So much more than giving up drinking

Day 7 of sobriety, and what a week it has been. My body clearly doesn’t like this feeling. Today is Saturday and it is the first time in years I have woken up on a Saturday where I haven’t hammered the wine the night before, yet I still woke up with a dry mouth and groggy. I think my body expects to be hungover.

Actually, I prided myself on never really getting a hangover. I could clout almost two bottles of wine a night and not wake up with a hangover. Of course, I realise now that even though I didn’t have a headache, I had other signs of having a hangover – that shaky feeling you get inside your stomach, extreme tiredness, extreme moodiness, weaving through the day in a haze, just going through the motions on automatic.
I am starting to sleep better, which is a relief, although I am still waking up very tired and throughout the day there are periods when I feel I could crawl into bed and sleep for the rest of the day. Not sure if that is my body detoxing or me just being depressed. I don’t feel depressed as such, but I am incredibly weepy. I feel like I have not stopped crying for a week. I cry in the car, walking around the shops, literally anywhere, for no apparent reason. I just suddenly well up and spout out. I can’t control it, which is really bugging me. I do not like this feeling of not being in control. It is a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute, I feel empowered, like I have actually taken control of my life, rather than allowing alcohol to control me; the next minute, I am ashamed that alcohol has taken control and I feel broken.
I finally told my extended family about my affliction. My parents have been incredibly supportive, phoning me every day to see how I am. I have to fight the urge to ask them to stop checking up on me because I know that this is not what they are doing. I know that they are proud of me (although I am not sure why – their daughter is a raving alcoholic, nothing to be proud of there!) and I know that they want to support me. I told my sister-in-law, and again, received amazing support from her, which was a little surprising since in the last two years, we have had ours ups and downs. My DH told his parents and they offered their support where they could. I feel blessed, but the feeling of shame just seems to remain with me. Despite knowing that this alcoholism thing is a disease, not a moral issue, I cannot seem to shake the shame.
I keep thinking of all the things I may have achieved in the last 11 years, when my drinking really got bad. I keep thinking that at the end of this year our eldest DD is leaving home to begin the next phase of her life and I only have 12 months left with her. Why did I have to be pissed a good portion of the last 11 years? I feel like I have missed so much with her. I am grateful, though, to have come to my senses now, because at least in the next 12 months, we can create memories and do so much together. I am very proud of the person she has become – so independent, so focussed with an incredibly kind spirit. I worry about her discovery of alcohol and our seemingly genetic disposition of this disease of alcoholism. I have talked to her about it, warned her of the predisposition, but, like my dad had to be with me, I realise that this is her journey and only she can decide what path she has to take. All I know is that I will be here for her, no matter on which path she ends up.
I went to AA meetings during the week. Like any organisation, I realise that some are better run than others. I went to one meeting where I felt isolated. It was cliquey – everyone knew each other and no-one approached me as a newcomer. I walked in, listened to the stories, hung around for a little bit after the meeting and, realising no-one was going to talk to me and not having the courage to approach anyone myself, I slipped out. I didn’t walk away empty handed though. I found the stories inspiring.
The following night, I tried a different meeting. This one had a different format – more relaxed, more connected. People kept coming up to me to speak to me and when, for the first time, I stated my name and that I was an alcoholic with six days sobriety, everyone clapped. I felt like a child that says something that gets an unexpected reaction and suddenly beams with pride. I didn’t beam, because I am not proud right now, but it felt good to have the recognition of just how damn hard it was to get 6 days’ sobriety under my belt. That meeting was excellent and I am seriously considering making it my home group, despite the knowledge that we are moving 20 minutes further away at the end of this year, meaning it will be at least a 40 minute drive. It is a small price to pay for a group that seems to fit me so well.
People have been urging me to get Vitamin B injections. Apart from hating needles with a passion, I have wondered about the value in this. Many people have said that the sudden withdrawal from alcohol is a shock to the body, and since alcohol completely robs the body of vitamin B, which is why we feel so tired all the time, vitamin B tablets just aren’t absorbed quickly enough into the body. The thing is, I am just too ashamed to go to the doctor and say, I am an alcoholic and I need vitamin B injections. Last night, at an AA meeting I was at, someone spoke of alcoholics being filled with fear. I never considered myself a fearful person. I was wrong. I am so very fearful and quite anxious, I realise.
