Becoming a new person is a challenge, especially when you never really realised you had to change in the first place. People often ask me, “So, why are you doing this?” My initial cheeky reply starts off with, “Well, why not climb Mount Kilimanjaro?” They then quickly interject with, “No, no. Why are you stopping the alcohol?” Oh, that’s a thing!
For as long as I could remember, I have always loved alcohol. Mostly its effects on me. My mom makes the best Tipsy (go figure) Tarts (Sponge cake soaked in a syrup laced with Brandy). My mom always used to throw in much more than the recipe required (she wasn’t a drinker so it wasn’t seen as an issue). Often I’d have second helpings and sneak in a few bites when no-one was looking. I wouldn’t say I was feeling guilty but I never understood why I was doing it. One afternoon, in my primary school years, I decided to give Brandy a try. Neat. No ice. Straight from the bottle (which was always kept in the pantry). I took one sip and hated the overwhelming pungent taste. It was a blow to the system and I made a promise to myself that I would never drink again, at least until I turned 18. Guess what - I waited till my 18th birthday to drink and visit a casino. My welcome drink was the ever-economical “Drostdy-Hof Adelpracht Special Late Harvest”. A sweet, sweet white wine. I’m sure I got tipsy that night, I’m not sure. I can’t remember.
After I popped the cork that night, and please excuse the drunken pun, I didn’t stop. I don’t think I could. I drank to get drunk, if being “drunk” meant that I wanted to feel loose and free. Often at varsity I got drunk (no surprise). And often I’d pass out and wake up with no recollection of how I got where I found myself or the night before shenanigans. Pretty standard student behaviour, right?
Years went by and it never occurred to me that a problem may be brewing quietly. Yes, I would sneak some boxed wine in my juice a few times a week but I didn’t imagine that it was going to evolve into something more, something dangerous.
I have three handsome young boys and although I love them with my entire being, I hated being pregnant for one reason only: I had to be sober for 9 months. Every day was a challenge, it was hard work to resist and mostly in social settings where everyone was drinking, I found it difficult to resist. I would ask my husband if I could sniff his drink, just for a whiff of the good stuff. Creepy.
One of the lowest points in my life happened shortly after the birth of my second son. My husband and I had a very turbulent start to our marriage and I carried much resentment. Now that I was no longer with child, I could drink merrily. I can’t remember much (a bad habit), but I’m sure that I finished a second bottle of red wine after I polished one at my sister’s place. If I think of the timeline, I pieced together that I went from my sister’s place to the liquor store and then made it back in time before the nanny left. Drunken state during the day. I drifted past tipsy and dove into a drunken abyss. What made it worse, was the fact that I had to watch the children. I should not have been left with them, but I’m sure when I pretended to be okay, I was convincing? Or maybe the nanny thought it wasn’t her problem. She has her own problems, naturally.
It’s very painful for me to fully acknowledge what happened next. Flashes of moments fill my memory bank. I see myself laughing. You know that crass, drunken laugh. I hear the children scream and see myself bite them. I apply more and more pressure. I consciously and unconsciously toy with adding more pressure, toying with the idea of hurting them. What a bad mother. I passed out shortly after my husband came home. The next day, even though most of the previous day’s horrors were a blur, I still awoke with a feeling of nauseating guilt. Oh and let’s not forget the shame! It was debilitating. While taking a much-needed shower to wash away the stench, I hope and prayed that the night before was also a blur to the others in the house. Arming myself with denial, I headed to the kitchen to make coffee.
“Morning mommy!” My eldest greeted me warmly and with a smile and hug. I didn’t want to start a conversation I would regret. “How are you my baby?” I asked as I squeezed him tightly. I know that hug was drenched in “I’m sorry’s”. “You know me mom, always good.” He always was a charmer. “How are you? Feeling any better?” Ah. There it is. “Do you know what happened yesterday?” He asked, as innocently as ever. “I think so.” I just wanted to end the conversation. He went on to detail exactly what happened. The more he added, the deeper I crawled into a dark hole. As soon as he finished, I apologised profusely and tried to explain why I behaved in that way. But the more I explained, the more I said that I was sorry, the worse I felt. All I wanted was a drink- I didn’t want to feel this sticky feeling. I didn’t click at all, but the fact that I needed a drink in that moment was a problem.
Years passed since the incident and I drank more and more. Funny, one would think that an incident like that would perhaps get me to press pause on the drinking thing? You know, maybe out of decency. I didn’t realize that I couln’t stop. Didn’t anyone pick up on my (possible) problem? Nope. And no, not because they didn’t care of but I was a normal over-drinking student. It’s almost expected, dare I say it. And at the time, I was a student leader and date one too. All functions were sponsored. Free booze. Yum.
Secondly, people didn’t know I drank secretly. I honestly didn’t think much of it. Interestingly enough, I also didn’t think much of the fact that I was hiding my drinking. I don’t think I wanted to tackle that anyway.
I appreciated that alcohol became a tool I could use to mask pain, feelings and avoid getting to the root of problems. I hated conflicted and the boozed always smoothed it out. Whenever things became too much, both emotionally or when I had too much going on with respects to tasks or events (traumatic or not), alcohol was my friend.
This year, towards the end of August I made a commitment to stop. I only did so because I decided I was going to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and knew I had to stop if I wanted to achieve that goal. And it was only then I realized how difficult it was to stop, this especially after I really aware of how much I had been drinking for the past couple of months. I finished one to two bottles of red or white wine EVERY SINGLE DAY. I realised I needed to be tipsy to cope with life. I decided to confide in a friend and we then decided to go to AA. She is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. At my first AA meeting, I cried most of the time. But every single person welcomed me there. I didn’t feel like an alien. I felt like I was home. I still carried shame because I was labelled an alcoholic. But when I saw them say out loud that they were alcoholics, I saw that they had a sense of freedom with this label.
The first three months of being sober is hell. Mostly, because I go to the same shops where I used to buy my wine and it’s a habit to stand and just stare at the bottles. The less you drink, the more you are aware of every single thing you’ve been masking or avoiding. It’s emotionally overwhelming. It is not easy and no one who doesn’t have a drinking problem will understand. People will judge you and you will think that they think you are weak. Guess what, they might. But part of truly realising that you have a problem is that you understand that YOU are the one who labels yourself as weak. That is a truth bomb.
What’s next? I’m working through the famous 12 steps program. Bit by bit. Some days I take a step forward, other days, I’m leopard crawling. But I don’t step back. I drink good coffee and sparkling water. When there’s something major that happens, I do crave. But then I think, what would matter to me more? That one drink (which will never end with just one drink) or being in control or just taking in a deep breath to muster up the energy to deal with the REAL issue.
"Hi, my name is Yvette and I’m an alcoholic"... And guess what, despite that, I’m finally free.