I want to open up the issue of being a Grey Area Drinker. I’m passionate about getting society’s alcohol misuse out there for discussion and recognition by the masses. Help people to understand what is becoming a common but still hidden issue. So I’m going to try to explain how I ended up in the grey area drinker zone, and how I noticed and finally acknowledged that I had a problem. There are far worse stories out there being told, but this is mine.
I haven’t really talked in depth before about WHY I decided to give up drinking. If you’ve read some of my posts on here and on Instagram/ Facebook you’ll have got the basic picture that I wasn’t in a good place. Not at the depths of despair and rock-bottom that some have fallen victim to due to alcohol-addiction, but was I an alcoholic? You might think my story is kind of normal, almost boring. But I sure as hell wasn’t normal, and that’s what I want to put across in this post.
I’m baring my soul here, so if you’ve never been susceptible to alcohol and are likely to think the worst of me, then go someplace else. There’s no room for judgement when it comes to an individual’s reaction to what is a very addictive and poisonous substance. If you’re #sobercurious, interested in the whole sober movement, or maybe going through or have been on a similar journey, then read on.
So, how did I end up drinking too much?
The truth is that I slipped into a habit through the years without even realising. Drinking in the UK is basically a given. You all know yourself how social events and society tend to revolve around alcohol.
The Growing Up Years
As a teenager, it never even crossed my mind that there was any alternative. Why would it? All my friends drank – we all went out on a Thursday (traditionally pay day), Friday and Saturday, and the intention was always to get bladdered. Cider, snakebite, pernod and black, and all of them mixed together FFS! I’m really not sure how I survived those early days. I don’t remember much of it now …….
University years tended to be binge drinking again. Nothing wrong with 7 pints of stellar…. Did I mention I was a slim 5’7″? You’d expect the alcohol to go straight to my head but I could certainly knock it back. To an extent. I thought I was normal, but then I was always trying to keep up with the blokes. Maybe the other girls around me weren’t quite so fast and loose with their drinks. I can’t remember…. What I do remember is trying to understand why anyone would want to drink red wine. A friend tried to explain how wonderful all the different tastes were, but to me it was just vinegar. Did I listen to my body telling me it tasted horrible because it was poison?
The Young and Free Years
By the time I was in my mid 20’s, I was well into the ‘sophisticated’ nature of wine. A bottle of red wine – that was my midweek treat. Associations were forming around certain drinks for particular events. Late 20’s, real ale and wine! My (future) husband and I roamed the countryside at weekends looking for pub gardens to camp in so we could get lock-ins!
Early 30’s and I continued along in the same vein. Regular nights out, now including week days as well as weekends. Other friends around me were starting to settle down, some with families, but I was still going for it. We moved to Devon and everyone in our little village seemed to go to bed before we’d even left the pub. Looking back, they were the normal ones, but I just couldn’t see it.
Do you ever think back to certain conversations you’ve had? Those that stick in your head even years later? My bestie friend and I were talking about how much we could drink during the week, and I was shocked when she announced that she could only drink about 2 pints in an evening. “Really?!!”, I thought, “What’s wrong with you?”.
The Becoming a Mum Years
Then suddenly, IT ALL CHANGED! I got pregnant. And you know what? The most amazing thing happened – I didn’t want to drink! My body and brain connected independently to exclude what my body knew was a poison. The preggie bit was fine. In fact I’ve thought for so many years that being pregnant gave me the most fantastic sleep! Of course, only now do I realise I slept because there was no alcohol in my system to wake me in the middle of the night! And afterwards, my body tried to tell me again that it didn’t like alcohol (I hated the taste of red wine again and beer!) but that ‘voice in my head’ made me force it down. Those behaviour pathways in our brain formed by regular alcohol consumption are channelled deep. I started the cycle of being a stay at home grey area drinker.
The thing is, I never really suffered from hangovers. Not the huge debilitating ones that others seemed to have. I might get a bit fuzzy, but regular drinking never stopped me from going to work, going out, continuing on the usual daily activities. So without the hangovers, don’t you just assume your drinking is ok? I was a ‘high functioning dysfunctional drinker’. No obvious signs to others that I had an alcohol disorder.
Realising your drinking isn’t normal
Having kids you meet a whole load of new people, and not just people you’ve become friends with in the pub. Real people who don’t down 5 pints or a bottle or so every night. Some friends who never touch a drop! So now in my 40’s I’m slowly becoming aware that maybe my drinking habit isn’t normal. My husband is content to have 1 or 2 glasses of wine, or maybe a beer, and not every night. Me? I look forward to getting in from work, opening the wine and being able to ‘unwind’ once the kids are in bed. After all, I have a full time professional job and a family so I must deserve it? Yes? Of course. Don’t even think about arguing with me on that, or saying I should maybe have a night without. I’ll bite your head off.
