I was seventeen years old, when I first started drinking alcohol “in earnest”. Prior to this, my father had occasionally given me small glasses of wine with a Sunday roast and I was “introduced” to Cider when I was about sixteen, although it was only in moderation. I do remember I became “tipsy” and felt humiliated .
By the age of Seventeen, I drank only occasionally, firstly because I didn’t really feel the need to do so more frequently and secondly, because I was too young to buy alcohol for myself. In those young days, it was something I enjoyed as a “treat”, rather than doing it out of habit or “necessity”.
When I was eighteen, I began to frequent public houses on a regular basis, with various friends, although even then, I restricted myself to two pints of beer, because it was usually I who had to drive home. Drinking alcohol was still something of a novelty. My father wasn’t really a drinking man; his occasional “tipple” was a Gin and Tonic, which he never carried to excess and usually something he enjoyed after some business meetings he attended. It was something of an embarrassment to him to be asked to enter a pub to buy alcohol. For his own reasons, it didn’t really appeal to him. Even a glass of wine with a Sunday meal was a rarity and at Christmas, temperance was in abundance. However, dad did make mention to the fact that his father probably drank more than was good for him, although it was not something that was spoken about frequently.
I had friends in those days and we pretty much all ended up in a pub somewhere, most evenings and weekends. It was a social thing to do. However, there was no bad behaviour and, by the end of the evening, those not driving were only occasionally to be found slightly “tipsy”. I never witnessed anyone being sick and I never saw or heard of any violence. We went home and that was it; we all had jobs to go to in the mornings of the week and at weekends we still didn’t overdo things.
Alcohol, whilst playing a part in my life, wasn’t essential or important to me during those times. I enjoyed it, sometimes a little too much, but I was young and the effects never lasted long!
When I started working for myself, I began to feel the pressure and it was then that I started using alcohol to calm me and take me out of the emotional place I found myself in. I had also never been particularly happy living with my parents; the more time I could spend away from them, the better I felt. However, I still had to return. I also had work to do in the evenings, which meant, invariably, I would have a bottle of cider nearby. In those days, though, my alcohol tolerance was limited, so it didn’t take too much to make me sleepy and thus I didn’t usually suffer from the morning hangover.
By my late twenties, though, I had a reputation for being able to “hold” my drink and I suppose I was proud of that achievement. I rarely suffered from a serious hangover and I was never sick, so I was able to continue. I didn’t really think about the physical consequences of my habit, because it wasn’t really talked about. The only thing I ever felt was the disapproval of my mother, who was totally against alcohol and would never spare anyone her thoughts on the subject. In the main, though, I ignored her, as I tried to with most things she said!
Alcohol ‘abuse’, for me, was a very gradual experience. As I grew older, my tolerance grew and thus it took more alcohol to bring me to the state of inebriation. If I had a glass of wine (which, by then, was my preferred drink), it would always continue until the bottle had been finished and then I had to start on another bottle. I was doing quite well financially and wine was relatively inexpensive, so I saw no reason to stop. I was still able to work and I didn’t have any particularly bad “symptoms”, so I just continued.
My work changed and became more stressful and it was then that I began to rely upon alcohol to help me sleep and to relax. The pity about it was that many a weekend was spent with me asleep, after imbibing a bottle of wine with my meals. I also found that my shame and humiliation worsened, as I remembered (or not) what I said to people. Mostly, I was somewhat over-enthusiastic in my praises of them and, although I could speak quite lucidly, I was certain they knew I was drunk!
I don’t know whether I can honestly say I enjoyed drinking, at that time in my life; by then, it had become a habit. At the end of a long day at work, I returned home, where I lived alone and to the lonely world I had created for myself. I always had sufficient wine to last most of the week and still I didn’t think about what consequences it was having on my body. I did find that I would sometimes wake up feeling as though I had been drugged and that I was literally going to die, but this still didn’t lead me to stop what I was doing. I didn’t know how to, or if I wanted to.
I reached 40 and was drinking 2 bottles of strong wine per night. My favourite “tipple” was vintage port, which was even stronger and I could quite easily “sink” a whole bottle (20% Vol.), without passing out and often I would go on to a second bottle, although rarely managed to finish it before I passed out. Luckily, I wasn’t one to drink spirits very often (Whisky made me feel physically sick in the mornings and even the smell of something similar made me queasy!) I still didn’t really realise what I was doing to myself, though. Was I punishing myself for the loneliness and total emptiness in my life? What I suppose I knew was that it wasn’t doing me any good and that, progressively, I was no longer enjoying it. Living on my own, meant that nobody else really knew of my alcohol consumption and, because I rarely drank during the day (in the main, I didn’t feel the necessity to), nobody at work knew – and I was never drunk while at work.
