I’ve never considered myself to be an alcoholic. Even though I’ve been passed out at festivals, pubs and clubs surrounded by vomit and empty beer cans since I was 14 doesn't make me that, does it?
I thought drinking rum at 10am made me a pirate? Not an alcoholic?
Not even now, writing this blog about alcohol can I give into it. This is either because I’m in total denial or I’m still struggling to find a place where I fit in, a place where I am comfortable with a label.
I hate the term alcoholic. It conjures up an image that is not reflective of who I am.
I don’t feel like an alcoholic and I never really acted like an alcoholic. At least not that anyone saw. I was a tipsy girl looking for a mate or a mature (ish) woman escaping the daily grind of motherhood. I had reasons not addictions.
That word (let’s not say it) invokes judgement. It’s scary and I don’t like it. I imagine lives hanging in the balance and people with pale faces sat in circles at rehab facilities.
I'd rather have a more uplifting label one that doesn't leave me feeling sad and judged.
So, I’ve come up with a couple of my own, more endearing terminologies;
A squiffer - A person that likes to get squiffy more often than most.
A slugger - A person that slugs rather than sips.
A yesser – A person that can never, ever say no.
But, Alcoholic? No, I was just a party girl with a tendency to drink more than most. A fun person to know. Going out with this squiffer was guaranteed amusement for all.
There were no bottles of wine hidden behind tins of baked beans, no embarrassing heckles at weddings and no family interventions.
So when I first decided to take a deeper look at my drinking habits I looked up online to get a definition of what an alcoholic actually is...
I thought the answer would be,
‘A person that downs whisky for breakfast. A person that’s lost their home, their family and their possessions due to drinking. A person that has chronic liver problems, a minimal amount teeth and smells like a toilet’
But disappointingly, I was very wrong.
‘Alcoholism is chronic disease characterised by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol.
Alcoholism is the inability to control drinking due to both a physical and emotional dependence on alcohol.
Symptoms include repeated alcohol consumption despite related legal and health issues. Those with alcoholism may begin each day with a drink, feel guilty about their drinking and have the desire to cut down on the amount of drinking.
Treatment involves counselling by a healthcare professional. A detoxification programme in a hospital or medical facility is an option for those who need additional assistance. Medications are available that reduce the desire to drink.'
Bloody hell. I was astonished. I knew from these few sentences it was me. I wasn’t quite needing a hospitalisation. But I was experiencing the desire to cut down.
The guilt. Yes. Health issues. Panic. Yes. Can’t moderate. Can’t cut down. Yes. Yes. The need for help, well, yes. I had tried to slow down on my own and failed – for years.
Reading this made me realise that on paper, I am an alcoholic. In black and white I fit the bill. But in society being this is perceived as something sinister. Something very, very bad.
There is so much ingrained into that word. So much negativity. So much shame.
Alcoholic. Lowest of the low. A drunk.
You know when you’re on a plane and you can’t get comfy and everyone around you is snoring like a dying yak? Well that’s how I feel about that description. It doesn’t sit well and no matter what position I’m in, it hurts. That word sticks in my throat and I can’t swallow it. I can’t let it in.
The fall out of not liking that word had huge impact on my life. It was one of the reasons I avoided questioning my behaviour. I wasn’t passed out in a homeless shelter or being tricked into a recovery program, so I carried on.
‘I’m not one of those’ I thought
‘I’m just a social drinker’
‘I’m a laugh’
My preconceived idea of what an alcoholic looked like stopped me from getting help. I thought you had to be in the gutter, rock bottom, down and out, to be an alcoholic. I thought you had to be at banging a bottle of JD at deaths door to deserve help. Not a middle class mum of three like me.
In short - I didn’t think my problem was bad enough to deserve help.
I was wrong and unfortunately it took until after I turned 40 to understand that the word Alcoholic has so many meanings, so many varieties. Hundreds of strands running from its core. Tentacles that squirm into every every household. It covers a wide range of dependency, be it from drinking a gallon a vodka to stop the shakes or questioning that annual cider binge at the local barn dance. It covers everything.
All problems, no matter how big or small are deserving of help. Alcoholism, I’ve discovered, has a spectrum. There are some that have to hit that rock bottom to reach out, but there are some, like me, that didn’t have to go too far down the spiral. I was halfway there but grabbed hold of a helping hand before I got flushed further down.
Since I started my little voyage of self-discovery I’ve found there are many types of alcoholic. Some severe, some that down mouthwash when the wines run out and some that have one too many beers once a week.
There is one common dominator. negative repercussions.
My interpretation of what an alcoholic is,
‘A person that gets negative side effects from drinking alcohol’
Now, this might be a headache, a venereal disease or a prison sentence. It could be that feeling of having acted like a twat the night before (me) and all the guilt that comes along with it. It could be drinking to fit in, to impress, to relax amongst people you haven’t met before. Anything. If there is any unhelpful or destructive side effects, then perhaps drinking is a problem.
It was for me, that’s for sure. I couldn’t stop. Even when it was causing me to feel intense anxiety, I was still reaching for another bottle. I didn’t have the tools to quit. I needed guidance.
Why do I keep doing this?
Why am I drinking so much?
Why can everyone else seem to moderate and I can’t?
And, the biggie – why do I feel like I need to drink to have a good time?
I didn’t know Sober Curious was a thing. But that’s exactly what I was. I was questioning if what I was doing was right? But I was too scared to ask out loud in case I wasn’t worthy.
But as soon as that helping hand yanked me into reality, I discovered that I was worthy. I didn’t have to be a serious alcoholic, I just had to be hurting.
So, don’t be put off by that word. Just because you might not feel like an alcoholic or look like an alcoholic, doesn’t mean you don’t fit somewhere on that scale. For me, admitting that I do fit on the alcoholic spectrum, opened the door to my sobriety.
You do fit and you do deserve attention.
It’s time to ditch the negative connotations and check-in.
Mentally move your bum from Economy to first class and get comfortable.
Because with the right help,
you will soar.
Thanks to those of you that have been sending sober stories – please go to ‘Your Stories’ on the menu to find out more.
This week’s story is from @soberbrowngirls
Thanks for reading.
Pic - Me trying to finish my book and failing miserably. But, at least I'm having good cuddles.