You all know by now, I am sure, the sordid details of my final drinking session back in 2011, when I downed so much booze that I conked out and was whisked off to hospital in an ambulance.
I knew, pretty much straightaway upon waking (3am, no idea where I was, A&E nurse looking at me like she'd just scraped me off the bottom of her shoe), that my efforts to drink "responsibly" had finally reached their end; that I would now be a sober person, whatever the hell that would look like... Who were those people? How could I ever be happy without alcohol? What would I do for fun? How would I ever want to go out and socialise again? Etc. Etc.
Over the years, my attitude towards alcohol and sobriety has shifted. I started off dreading the non-drinking life. Then I realised (after about 18 dry months) that I loved it and it was the best thing I had ever done. I achieved and maintained sobriety by effectively brainwashing myself that I had chosen to be sober, that not drinking was me taking charge of my life and making a healthy choice that would give me the best chance of happiness.
That was true. It is true. Not drinking means I am happy, mentally well and balanced, self-assured, fit, free from self-loathing and negativity (for the most part).
But in the last few months, I have begun to wonder once again about the dreaded word...ssshhh...addict. You see, I know now that there are many people out there for whom alcohol is not the monster it is for me. This is not just a simple case of me choosing to not drink alcohol because that's a healthy thing to do.
Me not drinking is essential if I don't want to die prematurely.
I choose to not drink alcohol because I am an addict. I have a brain that gets illuminated and disproportionately excited at the thought of alcohol. Even now, I can romanticise and begin thinking that to drink might be lovely. For a moment.
Then I remember that these thoughts, these rose-tinted thoughts, are also a part of the illness. That thoughts of moderation, minimising the awfulness of my alcohol habit, ideas of missing out and "you only live once", are all a part of the illness.
Knowing this and accepting it has helped me enormously to manage this condition. I am not someone who chooses to do Dry January because I know my liver will thank me for it and I might lose a couple of pounds.
I am a person for whom alcohol instantly grabs me the moment it passes my lips. Alcohol transforms my brain into a possessed, demonic, selfish, self-destructive and chaotic place, where nothing matters except the next drink. Nothing matters except me feeding the monster that has been woken up.
And the only way to stay safe and out of the monster's way is to abstain.
And with abstinence comes peace of mind. With abstinence comes happiness, self-esteem, positivity, connection, healthy body and mind, optimism and joy.
With abstinence comes the freedom of mind that means I can detach from drinking thoughts and know that they are just the illness, just the distant murmurs of the monster, striving for my attention, giving it another shot, seeing if he can draw me back in.
This perspective now helps me more than the idea that I am merely choosing to stay sober because it is good for me. This perspective helps remind me of the seriousness of alcohol and how it will NEVER be a good thing for me to start drinking again. This perspective effectively amounts to long-term sobriety.
And that is something I choose.