Imagine sitting in the driver’s seat of a car. The car is speeding towards a wall. There is a bomb under the brake peddle. The knowledge that you are facing imminent death forces you to make a call to the partner you had an argument with earlier. You apologise and explain your situation. Your partner explains that you should pull the handbrake. Of course. It seems so obvious after the fact but the anxiety was clouding your judgement.
The wall is continuing drinking. The brake is the fear of stopping. The phone call is the reluctance with which we reach out. It is only then that things become clear. It is only when admitting hardship is it possible to get help but you still have to act.
Imagining a life without alcohol made me not want to quit. My perception was twisted but I wasn’t to know. A sober future was a bleak thought. A life of beigeness. No more good stories. No more good times. No more friends. No more life. This, combined with the ever-increasing knowledge that alcohol wasn’t working anymore caused me to drink more. My only escape from this chaotic thinking was the cause of the chaotic thinking, alcohol. The poison was my antidote. Eventually, something had to give. Thankfully, it was my liver and it wasn’t too bad.
I was trapped in using alcohol by my desire to escape the world. I had never learned to deal with life. Alcohol had been my escape for a long time. In the end, I drank 6 days a week. Never Monday. If I could go one day without drinking then I didn’t have a problem. That was the line. That was what I told myself.
I rarely drank at home. Only in pubs. Alkies drank alone. I wasn’t an alky. I drank in the pub. I believed that. Even though I was a mess. My life was a mess and had been for a while. I was skint. To steal a line from a friend “I was living a champagne lifestyle on lemonade wages!” I was physically, mentally and emotionally sick. I would leave work, vow to have “one drink” and then wake up the next day with no knowledge of what had happened. In the end, I didn’t want to know what had happened. I used to wake up, delete my messages from my phone and then go about my day. I was living a duel life. A version of me worked for the other version to feed his addiction. I had two groups of friends. I never went on work events because I didn’t want people to see me drinking. I was spinning plates and it was becoming unmanageable. Yet I dared not press the brake pedal or admit I needed help until I was heading towards that wall at full speed.
That was when it all became too much. I couldn’t handle it anymore. My body couldn’t handle it anymore. I couldn’t handle the shame and guilt. I couldn’t handle the diatribe that had become my inner monologue. The ghost of my potential and the spirit of my unfulfilled life haunted me with spite. My only option was to surrender. I tore a strip from my shirt and fashioned a white flag. I had to admit defeat. I had to fall at the mercy of forgiveness and admit I was weak. I had to eat humble pie, as my projected image collapsed to match the scared boy it was hiding. My pride was decimated and I stood alone in a world I had never experienced. I was scared and lonely.
It was the greatest day of my life.
Perverse, I know. To say the whole fucking thing collapsing was the best day of my life seems strange but it is true. It was the 1st of June 2014 and since that day I haven’t had a drink. It was tricky at first but not as tricky as I thought it was going to be. The first couple of weeks were hell as I all I could think about was drinking. But I just reminded myself where I would end up, back in the shame and guilt that had hounded me for years. If I drank I would end up back there. To have a fighting chance at life I had to go it sober. I was sick of getting kicked down by my own insecurities and fear.
I just had to try because if I didn’t change I would look back on my life as a drunken old man propping up a bar, the thought of not having the courage to at least attempt to quit would cause a tear to roll down my cheek and cause me to drink more to mask the pain and the shame. I knew I would end up like that because that is how I felt in the end. A husk of a man who had let himself down, time and time again. I would only get worse as I got older if I lived to get older of course.
It had to be worth the effort to try and quit. It had to be worth it to not become that lonely old man with nothing but unfulfilled promises as memories.
Sometimes you have to get knocked down lower than you’ve ever been, to stand up taller than you ever were.
The first few weekends, it was like everyone on the planet was out having the best time and the best sex with the greatest people on the planet. I, on the other hand, was reading books and doing anything I possibly could to not drink. In the words of John Lennon “whatever gets you through the night,” and I would do anything to just get to the end of the day. If my head hit the pillow without me drinking I was happy… albeit hugely jealous of the people I assumed was having the time of their lives. (On reflection most people were doing the same thing they had always done but my brain was in advertising mode)
That was it for weeks. Just get through the day without drinking and doing anything to do so. I ate crap food, did some exercise, played the three chords on my guitar that I know, watched films, visited people, I even went for a cup of tea at my elderly neighbours. Anything, just to take my mind off drinking. Eventually, it got easier.
Strength grows in the moments when you think you can’t go on but you keep going anyway
After a few weeks of getting through I started to feel better. People started to comment that I didn’t look as grey in the face or seem so angry as I used to. I started to want to treat my body better. I wanted to treat my self better. I wanted to get to know who I was after years of avoiding myself. Slowly, I started to meditate. I started AA to get some company and get out of the house. Basically, I started to rebuild.
I couldn’t get on with AA. The religious aspect turned me away but I wanted to learn about things. So I read self-help books. I fed my body and mind with good stuff after years of feeding them poison.
This process took time. Expecting a baby to run is the road to disappointment. That’s the way I saw it. That I was learning to live life afresh. My pride and ego had been destroyed. The perception I had of myself and the world had been removed. I was convinced for years that I couldn’t live life without alcohol. Now I was doing it. I was not only doing it but I was growing into my own skin. Alcohol had been the chain that had been holding me back from reaching my potential. I began to feel free. Slowly, I became self-aware.
I cried a lot when my emotions came back. I cried for the bad and the good. I cried at the simple beauty of life. I cried over lost love and missed chances. I cried for the person without strength that I thought I was. I cried through fear. I cried because I could cry and I felt better afterwards. Slowly, I found balance.
I refinanced my debt and began to pay for my freedom. I wanted it gone. It hung around me like a lead weight. Alcohol had held me back and now the debt was doing the same. Slowly, it became manageable.
The chaos that had been my inner and outer worlds for years, slowly, began to die down. I found fleeting moments of peace. Connection to life after years of escape came in moments of calm. Almost like someone had accidentally pressed pause on life for a fleeting second before normality resumed as they realised their mistake. Eventually, I learned to navigate life as a sober person and I wanted to know what this new me was capable of.
I was like a caterpillar going into a cocoon and then emerging as a butterfly.
I remember the first time I went on a sober holiday. I stayed in Italy on my own. It was the first time that I had trusted myself to be in a foreign country knowing that I wouldn’t get blackout drunk. I knew for the first time that I was in control. I knew that if I still drank alcohol I wouldn’t have made it. If I still drank alcohol I would still be sitting in a bar talking about the things I was “gonna” do with my life. The unfulfilled promises would be piling up. Sobriety began turning them into reality.
On that sober holiday, I knew that I was free. I can hand my freedom over if I want to. All I have to do is have a drink. That is my choice. I can take back all the shame and guilt if I want. It is only a drink away.
Quitting alcohol hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine. I’ve been through some tough times. But even during the hardest days sober when the little voice whispers “have a drink! It will help you forget,” I know that it is only delaying the pain until the morning. I know that the darkest day sober isn’t enough to make me want to go back to the darkness of drinking. I know that because on the 1st June 2020 it will be six years since I attempted a task I once believed to be impossible, living sober.
Since that day, six years ago, the people I’ve met, the help I’ve received, the places I’ve been and the connection to life I’ve experienced has far exceeded my expectations. I often regretted drinking. I have never regretted quitting… well maybe in the early days when I was full of envy at the imaginary people having an illusionary good time.
Thankfully, I chose reality.
One day you will look back and have to admit you are stronger than you thought.