Excellent and quite lengthy post from one of my favorite raves in England. Having just the other day celebrated her first year of sobriety, Anna at storm in a wine glass got to spend some time in healthy retrospect with her husband.
“What is that one thing? The thing, if you could sum it up, that meant you could stop?” Hubby asked.
We were sitting as we often do, at opposite ends of the sofa, talking about life and, well, this time my sobriety. My one-year anniversary happened when he was away, so I guess it was especially topical.
“It wasn’t just one thing,” I said as my mind went into overdrive, “it was a whole bunch of things that came together at the right moment.”
“But you keep saying how it was a stormy sea and how the waves parted at exactly the right moment and you saw your life line,” Hubby insisted and threw back at me the analogy I always use to describe the moment I saw my chance to ask for help, my way out. “What was it? And what could I have done that might have got you there sooner?”
“OK, so just so I’m clear on what you’re asking – you’re wanting me to articulate what made me stop drinking, what you did and what you could have done sooner to help bring it about?”
“Yes. What did it take for you to stop?”
“You do realise that if we find the answer to that question, we’ll cure the world of all addictions, don’t you?” I replied and smiled in a slightly smart-arsey kind of way, after all I’m the drunkard here. “Quids in if we crack that old chestnut and are able to provide a sure-fire answer. We’ll have high schools and streets named after us.”
“But, summarise it,” Hubby went on, “not the waves, not the life line, spell out exactly what it was.”
It’s a good question though, isn’t it? I mean, when I was still trapped it would have been the one thing I would have wanted the answer to. In AA they often say that the alcoholic has to hit rock bottom before they can get sober. It sounds severe, doesn’t it, ‘rock bottom’? Makes you think of social services, homelessness and the park bench stereotype. It doesn’t have to be all those hugely devastating things though. I prefer to think of it as my turning point because it wasn’t a big or dramatic event, it was simply a combination of mainly two things: I’d fucking had it with drinking and at the right moment I saw my life line. Yes, like the huge waves in a stormy sea parted just as I glanced in the right direction and caught a glimpse of a life line, then swam furiously towards it. OK, less fucking poetic – Hubby asked me the right thing in the right moment and I saw my chance to finally speak the words: “help, I’m scared“. Is that somewhat clear? I was desperate to stop and just when I needed it there was a chance for me to ask for help so I did. Oh, and a third ingredient: a tiny bit of hope.
But what Hubby was asking and was trying to get at, was whether HE could have said or done anything that could have got me there sooner. After all, he now knows how I felt for many years and how often that little voice inside of me had cried out long before I was able to verbalise it myself. Could he have said or done something? Anything? I know I have pondered this before on this blog, but I think it’s such a hugely important discussion that it needs plenty of attention. Well, a bit further along now and I’m gaining clarity each day in terms of my own experience, and I feel I can give you at least SOME kind of accurate answer as to what you can do if you want to help someone you care about: not a damn thing.
There is nothing – genuinely nothing – anyone could have said or done that would have got me there sooner. Sure, threatening to take away my child or my home away or ultimatums of that caliber would certainly have scared me into stopping. FOR A WHILE. I don’t believe force is the answer. I’m sure there are people who stop against their will and white knuckle it for eternity, but what sort of life is that? I just don’t believe in that sort of thing – I truly believe that the only person who can get you out of addiction is YOU.
I have a son. He is my world. My sun rises and sets with him and I would die for him. No, really – I’d die for him. But I couldn’t stop drinking for him. I know this is a hard pill to swallow and even though I’m the drunk here, even I want to punch me in the face and scream at me YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE A MOTHER, so I get how insane this is. That’s addiction, my friends. And besides, if the love for our children was the answer, then all we need to do is encourage all addicts to start families! Problem solved, no? Oh, that’s right – it doesn’t work like that. People lose EVERYTHING and still they drink or use. I’m witnessing a friend crash further than I ever have and she’s not even hinting at booze being anything to do with it. So along with “make babies” we can strike off most other ultimatums from the list of things that might solve the problem of addiction. Agree?
