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The Coach’s Story…
When I look back, the signs were there years before I put an end to the quiet denial that I hadn’t even heard.
The ignorant denial whispered when a boyfriend gave me an article about ‘chardonnay women’, and saying ‘have you seen this? Other people are drinking too much as well.’
I don’t even remember thinking that I was a failure around controlling my drinking for a long time. I think that I’d just come to accept that a) it was something I did, and b) it was part of who I was…drinking alcohol doing, it regularly, doing more of it that I set out to (often), having hangovers, having blackout memories, ‘having a go’ at my partner, and being loud. I thought it was normal because every time I asked my friends if it was OK to drink every night, most of them did too.
Sometimes I’d pull myself up taller and be determined, and do part of a dry month, but mostly I thought, ‘why the hell would I want to do that?’ It was like telling me to walk everywhere when I had a car. It just seemed illogical.
I remember my mum saying that I was 99% wonderful, and 1% not (when I had been drinking). I was successful, bubbly, never without admirers and friends to be with. I was kind, loving, and positive. I ran, cycled, and did charity work. No one ever knew about the drinking side of me…nor the pieces that strung it all together over decades. The truth is that I didn’t even know it myself, because I’d never actually stopped to consider it. I’d never stopped to play the movie in my mind to see what affect alcohol had really had.
I started drinking ‘properly’ at university. As a science undergraduate it was a heavy drinking, male environment, and I drank to keep up with the boys. I worked in the university bars. Working in London following on from university there were after work drinks, which spilled into house parties, and then marriage flowed into nights out, and dinner parties. Socialising equalled alcohol, and then if socialising wasn’t outside the house, then ‘fun’ element came inside, into the wine fridge.
Slowly wine started to respond to other emotions for me – stress, something to do (boredom), euphoria, celebrating, frustration, wanting to feel alive/normal/free again, lonely. Each one another neural pathway fired in the brain saying alcohol=benefit. Of course, I now know that my brain was conned because it misinterpreted what was happening, but that’s how addictive drugs work.
When the children were born, I think that I drank to somehow prove to myself that I still had a fun life, and that I was still free. I drank to not be that house-bound woman with babies and huge responsibilities. I popped open a bottle, turned up the music and had a party of freedom and fun for one. What I didn’t know, was that I was drinking myself further into a trap, because everything about alcohol is actually the opposite.
But my life was huge, and wine was just one of the strings. It’s only when I look back at that string that I can now see how it was entwined with so many causes and effects. And not just big things like divorce. Like how my eldest son threw up in my father’s car when he picked him up after another sixth form night out, but my 16 year-old daughter has tried alcohol once, and doesn’t want to drink. They are 8 years apart in age and have grown up with opposite alcohol influences.
My son has grown to be tempered with his drinking, because he now understands what I didn’t when I was his age (enormous gratitude #1). All I knew as a young adult, was there were alcoholics on park benches and that I wasn’t one of those.
But I did all the things that I write about in my blogs: I drove the car to the local garage a few times after drinking to buy cigarettes. I’d buy mini wine bottles in the local shop, rotate shops to buy wine, sneak an extra bottle of wine into the fridge and pretend it had been there all along, and all while making freshly cooked food for dinner, holding down a high level job, running a community charity, and running half marathons.
Then I’d go a couple of glasses too far at the weekend and there would be another drunken drama, that I’d wake up forgetting, frightened and full of guilt.
My change came ten years after I first started Googling for guidance, and in response to an ultimatum from my partner.
It would have come much earlier if someone had looked me in the eye and said, “Now, listen up:
- Alcohol is a highly addictive drug,
- If you are drinking daily, and/or binging at weekends you are addicted to alcohol
- Being addicted to alcohol is a real problem for you and others in your life and you want to solve it.
- That guilt you feel the next morning – everyone who is addicted to alcohol feels that. It’s alcohol and the addiction, not you!
