100 Days Without Booze: Dealing with Grief and Confronting Past Regrets
Today is day 56. To be honest, it just gets easier and easier not drinking. I barely think about booze these days or crave a glass of wine. I don’t envy others drinking, even after a busy week of 12 hour days at school. All I look forward to is a lie in, a cuddle with my dog and husband, and waking up refreshed without a hangover.
Friends and family ask me if I will go back to drinking and, quite honestly, I currently believe that I will drink less than a quarter of what I used to. I will want a glass of champagne at my mum’s birthday in November, I will want to try the wine when I visit my sister and her family in Chile at Christmas, but apart from that...I am not keen to going back to binge drinking at weekends for the sake of it, just because we haven’t got the imagination to do anything else to unwind. I know that I can go to pubs and parties and still have fun without guzzling wine like I’m on death row. I have come to realise that it is the company that I keep that has me in stitches and causes me to relax and feel like myself, not the alcohol. And in the past, alcohol has caused me a lot of problems, so why would I welcome it with open arms back into my life? Like a toxic ex boyfriend, I will stay friends with alcohol, but I won’t take it to bed with me.
One of the best things about being sober is having the time, and headspace, to read several books. I have been reading a lot of Quit-Lit and I am finding it really interesting to read about other people’s struggles with alcohol, to understand what causes people to have an unhealthy relationship with drink. Is it genetic? Or are we merely a product of our environment? Although I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic, and I have never attended AA or needed rehab, I definitely see parallels between my story and the stories that I have been reading. I do believe alcohol dependence and abuse is a spectrum and that everybody is on it to some degree, and that it’s a very slippery slope. And that certain events in life can make that slope even more slippery.
The best Quit-Lit book I have read since starting my challenge is Dry by Augusten Burroughs, a brilliant writer who is painfully honest and darkly comic. He writes about his superficial and highly stressful life in New York working in advertising, interspersed with flashbacks of his dysfunctional childhood and sexual abuse as a teenager.
Thankfully, these are not experiences I can relate to. However, when he starts to write about his friend ‘Pighead’, who he loves deeply, but who becomes sick, I found myself more and more drawn into the story. As Pighead becomes sicker and sicker, Augusten pulls away more and more, despite his friend needing him badly, Augusten instead goes to bars and buries his feelings in booze. To the immediate eye, he is behaving like a selfish dick. But the sad truth is that he can’t bare to acknowledge that he may lose his friend and be abandoned all over again.
Dealing with grief
One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t go to my godfather, Alan’s, funeral.
I was 24 and living in London, training as an actress. My dad had died suddenly, two years previous, from a heart attack. That year I had had my heart badly broken, by a fiasco of a boy in a long, grey, Withnail-esque coat and decadent habits. I was incredibly sad and drinking a lot, so much so that I was skipping rehearsals to go to the pub in the afternoon, something that, understandably, did not go down well with my tutors and fellow classmates. When my mum called me one night to tell me that Alan, my beloved godmother’s husband, had died suddenly, also from a heart attack, I could not and would not take it in.
Alan was my dad’s best friend and I had grown up with him, with our families living in Hong Kong and Cyprus together. Alan was a beautiful man, with a voice as rich and deep as a jar of treacle. He had been a model before he was a journalist and, even in his 50s, he had a thick shock of black/grey hair, legs up to his armpits, and eyes as blue as the Aegean Sea. Above all, he was kind and patient, despite having been served his own personal brand of tragedy.
Alan and Mary lost their two beautiful sons, Luke and James, within 8 years of each other. This unspeakable tragedy would have been reason enough for Alan to retreat and cease to care about the world. He did the opposite of this. When he kindly and eloquently spoke at my dad’s funeral, Alan told many stories of their shared friendship but one in particular stuck in my mind. He told everybody how, when Luke had died, Alan couldn’t find the words to express his grief. But he said, with my dad, he didn’t need to. They sat in the pub for hours, in silence, with my dad simply sitting by Alan’s side and sharing in his grief, which, in Alan’s words, “meant more than a thousand words.”
So when this wonderful man died, instead of going to pay my respects to him, I stuck my head in the sand. I didn’t want to go to his funeral. I just couldn’t take anymore sadness. I wanted to have fun and go to my friend’s birthday, get drunk, act like a child and pretend everything was fine. (Even though said friend told me I definitely should go to the funeral.) I felt like I was brimming over with sadness and looking Alan’s death in the eye would push me over the edge.
So I ‘accidentally’ missed my train on the Friday night. I royally pissed off my family and I let down my gorgeous godmother who has always been there for me, in good times and bad. Instead I went to my friend’s party, determined to have a good time. But I got pissed and silly. Getting drunk when you are forcing fun on yourself never goes well. I was like a malfunctioning Stepford wife, with a big grin on my face, but twitching and spinning out of control inside. I got so drunk that night that I passed out on the birthday girl’s friend’s sofa and woke up alone, hating myself.
I have bottled this mistake away like so many other stupid, cowardly and drunken mistakes. But over time I have made sense of it and learnt to be kind and forgiving to my younger self, just as my wise and loving godmother Mary has forgiven me. I sat in the bath the other weekend, reading Dry by Augusten Burroughs, tears rolling down my cheeks, reading how his friend Pighead died and how he had to confront his feelings of loss and just get through it somehow. And get through it sober.
You realise, as you go through life, that everybody, rich or poor, young or old, gets dealt rough cards, that it’s nothing personal, you are not ill- fated or doomed or cursed. And that what happens next is down to you, about what you do with your remaining cards. This might read as a lot of over sharing and sentimentality, but I have found honesty to be the most incredibly healing thing I can give to myself. And I have seen what happens to people when things go unsaid, problems swept under the carpet and regrets held onto. It ain’t pretty. And life’s too short. So there may be yet more honesty and soul baring on this blog, as I set about living a more honest, brave, sober and loving life. I hope you will humour me yet.