I Am Not an Alcoholic: I’ve stopped drinking nine bottles a week. But I’m still frightened

Part four: I hate to dash other drinkers’ hopes of quitting, but this isn’t getting easier yet

This is the fourth part of a series about dependency on alcohol. You can read the first instalment here, the second here, and the third here


My mantra worked. And I was called on to repeat it many times over the course of the evening.

It is the morning after the party. I had put on a pretty dress and stuck to water.


It was a long night.

Our starters were placed in front of us as we sat down. Just as I was about to lift the spoon to my mouth I overheard someone ask, “What is this? It looks delicious.” I closed my mouth and put my spoon down. “Melon cocktail with a dash of port.”

A dash? Hardly. The melon was swimming in a pool of crimson liquid that could have filled a small wine glass.

If I had tasted the dish I would not be writing these words now. I would still be in bed only to wake up in another few hours with an excruciating headache and nausea. But much worse than those physical side effects would be a mental anguish that no amount of paracetamol would cure. Overall, the evening was very enjoyable, but it did have its challenges and I consider myself lucky this morning.

In a world of alcohol consumption, maintaining sobriety is not an easy option. And being the only sober one in a group of people is always a strange feeling

After this near miss, I decided to disclose to the person sitting next to me that I am the author of the I Am Not An Alcoholic articles. She seemed surprised. In fact, when I told her that I had spent five weeks in rehab, I’m not sure she believed me. The old attention-seeking thing. At the risk of repetition, most people don’t understand addiction and its grip on a person. She said, “Oh, I should stop drinking too.”

Why? Because you like to drink and, on occasion, overimbibe?

She then asked me to pour her a glass of wine.

“You shouldn’t ask me to do that,” I said.

Was this some sort of a test?

I handed her the bottle to pour her own wine, but she lifted her glass expectantly. I didn’t want to touch the bottle, never mind pour out wine, but I obediently poured her a glass of red wine. I had no choice. In a world of alcohol consumption, maintaining sobriety is not an easy option. And being the only sober one in a group of people is always a strange feeling. Although no one was inebriated, drinking alcohol loosens tongues and people’s voices are raised to a higher pitch. Sometimes, several people talk together not noticing that there is another person talking. After more than three hours I slipped away, only informing the hostess, so as not to spoil the party. It is hard to stay at a party for more than three hours when not drinking.

The professor said it would be a good idea to wait two years before going on holidays.

What! No way. Travel is one of my big passions. I am very lucky to get away a few times a year normally. But, with Covid, I hadn’t been away since December 2019, except for a short trip to Switzerland earlier this year. Did he really think I could wait another two years? He must be joking. I understand where he is coming from. On holidays one is freer and more relaxed with an, “anything goes attitude”. “Oh, sure, why not. What harm can one drink do?”

A lot evidently. It’s never just one drink for me.

Ignoring his advice, I am going to a European city. Like the supper invitation, I am both excited and nervous. I know there will be temptations starting from the moment I arrive. The window of six o’clock goes out the, ahem, window. The only meal without temptation will be breakfast, but lunch and dinner will have their challenges. I have weighed up the pros and cons; certainly, there will be far more temptations to drink than if I stayed at home. But if I don’t go, there will be other pleasant experiences that I would miss.

It is my decision to go, fully aware of the difficulties I may face. There will be many moments when having a drink is not on my mind. For example, when I am choosing whether to buy the Chanel classic 2.55 or go for the Chanel classic flap. I’m kidding. Actually, I believe (from research naturally) that when purchasing a Chanel bag the potential buyer is offered a glass of champagne. But seriously, there will be times when having a drink is not foremost in my mind and it is for this reason that I am going. I am looking forward to it but underneath the excitement lies the fear that – I don’t even want to write the fear. My mantra, “Think of tomorrow morning”, has to work. And it will. One friend, when I asked her, “What will I do if I take a drink?” “You’ll just stop again,” she replied without hesitation. I liked her answer. It was so non-judgmental and positive. But I don’t want to test that.

Yes, I may stop again. The question is when? A month later, a year, 10 years?

Writing these articles is a way for me to jot down my feelings around drinking and trying to achieve sobriety. It has been therapeutic for me, and if I am anything at all I am honest. And just because The Irish Times is publishing my articles, nothing has changed. Why would I lie to a piece of white paper? I hate to write this next sentence at the risk of dashing other drinkers’ hopes of quitting.

It’s not getting easier – yet.

