Last month I wrote about feeling I had moved onwards and upwards to a new 'experienced' level of sobriety when I was asked to meet with someone struggling with their drinking. It was not to 'help' them but rather to allow them to speak openly to another who would listen and identify without judgement.
I was nervous about this. It was truly a new 'First'. I reflected back to the time when I required someone to fulfil this role for me; when I needed to talk, out loud to a real person, instead of writing and reading, surfing and blogging. I needed someone who would address the elephant in the room head on. I did not want to be fobbed off or fed excuses: 'You're no different to everyone else', 'Everyone gets drunk now and then', 'Stop worrying so much', 'You're not that bad'.
But I was and I almost needed someone to confirm that my bottle of wine per night was not normal and my concerns were rational and valid.
So I went along to meet this friend of a friend, reassuring myself that she would be more nervous than me while trying to articulate in my mind what, exactly, I was so worried about.
I was anxious on many levels. I was worried she would turn out to be my next door neighbour or someone I recognised (or worse, that she recognised me!). I was worried about what to say, how to start the conversation, which is weird as one thing I never am is stuck for words. I wondered how I would recognise her. Should I stake out the place early to spot her arriving? Should I arrive early and wait to be recognised and found by her? How would she recognise me? How would I recognise her? We had not got as far as carrying a rose with rolled up newspaper under an arm.
But I knew. I could spot the signs. My eyes were attracted to a woman in the queue, about my age. She looked nervous and agitated, slightly shifty. In a coffee shop queue? As she approached the seating area she caught my eye and I nodded. She looked shy and sheepish, as if I was about to berate her. She looked slightly sweaty, not in a post-exercise, red faced healthy kind of way but rather as if she was coming down with 'flu. (Though to be fair, this may indeed have been the case.) I wondered if she was hungover. I wondered if she felt lucky to have had wine the night before knowing that I had not. I wondered if she felt sorry for me, being 'unable' to drink, as I felt previously towards the sober population. (How could non drinker Andy Murray celebrate his first Grand Slam win properly without a drink? Such a shame. Surely that would take the shine off his victory? I honestly believed this.)
After a few preliminary opening remarks, I brought up the topic of alcohol in the way someone had once done for me. When I didn't know where to begin I was relieved when a stranger said 'Let me tell you my story' so I did the same and from that point on our conversation flowed. It sounds a little condescending, but truthfully I felt so happy I recognised everything she said and I had to stop myself from repeating 'I used to be like that', 'I used to do that', and to let her talk. It was good to be reminded of just how despairing those days were, and in her it showed. Her demeanour was one of despair. Her posture, her tone of voice and her turn of phrase were those of someone who felt lost in a maze, helpless and bewildered, unsure what strategy to try next, wondering if she would ever escape.
I had been there many times. My strategies had not worked and I was more than worried, I was a little scared I could not escape. During my last hangover I was scared that if it was not enough to stop me drinking, what ever would make it happen?
Failure was not an option.
I did not allow myself the luxury of thinking through a variety of outcomes and eventualities. I had to succeed. I did succeed. And I continue to succeed. I succeed at not having any wine, today. Simple.