Me and drink have had a long, mostly happy, relationship. I can’t remember when it first started – I suppose I was around 17 or 18, so I was late to the party in some respects, and it was far later than my early stumblings with boys.
I loved alcohol right from the start. Yes, there were a few nights where I drank too much and regretted it, but generally it was a party from the word go. I lived in London until the end of my twenties and drinking was almost a daily thing. Things did take a more sinister turn in my last years in the city – there were more than a few episodes of drinking to excess in a way I hadn’t done before. I partied harder, and felt worse in the mornings, but I managed to reign it back in (there’s only so many times you can go out and vomit horrendously before a) you get fed up of it and b) you start to feel ashamed of your behaviour).
Then in my 30s, drink became something I turned to at home. Going out all the time was getting old, and alcohol was about a thousand times cheaper to buy in a supermarket. Nothing could beat that glugging sound of a fresh bottle of nice wine being poured into a glass after a long day at work.
That carried on until after I was married and got pregnant. But even then, I still drank a little. A glass of shandy now and again was one of the few things that seemed to settle my morning sickness in the beginning, and then later in my first pregnancy as long as only had half a glass of wine I didn’t see the harm in it.
I had a long period of not drinking after my son was born, but I felt so utterly broken and crap and exhausted that I would not have noticed any difference.
Once he started sleeping better I was back to my nightly glass of wine.
This repeated with my second son, and then while I was trying for my daughter I found that not drinking was something I resented. I didn’t drink as regularly as I was afraid it was affecting my fertility, but I never completely stopped. I craved it all the time, and as soon as my period arrived it’d be a nice bottle of wine open and a sigh of relief that I could drink again.
I’m still on the border of getting my sleep back after the birth of my daughter over two years ago, as she is not a good sleeper, but the wine has gradually crept in regardless.
Last summer I reached a point where I knew it had a hold over me that I didn’t like any more. It was the first time that I’d admitted to myself that I needed that glass of wine at the end of the day to relax. I remember driving with the three kids in the back of the car on the way home from the school run and realising that there was no wine at home. Panic! I drove them all to the shops and took them all in, just so I could pick up a bottle – because the thought of not drinking that evening was terrifying. My life was miserable. I was tired, exhausted, unhappy in my marriage, and it was the one thing that blotted everything out. It made life fuzzier and less arduous.
That was the day when I knew it had to stop. I didn’t want my kids to grow up remembering me as the mum that always had to go and buy wine, and the mum that was always drinking wine in the evenings. It wasn’t the role model I wanted for my kids and it wasn’t making me happy either.
The next morning I tipped away all the alcohol that was in the house. It was the 6th June and I remember it well because I cried. I actually cried in the morning. I never drank to excess at home – it was a glass or on some nights two. Never more. But I couldn’t manage without it – the thought of not having it made me realise that it was probably only time before one glass regularly became two. And three. And then what?
The first two weeks were awful. I had a constant headache and I couldn’t sleep. I was surprised at how much of an effect on me stopping drinking actually had. And the cravings – my god I wanted it so bad between the hours of 5pm and 8pm – the time when I would usually pour my first glass.
And then came anger. I hated alcohol. And I hated the fact that I wanted it still.
And then, slowly, it got easier.
I lasted 28 days before going back to it. At first it was in moderation – not every night. But then my uncle passed away and left a mess of stuff and emotions. And then my mum ended in hospital with psychosis again because she couldn’t cope with the grief. And I drank every night again, as I had done for the best part of 20 years, to make it all easier to bear.
On the 10th September I stopped again. I wasn’t enjoying it like I did when I was younger. It used to be associated with fun, going out, flirting, dancing and generally having a ball. Now it was false comfort for a middle-aged woman who should know better.
I lasted 69 days, and I felt great. The cravings were less, I didn’t get the headaches and the insomnia this time around. But I still missed it.
It was a pub lunch that broke my streak. I had a large glass of white wine and boy was it great. A few days later I bought a bottle for home. And that was it. Christmas was coming and you know what it’s like. I bought Bailey’s, port, wine, beer, the lot. I drank every day and at Christmas I started on the sherry in the morning.
Hurrah for alcohol!
But it made me feel like crap. The mornings were awful and my skin broke out horribly. I decided to do dry January, and got really drunk on New Year’s Eve. Things at home had been difficult and I had partly been drinking to forget about it all. To ignore the big decisions about separation and how badly our marriage had deteriorated. I lasted 6 days and then my husband moved out. So I started drinking again, but it was suddenly different.
After the initial shock of the change in the status quo, I realised that now I was on my own I could really focus on what I was doing and I didn’t really enjoy anything more than the first couple of sips. Everything else just made me feel crappy. I got a mild headache if I had more than a glass, and I slept terribly whenever I drank anything at all.
So on 28th January I stopped again. After 24 days I bought some wine experimentally. It wasn’t that I really wanted it, it was more curiosity. I had a glass for two nights, but it made me feel horrible, so I left it in the fridge. I finished the rest a week later. I decided I was done. And then a client gave me a bottle as a thank you, so I drank that over three nights just because it was nice wine and I am not the kind of person that can keep wine in the house and not drink it. I was glad when I finished it. That last bottle was like a message. It told me that I have finally fallen out of love with alcohol.
Will I drink again? I probably will.
Will I go back to drinking every night? I hope not.
I find my quiet peaceful evenings on my own (when the kids aren’t waking up), to be restorative in a way that alcohol has never been. I’ve had to find alternative ways to relax and reading is something I have started doing at the end of the day. It’s nicer than drinking.
I am surprised to have finally gotten here. What started in June as a desperate attempt to release the hold that it seemed to have over me has taken nine months to get a handle on. And I’m sure there will be more bumps in the road ahead. But for now, I can say that I am really glad to not want to be drinking any more. It was always the longing for it that worried me, not the amount I consumed. It was fun while it lasted, but in the end it wasn’t fun any more.
I sleep better, and feel better, without it.