There is no comparison between living in the real, day-to-day world of decision-making – “Who put that there?” “It wasn’t me, I didn’t touch it.” “It’s your turn to empty the dishwasher.” “No it’s not, I did it yesterday” – and rehab.
One has consequences that follow your actions. Sometimes good, a lot of the time not so good. Making bad decisions, saying things in an argument that cannot be unsaid, all very grown-up. The other is a pretend world where, like children, no decisions are necessary, food is supplied at regular intervals and no one has a mobile phone. Why on earth are children in such a hurry to grow up?
I am in the middle of a family crisis. And not to take a drink requires a discipline I would compare to the training of Olympian athletes. Last night things came to a bit of a head, and I was so tempted to have a drink it was frightening. I embraced my mantra, whose strength was a lot weaker than previously. I called a friend who offered to come over. She asked me what I would achieve by having a drink. I responded that it would numb my feelings and I could escape from the world and its problems, at least until tomorrow morning. It was a very good question, because, as I answered it, I knew that in the morning my problems would be tenfold.
It is the next morning, and thankfully I didn’t take that drink. But I am neither complacent nor congratulating myself. (My friend is doing enough of that for both of us.) I am going to buy her a bouquet of flowers this morning and drop them over. I know now, if I didn’t before, that this struggle is not nearly over. I still have a lot of work to do.
And I intend to do it.
When I was in rehab I used to think I could start drinking again in about a year’s time and I would just be a social drinker. Abstaining from alcohol for a year would show that I had discipline and I would relearn how to drink. I really believed that. The longer I am sober the less I believe that. My family crisis has not abated. And I’m very grateful that I haven’t resorted to drinking. It hasn’t been easy. But I’ve done it. How? I don’t know. The family problem is an ongoing one and will take time to be resolved, and it behoves me not to add petrol to the fire.
Two months after I left rehab I went back to see the prof. I asked him was he still speaking to me. He laughed and said yes, of course. He was pleased with my progress and asked again if I would try Alcoholics Anonymous. So I did. The formula is this: after the welcome from the chair, a person who has achieved a certain period of sobriety will tell their story. This is where I begin to feel out of place. This person, in short, had started drinking before they were a teenager and ended up drinking and taking drugs for years, losing jobs and being thrown out of accommodation along the way, until finally achieving sobriety. Most people in the room identified with her.
I can see that those who attend AA meetings get a lot more out of them than they put in, and that is why they keep coming back
At AA meetings, anyone new is asked to say a few words if they want to. I introduced myself and said I was the author of these articles. And here’s the crazy thing. There are those (people who can take or leave a drink) who will assume that I am being melodramatic and that there’s nothing wrong with me that a strong dose of discipline wouldn’t cure. And there are others (usually those who have abused alcohol) who assume that I’m lying about my intake of alcohol.
Yes, after the AA meeting a gentleman – sorry, a man – had the temerity to tell me that I wasn’t being honest. What exactly did he mean? He said that I was drinking more than the amount I admitted to drinking. I was taken aback. Why would he say that? He had never met me before. He knew nothing about me. Most importantly, why would I lie to a blank sheet of paper?
At first, foolishly, I tried to reason with him. There was no point. He wasn’t a reasonable man. But it was another opinion of me that was erroneous. So many, and probably many more to come. Some people have a PhD in judging people and they’ve never been called to the bench. Another man, this time a gentleman (sober for 16 years) asked me to consider going to AA meetings for six months to give them a chance. I thought this was an awfully long time to give something a chance. I said I’d think about it. I haven’t been back yet, but I’m still keeping an open mind. In a way, it’s a bit like when I first went into rehab: I felt out of place and found it difficult to open up. Yet, as time went on, I found my niche. And I can see that those who attend AA meetings get a lot more out of them than they put in, and that is why they keep coming back.
