This was in The Telegraph in December and much like Xmas can be a flash point for relationships (like a husband walking out) so can Valentine’s Day so this article felt appropriate for today.
Champagne used to be the highlight of my Christmas, but this year I raised a glass of non-alcoholic wine – something I never thought would happen. I used to believe that alcohol helped me cope with a difficult marriage; now I think it kept me there.
My husband was unfaithful for eight years. I felt worthless. I was taking antidepressants, knocking them back with a bottle of wine every day. We worked in the same law firm, but he struggled and was asked to leave. I became the main breadwinner. I thought if I tried hard enough, it would be all right.
I was desperate to save our marriage. I’d always taken alcohol a little bit further than my friends. It was the means by which I was able to feel confident in social situations. The first time I drank, I got drunk. I was 15 and it was at a friend’s party. Her mother was ladling out home-made punch – I thought it was fruit juice.
You kid yourself it’s fine because you’re not sitting on a street corner. I’d entertain friends; the wine would flow and flow, and once I started I couldn’t stop. The next day friends would say, ‘I’ve got a serious hangover.’ Not me. The more I drank, the more I was able to drink. Four years ago, after 26 years, my husband left.
After the divorce, I gained two stone. I could drink a bottle and a half of wine a night. My personal trainer said, ‘All the exercise in the world won’t help if you drink all those calories every night.’ She was right. I was frightened about my health, but I couldn’t stop.
My son had always liked that I was good fun, but that changed last summer. He lives in New York, had recently got engaged, and invited me to hear him sing solo in his choir. I flew out from London, and went out with a friend the night before the concert.
The next day I went to the wrong concert hall, and missed it. I claimed it wasn’t because I was drunk. He replied, ‘But you were. All you want to do is drink all day.’ I felt deeply ashamed. The turning point was when I went away with him, his fiancée and her parents, and I could see that he was on edge in case I drank. I thought: enough.
I had the details of a counsellor who offered a cognitive behavioural therapy-based programme for women worried about their drinking, but I hadn’t contacted her because that would mean I was an alcoholic. When I rang, she said, ‘You’ve done the hardest thing, and now it will be fine.’
She changed the way I see alcohol. I started asking, ‘Would this situation have been better or worse with alcohol?’ Giving up had always felt like deprivation but I realised that everything I’ve regretted, from staying too long in a miserable marriage to upsetting my son, was because of drinking.
Recently, I attended his wedding. People said, ‘Why don’t you have a glass of champagne?’ I said, ‘I could. But I don’t need it any more. I’m having a great life without it.’
If booze has become your bad lover – maybe it’s time to kick him into touch too? 🙂