Help me. I honestly don’t know how to handle this one. Advice needed. Nothing awful, promise, just very important to get right. Have I mentioned that I wish I could have shown Drunk Me how wonderful it is to be Sober Me? How I often wish I could speak to Anna of, say, ten years ago and find some magic words that’d somehow flick a switch in her brain? WHAT ARE THOSE WORDS? And what is it that I can do, if someone I care about actually speaks those words “I need to stop drinking”?
I’ve called her Poppy on this blog in the past and she is someone I love to pieces. She frustrates the hell out of me, actually, because she’s such an amazing person – I honestly don’t know anyone kinder, more caring or loving than she is – and I sometimes feel wine robs her of so much. Silly situations she seems to get herself into, awful people that take advantage of her gentle nature and low moods further exacerbated by alcohol. Actually, I’m not going to wrap it in cotton wool – I love Poppy to bits and it pisses me off to see her trip herself up. I was keeping this to myself having promised myself to never preach the gospel of sobriety to anyone unless they specifically asked to hear it. When I was eyeball deep in active alcoholism, words of warning or even pleas for me to stop would – except for maybe the last two or three years – have achieved the opposite effect: I would have distanced myself from the people in question, possibly been utterly insulted and outraged at their audacity, then gone on my merry messy way. What do I mean by “except the last two or three years”? Simply that towards the end of my drinking I was so fed up with it but just didn’t see a way out, that had I been confronted I think I would probably have broken down with relief and gratefully surrendered.
Anyway. When Poppy and I spoke yesterday, she told me she’s proud of me for getting sober. And then came a question that to my mind might be what sales people might refer to as a buying signal.
“When you first stopped, did you get really bad shakes?” Poppy asked.
For me to ask something like this, would mean that I secretly wanted to stop but wanted to first ascertain how crappy stopping would be. I could be wrong though. Often am, as we have established many times before. I told Poppy honestly how it did worry me and how if you drink heavily like I did it can be dangerous to quit cold turkey without medical assistance, but how it was in the end just a matter of a day’s severe hangover (and of course I am a veteran so have battled through many of those before) and then a few more days before I started to feel better, but nothing physically unbearable. Of course this was a long phone conversation during which we talked about lots of other stuff too, but the buying signals (as I interpreted them) kept creeping in.
“The problem is that I have no confidence and wine helps me socially,” Poppy told me, “when I have a drink I light up“.
What I first wanted to SHOUT was how bloody amazing she is in her own right, and although she and I have had lots of fun, crazy, super silly times on the juice, it’s my Poppy I love because of all the things that make her HER. That’s nothing to do with wine or however loosened up and goofy we get when we drink. How I see her and how much I admire her is totally unrelated to alcohol. Of course now, with over eight months of solid(ish) sobriety under my belt, I obviously recognise that Poppy – just like everyone and everything else in my world – is much better without booze and I don’t actually like my Poppy more when she’s drunk. I like her just the way she is. She’s better, as we all are, without any goddamn wine. But I could see what she meant and as a shy introvert I think I also used to think alcohol broke down awkward social barriers at one point.
However, there was nothing social about the way I drank, home alone with my box of wine for company as I worked towards black-out, and I told Poppy this straight up. The social aspect just isn’t true for me. I told her though, how when I first stopped I initially felt really apprehensive about two weekend breaks we already had booked: Paris for hubby’s birthday and Gothenburg in June for a Foo Fighters concert. I mean, what kind of idiotic twat goes to Paris and has diet Coke? Who declines slipping into the warm and melty veils of Sauvignon Blanc in the city of love? Or heads to a Foo concert clutching a water bottle – come on! Oh hang on… I do! And it was glorious. 2018 has been so amazing and it’s been such a busy one, packed with those things I used to think you couldn’t do sober but it turns out that not only CAN you do them, they’re so much better!! I tried my best to keep a lid on the passion I feel when expressing how my life has changed so much. When I was still drinking I’m not sure I would have been able to stomach stuff like that, much less believe a single fucking word of it – after all wine was my FRIEND, remember, who I believed made everything more fun, not less. I began to tell Poppy how almost every morning I find myself feeling almost tearful with such intense gratitude and joy to have my life given back to me, but caught myself and instead just stated in more measured tones how I don’t miss always being hungover. No one likes an over excited preacher, plus I sometimes hear myself and want to vomit a little so God knows how I come across to other people. As I said, had Drunk Me been faced with Sober Me it may very well have turned into a punch-up with Drunk Me giving smug, tree-hugging Sober Me a good pummeling.
