Alcohol was always a readily available option for me. A substance that initially was shrouded in an adult veil, obscure and intriguing to me in my early teens. Yearning to feel different from the inexplicable emptiness, unhappiness and fear, I was immediately flirtatious with the intoxicating affects of drinking alcohol. I recall finding a bottle of an aniseed flavoured liqueur belonging to my parents, I was about fifteen years old. I started taking big swigs of it whenever I was home alone. Enough to feel the surge of warmth envelop me both physically and emotionally. I cried with intensity, an emotional eruption of teenage angst and relief. I suppose it’s that permission and opportunity to let go that I was always pursuing as my alcoholism progressively worsened.
Availability. I drank mostly at home, accompanied by radio, television and the internet for awareness of what was happening in the outside world. Isolation had eroded my social capabilities to the extent I was awkward at social gatherings and events. If I did find myself at a function I was automatically drawn to where the drinks were served. Elbow propped on the bar, the first three pints sunk like a cartoon character, glug, glug, glug, and relax, now I can actually enjoy want’s going on.
I have always known where I can acquire alcohol. The Off-Licence (UK), Liquor Store (US) was somewhere I frequented often in various conditions ranging from articulate and well dressed to incoherent and dishevelled. I was never turned away from the rows of beautifully presented bottles and cans of poison.
According to research by Alcohol Research UK, 2014, 85% of post (zip) codes from the centre are within 500 metres of an alcohol outlet. In addition to this astounding statistic, the most deprived areas had three times more outlets within walking distance than the most affluent areas. This would suggest that my alcoholism was definitely influenced and ultimately exacerbated by the endless supply of cheap, strong alcohol flooded into vulnerable areas with less opportunities and education. It saddens and vexes me greatly that as an alcoholic I had to endure continued suffering whilst unscrupulous businesses profited. I’ve never heard of somebody cracking a tin of 9% strong lager or cider open to have with their evening meal! These beverages aren’t palatable, they contribute to and perpetuate the issue of alcoholism.
Regulated, but at what cost? Personally I was never interested in drugs as I’m a snob when it comes to my drug of choice. I got a satisfying experience of elation and oblivion from alcohol. The thought of buying something that wasn’t regulated and ingesting it was too perilous in my mind. The insanity of alcoholism had convinced me that I was safe drinking huge amounts of alcohol because ‘other people drank more than me’, ‘they wouldn’t sell it if it was dangerous’, and ‘I deserved to have a drink after working hard all week’.
Alcohol costs the NHS £3.5 billion a year, 3.6% of its annual budget (HSCIC, 2016). In contrast the alcohol industry (production and sale) was worth £46 billion to the UK economy in 2014. This accounted for 2.5% of GDP and 3.7% of all consumer spending according to the IAS. I feel like my suffering was acceptable in a society where profit is put before principle and alcoholism is stigmatised as a choice that can be changed like the flick of a light switch. I am not against people enjoying the affects of alcohol, however I do object to the willful supply of an inexpensive potent product that perpetuates the suffering of those afflicted with the disease of alcoholism.
Socially acceptable. I had many excuses to drink in the madness of alcoholism and not one reason. I recall when a friend’s parent had passed away suddenly. I attended the funeral and afterwards the inevitable drinking binge happened. My friend was back in work the following week whilst I was into the second week of continuous alcohol abuse ‘grieving’ for my friend’s loss and anguish. Disingenuous and pious sentiment mixed with self loathing, who said alcoholics don’t know how to have a good time? I drank to celebrate, commiserate and everything in between.
Before I found sanctuary in AA I feared where drinking would take me once I had begun. Unfortunately, just as drinking was a readily available option to me in my youth, I discovered that stopping wasn’t as accessible. “I don’t do hangovers” I would say to people in a defiant way that tried to justify the excessive drive to drink more and more. Free bars, promotions and deals make most people’s eyes light up with glee but I would be dry retching over the basin in coming days, filled with fear and shame but still regularly dragging my arse to the off licence. I can’t drink like a gentleman, I’ve tried and failed miserably every time. As the Big Book suggests, changing drinks from whiskey to brandy or the the times we drink from evenings to weekends, or where we keep alcohol, whether it’s never in the home or always in the drinks cabinet; none of that worked for me because I am powerless over alcohol and my life becomes unmanageable when I drink.
I tell people I don’t drink when asked what would I like. Sometimes this can become somewhat confrontational as it may cause offence to somebody being insistent. I’ve learnt to empower myself by ensuring I attend regular meetings. When I am with like minded people I receive an empathetic and authentic view that is absorbed into my persona as a person in recovery. Identifying positively with the acceptance of my alcoholism enables me to be assertive in situations that used to threaten my well being. Bowing to peer pressure, manipulation, stress, anxiety i.e. people, places, situations can be overcome through peer support, psychotherapy, group work, spirituality and continued 12 step self reflection. Recovery from alcoholism progressively improves my life on a daily basis. Gratitude comes from what I know will happen if I was to ever drink again. One day at a time I get a daily reprieve. Let go, let God.