I Am Not an Alcoholic: ‘Lying in an alley clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag doesn’t have to be your wake-up call’

Part nine: I am wondering if I should perhaps try AA again. It might be a different experience when I’ve had several months’ sobriety. We’ll see

I went back to see the Prof and he asked me if I felt proud of myself? I thought about it and then said: “No, I don’t feel proud, maybe a little pleased.” He said that would do.

He again asked me to consider meetings, such as those Alcoholics Anonymous hold, and I asked him why he was pushing it so much. He explained that addictions are isolating, and abstinence is harder to maintain without the support of like-minded people.

I am wondering if I should perhaps try AA again. It might be a different experience when I’ve had several months’ sobriety. We’ll see.

When I was admitted to rehab, I felt distinctly uncomfortable – an out-of-body experience. I was there, but yet, I wasn’t. It was very much unknown territory. I didn’t fit in.


But as each day passed, I became a little more adjusted, and gradually adapted to my new circumstances. By the time I left rehab – a place which a few short weeks before had been alien to me – it felt like home.

And the only difference was me. I was different.

Those feelings are similar to what happens to me when I go to AA meetings. Maybe if I attended on a regular basis (as was suggested to me), I would feel differently.

And so, I went to an AA meeting. People were greeting each other and exchanging pleasantries as if we were at some social occasion – hey, wait a minute – it was a social occasion.

But I felt out of place, like I didn’t fit in. What was that about? Because I was like them. I too, struggle with alcohol just like them.

For the first time, listening to the invited speaker talk about her path to sobriety, I identified with her. She said a lot of things I would have said had I been speaking. In fact, she said some of the very things I’ve written about. She too had never reached rock bottom, but knew alcohol was controlling her. I wanted to go up to her at the end of the meeting and congratulate her but I didn’t. Why? I’m not sure. Instead, I snuck out unseen.

Some days later, I went to another AA meeting. It was a much smaller meeting than I’d ever attended before – only six of us. I couldn’t hide. Each person spoke of how important AA was in their lives and of how AA helped them in their daily struggle with alcohol. Interestingly, they also told of how out of place they felt at their first meeting; phrases such as: “I looked around the room at all these weirdos and said to myself, I’m not like them,” or “These people don’t know how to have fun, I don’t belong here, I’m a fun-loving person.”

Yet, unlike me, they kept coming back. Despite their reservations, they continued to attend meetings. Maybe I should too. A woman recalls being told at her first meeting: “I hope you stay around long enough for the fog to lift.”

“Keep coming back.” That is the message repeated over and over at AA meetings. I’d never heard it before. Or, like most of us, I only heard what I wanted to hear.

So, I’ve now been to three meetings in 10 days. Did a metamorphosis happen? No, but change is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.

I’ve worked hard on trying to stay sober. At first, I just took it one day at a time, afraid of the future. The rest of my life without alcohol wasn’t a picture I wanted to imagine, so, I shut it out. Now, with nearly nine months’ sobriety, I am beginning to look at it as a more long-term commitment. I’m beginning to feel like a non-drinker (even writing that sentence makes me feel nervous), as if this new me is only temporary and the demon is waiting around the next corner to catch me when I’m least expecting it.

The fear is always there that one day I might take a drink.

I’ve noticed whenever I’m at social events, water is not considered important and hosts will serve the ‘drinker’ first

It took longer for me to accept I had a problem because I didn’t hit rock bottom. I was just drinking a bottle of wine every night. It didn’t seem like it was something to waste doctors’ time on. Surely, I could do this myself. Oh, how I tried. Every evening, pouring out my first glass, I made a promise that I would only drink three. By the time the third glass was drunk, my promise was as empty as the bottle would be. I wasn’t in the gutter when I eventually sought help. Lying in an alley clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag doesn’t have to be your wake-up call. If alcohol is controlling you then it’s time to seek help. You don’t have to reach rock bottom.

The World Health Organisation has classified alcoholism as a disease. A disease of which there is little understanding, and with good reason. How could our favourite pastime – the centre of every activity – be a disease?

Because alcohol is two-faced.

Mention a party and the first word that comes into mind is alcohol; how much is needed? We don’t want to run out. Should we buy more white wine than red wine? Where will we find a container big enough to hold all the bottles of beer and ice? More planning goes into organising the alcohol than the food. Nobody wants to run out of food, but if it happens, it happens. But run out of alcohol and the party is over.

Mention an alcoholic and an ominous picture comes into play. It is no longer fun-loving – in fact we’re now in different territory altogether. We’re in a dark place where bad things happen and embarrassment occurs. Some of which (happily) we can’t even remember because of our drunkenness.

That is the two sides of alcohol.

When the MC asks guests at a wedding (or any occasion) to raise their glasses and toast the happy couple and drink to their happiness and health, does this seem a bit hypocritical when we are told that alcohol kills more people than all other drugs combined?