This is a key point, actually, when it comes to my sobriety. It’s worth pointing out over and over: I don’t believe the reasons why we shouldn’t drink have anything to do with it. What we need to focus on is why we feel we SHOULD. Most children can probably tell you that alcohol is harmful, just like they can tell you that smoking kills. The terrifying thing, however, is that even small children will also have a glamourised image of what drinking is and does and THAT, folks, is what needs changing. What kept me drinking was the simple fact that I believed it did something for me and although it was the negatives that were starting to outweigh my perceived positives that got me fed up with it and made me want to stop, what keeps me sober and happy today is knowing that there’d be more benefit to me eating dog poo. If I still believed there were benefits to drinking I’d feel deprived, pissed off and resentful. Actually, rephrase that: if I still believed there were benefits to drinking I would have started up again because that’s what always happened before. I think that’s the glaring difference this time – this time I deconstructed my whys and discovered the answer to each one was nothing.
Back to what Hubby or anyone else might have been able to say or do, though. Not a thing, really. However, there is something I do think made a difference: I felt safe. I knew he was there for me, I knew he supported me and I knew there was no judgment. When you feel that way, it’s possible to open up and be vulnerable. Who feels able to open yourself up if what you can expect is to feel even worse? When an addict feels judged or what have you, they clam up and off we go with the hiding and the dishonesty. Feel free to correct me if you feel I’m missing something or that I’m just getting all this wrong – I’d love to hear any views on this because let’s face it, I’m really just trying to figure all this out.
When it comes to being supportive, I’m not saying you should turn the other cheek until your head is spinning like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. Watching someone you love slowly commit suicide by addiction is heartbreaking. You have every right and reason to say “I cannot do this” and walk away – absolutely. No one can demand of you to remain in that awful position that hurts you, and it’d be more than reasonable to refuse to keep coming home to a spouse who’s drunk every day. But I’m saying that if you want the alkie you love to turn to you and confide in you and be more likely to ask for help – be the safe harbour. Nearby or on stand-by. You can still let them know their drinking upsets you and worries you. You can still say that you can’t just watch and need to distance yourself. That’s totally OK and healthy – always look after yourself. As we all know, alcoholism doesn’t just hurt the alcoholic. Ironically, I honestly feel it’d be much worse to watch Hubby or someone else that I love fight alcoholism than doing so myself. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true.
There was also another safe harbour for me in some of my friends. Cherokee was someone I confided in occasionally. She never told me she thought my drinking was OK but I suppose there’s a difference between “you deserve better than that” and “stop drinking you terrible person“. She told me it made her sad to hear what I was doing to myself. Like with Hubby, I felt safe with her and that’s why I confided in her long before I even stopped. Both of them managed a pretty perfect balance of non-judgment and honesty. Compare this to how I might have felt about going to my Dad, who is quite an opinionated straight arrow – I told him, sure, but only once I’d got sober. I did sort of expect the lecture but all I got was love and support so perhaps I misjudged him, but still – point is I felt judged and therefore kept it to myself, just like I did around everyone else. I mean, saying “I’m an alcoholic” or that other little word – “help” – is fucking hard as it is.
So I suppose it wasn’t quite so biblical as I may have initially looked at me getting sober with huge waves parting and seeing a life line. Hubby had placed life lines all around me and any which way I’d looked at any which moment, one would have appeared. I do realise that now that I’ve really thought hard about his question. There is nothing more he could have said or done. He just loved me and honoured his promise of “for poorer”. I felt safe and so was able to reach out before plunging towards a much harsher rock bottom. I felt able to reach out. His question made me realise it’s nothing to do with “sooner”. Hubby and friends like Cherokee are the reason it didn’t become “later”. Or “too late”.
What made me stop can be broken down into three things:
I’d had enough.
I felt able to reach out and ask for help.
I felt hope.
Perhaps that image in my mind of waves parting in the storm are more to do with that last bit – hope. That somehow I knew there could be a better life and I reached for it. I knew of course that those mornings I woke up hangover free I felt so good compared with a hangover – hope formed again in me when I started to see that my best friend Sauvignon Blanc was actually a lying, cheating and stealing bitch who was out to bring about my untimely demise.
Wow. This turned looooooong! Well, I had a lovely week off work and despite having lots of quality time to myself I hardly spent any time at all in front of my computer. Well. Now back to reality to sit out the last few weeks of my old job and figure out my first steps forward as I close the door on my old life.
Today I’m not going to drink.