When you mention the word “alcoholic,” the first image that comes to mind is often that of an old man sitting on a park bench, wearing fingerless gloves and swigging whiskey from a brown paper bag.
But alcoholics come in all shapes and sizes.
Even in the depths of my addiction, “alcoholic” was never a word anyone would have used to describe me.
Intelligent? Yes. Talented? Yes. Funny? Yes. Bit of a party animal? Oh yes, but certainly not the dreaded A word.
The problem is that prejudices and stereotypes mean that young alcoholics like me are silently slipping under the societal radar, hiding behind various guises.
In fact it was only when I graduated from University that I was finally able to admit I had a problem.
Before then I just thought that my uncontrollable drinking was typical student behaviour.
“I’ll grow out of it one day,” I thought, “When I’ve got a full-time job and responsibilities I won’t have time to drink!”
Little did I know that for a true alcoholic, such logic and rational thinking simply doesn’t apply.
One year ago I woke up in hospital with a throbbing headache and little memory of how I’d come to be there.
“Had a big one last night did you?” asked the nurse, in a tone that was somewhere between amused and condescending.
I nodded solemnly and made a hasty retreat home. This wasn’t the first time I’d had a blackout but thankfully it was the last.
I later realised I’d suffered a concussion and it took me a solid two days to recover from the mother of all hangovers.
That night I’d gone to the pub alone to celebrate passing an exam. I was doing a post-grad journalism course and since it was quite intense none of my fellow students had the energy to party.
But I was always up for a drink. I texted a few other friends to see if they were free to join me but even when it was clear I’d be “celebrating” on my own that didn’t stop me.
After all, I’d done this before. I used to go on what I termed “solo bar crawls,” that is passing from bar to bar, drinking by myself and talking to whoever would listen.
To my mind this definitely wasn’t alcoholic behaviour. I was just sampling the best that Manchester’s nightlife had to offer.
I was a feminist pioneer; a young single woman exercising her right to paint the town red, albeit on her own.
I was in complete denial and under the absurd illusion that leaving university meant my drinking had taken on a new air of sophistication and class.
I would no longer swig red wine from the bottle at house parties and howl tunelessly along to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."
Oh no, now I was going to sip my wine at the bar, appearing mysterious and aloof whilst I waited for a handsome dark stranger to come and talk to me.
In reality what happened was that I swayed from one place to another, foisting myself on unsuspecting groups of people who just wanted to be left alone and ended up soliciting free drinks from fellow alcoholics.
That morning when I woke up in hospital I felt so ashamed of myself. I just wanted to disappear under my duvet and never surface again.
I was a worthless human being who didn’t deserve kindness. I was complete and utter scum of the earth.
This was my turning point.
That morning I admitted that couldn’t go on. I’d had too many mornings like this.
Too many times I’d blacked out and woken up in strangers’ beds. Too many times I’d had to ring work and feign food poisoning.
Too many times I’d woken up with inexplicable bruises. Too many tragic tales that I’d tried to spin into funny anecdotes.
I wasn’t laughing anymore.
I felt broken and weak. This wasn't the first time I’d ended up in hospital due to drinking, or even the first time I’d fallen and had a concussion. I wouldn’t even say this was my rock bottom; that was long past.
But this time something was different. A little voice inside my head said “you need help” and I was finally ready to listen.
So the next thing I did was ring the Alcoholics’ Anonymous helpline and find out where my nearest meeting was.
I’ve done a parachute jump, performed live gigs and accidentally driven the wrong way up a dual carriageway, but walking into one of those rooms for the first time was hands down the scariest moment of my life.
I didn’t want to be there. “I’m too young for this,” I thought. “Surely I can’t be an alcoholic at the age of 22?”
I felt like my life was basically over.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After a few meetings I realised that I had a lot more in common with my fellow AA members than I cared to admit.
Even though I’d never lost a job, crashed a car, ended up homeless, or suffered a miserable divorce, I could see that these were all things I had yet to experience.
It was like looking into my own crystal ball and clearly seeing the terrible fate which would befall me if I carried on drinking.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sobriety isn’t easy.
I learnt the hard way that I could never again frequent a nightclub with crap techno music and a sticky floor.
My tolerance for intoxicated, bumbling guys who spilt their drinks over me quickly diminished.
When I did the washing up, I found myself inhaling the vapours of my housemates’ half empty glasses of wine like some pitiful glue-sniffer.
I had to turn down social invitations.
But eventually life sans alcohol became full, bright and dare I say it—beautiful.
I didn’t miss the hangovers or the anxiety of not remembering the night before.
I didn’t have to let people down or indulge in meaningless one-night stands.
My life wasn’t in constant chaos.
Now that I’m one year sober I can safely say that I don’t miss drinking one bit.
Alcoholism crept up on me, slowly chaining me to a life of misery and pain.
But now I’m free and I fully intend to keep it that way.
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