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When, Why And How Alcohol Snared Me

Remembering and understanding the mistakes that created my three-decade-long struggle with alcohol.

By Against The DreamPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
Image created by the author using the DALL.E generative AI tool

The when.

My when was early. Far too early. One afternoon, when I was fourteen, I sneaked into woodland with a school friend and some cans of Guinness. It was the eighties. In Britain, kids could buy booze easily. Shopkeepers and landlords would take your pocket money and casually turn a blind eye.

I remember my nervous anticipation. I don’t think this was my first taste of alcohol, but it was definitely the first time I got drunk. There was no peer pressure. I was curious, sensation-seeking and more than ready to experiment.

The why.

In hindsight, I had no idea how stressed, anxious and exhausted I was at this age. Good or bad, any sustained experience eventually feels normal and having nothing to compare it with, I couldn’t gain a bigger perspective. I can’t ever remember feeling relaxed and happy as a kid. When people describe carefree, idyllic childhoods as the best years of their life, I can’t relate.

I’ve always felt awkward, anxious, alienated and confused. People have never made sense to me. Their mysterious, unwritten social rules must have been in some instruction book I’d never received. As early as primary school, I had bewildering experiences with my teachers and peers. By middle school, the first bullying began.

It was also around this time that my mum got ill. She had her first stroke. I remember standing beside her hospital bed, terrified she was going to die and devastated that she couldn’t recognise me. She recovered and came home, but it kept happening. Once, she collapsed when I was alone with her. I was petrified.

Many harsh lessons on uncertainty came early in my life. My dad was made redundant when I was still in primary school. I remember asking, ‘Daddy, are we poor now?’ This, combined with the bullying and serious parental illness, could be summed up as follows.

Life is unpredictable; people can be shit, and those who love you can be struck down at a moment’s notice.

After struggling through middle school, I dreaded my grim, graffiti-scarred comprehensive. I’d lost hope of passing as ‘normal’ and retreated into myself, trying to go unnoticed. Hyper-vigilant anxiety was ever-present, and nothing felt solid or reliable. Without recognising it, I was exhausted and desperate not to feel the way I did. Or to feel anything, actually. And so, in this troubled, unstable mindset, I entered the woods that day.

The how.

I remember not liking the taste, but I drank it anyway. It was during the first can that the warming numbness crept in. My stomach and jaw relaxed, and with a long, deep breath, my shoulders dropped. I didn’t know it was possible to feel so relaxed.

Carefree and giggly, I broke into a massive smile. I didn’t smile much back then. The outside world and my inner chatter had gone suddenly and blissfully quiet. I fell madly in love with this new fuzzy, boozy blanket around me. Existence had become less loud, bright, confusing and up in my face.

I felt like I’d discovered something profoundly important. I was convinced I’d found the secret key to making life manageable. Then I had probably the most unfortunate thought of my life, and I’ve had a few of those.

If I can always feel like this, then life will be alright, and even if it’s crap, I’ll feel too good to care.

It makes me sad to write this. Then, I had no idea how dangerous that thought was. I didn’t understand the toxic seed it had planted in my young mind. I wish I could go back and explain what I was setting myself up for. But would I have listened? Probably not. I have nothing but love and compassion for that struggling teenage me. I know that she couldn’t have thought any other way back then.

By assigning problem-solving capabilities to alcohol, I laid the first bait for my trap. I now understand that alcohol worsens anxiety and depression and can never be an effective coping mechanism. Its illusion of relief is short-lived, and withdrawal leaves us worse off than where we started. Learning better ways to cope with challenging feelings is a vital part of recovery.

Long-term repetition is another way I became addicted to alcohol. For the rest of my teens, through college and university, and into my twenties, I leaned heavily on alcohol. My early career was in the hard-working, hard-drinking dotcom culture in London. It was the ladette nineties, and I dived head-first into seemingly endless pints of beer.

Alcohol was a constant through my thirties. I switched from beer to wine and drank more at home, but it was still too much and too often. I finally began to question my drinking when I turned forty. After another eight years of trying and failing to moderate or quit, my last drink was on December 25th 2021.

Now, at 48 years old and 11 months sober, I’m able to condense this whole story into one short paragraph:

I started drinking alcohol too early. I convinced myself it could solve my problems, and I drank enough, often enough, and for long enough to become addicted.

In hindsight, this unfortunate combination of factors sounds so simple, but it’s taken me decades to piece it together. I’m grateful that I did, though. In addiction recovery, self-awareness can be a powerful tool. My understanding came too late to prevent my addiction. But knowing my when, why, and how stops me from stumbling into the same old traps again.

Could identifying your own when, why, and how help your recovery process?


About the Creator

Against The Dream

I create articles, comic strips and poetry on addiction recovery, neurodiversity, introversion and other general nerdery.

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