It was a sad and lonely existence: alcohol had robbed me of so much, but it had also been my comforter during difficult times. At least, that was how it seemed to me! I always enjoyed the first few glasses, but by the time I had drunk the first bottle, the taste didn’t enter into things: it was just the habit and about “knocking myself out”. In particular, I used to turn to alcohol after I had been insulted by some man I had met, or after yet another of my attempts to form a relationship that had ended. Sometimes, I wondered why I bothered!
I reached 44 years and was diagnosed with work-related stress, anxiety and chronic high blood pressure. I was overweight, lonely and depressed. I had no real quality of life and found myself turning to being alone and drinking in order to forget what had happened to me. In effect, I just shut myself away from everything.
It was then that I, alone, decided it was time to change. My doctor had been extremely understanding, suggesting I cut down, rather than give up alcohol. However, I knew that I was an “all or nothing” person and that cutting down was impossible for me.
I had had a couple of attempts at giving up, with some degree of success, although always returned to my lonely ways, until eventually I awoke to the reality of what I was doing to myself. It was then that I knew that if I continued as I was, I would, in all probability, bring my life to a premature conclusion. That was something a lot of people had already prevented from happening to me, after a serious illness whilst I was in my mid thirties. I felt an obligation to them and that it was selfish to cast aside the time, effort and money that had been spent on keeping me alive.
“I invite you to come over to my side of the river and bask in the freedom to choose… not to let alcohol ruin your life! If I can do it, so can you!”
In April 2007, I just stopped drinking alcohol. I had left the job that had caused me so much damage and stress and decided that I had to begin a new chapter in my life.
It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. It was all a matter of strengthening my resolve and keeping to it. By positively thinking to myself and substituting alcohol for soft drinks, I found something to imbibe in the evenings. At least I had the sensations of drinking something and, since I always had something else to occupy my mind, I “guzzled” gallons (or is it litres?) of fizzy drinks.
On the second day “on the wagon”, I remembered the first achievement and said to myself that, were I to have another drink, I would have wasted that precious day. I continued to do this until, after a week, I realised how important and precious the time spent without alcohol was. Again I said to myself that, if I had another drink, I would have lost all the effort I had put in and also that I would have to suffer the health issues I had.
I soon began to sleep without needing to be drunk and I slept soundly. I awoke in the mornings without feeling ill and I was able to cope with pretty much everything life threw at me. I began to feel better, both physically and emotionally.
As the months passed, it became easier to abstain; I no longer needed a drink to send me to sleep or to forget about the trials and tribulations of my life. I don’t say my life, in itself, was necessarily any better, but it was no worse and, at least, I wasn’t drunk every evening and weekend. No longer did alcohol play any part in my life; no longer was I a “slave” to the bottle! I didn’t feel ashamed of the clink of bottles, as I took them to the recycling point and I also had money for other, more important things. I also didn’t feel ashamed of my behaviour towards others (although I never behaved inappropriately, just stupidly); my dignity had returned.
Five years on and I have alcohol around my home, but I have never felt the need to drink it! I can go out with friends and am quite happy for them to enjoy a drink, but I still don’t feel that I need one! I can be extremely smug when talking to people, when I can honestly say “I don’t drink”. It is also interesting, the number of other people I meet who don’t, either. I do not regret having stopped!
Alcohol does have a part to play in life. It is something that many enjoy without it causing them any problems and they are able to find pleasure and refreshment in it. However, these are the people who are in control of it. For me, that was never the case. I do not want those people to stop or to be prevented from enjoying a little pleasure in their lives because of my own weaknesses. They should be able to do so because of my strength; the strength to give up alcohol – on my own!
I do not say that I will never have an alcoholic drink again. I do not say that I will never become inebriated again. However, if I do decide to, it will be on my terms, and I shall be in control… either that or it will be when I am too old to care. Until then, I made myself a promise not to return to that dark and lonely place.
It is possible to give up alcohol; it takes willpower and the knowledge that you can do it even if you are alone, because it is worth doing! You will be a better person, both physically and emotionally and you, too, will be able to proudly say: “I don’t drink”! I invite you to come over to my side of the river and bask in the freedom to choose… not to let alcohol ruin your life! If I can do it, so can you!
I have made an important discovery…that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, produces all the effects of intoxication.