Speaking of weddings, I’ve been invited to one. Oh, the waiters will be pleased, not having to dodge me as they swoop past carrying trays of glistening glasses of sparkling wine. The problem is I may find it hard to get a glass of water. I’ve noticed whenever I’m at social events, water is not considered important and hosts will serve the “drinker” first, deeming his/her needs to be more pressing (and maybe they are). On several occasions I have had to ask a couple of times for a glass of water. I have felt I’ve been a nuisance, wasting people’s time.

‘Relapse is part of recovery’ someone said to me. I wish they hadn’t. It’s repeating itself like an earworm in my head. It’s almost like an invitation to drink

For God’s sake, can you not have a proper drink like most sane people?

No, that hasn’t been said to me. But my request has been forgotten. I have been the first at a party and it’s only when someone asks for an alcoholic drink that I then can have a glass of water, but after the other guest has been served.

“Will you have a drink this evening?”

“No.” The question startled me. I was the last client at the hairdresser on a Saturday evening.

“Do you not drink?”


I thought it was strange just after I wrote that it would be a long time before I could say “I don’t drink,” that I had an occasion to say it.

Social occasions (which always include alcohol) are becoming a little easier. My desire to drink red wine is still there, but my handle on it is stronger.

But I can only deal with myself.

When I have to persist; that no, I really don’t want a drink, or defend my reason for not drinking – that is when it gets trickier. I’m already having an argument in my head, with the voice saying, “Go on, spoil yourself, you’ve been so great, have a drink.”

I don’t need to defend my choice twice.

I’ve discovered that I am the only person from my group (in rehab) who has not relapsed. To be the only one seems like just luck. Is my luck going to run out? “Relapse is part of recovery” someone said to me. I wish they hadn’t. It’s repeating itself like an earworm in my head. It’s almost like an invitation to drink; a permission. Does this mean I’m going to relapse? That it is inevitable? “You’ve only done one rehab, you’re expected to fail, go on, have a drink.”

I wish I’d never heard it.

Fear has gripped my stomach.

The mornings; waking up full of despair at having failed again. I can’t forget what my drinking was like

I’ve also discovered that two are dead. I am deeply saddened by these deaths. One was in his early 50s, the other only 27. Both far too young to die. I am shocked. I remember these two men with a great deal of fondness (group therapy has a way of bonding people together). Both seemed determined to be successful in their efforts to remain sober. I had high hopes for them. On one occasion, after we had been allowed home for a weekend, I remember listening to them in group therapy the next day.

Stephen (not his real name) spoke about cleaning his flat and getting real satisfaction from putting it together, as is it were a metaphor for his life. He was pleased with himself. I can still see the smile on his face. Then Patrick (again, not his real name) spoke about how he occupied himself with exercise and cooking and avoiding triggers that would tempt him to drink.

Both sounded strong and resourceful and determined to beat their demons. May they rest in peace.

I’ve got to have a relapse prevention plan. I need to remember what my drinking was like: it wasn’t like most people’s, sharing a bottle of wine (when did I ever share?), having a glass or two of wine and then stopping. I can’t do that. And the mornings; waking up full of despair at having failed again. I can’t forget what my drinking was like.

I was entertaining recently and had set the table using a beautiful linen and lace tablecloth I had bought in France. Because I didn’t want the place mats to take away from the beautiful tablecloth, I put them under it. Everything was going well, and I somehow managed to get all the food on the table without it going cold. (I remembered to put water in the saucepan when I was cooking the vegetables, not like the last time when I forgot and was wondering where the burning smell was coming from – only to discover not only were the green vegetables black, so too were the saucepan and hob.)

I saw my husband pour wine into our daughter’s glass and as I watched, I saw the glass being placed on the edge of the (invisible) place mat and reached out my hand to catch it before the glass toppled over – too late. Red wine (of course it was red) splashed all over the tablecloth. Ironically, minutes earlier, I had ticked off my husband when he put the bottle on the tablecloth, where it left the tiniest stain, instead of in the wine coaster.

“Wash your hands,” my brother said to me. I looked at him, puzzled, when I remembered. Instinctively, I had been about to lick my fingers, not wanting to ruin my napkin.

As I was washing my hands, a cold tremor swept over my body.

Had I really been about to taste wine?

What effect would it have had?

Would I have picked up the bottle by the neck and gulped the remainder?

I returned to the table. Between the earworm in my head and the strong aroma rising from the table, I was being sorely tested.

Maybe it’s time to take my own advice and roll out the music. I was looking through my CDs and albums for a certain song. It took me a while to find it, all the while listening to the argument going on in my head, “Here’s the corkscrew, this’ll make you feel better and quickly.” The song? “What a Feeling”. The reason I wanted this particular song was that hearing it always makes me want to dance; I move my head in rhythm with the beat at the same time as my feet start tapping and suddenly, I’m on the dancefloor or in this case, my kitchen, dancing around the table.

Fortunately, there are no witnesses to this spectacle.