I woke in the middle of the night, around about 3:30am and struggled to get back to sleep. That’s something that hasn’t happened much since I stopped drinking alcohol. It was a common feature back then. Pre and post dinner beer would make me sleepy, and all my ambition for the evening would crash out around the same time as my children would fall asleep – I would cite exhaustion as a reason for skipping out on story time – indulgent husband would indulge, and I would sleep.

At least until about 2:30 or 3. Then I would wake, plagued with remorse or guilt. Often, usually even, I didn’t have a hangover – or at least nothing I would have recognised as a hangover back then. I was so used to feeling a general low-level malaise at pretty much all times.

This is what habitual alcohol consumption does; Homer Simpson had the right of it when he called it “The Cause of, and Solution to, All Our Problems.”. It gives temporary relief from anxiety, boredom, even pain. It makes you a King in your own mind as you imaginate on all your potential and all the things you can (and totally will!) do – just … tomorrow, or next week. It fills you will love and confidence and the surety that you are loved, and that you can dance.

And then everything it gave, it takes away – with interest.

The crash is hard to bear, body aches a little (but it’s not a hangover as such, it just feels like life), mind aches a lot. You feel so very disappointed in yourself and all you’ve squandered – where the hell did all that time go? So okay, you over-indulged, but – and here’s where the Voice comes in: Alcohol is not to blame, only over-indulgence. 

I disagree now, from this safe distance (actually, not sure the distance is so “safe”, but let’s come back to that point in a while). For one thing, I reckon alcohol’s pretty much set up for over-indulging. Especially if you’ve lived a life that contains any amount of pain or discomfort, or have felt like you don’t fit, like you’re out of place, or you’re anxious and uncomfortable and you’ve never learned to really cope with that – when you spend your days enduring that sort of situation, then the sudden relief that comes with the application of alcohol is astonishing. And necessarily, it brings the fear that when it wears off, you’ll be back to banging your head off the brick wall that is life.

What we want, what always wanted to was to stay in the warm glow of the 2-drink zone. I guess I’ve claimed I drank to get drunk – not completely true. I never set out to get sloppy drunk – I wanted to get buzzed. I drank to get removed from the feelings of life the way I was currently experiencing it. Sometimes those feelings were too strong and half-a-bottle of wine wasn’t going to paint over them. Yes, even the happy feelings, the ones I was celebrating, I couldn’t bear their sharp edges and the knowledge they were going to pass and fade – within brief hours – into the mundanity of the daily grind. I had to cling to the high because I feared my ability (lack of ability, I guess) to cope with flat daily life, and with a vision of a grey “me” within it.

Somewhere along the way, that fear became the driver of my life. I got through the days in a half-panicked state (even though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time). Life became a series of pained dashes between way-stations. Oases of reprieve between pain and discomfort. I was so scared of living with any self-discomfort that I was willing to make nearly any Faustian bargain for an evening of relief, slipping into Groundhog Day living as I repeated the same mistakes over and over, just flavoured slightly differently: just wine with dinner, only on the weekend, only beer, only when we’re out, only special occasions, only … only …

But there was always a perspective that could view things as a “special occasion” and every rule could be twisted and bent, because every day was hard in some way or another.

And now?

Well, it turns out my true life wasn’t so flat and grey and yes uncomfortable, but that’s not actually so terrible. I was afraid I couldn’t cope with it, but all it took to dissolve that fear was to take the plunge. Time and again. It’s still scary, but that’s part of what makes the colours pop.

I’m not going back. But it speaks to the insidious nature of alcohol and That Voice – especially coming up to the holiday season – that I have to remind myself of that from time to time.

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