But, on the plus side, I definitely feel better. I sleep better. I look better (so I’m told), I’m thinner (wine contains a lot of sugar and since wineries are not required legally to list sugar levels, which is the case with other alcoholic beverages, they usually don’t) and I’m saving a lot of money. If you take an average bottle of wine to be about €10 (not counting the occasional St Émilion when I tried to pretend I was a social drinker) and I was drinking minimum a bottle a night and let’s be honest here, I often went into the second bottle, then being conservative, I was probably spending €85 or €90 a week.

I saw a dress last week that I really loved, it was terribly expensive but with the above figures, I’ve already saved the price of the dress.

You can see where this is going.

Remember Statler and Waldorf (the two cantankerous men on the Muppet Show) who would start off jeering the show only to change their opinions as the applause died away? Check them out on YouTube. I’m convincing myself that I’ve already paid for the dress, I’ve just to go and pick it up. Treating oneself to a little luxury now and again is another motivational factor in staying sober. And by the way, the dress is gorgeous and, in some peculiar way, reminds me of my sobriety and not taking that first drink. When I put on the dress, I tell myself I only have it because I’m not drinking. In all honestly, I would not have bought it if I were spending €90 a week on wine.

Now the question is: how do I stop my husband from reading that last paragraph? When he asked me, “Is that a new dress?” I laughed; “What, this old thing? No, no, I’ve had it for years.” And I’m not even blushing.

I’m tired of going to bed early. I know that sounds like an oxymoron. Because of my early to bed routine, I get up early. There is a dichotomy between the racket of the alarm clock and the dawn of a new day. One is greeted with groans and swear words (well, maybe only in my case); the other, welcomed, as the first beacon of light appears in the sky with its promise of a new beginning. An uplifting picture that fills the heart with hope and goodness. Even if the rest of the day crumbles away like the embers of a fire, I have that image to hold on to and know that this too shall pass.

Tomorrow, there will be a new dawn, a new day, another new promise. As I am writing this, I’m looking at a beautiful pink and blue sky and it is so inviting I am going to step out into the garden to gaze at the new day. While I was out there, I deadheaded some azalea plants, which to my surprise had new growth this late in the season. Azaleas flower in April and May in our temperate northern hemisphere and October and November in the southern hemisphere. So, is this due to climate change? I make a mental note to feed them later to encourage this new growth.

Back to drinking, or in my case, not drinking – yet.

I stared at the glasses of red wine being raised to welcoming mouths enviously as I sipped my water

Three months of sobriety and I’m still frightened of taking that first drink. So much so that I have smelled the liquid in my glass before taking a cautious sip. The limited events I have attended since I came out of rehab have all included alcohol. Last night I went to a meeting of a club to which I belong. I was given a raffle ticket at the door. “What’s this?” I asked, confused. “It’s for a drink afterwards.” Hmm, I said to myself as I slipped the ticket into my bag. It doesn’t seem to matter where I go – I will be offered alcohol.

At the bar I ordered a tonic water with ice and lemon and handed over my ticket. I watched closely as she poured the tonic water into the glass. A woman standing beside me ordered a soda water and as she went to hand over her ticket, the barmaid said: “No, I don’t need that, it’s just for alcoholic drinks.” Someone behind me was furiously trying to get the barmaid’s attention and gently elbowing me out of his way so I couldn’t ask her why had she taken my ticket? Also, it would look like I was pernickety but I was a little uneasy wondering had she slipped in a shot of gin thinking that was what I’d asked for? I smelled the tonic water before taking a tentative sip but you know, I don’t need challenges like these.

Trying not to have a drink is enough of a challenge.

There was close to a hundred people at the meeting and judging by the glasses of wine and pints of Guinness being swayed in people’s hands, the vast majority were drinking alcohol. They don’t know how lucky they are. If only I could have a glass of wine.

I stared at the glasses of red wine being raised to welcoming mouths enviously as I sipped my water.

Yesterday, in the supermarket, I saw something I’d never seen before. A woman was drinking a glass of red wine. A staff member was holding a bottle and they were discussing its merits. The red wine in the glass caught my eye like a temptress and I can honestly say it was the first time I truly felt that I was going to drink again. I saw myself drinking that glass of red wine. I quickly moved on but the image was in my mind and it was frightening. There was a demon in my head, his voice teasing, ‘what’s wrong with one glass of red wine?’

The urge to drink was the strongest since I stopped drinking.

I tried to think of all my hard work – over in a flash if I succumbed to the temptation. I thought of tomorrow and how I would feel if I woke up drunk. It is the morning now and all temptation is gone but it was a frightening reminder of how close I am to that first glass.