Belinda -Ups and Downs
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was small, blonde, cute, smart and wracked with self-doubt and low self-esteem. Her worst fear was anyone knowing they’d hurt her, so she became really good at hiding in plain sight – putting on a front of brashness and confidence and making damn sure her real and easily crushed feelings were never on display. As an adult she would tell people that she was actually really shy and they would laugh at her – clearly she misjudged her acting abilities. She often didn’t feel known or seen. Paradoxically she hated parties but was known for being the life of them. She suffered from crippling anxiety and depression but would just drop out of sight rather than tell anyone.
At around 15 or 16 she discovered alcohol and the seductive way it smoothed over her bumps and made socialising oh so much easier. As a teenager she felt like a visitor to another planet who didn’t know the rules. But she felt like she was really herself when she had that liquid gold running through her veins. She felt free. It was the beginning of a love affair that would not end well – like most of them. Again, she was hiding in plain sight – her drinking and socialising was the same as that of everyone else around her. She only drank on weekends. She wasn’t one of those sad people who drank during the week – she was a party girl, she was popular! When she was drinking her anxiety would disappear, only to return ten thousand-fold the next day. She ignored this and would joke about “hangxiety”
.....but it wasn’t a joke.
She would occasionally question what she was doing and try to have one or two instead of 10 or 12. It didn’t usually work so she told herself it was all in “fun”. But she felt like a failure and the shame intensified. Over the years the relationship had its ups and downs, but she couldn’t imagine being without it. It was part of her identity. She didn’t know who she would be without it because she thought it gave her a personality. It kept going this way and didn’t interfere too much with her visible life because it was still only on the weekends (although sometimes the weekends started on Thursday). She’d easily given up drinking while pregnant and breastfeeding so that proved it wasn’t a problem, didn’t it?
As the years went on, she experimented with time away from her lover and even though it was fine, she still felt she was missing something. So she always went back – and each time the relationship got more intense and the hold on her was stronger. In her mid 40s she was in a soul-destroying marriage and going through perimenopause. Her anxiety levels went through the roof and she didn’t know how she would live through it. The only way she felt “normal” and was able to quiet the constant chatter in her head was when she drank. It was no longer confined to the weekends. She tried to stop but suddenly found that this was much harder than it had ever been before. She just couldn’t. The shame and hangxiety intensified, lasted much longer and now had the added bonus of suicidal thoughts. She felt trapped and utterly alone. She fantasised about going to sleep for a really long time.
Something had to give.
She finally found a counsellor who gave her the strength to consider life without alcohol, and without the marriage. Over the next few years she tried over and over again to stop. Her children were older now and noticed when she was drunk. They said she changed, they didn’t know her, she didn’t notice them. Promises were made and regularly broken. One night, after many drinks, she decided she wanted to dance at the local pub. She had promised she’d never go again. Her daughters cried but she went anyway. Knocking back more drinks and dancing her heart out, forgetting everyone and everything, even herself, she looked up to see her oldest daughter (recently turned 18), sitting at a dirty pub table, glaring at her. Her daughter’s face was stone as she said she wouldn’t leave until her mother came with her. Humiliation swept through her body like a hot wave, but she still grabbed a can of bourbon for the walk home. You’d think this would be the end. It wasn’t, but it was very close.
A few months later she left the marriage and moved to a new city. She was determined to stop drinking. A new counsellor told her she had a choice, she wasn’t powerless. She sat outside a bottle shop one day and argued with herself. She didn’t go in. One day, she had her last drink. She started to meditate and made sure she exercised every day. She was overcome with feelings and cried a lot. She’d been damping them down for so long she had forgotten how to deal with them. She realised she had no idea who she was. She hid away and didn’t socialise. She still felt hot shame when thought about her drinking. The cravings started to recede. She dipped her toe into socialising and began to make tentative friendships. She went to a tap-dancing class. She joined a choir. She joined a sober group on FaceBook (Drunk Mummy Sober Mummy of course!) and arranged to meet other local members of the group. About 6 months ago, she woke up one day and realised she didn’t hate herself anymore.
Now, she is a woman in her early 50s. She refers to September 17 as her “Re-birthday” and it means more to her than her birthday. This year, 2021, she celebrated her 2nd re-birthday. She had made it to two years of sobriety. She got up to find a note from her oldest daughter telling her how proud she was of her. Her heart sang. It wasn’t an easy road and she spent a lot of time on her own, wondering who she was and if she’d ever be ok. But now she feels like a butterfly who’d been in a cocoon for far too long. She sees herself and knows herself better than she ever did. She is ready to let others see her.
She is free.
That woman is me.
I am now a proud sober woman who likes herself and is revelling in this very unfamiliar sense of pride. When I was in the worst of it, I never thought this day would come. At the beginning I thought I would think about and want alcohol all the time. Two years down the track I can tell you that it does get easier, and the thoughts and cravings do go away. I know that my only job is not to pick up that first drink because I know exactly where it will lead. It’s only one decision – just don’t pick up the first one. I no longer live with constant shame, my anxiety is well managed (because the medication works when you don’t drink – who knew?), and my head is calm and quiet. I still have ups and downs, but a graph of my moods would now look like gentle waves rather than deep zig-zags. Stress leads me to a bath rather than a bottle. The decision to stop drinking is one I will never regret.
I am 53 years old and a mother of 2 beautiful daughters (18 and 21).
I have been married and divorced twice and am now happily single.
I was born in Sydney but we left when I was about 5 and moved a
lot throughout NSW before returning to Sydney when I was 18.
My teenage years were spent on the Central Coast,
where I didn’t fit in at all and my drinking issues were born!
I have had a range of jobs including a Research assistant,
University tutor and a Federal Agent, but have worked in the public service for about 15 years now.
I have a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and once started a Masters in Creative Writing - finances and young kids got in the way of completing it but my dream is still to be a writer.