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I Am Not an Alcoholic: I should look away, but my eye is stuck on the wine flowing into the glass

Part seven: I was anxious going away with my wine-loving friend but I felt accomplished stepping off the plane home sober

I’ve booked a holiday with a friend who likes her wine very much and before I clicked purchase on the airline ticket, I thought about my decision and, like the previous trip, weighed up the pros and cons.

Not going would mean staying at home and missing out on a holiday. The big bonus, though, was that I could visit my son who lives in that part of the world. I would feel like a weak person who declined the chance of a wonderful trip just because I might take a drink.

It seemed to me that the question answered itself.

I had to tell her that I had been in rehab and had stopped drinking. Was she okay with that? She was.


In the week before I travelled, I dreamt that I had drunk red wine. The first time it was just a glass and I was very flustered as to what to do. Was this the downward spiral to oblivion or was it possible to have a reprieve? I woke up before I found out the answer to that question. The second time when the dream began, however, I had already finished the bottle and was drunk. I was petrified with fear and was trying to assimilate what this meant when I woke up. It only lasted a few seconds but it was a nightmare.

Clearly, my subconscious was absorbing the potential scenarios.

Was I ready for this?

Would I ever be?

Some days before my departure, an email arrived from the airline, offering me an upgrade to business class. This email didn’t have “trigger” in its subject box but it may as well have. In rehab, we were taught about triggers; avoidable ones and ones that require management. This was definitely the former. The past six months have taught me to detect potential hazards and an upgrade was a trigger to avoid. I could see myself high up above the clouds, being waited on hand on foot ordering a glass of Chateau de whatever, followed by several more. I told people I’d prefer to spend the money on something more tangible but that was only partially true.

On the flight (in my cramped economy seat), I watched a film, The Good House. I didn’t know anything about it other than Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline were the main actors. Weaver’s character was an alcoholic or, as she said herself, “I’m not an alcoholic. Alcoholics drink first thing in the morning – I never drink before five o’clock – and carry bottles of wine in brown paper bags. No way am I an alcoholic.”

Words I could have written myself.

Hey, hold on a minute, I did write almost those exact words. I watched Weaver drink copious glasses of wine, all the time in denial about her drinking. She reminded me of someone – oh, yes, me. Of all the choices, and there were many, I chose that film to watch. How ironic. I did feel a sense of achievement when I disembarked from the plane not having drunk a drop of alcohol. I should try to harness that feeling throughout my holiday so that it might be multiplied by the time I disembark from the plane in Dublin.

I never understood Irish people drinking ice-cold beer in freezing weather. It was a drink I particularly liked around lunchtime whenever I found myself in a hot climate, though. So icy cold and refreshing – time to find its replacement.

The importance of not feeling I’m missing out on something is crucial for me when I’m saying, ‘no, thank you,’ again and again to the waiter

For me, someone who is dependent on alcohol and isn’t able to stop, continuing to drink long after others, I need to retrain my brain and stop thinking that a drink is a reward for good behaviour. Alcohol is not a reward. In the era in which I grew up, this was the reverse. Alcohol was a reward. Actually, this is still true today. It is seen as celebratory; a reward we give ourselves when we achieve something; a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding, a Christening, in fact, I can’t think of a single happy (or even unhappy) event where alcohol does not feature. Mention champagne and someone asks: “What are we celebrating?”

The importance of not feeling I’m missing out on something is crucial for me when I’m sitting at the table saying, “no, thank you,” again and again to the waiter when he hovers the bottle of wine over my glass. I don’t need to feel like I’m being punished for something. It’s my attitude towards that glass that determines my resistance to saying no. If necessary, I may have to ask myself those six questions I mentioned in last month’s article. When asked did he question his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, “why me?”, Michael J Fox responded: “Why not me?”

