Category Archives: My story

My final drinking horror

Today is the one year anniversary of my final drinking horror.  I am so glad that a year has passed since that day and that now I don’t drink it is unlikely to be repeated.  Thank f*ck.

It was a bank holiday week-end and we had been invited to lunch by a new family within our village.  It was an opportunity to get to know them and let the kids play together.  Perfect.

They were the perfect hosts and our wine glasses remained topped up all day.  It was a typically boozy British bbq – the food and company was glorious and we were having an untypical warm sunny day.  By about 7.30 I was beginning to feel worse for wear and approached MrHOF saying ‘I would like to go’.  He blew that off, not realising what a state I was close to being, and because the kids were still having a ball.

I realised that I needed to manage this and so went and passed out on their sofa.  One of the hosts found me asleep, checked that this was OK with MrHOF who said I was tired and probably needed the rest and I was left to sleep.  They woke me to get me home and again my memory of this is patchy.

Because they were local we had walked and so we needed to walk home.  I was reeling and remember cannoning off the verges and falling over many times.  I also got ‘took short’ during the journey so had to sidle off and deal with that too – in front of my kids!!  I remember crawling up the stairs on my hands and knees and passing out cold.

When I came too the next morning MrHOF and  the kids filled in the blanks and he explained that he had told the kids that Mummy was really tired and that was why I was acting funny.  I was horrified.

Why?  Because I have a similar memory from my childhood although my parent passed out in the garden in the middle of the day.  I guess because it was 9pm and I went to bed the same time as the kids they wouldn’t have thought too much more about it, or so I hope.  I remember being very scared and worried for my parent and was anxious that they were okay.  I had done the very thing I swore to myself I would never do to my own kids.

For me that was it.  I felt I had shamed myself in front of people I didn’t know and in front of my own children.  I NEVER wanted that to happen and it had and I wasn’t going to let that happen again and it hasn’t.  Not because I stopped drinking the next day  – it took another 4 months of moderating and quit attempts to finally nail it.

I saw said family again only recently, as I spent months avoiding them because of my embarrassment.  They thought that the day had been a huge success and were keen to repeat it again soon and no mention was made of my behaviour.  I am also keen again to repeat the lunch, but this time it will be done sober! 🙂

My last drunks

In the last year of my drinking there were two events that put the final nail in the coffin of my drinking career.  I’m going to talk about them in two different posts because there are lessons to be learned from both for me and they both contributed in a different way.  The final one I’ll talk about tomorrow.

The first one was in November 2012 and was a nursing re-union.  It was a 20 year post training celebratory gathering of my old student nurse colleagues back in the city where I trained.  I was on one of my moderation/quitting attempts back then and hadn’t had a drink for 6 weeks running up to it.  It was an opportunity for me to have a week-end away from small children and catch up with other close nursing friends, not from my training colleagues, at the same time.

I had to drive 4 1/2 hours to get there and grabbed a late lunch at a service station on the way down, checked into my hotel and then headed straight out at 4pm to meet another nursing friend.  She is one of my oldest and closest friends and we shared a strong drinking history together and so we started as we had left off with white wine and fags.  The re-union was at 8pm and suffice it to say that by the time it was due to start I was already sh*tfaced.  I had had nothing to eat so was drinking on an empty stomach after 6 weeks off.  Recipe for disaster.

We arrived at the re-union but by now my memory was patchy.  I remember I was very drunk, didn’t recognise people I should have done because of it, was slurring my words and really struggling to stay upright.  Said friend looked out for me, and after me, and I think she realised from the sobbing drunken mess I had become what a bad state I was in and got me into a taxi and back to the hotel.

The next morning I came too, not knowing what had happened and how I had got back to the hotel.  I texted said friend who said that I was ‘tired and emotional’ and not to worry.  I texted one of the re-union members who was kind and focused on how at least I had made the effort to attend unlike some others who lived more locally.

But I was mortified.  I hadn’t seen these people for 10-20 years.  They didn’t know any of the context to my state – 6 weeks off the booze, difficult family stuff going on, meeting and drinking pre-event.  All they had was how I presented and what a shambling drunken wreck at 8pm I must have seemed.  My shame knew no bounds.

In a recent post, linked to my CBT, I have said that I wonder if I need to do more alcohol experimentation and whether I can moderate.  This memory tells me what a joke that thought really is.  Do I really need more evidence of how that isn’t possible for me?  OK I may have worked through some of my emotional history, baggage and how it impacts on my thinking but would it really be any different?  I think we all know the answer to that one don’t we ……..