Being a Grey Area Drinker
I can see now that that for most of my life I’d been existing in the world of being a ‘grey area drinker’. Between those at one end of the spectrum who are relatively sober and can control their drinking, and those at the other with serious medical addictions. This is the place where you sit when you drink far more than you know you should, but you can’t admit it to yourself or others. Being a grey area drinker, it means there are many different shades of which you can be dark or light. Where does alcohol consumption stop being ‘normal’ for one and a problem for another? Somewhere in this area.
Am I making any of you feel a little uncomfortable right now about how you drink? If I am then I’m certainly not going to apologise because we need to talk about this issue. Me, you, our kids, healthcare & business leaders, movie stars, recovery heroes – all of us.
What made me acknowledge I had an alcohol problem?
So when did I actually realise and acknowledge the problem? Probably late 40’s. I did attempt to talk to my doctor at one point who agreed with me that 1/2 a bottle a night was ok and not to worry about it…. You’d think that trying to broach the subject with a doctor would trigger their alarm bells. And actually nobody ever tells the truth to the doctor about how much they drink do they? Appalling. So I’d tried, but reinforced with medical advice that I was fine I continued. (I’ve changed doctors since I became sober. If you ever have that kind of reaction, don’t wait, change yours immediately.)
Here’s my probably too truthful list of what made me realise I had an alcohol problem:
1. The voice in my head wouldn’t go away. I tried to moderate but I couldn’t have a night off without a major stress crisis. And most times, I just gave in. I don’t consider myself weak willed, but addiction has ways of overcoming your will power.
2. By bestie friend’s concern. For years I’d known that she was starting to worry that I drank too much. Every now and then she would mention it, not in a pushy way, but enough to nudge my subconscious into storing those comments away.
3. If I can’t drink I don’t want to go. What do you mean we’ll be late back? How will I fit my drinking in? I’m not driving, you can. Utter selfishness to ensure I could get my fix.
4. The recycling bin. So full of wine bottles. How embarrassing? It looked like we had a major party every week, but it was just me.
5. Anger. My husband would suggest nights off and I would get anxious then angry. How dare he suggest it. I deserved it. We never argued about it but I could tell when he was disapproving or disappointed which made me even more angry. And occasional comments about how I drank too much every night whenever we were on holiday and it wasn’t nice to see…. WHAT?
The tipping point:
6. Drinking Tactics. There’s a bottle of wine out there to be drunk. Between me and husband, friends at a meal, but how can I have more of it? Perhaps if I just drink at bit faster I can get there before it runs out.. I always finished my glasses of wine so much faster than everyone else, and I wanted to fill it so many more times. No one else was doing that. Just me. Oh, sorry, I’ve had the last bit, thought you didn’t want any more….
7. Hiding my drinks. I knew my husband didn’t like to drink as much as me, and he was starting to worry. So I would drink a couple of quick glasses before he got home from work and hide the evidence. A real wake up call for me this one. Fuck.
8. Out of control Drinking. Once a trigger hit, I couldn’t stop drinking once I started. The ‘fuck it’ moment. One particular instance stands out. My bestie friend and I waited a whole year to see PJ Harvey at a festival. I got hit by a trigger that afternoon and BAM! I spent the whole gig so pissed I fell asleep standing up on a stranger’s shoulder. We tried to laugh about it afterwards but I felt such shame, regret and disappoint for her. I knew I was out of control.
9. Shameful regrets every morning. Waking up realising that yet again, I’d managed to demolish the whole of the wine and more. I stayed up late instead of going to bed just so that I could. And in the morning I would ask myself ‘Why? Why did I do that?” and not have an answer.
10. Sheer Exhaustion. I really couldn’t take anymore of the anxiety, the shame, the depression about my lack of will power. It just got too much to constantly fight. It could have gone either way. I could have just given in to drinking, but I chose to admit to myself and others close to me that I had an alcohol disorder.
So that’s me when I was drinking. If you know me does that shock you? Good, because it should do. It proves what a high functioning alcoholic can look like. I’ve never used the alcoholic word to describe my drinking habit before, but perhaps I really should.
Let’s End the Stigma around Alcohol Abuse
We need to get the message out there that alcohol can and will take over your life if you are susceptible. I didn’t choose to become addicted, and yet somehow I did. If you had known I was drinking like that would you have been disapproving? Well, probably yes, and I doubt you would have sympathised that I was falling for an addictive substance. Yet that’s what is happening to more and more people, and we need to end the stigma about alcohol misuse, and educate those who use it. The alcohol industry does the opposite. It makes alcoholic drinks look fun and cool, like you aren’t popular unless you partake. Another post subject I think for another time…..
My story today is very different. I’m so grateful I changed my drinking habits and found a new way of living. This post is dedicated to all those who’ve stuck by me through the ridiculous situations I’ve got myself into when drinking, and who’ve helped me to come through to the other side. Particularly Bestie Friend Liz and Husband Rob. xxxx
Would you like some support to Change Your Drinking Habits?
I work with my Clients through Coaching and NLP techniques to help them make better choices, and to become who they want to be. If you recognise that you ought to to rethink your current drinking habit, drop me a message or email me at email@example.com to set up a free discovery call over a virtual cuppa!