I often wonder why it took me 20 years of heavy and frequent binge drinking to realize that I was poisoning my body and mind every time I downed a glass of wine.
Alcohol always seemed to be my ally, something to get me through the good times and the bad. I associated it with champagne in restaurants, red wine with meals, a cold beer on a hot day with friends in the garden.
I never blamed booze for anything. The problems in my life were always due to something else: an unscrupulous boyfriend, an unreasonable boss, a too-busy schedule that meant I deserved that relaxing bottle of wine each evening.
Today I inhabit a different world, a sober one, and I see the whole business of alcohol consumption differently.
Here’s what I think of my erstwhile friend, booze, after almost two years of shunning it in favor of a healthy and happy existence:
Alcohol erodes your body’s natural ability to cope with difficulties in life, thus causing anxiety.
I’ll give you an example.
I married my eldest daughter’s father when I was 23 years old, and divorced him four years later. Being a single parent made me anxious. Losing my husband to another woman caused me hurt. Feeling as though I had somehow failed in life destroyed my self esteem.
In the aftermath of my marriage breakdown, my emotions never had a chance to erupt, because I didn’t cry or shout. I drank.
Alcohol disrupted my central nervous system, which had the following physical effects: lack of concentration, drop in blood sugar, changes to my serotonin levels, which in turn caused mood swings, and an increased heart rate which often resulted in palpitations.
Hangovers became worse and worse, because my nerves were growing more accustomed to the booze in my system. Thus each morning when my body had finally dispelled of the poison I had subjected it to the night before, I experienced withdrawls. My nerves constantly had to readjust to life without the drug, which made me feel sicker and sicker, and more and more anxious.
Instead of renting chick flicks and stuffing my face with ice cream for a few months, I opened and drank a bottle of wine each night. I never embarked upon a grieving process in order to understand and work through the breakdown of my marriage, and the subsequent single parenthood I now faced.
Effectively I herded up all those sad thoughts, shoved them into a box and pretended I did not have them. This had the effect of freezing my emotional maturity and causing me to suffer from a myriad of relationship-related anxieties which came to the fore every time I became involved with a new man.
The relationships were consequently short-lived, and destructive. Weary of my low self-esteem and insecurity, the man in question would ultimately walk.
My dabbling with these disastrous romantic encounters added to my, by now, tragically low self confidence. I hated myself and believed that I was worthless. The only way to ignore these terrible thoughts was to get so out of my mind that they disappeared, at least for a few hours.
Alcohol gave me an escape route from me, and I grabbed it with both hands.
Each day became a few hours of mindless, but necessary, banality, important to battle through so that I could get to the wine at the other end. Up and down, up and down; life became a rollercoaster of emotional ineptitude, pinned together by an increasingly weak sense of who I was and where I was heading.
But here’s a funny thing: I never, not for one moment, believed that alcohol was doing me any harm.
I stopped drinking alcohol almost two years ago. Month after month, my self esteem has grown back to what it was previously, before I began to drink every night. My central nervous system has had a chance to recover from the battering I subjected it to for 20 years, and the panic attacks that I had thought were just "the way I was" stopped, almost overnight.
Now that I'm no longer waking up, having to deal with the repercussions of my drunken stupidity the night before, I've learned to trust myself again and discover the things that I wanted to achieve in life, to find out about the sort of person who I am.
I cried a bit about things that have happened in the past: my marriage breakdown, family bereavements, not always being the mother I should have been to my eldest daughter, due to the fact that booze was often more of a priority than parenting. Crying has helped me move on and develop my emotional being.
If you are a heavy drinker, then you are, without a doubt, causing yourself untold harm – I don’t just mean the increased risk of cancer and the beer belly and the depleted finances. I mean harm to your soul. You are preventing yourself from growing in to the real you.
You're capping your potential as an employee, a parent, a partner; you are unable to know who you really are, and what you truly want out of life; your anxieties will get the better of you and prevent you from moving forwards, testing new ground; you will get stuck in a rut.
And while you are drinking, you won’t recognize any of the above because of a little thing called denial. Denial will keep you in the dark, and cause you to forever remain a stranger to the real you.
That is, unless you stop boozing and give the real you a chance to emerge.