It was early July 2019, I was on annual leave, the sun was shining outside but I was sat, in the middle of my sofa balling my eyes out.
My birthday is at the end of June and this would be my first adult birthday that wasn’t focused around drinking alcohol. I hadn’t been open about my drinking, in fact quite the opposite I literally embarked on a sugar detox to avoid talking about it. When I realised that my issue is drinking in moderation, in other words having the discipline to stop drinking. I wasn’t drinking every single day and when I was drinking it was usually in the evening (I say usually because Sunday roasts….). I didn’t miss it, my body and mind didn’t crave it and once I had gotten over the initial withdrawal symptoms from long term heavy drinking, I felt great and didn’t want to stop feeling great, but the big thing was zero anxiety.
Now I knew all this, but no one else did. So, when I had told everyone I’m stopping booze for good it came as a bit of a shock. No one had a clue as to what sobriety meant for me or the reason, I was doing it, they I guess could only guess.
So, my sister, only had her own experience to draw on, she is a very different kind of drinker. She is the healthy kind. Has a beer on a weekend if she fancies it, but not always and rarely ever drinks more than one at a time because she never fancies more than one. She enjoys the taste and enjoys marking the beers she drinks out of 5 (seriously she’s got a spreadsheet and everything), but that’s where it stops. She considers a pint or a bottle of beer to be a bit of a treat and that’s all. So, decided to start looking into non-alcoholic beers so that I had something to drink as a treat when they we’re drinking, so over the course of the next few months I started experimenting with them.
I soon came to realise that they all had the same problem as fruit tea’s have. Smell delicious, taste like water with a hint of something else. Because of this my expectations are ever managed properly, and the taste is even more disappointing because you’re expecting it to be full of flavour because it smells delicious.
My mum, two sisters and their boyfriends we’re coming to my flat for a BBQ in my little garden to celebrate my birthday with me. For most of them it would be the first time they had seen me since Christmas, and therefore since before the sugar detox had even been decided upon. In other words when I was at my heaviest and mentally, I was struggling.
I never used to host many families get togethers because they always caused me so much anxiety.
I would want everything to be perfect, even though I know perfection is a myth. I would end up tying myself into so many knots about this mythological perfection that it would overwhelm me, and I would barely end up managing to do anything other than drink wine and worry about it.
So, the flat would be quite messy (because I wasn’t very good at keeping on top of it or anything else for that matter), I wouldn’t have much food and drink in for everyone and I would feel and probably seem quite withdrawn. But it was ok because my mum would usually arrive with enough food to feed a small country, as would my sisters and they would also usually bring their own drinks.
But this time was different, cleaning the flat wasn’t even on my list of things to do because it’s something I was keeping on top of generally. I had already planned out when to make things, made space in the freezer for all the vegan BBQ alternatives and I had made space in the fridge for the drinks. Instead of being stressed out, I was looking forward to them coming.
When they did, we have a lovely time.
Now, to put this in perspective, whenever we used to get together, I would be exhausted and withdrawn and mentally I just wasn’t in the room. I was off in my own world, fantasising about a future get together when I was be the better version of me, and therefore be happy generally and be enjoying myself where everything was that fabled perfect. So, I would miss the fun, the joy and just the general family stuff that was happening right in front of me.
My mum and my other sister both had the same reaction upon seeing me, which is to say ‘f**k me where is the rest of you?’ They also all arrived with enough food to feed the street. We struggled to fit it in my flat much less the kitchen. I went onto BBQ duty and got to work in cooking everything. I also got out the potato salad I had made, and my homemade coleslaw as well as the caramelised onions I had been working on all morning. I had an alcohol-free beer in the fridge, I had forgotten about it mostly and wasn’t really fussed about drinking it. By now I was over the disappointment of the lack of flavour in it and was happy enough sticking with the water. But I think my sister was keen for me to not ‘miss out’ and so I did have it. What did make me chuckle was I posted a photo of us my mum had took when I was holding the nanny state beer, and most people who saw it immediately ask if I was drinking a beer.
My mum was staying at my flat that night, so when everyone left, we took my dog out for a walk and had a proper chat, something we hadn’t done in far too long. What came out of that was a truth that I found both sad and funny at the same time. I always thought my mum brought the entire contents of Sainsbury’s with her, because that’s just what she just. Wants to make sure we all have enough to eat. It turns out however that my Mum always brought loads of food with her when I was hosting anything because I never did. In other words, she had been covering my shortfall this entire time.
She told me that when she and my sister walked into my kitchen and saw the burger baps already buttered, all the condiments out, my homemade stuff and the salad bits I was currently cutting up they shared a looked of astonishment because this evidently never happens.
This was the moment my family realised I had 100% got my shit together.
I don’t think this fact sunk in until midway through the following week, largely because I realised that it was the 1-year anniversary. Exactly a year ago I had cut ties with my dad. I kind of just sat there on my sofa suddenly feeling quite numb and then immediately overwhelmed with emotion and I just balled my eyes out for a good 10 minutes. They weren’t tears of sadness though. It was slightly to do with feeling relieved that that chapter in my life was finally over, but largely my tears were of sheer joy. I had up until now kept referring to my changes as finally letting go of my anxiety, but it was obvious, this was letting go of my dad and his influence. Slowly, over that year the contact with my mum had increased, I felt more compelled to be in contact with her. I guess because I wasn’t trying to hide anything anymore. I was just me and that was ok.
I had been going through a sort of process of unpacking my past. It’s like up until a year ago I had just been shoving it in a cupboard in no order constantly worried that the door to the cupboard would burst open and everything would fly out and suffocate me. But I had now chosen to open that cupboard and let everything fall out and was now in the process or re-organising it.
My mum and dad had been a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but mashed up. Mr Hyde, AKA my dad acted like the maniac but was manipulative and talked you into believing he in fact was the Dr, whereas my mum was made out to be the monster when in fact she never was.
It was only with the absence of the negative influence that I finally started to flourish.