness and the struggle of everyday life, and although more often than not I drank too much and was left with regrets after even the brightest celebration, I am very sad that we can’t share a bottle of champagne (or two) and listen to music from when we were dating and laugh and get a bit silly on our anniversary.

I think I have been feeling recently that I have ruined something good, putting a kibosh on something fun and lovely, but for better or worse (ha!) it had long since soured. I have only to look, a little fearlessly after all, at where I was and what I knew then, to see that my sobriety is a gift to be prized and protected. I am so grateful to be here, and to know for sure that I don’t have to go back to that dark and fearful place, ever again.

*Misremembered is claiming not to be a word but of course it must be, because it is just what I did and indeed have been doing again, recently.

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A Bitter Bottom – Call It What You Will

SoberMummy’s new post was unexpectedly provoking for me. Quite shortly after I started this blog I wrote that I was wrestling with the concepts of alcoholic and alcoholism, but I did not really draw any conclusions then and, as my reaction to SM’s friend made clear this morning, I have not yet come to terms. I have been kind of mulling over another post following on from the first one about this, and this morning I was all fired up and ready to go. I realised, though, that I was not responding from a healthy place. 

I do believe that there is a lot of work to be done – for myself and in wider discussion – on this important and extremely complex subject, but one of the things that I have been thinking about today is how important it is to tread with care and kindness around matters of identity. How personal, and sacred, our identities are to us, yet they exist almost by definition in the collective. If I am to claim (or reject) alcoholic as part of my own identity, I necessarily enter a shared a space, about which many other people have deep feelings and beliefs.  

The second reason I realised I was not ready to weigh in here is my very personal and emotional response to the post. I believe that I was insanely lucky to come to sobriety when and how I did. By grace, my drinking has been without obvious or evidently irreparable consequences. No dui’s, no great physical harm to myself and none to my kids, and my marriage has survived despite my neglect and selfishness. Indeed, in these (still) early days of my new life and as I begin to reckon with my past, my husband’s love and steadfastness are gifts whose magnitude and generosity I can hardly bear to contemplate. 

Before I stopped drinking my thinking went along the lines of, “As long as I don’t get to the point of being an actual alcoholic, I won’t have to stop completely. Forever. How awful that must be.” Today I saw clearly how dangerous this is. On some secretsecretsecret level, I have been telling myself that I stopped in time. I stopped before I became an alcoholic. All these weeks of doing all this work of not drinking and I have been holding open a little escape hatch. I’ve been setting myself up to fail. 

What I am sitting with tonight is this. Whether or not I claim this identity, however complex and nuanced it is, it is not one of degree. I was bad enough. I was sad enough. I was sick enough. I was hurting myself and my family enough and enough was too, too much. 

I intended including the story of my “bottom” moment in this post (hence its title) as part of the process of really cementing for myself what my drinking was like and why this fragile sobriety is so precious and utterly essential to the life I want for myself and my family, but I have run out of day and steam. I need to do it, and I think I need to post it here as I don’t seem to have quite got the hang of being totally honest with myself, but it will keep for another day. Today is day 57, and I am so very grateful to be here.