I started writing these essays as a form of self-therapy (they were never intended for an audience), and everything I write is the truth or at least my belief of what the truth is. I also write fiction, creating completely imaginatary scenarios, but that is another type of writing, one I am not employing here. And just because The Irish Times is publishing these essays, the truth is not a casualty.
Having no recollection of what I said or did was frightening. Even if I was out at an event or in someone’s house, I could never recall how I got home or anything I said
My drinking never got me in trouble – never caused me to lose a job, end up in A&E or in a police station.
Why would I seek help for a problem that didn’t exist? This is what I told myself for years, even when my husband was angry with me for my drinking. He tried different tactics. ”Do you know what it’s doing to your liver?” is an example of one of his repeated pleas which fell on deaf ears. Why would I care about my liver? Nobody sees it.
But, seriously, my drinking for the most part affected no one but me and I wasn’t concerned about it. That last sentence is a lie. Every morning when I woke up, I would suffer the effects of my drinking and feel shame. Swallowing the paracetamol, I would wonder had anything happened that I should be aware of. My mind was always a blank about the latter part of the evening, and I wouldn’t remember any conversations I may have had. Sometimes, I would ask a question, only to be told, “I told you last night, don’t you remember”? No, I don’t. Having no recollection of what I said or did was frightening. Even if I was out at an event or in someone’s house, I could never recall how I got home or anything I said. It was only when my husband passed a comment about the evening that this lapse of memory would reveal itself.
Forgetting to switch on the oven and coming home to a cold and raw turkey can turn the most benign person into a monster
I need to be reminded of these unpleasant consequences of my drinking now more than ever as my sobriety is slipping into its fourth month and, not unlike childbirth, one forgets the pain. If I forget that I woke up every morning physically and mentally sick and disgusted with myself, I am afraid that taking that first drink again will become more and more attractive as the past recedes and the truth becomes blurred. Something I must avoid at all costs. Yes, I am aware that as times goes by, my drinking doesn’t seem so bad, but I have to remember that it was. What’s wrong with a glass of wine? Nothing. It’s what wrong with a bottle that is the question.
Christmas was hard. Who knew? Loneliness, a painful legacy from my childhood hits me occasionally, and Christmas is, of course, one of those times. I do all the usual preparations; getting the house in order, buying and decorating the tree, ordering a turkey and ham. I feel if I cross every t and dot every i, nothing can go wrong.
Or can it? Burning the Brussels sprouts (yes, it’s possible); forgetting to switch on the oven and coming home to a cold and raw turkey can turn the most benign person into a monster. But probably the worst thing is the badly chosen present where the recipient is furiously tearing at the wrapping paper looking for the gift receipt. And not to take a drink in these circumstances is very challenging.
My way of dealing with it is this: I visualise myself sitting in a car at traffic lights waiting for the green light. This can sometimes seem to take an age, and no amount of finger-tapping on the steering wheel or swearing at the inanimate lights to change will hurry it up. The urge to open that bottle is so strong that it frightens me, and I think I’m not strong enough to resist it.
It is January, and I did it.
I noticed in one recent week there were three programmes on the radio regarding the abuse of alcohol. (This in itself is strange, as I rarely listen to the radio, so to accidentally catch three programmes in the same week on the same subject was serendipitous.) The first was on Miriam O’Callaghan’s Sunday-morning show, where her guest was Adrian Chiles, who spoke about his excessive alcohol intake and how he had taught himself to cut back. The second was on Liveline, where Joe Duffy’s callers were talking about the abuse of alcohol and its harmful effects on society. And the third was on The Ray D’Arcy Show. This time his guest spoke of her sobriety (sober for 14 years) before she relapsed. She explained how one day in a supermarket she bought an alcoholic drink and went home and drank it. She has since stopped. But it was as simple as that.
And that is my daily fear. No matter how many people congratulate me and tell me how wonderful I am, I will never be complacent. I don’t know the hour nor the day when, I too, might pick up that glass.