TW: Alcohol addiction
By Chloë – 29.5.2020
This may be the hardest thing I have ever written, and it’s certainly the first time I have ever had to ask someone else to host a blog post so that I can remain anonymous. I’m going to be very careful about what I say so that I don’t accidentally out myself, so I’ll just tell you for context that I live with a partner and I am in my 40s. I don’t work, because my mental health problems are too debilitating.
It’s been a while since I first noticed that I was developing an alcohol problem, maybe as long as a year ago. I know that the last time I was on a diet, I found myself skipping some food at the weekend so I could save the calories for alcohol, something I did recognise as being very unhealthy. I can’t remember when exactly, but towards the end of last year I tweeted (when drunk of course) that I thought I loved alcohol more than anything. Alarm bells! There were a couple of very embarrassing incidents when I got drunk at parties, the worst being when I was so inebriated I fell off the host’s toilet and broke the seat. My partner started expressing concerns about my alcohol consumption and I said that maybe I should quit drinking all together, but he was against total abstinence, wanting me to just rein it in, drinking socially without getting hammered. I couldn’t do that.
It doesn’t help that the house is full of booze. Although my partner’s drinking is less problematic than mine, our evenings and weekends revolve around booze. We do try not to drink on weekdays, but sometimes we find an excuse; the weather’s lovely, so we sit outside for lunch with a glass of wine, or we’ve worked very hard in the garden so we deserve to relax with a cocktail. We both count down the least hour before “yard arm time”, which is 6pm, although I will have started my countdown way before that. We plan ahead to make sure we have what we need for out aperitifs (limes, fresh mint, pineapple juice and ginger ale, the staples of our favourites, all appear on our Tesco list alongside the spirits). My partner belongs to a wine club and gets a box delivered monthly. Because we both like the theatre of cocktail-making our cupboards contain every type of spirit, plus exotic alcoholic ingredients such as triple sec, maraschino and blue curacao.
Gradually, things worsened. My partner went away for a few days and I walked up to the village shop the first evening and bought a bottle of prosecco. I’ve always had a rule that I don’t drink alone, but that night I told myself that I deserved to be spoiled, so I drank the whole lot. The next day I took the bottle to the neighbourhood recycling centre so my partner wouldn’t see it when he got back. I felt ashamed as I pushed it through the slot and heard it smash at the bottom of the bin, and swore I would not drink again until he came home. But I found myself walking up to the shop the next evening, and the next, and on that occasion I also whipped up a jug of Jamaican rum punch. My hangover and the remorse started at 4am and swelled as I reached the bottle bank.
After that, I kept to my no drinking when alone rule, but told myself that anything now was when my partner was at home. He loves a drink (beer, cocktails or wine) but is easily pleased with just one drink, or maximum two. I, however, cannot have just one drink. One leads to another and before I know it, I am doing anything I can to get more alcohol into my system. I’m in charge of mixing the drinks, so I cheat. I double up the quantities when I make my cocktail so that it’s almost overflowing from the martini glass. I add an extra shot of gin to my tonic. I mix the punch stronger than the recipe suggests. Then when my partner goes out of the room, the “fun” really begins. I wait for him to pop upstairs to go to the loo, or out onto the patio to water the plants, and I see what I can sneak in. A shot of tequila. A hastily mixed G&T which I down without even tasting it, swilling out the glass so the dishwasher won’t smell of alcohol when he opens the door. A swig of spiced rum straight from the bottle. During lockdown we drink more often, and my partner is more easily persuaded than usual to have a second or third drink, or open a bottle of wine after cocktails. And it is me that persuades; he wouldn’t do it if I didn’t suggest it.
I say all this in the present tense, but it’s got to be in the past now. It’s got to be. My partner was raising more and more concerns about my drinking, and I was responding by drinking more and more. I began to have memory blackouts, sometimes not remembering what I had cooked or eaten for us the night before. I had to sneak downstairs in the early hours to find juice to enliven my dry tongue and swallow my paracetamol. I would’ve died rather than admit that I had a hangover.
Four days ago on the evening of Bank Holiday Monday I got so, so drunk after cheating on the measures and sneaking shots. My partner expressed concern snd frustration about how drunk I was and I admitted that I thought I had a quite serious problem. “Yes,” he said. “You do. What are you going to do about it?” I would stop, I said. This time there was no mention of controlled social drinking; I was clearly beyond that. I don’t remember much else about the evening (again, I couldn’t recall cooking or eating the following morning, and apparently I watched a TV show and made comments about it, but it was a blank the following day). I do remember asking him not to leave me, and he said that he wouldn’t – if I stopped drinking.
I haven’t had a drink since, but it’s been midweek so we probably wouldn’t have had any anyway. Most weeks I count down the days until the weekend, telling myself I only have to get through three days, two days, one, until I can have alcohol again. This week I haven’t thought about alcohol itself, only what it does to me. All the guilt and shame and remorse I have ever felt about my alcohol consumption has coalesced, knocking me for six. I feel mentally shaky, I have had mood swings, I feel raw and defenseless like a snail pulled from its shell. I live with these feelings frequently, but this time it’s not my mental health condition causing them, it’s self-inflicted. Or so I told a friend, who took issue with that, pointing out that I would be much kinder to someone else who had self-harmed by cutting than I was being to myself about self-harm by drinking.
I looked into Alcoholics Anonymous, but I can’t bring myself to go down that road. I’m not ready to label myself “an alcoholic” and I’ve seen the 12 Steps and with their talk of a Higher Power – they make no sense to this atheist. A friend told me about the 30 Day Alcohol Experiment, a book, website and Facebook forum for people who have a problematic relationship with alcohol and want to give abstinence a try, just as an experiment, just for 30 days. 30 days is supposed to be enough to break the habit, but you do have to work the programme, doing the exercises in the book, reading your daily email lesson, watching videos and keeping an online journal. It’s feeling like a lot of work, but I will keep going. I am sick and tired of feeling awful about myself and my behaviour, and I am now terrified of losing my partner, which would mean losing my home, my everything.
It’s interesting to note as I write this that although he has been worried about my drinking, my partner has also been an enabler: not wanting me to quit entirely; scanning for deals on our favourite tipples; keeping a lake of alcohol in the house. He has made it clear that he won’t be joining me in sobriety, so I will be watching him drink. Tonight is the first weekend night since I quit, and I’m silently preparing for massive cravings. I bought myself a bottle of raspberry pressé to drink from a wine glass tonight in case I miss the feeling of drinking something “special”, something I “deserve”. I have no doubt my partner will have at least one drink.
Right this moment, I am waiting for my mental health care co-ordinator to phone. I called her yesterday when I was at a very low ebb, but she wasn’t working, so I had to wait until this afternoon, time unspecified. I’ve been concealing from her the depths to which I have sunk, although she knows that I have had concerns about my drinking. Unfortunately I can’t be referred directly to a dual diagnosis service, which would treat the drinking in the context of my mental illness. To get to that locally you have to try and fail at alcohol counselling through the local drug and alcohol charity which has no specialist mental health knowledge. I don’t want to go somewhere that doesn’t understand my needs; for now I’d rather stick with the experiment and see if I can get sober alone. Maybe I should read my care co-ordinator this post. Maybe that would be easier than trying to form the words during the call.
I’ll leave this here, four days in, hopeful but scared. Think of me tonight with my glass of pressé in my hand.
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