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I Am Not an Alcoholic: ‘Will you regret taking this drink?’ Yes. ‘Will it make you feel better?’ Yes

Part six: The longer I am sober, the more incentive I have to stay sober. Do I want to throw that away?

One recent cold evening I went for a walk. I didn’t take a scarf or a hat, because normally I get too hot and end up carrying them. But after 20 minutes my ears were so cold they were hurting me. I turned my gloves into mittens, by taking my fingers out of their sheaths, and tried to harness some warmth into my fingers, now numb from the cold. I decided to curtail the walk and call into a friend’s house.

As I was walking in the direction of her house, I knew that it would be tempting fate; it was during the Christmas period, a time which always involves having a drink. I could just have water but it was also coming up to 6pm (the bewitching hour), and as my friend doesn’t know I’m sober would naturally encourage me to have a glass of wine. I mulled (sorry) things over in my head, turned a corner (literally and figuratively) and braved the cold, crisp air.

I believe society’s attitude towards alcohol is changing. Not quickly, but nothing changes quickly. Change is hard, and it’s put off until it’s the right time. Which, of course, is never. There is never a good time to change, so why not pick now?

I’ve noticed that certain people (including young people) have stopped drinking, not because they have a problem but because they seek a healthier lifestyle and they don’t like how they feel the next day when they drink. There are more discussions on the airwaves about the abuse of alcohol than before, and the number of books written by professionals encouraging their readers to question their drinking and to help them to stop is phenomenal – and that’s not including the huge volume of books written by recovering addicts writing their stories. These books sell well, which shows there is an audience for them.


It’s great that there are supports to help the person wanting to quit drinking or the recovering addict who wants to stay sober, but it boils down to your own desire to quit. No books or discussions on the radio will stop you drinking if you don’t have the desire. But they can be of benefit (and hearing about former drinkers who ceased drinking and remain sober can often be inspirational) so avail of the help that’s out there.

As I was writing the above paragraph it dawned on me that I don’t use any support but maybe I should. I am still struggling. So, it was opportune that my friend (a friend I met in rehab) who lives in London came over for the weekend and suggested we meet at an AA meeting. Most people coming to Dublin for a visit go out to the pub, followed by a restaurant, drinking copious glasses of wine. We’re going to a support group. Ha ha. For the first time I didn’t feel as out of place at these meetings as I usually feel. Rachel (she wants me to use her real name – she’s chasing fame) had a lot to do with that. She goes to meetings six days a week and she believes (like all those people who attend 12-step meetings all over the globe) that they are the reason she stays sober.

I may go back next week.

Thinking about my drinking and its negative impact on me is important. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was a slave to my bottle of wine. Whenever I went to the cinema, I could only go to an early evening show and would be anxious to get home as soon as the film ended. I would lie to my friend that I too had walked and therefore couldn’t offer a lift home. The reason for this subterfuge was my hurry to get home. It was past the hour I would start drinking and the thing on my mind was that glass of wine. If a film I wanted to see only had a late showing, I would just have to miss it.

Unless an evening invitation involved alcohol, I would make excuses to avoid them. I only accepted invitations where alcohol was served. I remember the many weddings I attended with shame. Pretending to listen to a fellow guest, I would be watching the waiter trying to catch his eye. Have you tried to catch a waiter’s eye? If you have, you’ll know how difficult it is. It’s like when you’re the last party in the restaurant and it’s two o’clock in the morning and they’re trying to catch your eye. Impossible, as by this stage, eyes are cloudy, perhaps bloodshot, and peripheral vision is impaired.

At the reception, while the wedding party are having their photographs taken, guests are not supposed to drink the bar dry and most guests don’t, they happily sip one, maybe two glasses while waiting for the meal. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that category, quaffing four or five glasses greedily. The last wedding I attended before achieving sobriety was in March 2022, and the wine waiters had me earmarked as the demon guest; “avoid the one in the navy dress with the pearl buttons,” as they moved circuitously around the room to avoid me. I feel my face flush with embarrassment even today. I didn’t like it when I had to pretend that I was like everyone else; drinking what was considered sociable and sipping slowly, raising my glass to my mouth after several minutes from the last time. I wasn’t any good at that. It is surprising to me how nobody saw through me.

More than six months sober but I’m not congratulating myself. It brings up mixed feelings. I feel like I’ve come so far down a path that I can’t go back. There are times (not many, but still enough to be concerned) when I almost regret giving up alcohol. This happens when the urge to drink is strong and immediate and the voice in my head is telling me: “go on, have a drink, you’ve been sober for six months. You’re cured, you’ve proven you have discipline”. That I will succumb to that loud and insistent voice is my daily fear and I do everything in my willpower not to agree with the voice. I go to my notebook where I have written down several questions.

Do you really want that drink?


Will one drink be enough?


Will you regret taking this drink?


Will taking this drink make you feel better?


Really? For how long?

Until tomorrow morning when I wake up.

And how will you feel then?

Awful in every sense; physically and mentally. I will hate myself.

If these six questions are not enough to drown out the persistent voice, then I may have to physically do something; exercise being a good option. It’s at these times when my sobriety feels like a prison sentence; I can never have a drink again. But this thinking is not helpful and that is why the AA motto is: ‘Today I won’t have a drink, tomorrow I will decide whether to or not.’ I raise this thought because every person contemplating giving up alcohol will, at some stage, think of a future without alcohol and this thought will be so overwhelming that they will feel what’s the point?

Trust me you will feel better on many levels. I mentioned before that when I was in rehab, I believed that in 12 months I could relearn to drink socially. But I know that’s like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s not true. I suppose I told myself that because the alternative was too awful to contemplate.

I need to understand that this is my reality. Okay, it’s best not to dwell on that fact but nevertheless, it’s also a good idea not to lose track of what my drinking was like and how easy, with the passage of time, to forget how bad my drinking was but important to remember it as it was. Looking in the mirror in the morning; eyes full of guilt and shame staring back at me; promising myself that I won’t drink again yet knowing that’s a promise I can’t keep; the thumping head, the dizziness and awful nausea. Then those evenings when I snuck out to the shop to buy a bottle of wine just before ten o’clock on a Monday or Tuesday. How embarrassing. Those are the memories I need to associate with drinking. It was out of my control. My mantra “think of tomorrow morning” has successfully kept me sober.

One day I came home from shopping; it was almost six o’clock. My son, who was visiting, was cooking dinner and was surprised when I put on the kettle and had a cup of tea and a chocolate snack. He said, “Mum, don’t eat now, dinner will be ready in an hour”. I said my desire for a glass of wine was so strong that I needed a sugar hit. He understood.

I’ve imagined the scenario where I yield to temptation. I could have a drink today. Nobody would know. But what would I do when the bottle was finished? Open another bottle? I believe now, I have another mantra; “think of how many months I’ve been sober. Do I want to throw that away?” The longer I am sober, the more incentive I have to stay sober. Does that make sense? Writing these essays is a great motivator. If I fall off the wagon, I would feel that I’d let other people down not to mention myself. And then there is you, the reader, who may be concerned about your drinking and thinking of quitting or have already quit and are struggling. If I fail, I feel that I will have let not just myself down but you too.

If I can stay sober, maybe you can too.