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I Am Not an Alcoholic: ‘Abstinence has brought power back into my life’

Part 14: I have discovered who I am. I question a lot of things; things I accepted willingly before

A funny thing happened last week. It was the evening, the weakest part of the day for me and the craving for a drink was strong.

I don’t think they will ever go away.

I was walking on the footpath, passing bars and cafés full of people socialising or, in other words, drinking. Crowds were spilling out on to the street, talking loudly, laughing heartily, the life and soul of the party.

In that moment, I wondered how many of them would stop at one or two drinks and go home? Most of them I would say. I envied them their ease and contentment at drinking alcohol. I know I would have gone home and opened a bottle if there wasn’t one already opened. I didn’t know when to stop. Or, if I did, I couldn’t.


So, it was ironic that sitting on the DART later, still trying to quash the craving for alcohol, a drunk man would start trying to converse with me. He was the real deal, he even had the bottle in the brown paper bag. Avoiding eye contact, I watched him through his reflection in the window and he never stopped talking. Although slurring his words, he was still comprehensible and it was astonishing to hear him carry on a monologue with himself for six stops. If he really was with someone, they wouldn’t have got a word in edgeways. As I stood up to get off the train, the craving I had had was gone and it was to do with listening to a drunk man talking nonsense to himself.

You don’t get the same scenario wherever people are drinking coffee. There, the atmosphere is more sedate and people are keeping their voices low so that the people at the next table won’t hear them gossiping about Mary who’s having an affair with her tennis coach and how everyone in the tennis club is talking about it except Mary’s husband who is completely in the dark.

Or is that just in my local café?

Life is hard. And it is for everyone. We need to take the good with the bad. Just as we receive good news with a lightness of heart

I went to an art exhibition where there was no water to be had. Only wine, beer and Coca-Cola. I have not drunk coke since I was in my teens and I didn’t like it even then. But it was a very hot evening and I needed something cool to drink. The beer did look inviting, so inviting, but I settled on a coke. Strangely, the whole time I was drinking the coke, I thought of the damage it was doing to my teeth – one glass of Coca-Cola – where did that come from? Drinking bottles of red wine, it never crossed my mind what it was doing to any part of my body.

Suddenly, I’m becoming all health conscious.

Life is hard. And it is for everyone. We need to take the good with the bad. Just as we receive good news with a lightness of heart, we should train ourselves to take the hard knocks with fortitude knowing that this too shall pass. Bad things will happen – don’t make them worse.

During Covid-19 (I apologise for even mentioning that dreary time) I took out my book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Grimm is right – some of those stories are gruesome in the extreme) and was transported to a world of witches, fairies, giants and goblins. However outlandish and fantastical fairy tales are, they reflect the world in which we live.

Take the story of Rapunzel for example. Locked in a tower with no means of escape, she uses her ingenuity to find a way out of her predicament. The lesson: Never give up on life. There are better days ahead.

Another favourite is the story of The Three Little Pigs. If you take the easy way out and build your house with straw, it’ll fall down in the first storm but if you build your house brick by brick taking no shortcuts, you’ll reap what you sow (no pun intended).

Fairy tales may not be true but their message is. Accepting that life happens, whether we like it or not, is the golden rule of normality. Making a mountain out of a molehill; least said soonest mended; these metaphors are words of wisdom we should obey. In all fairy tales, there is a kernel of truth.

For me (and I suspect for all drinkers who have a dependency on alcohol) sobriety is not a passive decision, but an active one taken carefully every day. Not to drink today.

I’ve invited some friends to lunch and as is customary I will be offering them a glass of wine. Will I be tempted? Yes, but it’s one I can manage. It’s the questions I find difficult.

“Oh, you’re not drinking?”

“Are you on antibiotics? You poor thing.”

“Sure, what harm can one drink do?”

