My name is Tom. I’m a 41 year-old guy who has worked in marketing for most of my career. I work in a very sociable industry, built upon connections and communication. It's not unusual, in fact it’s kind of standard, for alcohol to play a supporting role to those who work within this sector, where many of us find that drink can offer boost of confidence at company gatherings, or act as an ice-breaker.
As one of my first goals of 2019, I said to myself that I would not drink alcohol for the whole month of January. I would have not one thirst-quenching lug on a cold pint, not one sip of a rich red to go with a hearty meal. I had a rather booze-heavy December – and after rather a shit-show at New Year’s, I wanted to do Dry January for the first time and see how it felt, mentally, physically and financially. Sobriety has given me the opportunity to think deeply about alcohol, the role it plays and perhaps more personally, the impact alcohol has had upon my life.
Right now, I feel very settled emotionally – very little anxiety – and my attitude to my usual alcohol intake has changed. Being in a ‘dry’ mental space has enabled me to look back at the times when alcohol has held far greater weight in my life. The first period was in the years after my parents split up and my father left my mother, and the country. Bye, Dad! Alcohol had always been in use at home. On numerous occasions in my childhood, I would play the role of wine waiter at my parents’ parties, keeping guests’ glasses full, making small talk and generally helping my parents host a successful party. I had seen my Mum ‘merry’ countless times and had thought little of it.
With Dad gone, Mum was left on her own to ‘look after’ us children (18, 16 and 13 at the time) and she hit the wine hard. Often out at industry parties, we would be at home waiting to see what kind of mood she’d be in when she’d come through the front door. There was a great sense amongst my sibligs that we had to do whatever Mum wanted, to appease her, to soothe her, to try not to upset her. My role, if you can call it that, would be one I knew well – keep her wine glass topped up. Even at 18, I could tell when ‘enough was enough’ but any sense of me challenging going to the fridge to get the wine out once more would typically be met with fire. This period lasted about 18 months, during which I fell into a deep depression and overwhelming sense of worthlessness, while being almost totally co-dependent to my own mother.
I look back on that time now with a different mind to the one I had then. It must have been very tough indeed on Mum, with a huge amount of pressure to look after us children, while at the same time coming to terms with the demise of a marriage. I can see why she wanted to drink a lot…perhaps just to switch off and escape from the pain and pressure of the whole situation. I’ve certainly been through periods of my life when I just wanted to get on the smash to drown it all out.
15 years or so later, I found myself in another co-dependent relationship with a woman, though this time it was my girlfriend. The first year of our relationship was pretty smooth, though there were the odd moments when she would drink too much and push the boundaries of what I thought was acceptable behaviour. We all overdo it a bit I thought to myself and chose to ignore the faint ringing alarm bell in my head
In the second year however, things started to change. Her drinking stepped up, not in frequency, but in the binge amounts and subsequent levels of drunkenness. I remember all too well that when we were out together at a party or social bar/club-based gathering, I would wait for the moment, just the one sip of a drink even, that would tip her over the edge. My lovely girlfriend would become someone else altogether. A stranger. A person with a wild look in her eyes for whom our relationship, our bond and our love, faded into the nothingness of a drunken haze. Looking back, I was no longer myself either. I had reverted back to the subservient, fearful and lost teenager I once was, unable to take hold of the situation for fear of the consequences, pushing my own feelings and concerns about the situation way down deep inside.
Although the feelings were familiar, my reaction was different to what it had been when I was younger. This time around I wanted to try and understand where the pain was. Because, unlike with my mother, where I knew exactlywhat was causing this ‘alcoholic escapism’, in the relationship with my girlfriend, I was left only with conjecture. I tried gently and sensitively many times in sober moments to understand the root cause of the anger that all came pouring out in the inebriation. I tried and tried…but ended up just batting my head against a brick wall. The alcoholic episodes continued, driving me into a deep depression for the second time in my life. I eventually called time on what had sadly become a toxic relationship for me.
During this phase of my life and for a good year after, I sought expert advice from a therapist. Initially, I had weekly sessions as I felt that I needed the support structure frequently. I wanted to understand and pick apart the reasons, consciously and subconsciously, that had led me into the same situation with an alcoholic. I wanted to understand whether it was destiny for the same ‘thing’ to happen twice. I wanted to find out whether I was somehow to blame and also if and how any of my behaviour and internal conversations – which led to pushing aside and denigrating my own feelings - may have exacerbated the situation. I also wanted to see how the second time around could teach me to never let this happen again, or at least be in a much stronger mental position, and acutely aware of the warning signs that I had chosen to ignore latterly.
I cannot recommend a therapist enough. They showed me how the old thought patterns from the first episode - anxious predictions, activation of my ‘bottom line’ of ‘not feeling good enough’ - long since dormant had been reactivated through similar social situations surrounding alcohol and its overuse and through understanding, then helped me find tools to break the cycle.
A month off the sauce has enabled me to completely re-evaluate my relationship with booze. I’ve asked questions of myself. ‘What am I like to be around when a bit drunk?’ I feel that I am a happy drunk, but also know that I have a sharp tongue that can get sharper after a few drinks. Am I bringing out my own demons for everyone to deal with when I drink?
I look forward to that ice-cold pint or glass of red for sure, but given this period of reflection on what I now know from my past experience, it may just be one or two, not five or six as it has so often been in my past.