- There is no inner demon, or honesty that gets let loose or expressed when we’re drunk. Alcohol causes us to behave in ways that we would never do sober. Alcohol is a psychoactive drug. It changes our perception, mood, cognition and behaviour.”
There’s more…of course there’s more. But knowing those things would have been enough for me to stop and think.
And so, what is it like the other side of where I was?
Incredible! That’s the first word that comes to mind. The second word? Free! To think that I thought drunken dancing in my kitchen followed by heavy tears of frustration was freedom!
Last week I was speaking to one of my students who has completed the course. She said that she felt amazing, and that it was like being out of prison. Another student said that he didn’t know the exact point in the course, but something clicked, and he didn’t want alcohol anymore. He said it was like magic.
For me, it wasn’t quite that smooth a process, because I went alone through the process, trying to make sense of every aspect of alcohol, addiction and the subconscious programming. When the last piece clicked in my own mind, I remember the moment, and I will never forget it.
I leapt up from the journal I was reading, and I was lighter… I was a surprised, joyful child. I audibly inhaled, put my hands over my mouth in awe, and was silent. I walked outside into my garden, and the sun was shining. I spun round and round and round with tears streaming down my face. I had stepped out of a prison that I barely knew I was in, and I was free!! A huge weight had lifted from my shoulders.
I hadn’t noticed the prison walls slowly close around me, millimetre by millimetre as I focused my life on other things. The walls are clear, but they are there. They stifled my air, my breathe and my life, because for as much as I was throwing good things out, bad things bounced back from those walls. I know that now, because now I am free. And I couldn’t have known what it would be like until I actually got out.
The prison was an illusion. Addiction is an illusion. It is all a con, and when I saw through that I was free.
Adapting to a world where so many people I know are still in that prison in one form or another has been a challenge, but I am out and I’m staying there.
What difference has it made to my life? It’s like dropping a pebble into a still pond. It rippled everywhere, and still ripples on.
My sobriety has affected all three of my children positively in their individual understanding and life choices. It has repaired my relationship with my eldest son and continues to build my relationship with my other son and daughter. I am far stronger in my relationship with my partner: I am consistent, and fair. I have boundaries for myself that I didn’t have before. I don’t feel guilt anymore and so I am more assertive of my own needs, and less judgemental of him because he isn’t reeling from something I said or did when I was drunk.
My inner critic has packed up and left home! I have no negative self-talk at all anymore: no guilt no remorse. I like myself more, and don’t judge myself.
I have lifted limits from myself and my life. I have discovered mindfulness, meditation and yoga. I have learned gratitude, and compassion. I am more confident somewhere deep inside me. I face challenges so much more calmly, and I am calm. When I see people drinking alcohol, I see them pass fleetingly through, or close to the level of relaxation that I feel already, as alcohol numbs their awareness to the adrenaline and cortisol that it planted there previously.
I have coped with business challenges (after I quit my company last year to start The Alcohol Coach), financial pressures, my father and my best friend facing terminal cancer, two teenagers at home, life, stuff, and daily challenges.
I’m an introvert and have always had to take a few deep breaths before social occasions. I used to drink a couple of glasses of wine before I went out, and quite often I’d make an excuse not to go. I’ve dealt with all of that now, at least largely.
I have opened up a whole new social life for myself. I can go anywhere in the evenings without a care. I’ve learned to ride a motorbike and am now an advanced rider. You don’t need to do that, but what’s your motorbike going to be? I’ve travelled on mine through Europe, to Scotland, and this year Ireland.
So, when people ask me what it’s like to be the other side of an alcohol problem, here’s what I now say. Close your eyes and imagine freedom. Imagine the bluest sky and the whitest clouds. Imagine that freedom being packed full of confidence, joy and opportunity in a way that you haven’t felt since you were a child. That is what it’s like to be free of an alcohol problem.
If you need help to take a break or quit drinking click HERE for details of my Discover Sober Program, or email firstname.lastname@example.org