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I Am Not an Alcoholic: ‘Despite drinking so much sparkling water, I lost my sparkle before the end of the meal’

Part 13: The novelty of being sober is long gone

Being sober for 13 months (as I am as of today) is different from being sober for 13 days.

At 13 days, it is something new. A novelty. There is a sense of: I can do this. And novelties trigger the release of dopamine which enhances our mood.

For example, at the start of the pandemic, many people responded to lock down (the first time) with a sense of excitement because it was a novelty. There was a purpose to it. Novelties help to sustain good intentions.

Until they wear off.


They have a short shelf-life; a best before date. When a novelty becomes a quotidian occurrence, we became bored by it. The same thing that had initially buoyed up our enthusiasm quickly becomes anathema to us.

At 13 months, the novelty of being sober is long gone.

I have started to wonder is there such a thing as an addictive personality. In other words, is one born with it or does one’s environment play a role?

Instead, a lot of time has been invested. It is now who I am, a non-drinker – I feel I must add here – for now. It sounds too self-assured and self-satisfied to say I’m a non-drinker. It’s almost like boasting. I can’t really be a non-drinker until I no longer desire alcohol and that day has not yet come and, if I want to remain a non-drinker, I have to accept the fact that day will never come. The physical dependence may have ceased but the psychological dependency is still there.

I hadn’t realised how many people in the Arts world have battled alcoholism. But is this really true? Or are we just knowledgeable because they are well-known and we hear about them? Perhaps there are just as many doctors, lawyers, carpenters, teachers, plumbers and judges who struggle with alcohol. I believe there are. We don’t hear about them because they’re not famous. So, perhaps it’s a misnomer to say that people in the Arts world are challenged by alcohol dependency. The judge and the plumber are just as likely to be challenged, but nobody knows it.

And the perennial question: Does alcohol enhance creativity? Or even, is there a connection? Alcohol is a psychoactive drug which impairs cognitive function and decreases motivation. So, if these two processes are not working to their full potential it would seem anything produced at this time is compromised.

I have started to wonder is there such a thing as an addictive personality. In other words, is one born with it or does one’s environment play a role?

My father drank a lot. Nowadays, he would be labelled an alcoholic – back then he was just someone who likes his pint – oh – and his whiskey. In other words, ‘a sociable man’. He was a rugby fan and belonged to a rugby club; a place not known for temperance.

I saw my mother set the table every night for five people. I would wonder why? He rarely came home to eat his dinner. I have lost count of the number of nights my mother would put his dinner in the oven because he hadn’t come home. The next morning, I watched as she removed the charred remains of what had been his dinner and throw it into the bin. I remember thinking why had she bothered? Even as she was cooking his dinner, I would wonder what was the point? If I knew it was a waste of time and he wouldn’t be home, did she not?

The following day, the repeating pattern would continue.

I got a text from Rachel, my friend in London saying she was coming over and was going to go to an AA meeting and would I join her? Regular readers know of my discomfort of going to AA meetings, but I decided to go to see her and, you never know, I may gain something from the experience.

I thought if I attained a year’s sobriety, I would feel elated at such an achievement. But I didn’t

As I sat down, feeling out of place, I looked at my phone only to discover that she wasn’t able to come. I could not suddenly walk out of the room. Fortunately, another friend was also coming to meet Rachel and, thankfully, she did turn up.

At AA meetings, one person shares their story with the group. Coincidentally, the person who shared her story that day had been sober for the same length of time as me, and it was interesting to hear her say that on the day she was one year sober, she too didn’t feel great. It was just another day.

Last year I thought if I attained a year’s sobriety, I would feel elated at such an achievement. But I didn’t. It was just another day for me too. So, it was interesting she felt the same. She also said she found life very tough, but if she were drinking, things would be so much worse. That is exactly how I feel. Life is hard and, at times, difficult to manage, but trying to navigate that path while drunk would be so much harder.

She also spoke of how – once you get over the initial shock of surrendering yourself – rehab can be a place of refuge where stress and temptation are eliminated and kind people have your best interest at heart.

Where in the outside world can you attain that?

I was in agreement with everything she said. So, it’s strange that I should feel out of place. Am I shy? Is that it?

It is also true that once you leave rehab you are on your own. That is an unfortunate truth. Yes, there are counsellors, psychologists, et cetera, who will see you once a month or whenever, but essentially, you are on your own. I watched a programme where the following lines occurred:

‘But you don’t understand, I had a traumatic childhood.’

‘What age are you now?’

‘I’m 28.’

‘Well, get over it, you’re an adult now.’

