Does sobriety seem like an impossible dream? Do you drink more than the NHS guidelines? Are you struggling to moderate? Do you regularly regret drinking? Do you ever have memory blackouts? If the answer to any of these questions is yes it doesn’t necessarily make you an alcoholic but maybe you are a ‘pre-alcoholic’.
My name’s Liz and I am not an alcoholic.
I have always enjoyed a drink. Hedonism has been my thing since I discovered the word and giving that up has been like saying fairwell to an old friend. However, I had come to realise that the friendship turned sour a while ago: I felt low a lot of the time; depression kept rearing it’s ugly head; I was constantly tired but preoccupied with the next opportunity to go out and have a drink.
My internal dialogue on the subject of over-drinking used to go:
Alcoholic? Me? Shut the back door! I don’t drink in the day. I am a respectable person! (Mostly) I turn up for work and run regularly (ahem, mostly with a hangover). It’s just that I have a LOT of stress and you know what? I really love to party!
I’m calling this a dialogue instead of a monologue because there were 2 entities in this internal discussion. The above is the ‘brattish’ part of me that didn’t want to admit to my problems. She just wants nice things and good feelings, all the time and anything less than awesome is a complete drag!
Luckily the other entity in this dialogue is my voice of calm: my inner-self who knows exactly what time it is. She patiently watches because she knows eventually the brat will arrive, if somewhat reluctantly, at the right answer. The brat settled on this…
Okay, okay. But is there not a term for someone who is certainly NOT alcoholic but is in the queue, maybe? Sort of close to the front, waiting for service at the bar but not quite within reach. (The brat uses a lot of drink related metaphors) What would you call that person? …
And the answer is ‘pre-alcoholic’. Even the brat in me knew that the only way to ensure this didn’t progress to full blown alcoholism was to stop drinking altogether.
What does the NHS say?
The NHS guidance for alcohol consumption is 14 units a week. Whenever I was asked how much I drink – GP, osteopath, optician, pub landlord at last orders – I always lied. I’d think to myself – ‘what’s normal? What do most people drink?’ So I’d say something like,
Oh, a few glasses of wine on a Friday. Maybe a G+T on Saturday? You?
I wasn’t just lying to the doctor, I was lying to myself because I knew it was more but it wasn’t until I actually sat down and added it all up that I realised how much more.
You may think that you drink within the guidelines but did you know that a glass of wine is 2 units and if like me your IKEA glasses are more like buckets then that’s probably 3 units. Your home measure of gin or whatever spirit you drink is never going to be a single unit. 2 or 3 more like. A pint is a unit or 2, depending on the alcohol volume.
Check your alcohol intake here. If it’s any more than the max guidelines then cut down and if you find that tricky then maybe your relationship with booze isn’t entirely healthy….
Prosecco, drug of a (middle class) nation.
I used to have a healthy relationship with drink in that I loved it but it didn’t control me. I was known to decline a night out and would have plenty of nights off. At some point it escalated.
Prosecco replaced tea (not at breakfast time obvs, I mean popping round for a cuppa type thing). Prosecco is the heroin of the middle class mum, it’s civilised and elegant. Coming to my place? Bring a bottle! Dinner party at yours? Bring a bottle! Kids play date in the park? Bring a bottle! Wait. What
Alcohol Promotion Is Everywhere
Over-consumption of alcohol is promoted and normalised. I was recently in Sports Direct and saw 5 workout tops that feature alcohol. What is with that!?
One t-shirt said “More Gin, Less Gym!” Another, “Alcohol you later!” (Took me a minute to get that one.)
We have come to accept that working out with a hangover is normal and that we all drink too much prosecco, white wine, beer, gin. When I was growing up, gin was still called ‘mothers ruin’ but now it’s trendy and artisan. It’s flavoured with rosemary, cardamom and unicorn piss.
Remember all the fuss about the prosecco shortage?! Oh come on!!
Why moderation didn’t work for me.
Things were getting out of hand. My life had become a series of parties and celebrations and the gaps in between seemed intolerable without drink. So I decided to moderate: no drinking in the week. Here’s some more internal dialogue for you:
Booze: You’re not really going to see this through are you?
Booze: It’s Monday. If ever there was a day for a drink it’s today!
Me: I know but other people only drink at weekends.
Booze: You’re not other people.
Me: Damn straight! Where’s the bottle opener?
I just couldn’t defeat alcohol in these ongoing conversations. You’re supposed to cut temptation off when you recognise the triggers: don’t give it air time. But I would open the door to alcohol, invite it in and have a full on debate about the pros and cons of the next drink. Alcohol always won.
Alcohol was in my head, demanding to be heard. My only option was to never let it back in.
The last drink.
My last drink was obvious. I was completely certain in that moment that the only way I would be happy was to never drink again. Extraordinary though it seemed to everyone around me I became teetotal overnight.
Suddenly I saw that I was in a relationship with a substance and although I wasn’t hitting the units most alcohol dependant drinkers do, my life was slowly but surely being shaped by and around this insidious drug.
I can’t really put into words how grateful I am that I went through all this. I now have something I was never going to find in a glass of wine and I struggle to verbalise that. It’s stability, peace and joy without being focused on pleasure. It’s self acceptance without stagnation; celebration without the come down.