Oh, I could tell them, but would they want to know? Would it make them uncomfortable having to face up to their own alcohol consumption? Because, inevitably, it’s the people who might have reason to question their own drinking who are most eager for others to join them in toasts.

As it turned out, my guests were well-behaved and didn’t badger me to have a drink.

I found myself in a pub recently – not being a regular habituee despite my former fondness for drinking – for a table quiz. I looked around at the mirrored bar displaying bottles of golden elixir all forbidden to me. To distract myself, I picked up a sheet of paper on the table listing the raffle prizes: A bottle of Sapphire Bombay Gin; A bottle of red wine; a bottle of whiskey; a bottle of red and white wine; a box of liqueur chocolates. I silently whispered the famous John McEnroe quote: ”You cannot be serious?” I put down the list.

I watched as two of my companions drank a glass of wine each and made them last for the duration of the evening. It never ceases to amaze me that that can be done. One glass. How did that happen? I could never have done that. How could they just sip all evening. What was the point in that? I believe the point is telling me that I can never drink again. If I had still been drinking, I would have drunk two, possibly three, glasses before leaving the house and I would have had another two, three, if I thought I’d get away with it – before leaving as quickly as it was polite to do so to get home and grab the bottle.

My whole day was thinking of that first glass of wine. I was the one in control I told myself. And fish climb trees

I was put out by the volume of the music blasting out of loudspeakers. I only like loud music when I’m listening to it or dancing to it, but not when conversations are taking place as well. It’s hard to hear what is being said (God, I sound so old) and worse, what I may have agreed to! My companion leaned in to tell me something. I could smell the wine on his breath. To recoil would have been rude. I could only hope the story was short.

Every day when I was drinking, I was thinking of the bottle of wine and six o’clock, (or sometimes earlier). My whole day was thinking of that first glass of wine. I was the one in control I told myself. And fish climb trees.

“Sure, all wine is, is a few grapes and a spoonful of sugar. It’s good for you.”

“I’m getting my five a day.” I joked.

But with sobriety, clarity has come and I can see my drinking for what it was. Alcohol was not liberating me, it was limiting me. How careless of me not to realise this before. Abstinence has brought power back into my life. I don’t think about this too much but perhaps I should.

With abstinence now a reality (I had to stop typing to cross my fingers) I have discovered who I am. I question a lot of things; things I accepted willingly before. I don’t know how it works but there’s a new awareness that wasn’t there before. I can’t explain it but my life is different. The world was far narrower when I was drinking but I didn’t know it. Slowly, I have begun to notice on certain occasions feeling a little proud of the fact that I don’t drink alcohol, but I don’t let it take over me (I am not judgemental on what others drink – it’s not that long ago I drank myself into oblivion every night) my feet remain firmly on the ground. If I were to get too ahead of myself who knows what might happen?

It’s okay to feel pleased at my achievement, just as long as I keep it in perspective. I haven’t saved any lives.

If you want to keep a secret, you tell no one. My anonymity is no longer safe. It has come back to me that some people know who I am and, to be honest, I’m not happy. I write very openly and honestly and being anonymous adds a freedom and a safety not available when my name is on the byline and I can be braver than I really am. Also, it is not just me but my family is involved and I must be cognizant of their feelings. Maybe I was expecting too much. Ireland is a small country and sooner or later someone will talk. To have written an article every month for a year without anyone finding out my identity was probably as good as it gets.

But I have to deal with the fact that someone has talked and a lot more people now know that I am the author of these ‘anonymous’ articles. It’s not that I’m embarrassed, it’s to do with a relapse. If it were to happen, I would be my harshest critic. It would be bad enough having to face myself without others judging me.

I see the scenario; I’m in the supermarket, six bottles of red wine in the trolly when I bump into someone I know. They don’t say a word but their glance into my trolly speaks volumes. I am ashamed and feel my face redden. Knowing that I am going to drink a bottle of wine (at least) that evening and wake up feeling wretched is bad, knowing they too know is shameful.