“It didn’t start with a bang. There was no real dramatic moment to speak of. No catalytic climax of events that led me to realize I had a drinking problem. I guess, just as it started, it was so many seemingly ‘little things’ that built up cumulatively. Delicate strands of barbed wire that would, over time, cut into my side and start to become more and more notably damaging.
The first lesson I learned is addiction doesn’t have a type. ‘A look.’ And there isn’t always this rock bottom you hit. Alcoholics aren’t sitting on park benches, swigging from brown paper bags covered in last nights curry sauce (asleep on a cheese butty, arse half out maybe…). We are high flying, driven, successful people, we are parents and partners. We work tirelessly to craft the life alongside all the drinking, and accommodate both with a chaser of ‘epic hangover!’ If anything, we are a little bit elite!’ A pinot ninja.’
So in my 20’s, there I was, existing on the crumbs of external validation to fuel my limping self esteem. I was badly bullied as a child and for a really long time, it felt like that was the reason why I’d feel everything so deeply, why I relied so much on what other people thought of me to feel any worth at all. I could be so crushed by the slightest of words and teased by my own critical monologue. Being that girl… was exhausting.
As the first glass of wine of an evening slipped down, I could physically feel the tension of carrying my big old bag of self loathing fall off my shoulders, and this confident girl would arrive. Drunk me – that girl had energy, she had presence and wasn’t afraid to be funny and bold. (She also had no verbal full stops, limited spacial awareness, and very rarely money for a taxi home!). But, for periods of time, she was my best friend. I could forget I was dumpy and self conscious as I strutted out to cest la vie! Pinot down, I could forget I was… well… me.
I fell into this ‘sex and the city’ romanticization, fooling myself that daytime drinking was classy (so long as you wore a blazer and drank Prosecco) and going out was simply a hard earned right of mine (as was the laying in bed until 2 p.m. the following day denying the severity of my hangover, naturally). I have a young child (6), a husband (some age around 36..ish?), a stressful career and a pretty neat house. The pressure to be perfect is epic!
The thing is, it feels somehow like we are expected to work like we don’t have children, keep our house like we don’t have jobs, socialize like we don’t have family lives… remembering to buy a card for every sodding moment of everyone else’s lives, and read bedtime stories like we’re auditioning for Mrs Doubtfire. All the while, social media is pushing flawless faces of successful working mothers right up our nose reminding us of the impossible standards we should be meeting. Oh and then theres these memes:
Well, this bodged lifestyle worked for me for a solid 10 years. The best days of my life are nestled tightly into those 10 years. But among them are so many lost memories of treasured moments I was too drunk to remember, peppered with embarrassing situations, and of ruined evenings where I’d start an argument over the most ridiculous topic (I kid you not, one of the biggest arguments I’ve had with my husband is over whether Venice smells… we never have settled that one). I wasted so much time drinking myself into someone else, I forgot where sober me ended and drunk me started. I didn’t feel genuine or connected to myself anymore. I was angry so much of the time. The anxiety after drinking was growing into panic (I refuse to use the word hanxiety because if we keep mashing all our words together we may as well not bother with English at all… but maybe we could trial it with card occasions to reduce the amount of card purchasing? Happy valenteaster? #moonpiggetonit).
I needed to stop before I self destructed. Before I destroyed the very humans who have loved me through every single moment of our lives together. I needed to dip my toe into the idea that, maybe, I have to face the fact my drinking just isn’t working for me. That this lifestyle wasn’t working for me.
As I delved into the world of sobriety, scrolling through the underground world of sober Instagram, feeling more emotionally vulnerable and anxious than I’d ever felt in my life, I began to wonder, what if there is another way to feel confident and funny? What if there was a way I could actually love myself too, like these people have done, dumpy, awkward and sober as I am? What if I could find a way to unpick all that stuff that makes me feel so inferior and insecure and become a person I actually like?!
As the early days of sobriety trickled by, I found myself finding it difficult. Really, flipping difficult. ‘Oh God… I really AM an alcoholic.’ I couldn’t get thoughts of drink out of my head. I couldn’t imagine a life where I wouldn’t ever drink again. I sulked. I flipped to panic over future events I’d have to attend sober. I would dread going out in case I bumped into someone and they somehow ‘knew.’ Was ‘shame’ plastered all over my face like I felt it was? My anxiety was monumental. I felt naked and tearful.
I began some therapy with one of the best therapists I’ve ever met, therapy that would go on to change my life for good. For the first time in my life, it felt like someone saw how together but how broken I was. She knew I had all the tools I needed, but no clue how to use them. Together, we did just that and I’ll be forever grateful to her for that.
Alongside this therapy, my absolute world of a husband and the monumental support I got from the sober Instagram community, I started to find confidence. For the first time in my life, I felt actual self worth.
One year on… I’m completely teetotal still. Most days, I don’t think about drink at all. I actually thrive on being sober. I feel genuine happiness I hadn’t felt for years, my marriage and family life is the best it’s ever been, and you know what, I found that self love I was searching for. My inner narrative is kind and gentle. My boundaries are firm and healthy. My God guys, I think I’ve cracked life!
I am Carolyn, I’m a recovered alcoholic, and it takes absolutely nothing away from all the other incredible things I am.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carolyn Gibbins. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her counsellor here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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