The city where my son lives is congested with traffic so he uses a Vespa to get around. He weaves in and out of the myriad of cars, trucks, taxis, buses, bikes and tuk tuks accompanied by a cacophony of horns, beeps, chimes, tinkling bells. In the spirit of going with the flow, I am a pillion passenger on said Vespa. I can’t even close my eyes as I have to watch out for potential potholes and be prepared to tighten my grip as I bounce off the saddle. If that wasn’t bad enough, I have to sit side-saddle as my dress is too tight. My security in that moment is zilch. The relief, when we reach our destination is only momentary as I realise I have to return the same way.

And there is no alcohol to dull the senses.

As a reward to myself, I booked a massage. In these parts, the word relaxation doesn’t feature in a traditional massage. My masseuse pummeled me, sat on me, used her bony knees to knead out any muscle tension. Just when I thought the torture was over, she sat me up and pulling one arm in one direction and the opposite leg in another, she twisted me so much that I thought my arm and leg had been dislocated.

Later, strangely, I felt wonderful. I’ve booked another one for Friday.

I thought eating out every night would be a challenge and I was right. I seem to look up every time a waiter is topping up people’s glasses at all the tables around me. I should look away but my eye is stuck on the wine flowing from the bottle into the elegant glass. I am reminded here more than ever how difficult it must be for those whose desire for a drink starts the minute they wake up. I have an advantage in that I can go through the day without thinking of my first drink. That situation changes towards dusk and, being away, it is definitely worse than at home. I’m putting this down to the holiday vibe; cocktail hour, sundowner, happy hour (what a misnomer – happy hour is not to make the customers happy. It is to make the proprietor happy by increasing his profits.)

The hotel in which I am staying in is surrounded by lush, serene gardens scented with exotic perfumes. Tranquillity. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden. Oh, isn’t that the story where a snake tempts a couple with an apple? Should I be looking out for a snake in the grass surrounded by a bunch of grapes?

I watched every time the waiter poured out another glass for my friend hoping it was the last

My friend, Fiona – yes, the one who loves her wine – and I spent the afternoon catching up; she with the help of a bottle of white wine and me with two glasses of lemon and ginger juice and a pot of tea. Later, I swam several lengths in the inviting swimming pool. Fiona, wisely, did not. Dinner was disappointing. Neither of us particularly liked what we had chosen. I consoled myself with a large bottle of Perrier; she with another bottle of wine.

How was I able to be so good? This is truly where my motto “think of tomorrow morning” comes into play.

Another night sitting in a restaurant, at a table surrounded by a very large pond decorated with water lilies (I thought I was dreaming and had been transported to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny), the bottle of white wine in its cooler seemed to have no bottom. I watched every time the waiter poured out another glass for my friend hoping it was the last. It was in vain. I was hot. The chilled wine looked so tempting and when the waiter asked, “Madame?” as he hovered the bottle over my empty wine glass, there was an argument going on in my head, one voice saying; “Have a glass. It’ll do you good. Relax you. Make you more fun,” while another disagreed. “No, don’t listen to that voice. It’s lying. You are perfectly relaxed. You don’t need alcohol. Think of tomorrow morning.”

Fortunately, this time the latter voice won the argument.

I hope this pattern continues. I can see that I shall have to use all my aids not to drink for the next week. Even lunchtime is a challenge as I watch Fiona sip (gulp) her chilled white wine which marries so well with the mango and cashew nut salad. I am not feeling sorry for myself. I am in a gorgeous place with beautiful weather and have nothing to do except write (my favourite thing to do) and indulge myself. So, I can’t have a drink! It’s a first world problem. I don’t imagine alcohol features largely in poverty-stricken countries when wondering where your next meal is coming from?

I am home now and, yes, I did feel a sense of having accomplished something when I disembarked the plane in Dublin. Bleary eyed, but this time the result of a long flight with no sleep, due in large part to the heavy-set man beside me whose arm was almost in my lap throughout the entire flight.

While away, I managed to lose my debit card, a tooth and an earring, but not my sobriety.