My subconscious did a fantastic job of keeping information about alcohol away from my consciousness. It allowed me to know facts, without realising that they could actually relate to me.
For instance, I knew it was a sign of alcoholism to drink alone, and yet in no way did I think that my hobby of drinking alone was a sign of alcoholism. I was doing it, and I wasn’t an alcoholic, thus it couldn’t bea problem. The guidance must be wrong. Or written by Americans, perhaps. They thought all English people were alcoholics.
I drank far more than the government guidelines, but I wasn’t concerned about this either. Everyone smashed through their quota. Besides, they were just exaggerating to try and control us.
To be honest, I didn’t think much about it. Or, rather I don’t remember thinking about it.
My diaries are full of me swearing off or trying to drink less. This glitch with my memory is further evidence of the way my denial works.
Long before I recognized this unusual slipperiness in my own mind regarding beer, I witnessed it in my boyfriend’s. He had a well-known issue with booze, and I was determined to help him with it. But talking to him was incredibly frustrating because I never knew which him I was going to get.
Would it be the grateful for my input, eager to try and do things differently him or the furious at me for mentioning it him? Sometimes it would be an affectionately amused him, who insisted there simply wasn’t a problem at all, and I was a daft overreactor for trying to create one.
It was all very confusing.
Gradually, by trying to help him, I began to be able to help myself. Maybe I couldn’t stop him getting drunk and causing a drama, but I could stop myself.
Actually, I couldn’t, it turned out. But after I failed to stop myself sufficient times, I asked the experts to step in, and they were more than happy to assist. Unlike me, they had a lot of practice and were sober themselves. But a while before I got to that point, of asking for help, I learned a few tricks for avoiding drunkness.
Here are the three lies that I stopped falling for (pretty much) and how I learned to recognise them.
1. Not making plans
My ex was terrible at making plans. “We’ll just see what happens,” he’d say, as the weekend approached. Increasingly, this filled me with dread. At some level, I’d noticed the pattern. That when we didn’t have a plan (and even when we did), we headed to the pub.
In fact, ‘no plan’ was the same as saying, ‘we have firm plans to go to the pub’.
If you are trying not to drink, make concrete plans. Go to the cinema or to see a non-drinking friend (if you are lucky enough to have one) or stay home and bake a cake with your new kitten. Go for a walk in a forest. Check local events. There is so much happening in this world that doesn’t relate to alcohol, I promise.
2. Meeting friends for ‘one’
This one is so obvious, but it got me accidentally drunk for years. If you are a serious drinker, there is likely no such thing as one. Sit down, and make a list of all the times you have had one and left it at that. How long is your list? Mine was very short, but still, to me, vastly impressive.
I can remember two instances of having the unicorn ‘one’, and they sort of glow in my imagination because they were so rare and special. Once, in a Wagamamas with my pal who wasn’t drinking. I had sworn off beer, but couldn’t resist ordering a Kirin Ichiban (I still grieve, just a tad, for this). Afterwards, I remember feeling angry with myself and also confused. Who had reared up to order it, and why? Also, why was I so upset about it? I’d stopped after one, hadn’t I?
Actually, the whole incident was discombobulating. The way I couldn’t resist ordering a beer though I didn’t want one, and also the fact that I had been able to stop drinking.
I felt like my issue with alcohol occupied the strangest territory of all. Was it a drinking problem if you only had one, but you didn’t want it? I don’t miss those days.
The other time was with friends in Wales. I opened a bottle of red wine, poured myself a glass, drank the glass and then that was that. Incredible.
These were surrounded by plain old drinking until I was drunk drunks, for context. If you, too, are clinging onto a handful of paltry pieces of evidence that you can control your drinking, because that one time, at Grandma’s house, you didn’t get slaughtered, then you might want to think again. Look at the context. How many times did you get slaughtered?
I had to write it out to see it because denial is real. In AA, this is called, Step One.
3. I’ll just drink soda water/alcohol free beer
Going to the pub is a risky strategy for reforming booze-kitten. I interrupted my first and last Dry January with an accidental drunk triggered by going to the pub for a non-alcoholic beer. I had two pretend beers, then thought, Fuck it, and asked for a real one.
These days, I can go to the pub if I feel like it, and it isn’t an issue, but it took a fair amount of time to recondition my brain around this. Since childhood, pubs, to me, have meant peace and family and relaxation. In my teens, I quickly added beer into that feeling of comfort. Over my lifetime I have spent hours, playing pool, flipping beer mats, and generally wasting my life in pubs. (A lot of it was pretty fun, tbh.)
At first, to be in a boozer without my sucky cup made me feel like I was about to have a panic attack.
These days, I can go wherever I want, but mostly I prefer to go to restaurants or cafes or the beach. Did you know that pubs actually smell of farts and cardboard when you’re not drinking? It’s a little known fact. You’re welcome.
So that’s it. The three lies I finally saw through that helped me stop being so drunk and maniacal. My drinking problem wasn’t ‘that bad’ but the life that has emerged since I quit is quite wonderful. It could be the same for you.
Full disclosure, recognising these lies wasn’t enough to keep me sober for more than a fortnight or so, and it certainly didn’t cure my beer hunger, but it was an important step along the way.
Other important step might be: AA, Smart Recovery, Soberistas, Hip Sobriety, This Naked Mind, Recovery Elevator. I’ve used them all along the way, and they are more enlightening, fun and life-enhancing than you might imagine.
If you are struggling or want to stay inspired, join my mailing list here at beautifulhangover <3
And read more of my writing at Medium.