PS This time next week I’ll have run the Nike 10K and am hoping to do it in sub 1hr.  If you would like to sponsor me for this event and raise some money for Alcohol Concern then you can do so here ( http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/ahangoverfreelife).  Donations can be made anonymously and thank you in advance 🙂

 

How much did I drink?

The answer to this question would have depended on when and where I was in my drinking career.  The honest answer, that I am ashamed to admit, is anywhere between 50 and 150 units a week.  When I said in this post that I drank way more than the govt recommended guidelines here in the UK I wasn’t joking.  To provide some context 150 units is two bottles of wine a day and the alcoholics that I nursed drank anywhere between 150 and 300 units (which is just over a 1 litre bottle of 40% spirits a day) a week so I was indeed closer to their numbers than to the 14 units a week govt guidelines.

This 150 units a week peak was probably about 15 years ago in my unfettered singleton London living days where amongst my group of friends I was nowhere near the worst end of the drinking that we did.  Being able to ‘hold your drink’ and having a high tolerance was worn as a badge of honour.  These guys and gals were pro’s at the ‘dentist’s chair’

Dentist's Chair: England footballers including Teddy Sheringham were snapped playing the drinking game in a Hong Kong bar in the run-up to the Euro '96 tournament

that was popular in many of the Antipodean pubs that we frequented, because if you wanted to drink to excess and no one bat an eye then these were the place to be at that time (sorry Mrs D 😉 ).  Now you see where my no shot rule came from ……

The 50 unit number was what it was recently as I was moderating hard and that is still at the high risk end of the spectrum according to the UK guidelines (which is above 35 units a week).

I felt so sh*t after each night that, again I am ashamed to admit, that I would cycle what I drank.  So for example:

Monday: cider then red wine

Tuesday: beer then rose

Wednesday: g&t then white wine

Thursday: back to cider then red wine

Friday: as Tuesday

Saturday: sparkling wine then red wine

Sunday: as Wednesday

Yep – I managed the sickness from the hangover by not drinking the same drink the next day knowing I couldn’t stomach it 🙁

I’m not proud of this fact and I want to be honest.  And having read this post by FitFatFood I also want to say that if the number of units that you are drinking is nowhere near these numbers please do not think that this is how much you need to drink to have a problem.  However much you are drinking if it is affecting the quality of your life, stopping you living your best life how you want to live it and you think it is a problem – then it is, irrespective of what anyone else says.  No one can tell you how much or how often is too much, only you know this.

So now you probably understand why I wanted and needed to stop …….

What made it important for me?

Everyone’s reason for stopping is probably different and personal to them.  But for me the pro’s of stopping included (in order of importance):

My children.  I had grown up in a household where daily drinking was normal and I did not want to role-model that to my children.  I didn’t want them to believe that daily drinking was normal or that binge-drinking at the week-end was normal either.  I wanted them to have a more balanced and realistic understanding of alcohol than I did.

My children again.  I did not want to be a grumpy hungover parent.  I did not want them to experience inconsistent parenting that was determined by whether I had had a drink or was recovering from having a drink.

Cost.  We were spending on average £400 a month on booze.  This was not something that we could continue to afford or how we wanted to spend our money.

Health.  My liver function test is currently healthy but how much longer would it continue to be so if I continued to drink?  I felt rough much of the time because of being hungover.

Weight.  My weight was difficult to manage because of the all the ’empty’ calories I was consuming in alcohol.  I would rather eat something nice for those extra 500 calories than drink it!

Sleep.  I love my sleep and it was awful while I drank.  I craved a good nights sleep more than I craved a drink!

Exercise.  I ran a couple of times a week and this was painful if I was hungover.  I wanted to enjoy my runs not just for the health related benefits but for the experience itself.

This list is not exhaustive and I’m sure given more time I would think of a load more reasons not to drink.  What would be on your list if you wrote one?

What kept me drinking?

As I grew older drinking established itself as my favourite leisure activity plus at that time the ‘ladette‘ culture exploded here in the UK giving a perceived legitimacy to my behaviour.  As well as being a social thing that I did out in the pubs, bars and clubs it became something that you did at home – house parties, dinner parties, friends round for drinks but I also began to drink alone.  Mostly I did it because it had become a regular habit but also because I felt it helped reduce stress and aided relaxation and became my ‘go to’ coping strategy.  It became my best friend when I was lonely.  Whole days or evenings could be whiled away drinking so boredom was managed.  It became my emotional regulator, heightening a celebration or soothing a loss.  I became less able to manage every day life without the ‘reward’ or treat of a drink, or five, at the end of the day or the end of the week.