Although AA wasn’t quite right for me, there are many things I do whole heartedly agree with and one is that the only person who can determine if you have a drinking problem is you. Actually, I don’t know if I agree now that I think of it. What I do believe however is that very few people can successfully become sober until they truly want to stop drinking. I don’t want to be, and nor do I think I should be, the person telling another whether they should drink or not drink. Perhaps I went a little over board when I emphasised to Poppy that I don’t believe she’s anywhere near as bad as I was – yes, if she wants to hear how I’m finding sobriety I’ll bleat on until the cows come home, but I really don’t want to ram it down her throat unsolicited and I want to always make sure I just share MY view, MY perspective and MY experience. Never suggest similarities – if there are any, that’s for Poppy to decide.
Poppy described how she got annoyed with someone who’d made a remark about her drinking even though she’d not finished the bottle of wine she’d opened one particular evening. Truthfully I just told her I would NEVER have been able to do that. In fact, when I was drinking I would have rather said no to drinking full stop than be faced with only one little bottle! Jeez, one bottle of wine would just about get me in the zone and we all know what happens when I get in the zone. The zone is just the spring board. So I steered it back to me and outlined in all its awfulness how I can’t stop. Can. Not. Stop. It’s full-on madness, obsession, compulsion and a raging desire that I can’t control. Again, truthfully, I told her that this is in essence the root of my problem – my inability to stop if I start – and I always used to envy those fairytale creatures who can just decide they’ve had enough and leave it. WTF – how is that even possible? Never understood it. Anyway, I explained that this is in essence how I define what an alcoholic is – one drink is too many, 20 aren’t enough – and if she can actually stop drinking when she’s started she’s in a better place than where I found myself.
But then she said it.
“No, Anna, I need to stop drinking.” She paused for a second. “I really need to stop.”
Part of me wished I could have just hopped in the car, driven down to the coast and swept her up in my arms. Why didn’t I? Shit, I should have. Perhaps I am to Poppy what Tumbler was to me? Tumbler being a good friend and an incredibly talented lady who also happened to be an alcoholic and drank herself to death, but who I in lucid moments asked for advice. Tumbler sank deeper than I did, and despite brave attempts to get and stay sober, alcohol won in the end. Point is, it was comforting for me to speak openly with someone who themselves drank and also Tumbler could tell me how she went about stopping. Well. I’m trying to put myself in Poppy’s shoes and that’s what I also did when we spoke. I told her I can’t decide anything for her, but if she wants to quit I think it’s a wonderful thing as I believe we’re all – regardless of what our drinking habits are – better off without booze and if there’s anything I can answer or help with please just ask. Is that enough?
It’s so easy to slip into I-want-to-save-the-world mode when you find sobriety I think. You feel like your eyes have just opened and you’re seeing the world for the first time, so you want to spread the word so everyone can experience it too. Not the right approach though, no one likes a smug hippie. Well, perhaps some do, I dunno. But I’m trying the gentle approach for now and see where it leads. I don’t think Poppy is necessarily an alcoholic like I am or that she drinks anywhere near as much as I used to, but at the same time I don’t think people who don’t feel they have an issue with alcohol would think or say that they need to stop drinking. Who knows.
I need to think about this more.
Today I’m not going to drink.