I laughed because it was funny and kind of true. A traumatic childhood doesn’t go away when one becomes an adult. It would be great if, the minute one turns 18 years, all the trauma disappears but it doesn’t. That’s when the real work begins. But there is an element of truth in; ‘well, get over it, you’re an adult now.’ Because adulthood means taking responsibility and behaving accordingly. If you behave badly, you will be judged as an adult not as a traumatised child.

A friend texted me when she read my last article and questioned me as to why I didn’t feel great at reaching a year’s sobriety?

I went to afternoon tea... it was curious to see that those who availed of the champagne made it last almost the duration of time we were there

She said; ‘Maybe you should praise myself more,’ and added, ‘it really is a great achievement to stop an addictive substance from controlling you’. She also mentioned the fact that I never took a drink on the retreat when, every night (and at lunchtime too) both red and white wine were in abundance on the table. When I look at it like this in black and white, it does seem something one could take pride in but I don’t.

Trying to find a reason to explain my lack of a sense of achievement, all I can come up with is the constant fear that I may have a drink tomorrow, or next week, or sometime, and then it will all have been for nothing. This fear eclipses any of the pride I might feel. There can be no comfort knowing I haven’t had a drink in 13 months when that fear is ever-present.

I went for afternoon tea recently. I know, it’s an extravagance but it’s such a nice thing to do once in a blue moon. Nowadays, a glass of champagne is also offered for a little (a lot) extra cost. It was curious to see that those who availed of the champagne made it last almost for the duration of the two hours we were there. I was flabbergasted. Mine would have been gone in, oh, I don’t know, 10 minutes and I would have wanted at least two more. I have never sipped a glass.

I always drank alcohol like it was a glass of water. Straight down.

My first wedding as a non-drinker. No need for the game of cat and mouse between the waiter and me. Now I can enjoy chatting to fellow guests without looking over their shoulders trying to attract the attention of someone who has quickly identified me as the person who can’t control her drinking and is feverishly trying to avoid me. Strangely, this time the waiters were always in my eye-line. Where were you guys when I was drinking? I used to have to practically trip up a waiter to get their attention. Now, they were buzzing around me like flies.

For the first time, I didn’t mind not drinking at the reception. Standing around at the reception can be tiring and drinking too much wine doesn’t help.

It was only when we sat down at the table that I would have loved to be able to drink wine. Not only was the temptation there, but it was served to me on a silver platter. A waiter, without asking me, filled my wine glass with white wine. For a second, I looked at the golden nectar and I won’t lie, it beckoned me. I was in party mood everyone was in good form. It would have been so easy to pick up the glass but a voice inside my head said: ‘Think of tomorrow morning.’ It was a moment of madness and it didn’t make sense to lose my sobriety for a moment of madness.

I quickly passed the glass to my neighbour who, despite already having two glasses in front of him, readily accepted my glass. ‘Are you not drinking?’ he asked in a shocked tone. ‘Sure, this will help to keep the thirst at bay, ha ha,’ he guffawed.

Weddings are long days and not drinking when everyone else is can be difficult.

Eventually, the questions arise as it is noticed that I am not drinking.

“Do you not drink?”

“Did you never drink?”

“How long since you last took a drink?”

“Why don’t you drink?”

The last question is the hardest to answer. Before I think of what to say, they usually answer the question themselves. ‘Ah, is it for health reasons?’ I smile sweetly.

If someone asks me an awkward question, I often wait a few seconds before answering. The person inevitably supplies an answer to which you can nod sagely.

But it was hard to be at the wedding for so long and watch as everyone else partook of alcohol while I just drank sparkling water.

Despite drinking so much sparkling water, I lost my sparkle before the end of the meal.

“Oh, I shouldn’t, but it’s such a nice wine I’ll just have one more.’

“No, thank you I’ve had enough, no really, I have. Oh, all right then just a tincture.’

‘No, thank you, that was definitely my last,’ says the person covering her glass with her hand.

Until it wasn’t.

The above three examples are verbatim exchanges I was amused to overhear at a recent lunch.

Little persuasion was necessary to change their mind. I can remember being that person.

What will they think of next? I was in a shop last week and thought my eyes were deceiving me. There on prominent display were ‘Wined Up’ candles. Yes, they exist and they come in upcycled wine bottles. Their fragrances are styled on popular wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio but if you prefer red wine, you can have Merlot or Pinot Noir.

So, if you not drinking wine, you need not miss out, you can still have the scent. They advertise that these candles smell so real, you’ll reach out for the real thing. Hmmm. Maybe they should come with a government warning.

Personally, I believe these candles are a novelty and, like all novelties, will disappear as quickly as they appeared.