When I lived with my previous boyfriend, who we call Fuckhead round these parts but whose name was John, I had a close-up hands-on experience of alcoholism. When we met he had already been engaging in serious drinking for a few years, and by serious I mean bottle of Scotch in an hour every day serious. Bottle in the filing cabinet in his office at university. He was an academic. He was brilliant. He was - then - a high-functioning alcoholic.
Lets not get into the myriad reasons why I wanted to enter into a relationship with a person who was clearly - and I do mean clearly- a complete write-off mental health wise. Lets just look at the alcohol.
When he lost his high paid academic job (due of course to the alcohol) and could no longer afford the scotch, he turned to the cheapest source of alcohol above metho, which was a 5 litre cask of wine. To this day the sight of a Berri cask of white wine fills me with anxiety and dread. Said cask would be consumed in one night. Or sometimes starting earlier in the day, if it was a bad day, in one afternoon. It would inevitably lead to other forms of abuse. This would happen every single day and we were together for four and a half years.
That level of alcoholism renders one unable to function, not only in the real world but in your own house too. The stories I could tell you of the filth he chose to live in when I was not there to clean up the detritus of another night's binging...they would make your stomach turn.
Of course I tried to get him to stop drinking, and as a good deal of alcoholics will tell you, he said "I'm not an alcoholic. I never drink before 12." Or "I can stop drinking any time I want!" What I didn't realise then was that he couldn't stop drinking because he already had Korsakoff's Syndrome which had rendered him brain damaged. I only discovered this only 12 months ago, when I was told that he had died from Korsakoff's.
I mention this story because this is my only experience of alcoholism. Extreme. Brutal. Deadly.
So when I drank my one, and then two, bottles of wine each night, the word "alcoholic" did not enter my consciousness at all. After I had Ella, I never drank to get drunk again. Unlike before, where there are many stories of friends holding back my hair in the UniBar loos... But I digress.
I drank because it helped reduce the pain. I drank until I was relaxed. I always drank white wine because red made me a depressed and melancholic drunk, but white wine has no such effect. At the point I could feel that I was getting slightly tipsy, I would stop drinking and usually toddle of to bed, knowing that I was relaxed enough that I would sleep as well as my non-sleeping kids would allow me.
And this went on for three years. Every night. No one knew, except Monkey Boy., Sure, people knew I liked to drink wine, but that was it. Eventually though, I got to the point with my pain and my limitations that I was truly suicidal. I had a plan, which I thought about often. I didn't believe any good could come from my being alive. I truly believed my kids would be better off without me. So of course, my doctor was told about the alcohol, and wanted me to stop drinking immediately. And I went into a major panic attack.
In conjunction with our social worker, it was decided I would taper my alcohol consumption in the same way I would taper down a dose of medication before stopping it, which at the time seemed logical. But I couldn't do it. MB was in charge of doling out the exact number of mls each night, and it was torture. Having a little when I knew that I "needed" a lot, and not being in control of what was happening was just not going to work. So I faked not being suicidal anymore and went back to drinking, and I was still thinking that the alcohol was just a form of pain relief.
But then I would start to panic if we were down to the last bottle in the house. I would panic about when we would be able to get to the bottle shop to get some more. I would be in major distress (which I masterfully hid, or MB is blind to my distress) when MB said "Cant you just wait til tomorrow? I'll pick some up then."
I started to look at the clock mid afternoon and wonder if 2.30 was too early to start drinking. Some days it wasnt. but I never drank before 12!
I started drinking when my son got home from school. I would refill my glass as soon as it was empty, and kept doing this all night. Then I began bringing the bottle into the living room and sitting it next to me so I didnt have to keep getting up to get another drink. Saving myself the pain of getting up and down I said to myself in justification. Then it occurred to me that John used to do exactly the same thing with his 5 litre cask.
When I got to the point of drinking two bottles of wine every night just to feel "normal" of an evening, and I would wake up shaking each morning, I knew something had changed.
What I realised was that I had become physically dependent on this drug, and that if I continued it would kill me as surely as it killed John. I also knew that I had no idea how to stop.
My doctor gave me Valium to get me through the anxiety I would surely feel, but because of the cocktail of narcotics and anti-depressants I take I was certainly no candidate for the drugs that are used to block the desire for alcohol.
And it wasnt until I stopped, until there was no alcohol in my system at all, until I had gone a couple of nights without touching a drop, and I started to feel SO low, so sad, so anxious, so depressed, withdrawn, unable to stop crying, and so scared that once I had got through these physical effects of stopping, I would still not be able to have just one or two drinks, that I wouldn't be able to stop myself once I started...it wasnt until then that I realised the awful, shameful truth.
That I had become an alcoholic.
That there was no difference between John and I, except for what stage we had got to with our drinking. Had I continued...I would end up in the same place: liver damage, brain damage, death. We started for different reasons: he refused treatment for his bipolar disorder and self-medicated with Scotch. I tried every medication available to me and still nothing was working satisfactorily so I tried to use the alcohol to "kick along" the other meds into working better.
For me, the knowledge that I am no better than him is devastating. It tears at my soul, it makes me want to scream, it makes me sick to my stomach.
I am a person who must remain in control of what is happening to me. Knowing that I have no control at all in this situation, that I am controlled by my addiction is terrifying. I am controlled by something I thought, in all honesty, would help me.
I am controlled by alcohol: I am an alcoholic.
I have been sober for 14 days, but I am a mess, I am having panic attacks, I am frightened, I am sad and I don't know how to get through this withdrawal.