When I was little, I loved to bake. Whenever it was a family member’s birthday, I'd set my alarm and creep downstairs to bake a cake in secret while the birds stirred and everyone else slept soundly upstairs.
For my grandpa’s birthday one year, I remember getting up at 5am to make him a chocolate peppermint cake, two layers of chocolate sponge sandwiched together with a bright green cream, and decorated with big chocolate buttons.
I only turned on the television for a few specific shows: Anne of Green Gables, The Waltons, and Dynasty. Otherwise my head was buried in a book or I'd be writing a story. I had hundreds of notepads all over the house, filled with my scribblings.
I genuinely loved doing my homework, too. Learning was both challenging and rewarding, and I liked stretching my intellectual capabilities. I even taught myself Italian at the age of eight.
When I started to drink alcohol in my teens, all of the above changed.
I stopped baking, I lost all interest in food and the associated pleasures of baking and then eating cake with friends, or tucking in to a hearty Sunday dinner with family.
I drifted away from reading books and writing, my ambition to become a writer dwindling in to a far-flung pipedream of my youth, and replaced by a vacuum devoid of all aspirations (other than than to get drunk).
The closeness I once had with my family and childhood friends petered into civility, a series of polite exchanges in-between my drunken shenanigans. I withdrew in to a world of drinking and nightclubs, bad relationships and a slowly decreasing self-awareness.
Despite the wonderful and much-wanted arrival of my eldest daughter when I was in my early twenties, I spent the vast majority of my adult life, prior to two years ago, doing much the same thing: binge drinking, hating myself for it, drinking some more, doing nothing creative, hitting way below my potential in every aspect of my existence, drinking, drinking, drinking.
I had no hobbies or goals or self esteem. Life was a bland, featureless stretch of booze, hangovers and lack of any thing. I was constantly uninspired and flat.
And then I stopped drinking. Just like that, overnight, I’d had enough. Enough of the remorse and the physical ills, and my inability to be the good parent that I wanted to be.
In becoming teetotal, I rediscovered my childhood self, and found that the hobbies and interests I enjoyed as a little girl were still there, bubbling under the surface, choked by years of binge drinking, but ready and able all the same to pop back up in to the sunlight.
I found my passion for cooking and baking again and have spent many a happy hour rustling up dinner or some sweet creation with my daughter. I started to read books once more, no longer so drunk that I couldn’t make out the words at bedtime, and have reminded myself of the joy of getting lost in the alternative universe that a brilliant book provides.
I started a business with my friend and partner; I began to write a blog, the writing of which is now one of my favorite pastimes. I picked up running again, and have entered a 10k race which takes place in early December. I got engaged and had a second daughter, the apple of my and my family’s eye.
Drinking suffocated my very being, my ability to be the person who I was born to be. It took me twenty years to remove the blinkers, but finally they have gone and the world has opened up once more, revealing itself to be the proverbial oyster that lay hidden in the darkness for all those years I wasted on alcohol.
But I’m not bitter; I just appreciate my life nowadays all the more for having spent two decades of it merely existing, rather than living.