Booze-Free, Meat-Free and Trauma-Free (well, getting there).
The thing with substance abuse is it’s not talked about enough, well that’s not entirely true, the sleazy greasy tabloids like nothing better than deploying the propaganda machine and making their blue pill swallowing readers into believing the only reason we have a serious substance abuse problem is because of the homeless. We are bullied into these lines of thought by the bias of the media and the consequence is people just don’t want to talk about it.
It’s been exactly 3 years to the hour since I woke up from a 3-day booze bender. It started on Christmas Day 2018, I had gone round to my sisters and had a lovely feast and after a few hours, I left. On the walk home I felt incredibly lonely, it hurt physically. I actively chose the route that had the most off licence/newsagents, correctly assuming that many of them were open on Christmas Day. I went into maybe 3 of 4, buying a little bit in each as I was self-conscious about buying it all in one shop. I got home, I took Flash out for a good hour or so before settling in on my sofa, with the blinds closed. Flash under one arm and a bottle of red under the other. Being Human was still on Netflix at the time, and at the time I had watched that show so often I could probably act out 70% of it on my own, but it was comforting so on it went. Season 1, Episode 1.
Over the next 3 days, I only went out to walk Flash or to stock up on booze. I barely ate anything other than what was easy to just stuff in my face, and when I woke up on 29th December 2018 my mouth was dry, my head was throbbing, and I had watched all 5 seasons.
This latest dip in mental health had started when I finally went no contact with my dad. He is a narcissist and was emotionally abusive through manipulation and neglect. He taught my sisters and me that no matter how hard we try we will never, ever be good enough. Any time we did achieve something he had decided was important for us to do, the goalposts would be moved. Once my long-term relationship ended (with another narc because unfortunately, we tend to date people who are like our parents whether they are good or bad) I moved away and my strength, confidence very slowly started to grow. I started telling my dad about the things he did that upset me. For example, when he would visit, the only thing I would know is he was visiting on a specific day. I would ask him for an ETA but would never get one, and each time he visited he would arrive at a different time during the day so I could never just guess. So not knowing when he would arrive, I would feel the need to get myself dressed and ready and Flash walked as early as possible because if he arrived and I wasn’t ready to go (and by the way Flash was never allowed to come with us), he would make me feel guilty and gaslight me into believing that I was just disorganised. When I would ask him, by explaining that it helps me organise stuff if I know when he is coming, he will just tell me that I don’t need to know that kind of thing to be organised.
I had, 6 months before this ended a friendship with another narcissist. The only reason I finally realised what he was really like was when he started to say nasty things about my then-boyfriend. In my warped mind of not valuing myself enough, it was ok when he was being an absolute cock to me, but the second he started acting like that toward the man I loved then that was that. I suddenly started casting my mind back to incidents of his behaviour towards me and realised he had to go.
So in the 6 months that followed, I started seeing this same thing in my dad. His powers were waning, it was like I had followed the white rabbit to the nightclub and Carrie Ann Moss was talking to me about Morpheus. I finally had enough when my dad texted me, and before opening it I immediately thought ‘what the fuck does this man want now?’ the same thought I had had with my former friend - light bulb moment. The reason I mention this is because I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was setting things in motion to pave the way for my sobriety.
You see substance abuse is often a symptom of a deeper issue either stemming from trauma and/or undiagnosed mental health. We can’t cope with what is happening to us, sociologically and/or psychologically and so we reach for the first thing that makes us feel better. Whether that’s comfort eating, chain-smoking, boozing or drugs. By the time we realise we have a problem with our substance(s) of choice, we are afraid to reach out because of the negative reaction we might get so we suffer in silence. We tend to know we need to quit a very long time before we do, and that interim is often just us trying to muster up enough courage to face the thing we have been running from for years.
When I went no contact with my dad it was like I had finally stopped running. I had finally accepted that my dad was never going to be the dad I wanted or deserved no matter how long I waited around for him. I turned to face the demons expecting them to be giant and terrifying but there was nothing there. Just a long dark road filled with empty booze bottles.
Then my brain started drip-feeding me the memories I had suppressed. So instead of having this mighty battle where I would come away exhausted but victorious, I was being slowly drained of blood by the leaches of my suppressed memories.
At the time I had been working at an events company, as always, I decided that this was the career I wanted (even though I knew it wasn’t) and tried to focus on this and do my very best but at the time my very best was showing up for work on time with clean clothes on. Anything beyond this was a sheer miracle. When my probation period was up the end of probation interview was also my final five minutes in the company. They had reduced their events programme and therefore could no longer justify two Operations executives and the lady that had started a couple of weeks after I did was significantly better at the job than I was, and that was that.
The third, and the final blow was the break-up of my relationship. We had been together for two and a half years and because at the time of getting together I was still in that mindset of desperately wanting to be loved and truly believing that being in a relationship will make me happy I overlooked a lot of stuff. I want to be clear here, the stuff I overlooked was not him being a bad person. For the first time in my life, I had unwittingly come across a decent bloke. The stuff I overlooked was how different we were emotionally. It was like we were both desperately trying to communicate with one another on the emotional level but spoke two different languages and whilst we got by for a little while on guesswork, in the end, it wasn’t enough. We split and it broke my heart because even though deep down I knew it was the right decision for us to have made, he was (and still is) the only man that loved me for me, without an agenda, without expecting anything in return. Whilst to him this is just how normal people treat each other for me it was a revelation that I didn’t need to do or be better just to get conditional acceptance.
By the time Christmas rolled around I was struggling, not only was I drinking every night but the wine wasn’t strong enough and so I had moved to the Port. I was a mess, but still, the leaches kept on sucking. When I woke up, exactly 3 years ago feeling hazy and horrible my mind immediately went to the usual fantasy. I would muddle through the morning, hoping that walking Flash would sober me up a little bit (enough to help me walk to the shop to buy more booze), and fantasize about the best version of myself, me I would be in 2/5/10 years. This fantasy would last me usually long enough to be sat back down on my sofa cradling Flash and a fresh bottle of red but this time it was different.
My fantasy was interrupted by a small voice inside my head that immediately said ‘but, you are still here. You have been dreaming about this better version of yourself for the best part of 2 decades. Where is she?’ It floored me. And that was that, as Einstein once said (and Being Human also quoted in Season 5) ‘the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’ I knew I had to quit booze, and so I did.
I hid this behind the challenge, I challenged myself to a third Brighton marathon and if I was to get marathon ready, I would also need to get fit and healthy on the inside, so I went on the sugar detox after a colleague at the events company did it for a month and raved about it. Plus, you weren’t allowed to drink alcohol on this detox, so it was a neat way of hiding my true intention without ever having to explain myself.
I surpassed my original goals, I became healthier mentally and physically and I ran Brighton Marathon but along the way, new goals have emerged, and my journey has evolved. I’m now in University, I will graduate with a BA in Criminology when I am 42 years old. I have run 3 marathons and a half marathon since setting the OG goal of one, and I have signed up for my first ultra (Essex100), where I will start with a modest 32 miler, I will have just turned 40 when I run this.
Waking up this morning, I went for a run in the rain (my favourite kind, when it’s raining so hard that my Garmin tries to tell me my activity was a swim and not a run), and it was maybe 5 miles in when I realised the date, my anniversary. I stopped (and paused my Garmin…. obviously) and balled my eyes out. For the first time I woke up after a bender and didn’t fantasise about the future me, the best version of myself was the time it happened and not because a fairy godmother waved her magic wand but because I finally the penny dropped.
No one was going to save me, because that was always, always my job.