When telling my sister-in-law about my affliction, I begged her not to mention it to anyone else. I downloaded the Big Book to my iPhone so that I could listen to the teachings of AA whenever and wherever I might be, without anyone knowing what I was up to. When travelling on the train yesterday I accidentally pulled out the earplugs. “…give up the urge to drink, and resist alcohol”, the thing boomed. The train was full. I fumbled desperately for the volume, but I have set up a password on my phone and couldn’t get the volume down until I inserted the password. “Many times alcoholics…” it continued. Oh, please, God, if you are there now, please swallow me whole right now. Eventually, after what seemed like minutes, but was probably seconds, I got the thing to shut up. With still 20 minutes to go on the journey, I pushed myself right down into the seat and didn’t dare look at anyone. The shame was enormous. I felt like I had a neon sign on my head blaring “Yep, here sits the alcoholic”.
There are so many dimensions to being an alcoholic. It isn’t just a case of giving up drinking. It is so much more than that. It is like your brain and alcohol are soul mates and your brain is constantly telling you that it can’t be separated from its soul mate. For the first four days of sobriety, I didn’t have the urge to drink. I accepted I was powerless over alcohol, and I knew I couldn’t drink, even one drink. I was finding this part of alcoholism, the most important part of not drinking a breeze. Complacency is a bitch. Late on day 5, it hit me. I was wondering around the shops and started noticing all the lovely wine glasses out of which I could be drinking wine. DH and I had always said that in years to come we would treat ourselves to a set of Royal Doulton or Waterford Crystal wine glasses. At $400 for a set of four, it was a major investment. Our plan was to have 8 glasses of every type – Red wine, white wine, champagne, sherry, highball and tumbler – amounting to a total cost of $4800 or $2400 at the once a year annual sale – a lot of money on glasses. For the longest time, we had dreamed about holding really heavy, beautiful wine glasses to our lips, sipping a great red or white (we didn’t mind which) wine. On thursday, I obsessed about this. I wondered around the crystal ware shop looking at a dream that was now gone. What was the point in buying glasses that I could never use? I cried and I grieved.
This is why I say that the disease of alcoholism is so much more than giving up drinking. It feels like I have to take my brain, purge it and imprint it with something entirely different. The problem is that the brain is a resillient little bugger. It loves its relationship with alcohol and keeps making you feel that you would feel so much better if you had just that one drink. Intellectually, I know this not be the case, but emotionally, with all the fragility that I am feeling right now, it is so incredibly tempting to give in to my brain, to swathe my nerve endings and emotions with that elixir that was killing me.
People who are not alcoholics will not understand this. I did not understand this, until I realised that I am an alcoholic. When my dad gave up drinking 26 years ago, I took it for granted. In fact, I felt resentful that he hadn’t had the strength to do it earlier. As the years went by, that resentment subsided and I was just grateful that he did become sober when he did and not later, or even not at all. However, it is only now that I can appreciate just how difficult that decision must have been. Only now do I understand how difficult it is to quieten the urge; to live a life without alcohol when everywhere is littered with the stuff – like the wine and popcorn on offer at the cinema.
In the week of my sobriety – I am such a baby at this – I have come to realise that sobriety is more than not drinking. It is an evolution of the soul. Getting your mind to separate from alcohol, so that your soul, the person you have the potential to be, can come forth. For some it is a really slow process and I am wondering if that is going to be the case with me. The mourning of all the things I won’t be able to do is strong at the moment. Or rather, the mourning of all the things I can do, just not with a glass of a wine in my hand, is strong at the moment. It seems so ridiculous as I pen the words. So, I don’t have a glass of wine in my hand, I will at least remember every moment, wake up not wondering if I made an idiot of myself, but knowing that I had a great time and remembering every minute. This is what I am saying, intellectually it seems so easy, so logical, why would you not want to do it. Of course, you WANT to do it, but with alcoholics it’s the ABILITY that eludes us.
So, as I progress over the coming week, I pray for the urge to leave me. This is most alcoholics’ desire, to no longer have the urge to drink and whilst ever we don’t pick up that first drink, we will be okay and maybe, just maybe, our higher power will see fit to remove the urge and allow us to be happy without a drink in our hands.
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