I met my husband and he was also a drinker so that just made it easier as now I had a regular drinking buddy.  Life seemed good and the party kept going.  It was during this time that I worked on a ward where, amongst other patients, I cared for alcoholics.  Now there was no denying the physical and psychological impact and effects that alcohol had and I saw first hand how deadly this supposedly ‘benign’ substance could be and was.  But many of my colleagues drank like me and none of them seemed to worry so I didn’t.  Plus it was just me and hubby so it didn’t seem to be impacting on our life or lifestyle and ironically you felt you’d earned a drink after a shift on this ward.

But we began to want different things from life and the questioning began ……

What started me drinking?

In my quest to understand my drinking behaviour I had to go right back to my teenage years and think about what got me started. Culturally it is important to begin with the fact that I am British and it is part of our history & heritage – rightly or wrongly.  Also I grew up in a family of drinkers so they and all of their friends were drinkers, and at that time smokers, so to be accepted  you drank (& smoked).

Outside of my family and culture though first and foremost I was a teenager and drinking was absolutely driven by peer pressure and the want to fit in as one of the ‘cool’ kids but also by my ‘perceived’ rite of passage to risk take and experiment.  It wasn’t really a rebellion thing, though getting served underage definitely was, as if I wanted to rebel against the expectations around me I would have not drunk or smoked.  I grew up in the second summer of love, and therefore as part of the raving scene, and for my family if you wanted to rebel then the answer was drugs.  So I did that too.

In some ways this was a good thing as many drugs we didn’t drink alcohol with, so that curbed my excesses in that arena for a bit, but as I grew older the drugs of choice changed and some were taken deliberately to prolong your ability to drink.  Interestingly I never moved beyond experimentation and recreational use with these substances and could take them or leave them much of the time.  But I suspect at that time I also viewed alcohol as a recreational indulgence and not a problem.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what kept me drinking and what moved my habit from recreational to dependency.

Edited to add: to support our cultural issues with alcohol see this brilliant article in the Guardian last Sunday.  My highlight:

And yet despite (or indeed because of) the fact that alcoholism is so widespread, we avoid confronting it. We still shrink from the idea that some human beings cannot drink safely, and that this is an illness. It sometimes appears we are getting less, not more, enlightened about alcohol abuse.

Society suffers from a sort of mass denial on the subject. Many people don’t want to admit that a real compulsion exists, I suspect for fear that this will have implications for their own drinking habits.

Unlike those who go on drinking in denial, people who put down the booze are facing up to their demons and living life without anaesthetic.  Surely we should applaud the idea of people treating their own problems by gathering in self-help groups.

Why was that?

So having thought about what kind of drinker I was I got to thinking about why that was?  I think it’s fair to say that alcohol has been a constant in my life always.  Both my parents drank, it was there every day and parties in our house were loud, alcohol fuelled and popular.  I grew up thinking drinking was ‘normal’.

When I was at college I hung out with the rugby club boys so again drinking was normal.  When I trained and worked as a nurse all the doctors and nurses I knew drank like I did.   When I worked in medical sales and marketing all the people I worked with drank like I did.  All my friends, both old and new, irrespective of which country, city or village I was living in drank like me.  My husband drank like I did.  The constant remained.

So I have to wonder whether I just happened to choose these environments and relationships to support the drinking or whether this is reflective of British society?  I don’t know the answer to that question and the only time that alcohol faded into the background was when I was pregnant and ofcourse now.

Day 45 and British society may continue to ride the booze train but this passenger has got off and couldn’t be happier 🙂

What kind of drinker was I?

I drank from the age of 17, first socially but with the odd big party where over-indulgence took place and memory was scarce.  It was when I was in my twenties and thirties that I really started to practice hard and developed a fairly hefty tolerance.  You would think being a nurse I would know better …..

My tipple’s were gin, cider and wine of any colour.  My drinking would escalate with family bereavements and grief to more than a bottle of wine a night and then settle down again.  The desire to have children and after they had arrived is when the great moderation game began.  Drinking shandy rather than cider, 1/2 a bottle only a night, not drinking on a school night, all tactics were tried.

I never drank to get plastered but learned to recognise that critical point in the evening when whether to have the next drink or not would decide the fate of the rest of the evening.  Home to bed or lots of blank tape with no way to rewind – as a good friend of mine would say.  Some nights just became ‘f**k it’ moments.

I guess I would be described in substance use service parlance as high functioning with a high bottom.  No jobs were lost and no relationships were destroyed beyond repair.  Just my sense of self-esteem and confidence draining away like the emptying of the bottles I was drinking.

But not anymore as today is day 44 of a different way of living life.  For me and my family a better way 🙂