09 August 2020
I’ve always worried what people think about me. I shouldn’t, I know, but I do. It’s funny, because it’s taken me until recently to see that what people see isn’t necessarily what I expect them to see.
So, a few weeks ago I was talking to one of the guys who works with us about how things can go wrong. It was a totally innocent conversation which started around the subject of machinery but ended up with him telling me how he had discovered an old coworker was drinking on the job. He clearly didn’t know about my history, because if he did, he wouldn’t have been speaking the way he was. He’s a lovely guy, so I know he didn’t mean anything against me. He told me how the other person’s behaviour changed every day after lunch and that it became more noticeable the more time he worked with them. The behaviour got worse and his attitude snappier. My colleague was increasingly worried and one day heard a noise like the clinking of glass from his rucksack. I believe at this point it was decided that a confrontation was needed and it turned out the person was drinking three bottles of wine over the course of the afternoon, two at lunchtime and one throughout the remainder of the day. My colleague was shocked at how much the other person was drinking. I on the other hand could relate, because although I’d never drank in the day, and certainly not at work, it was a similar amount to what I used to drink.
I’m so used to assuming people think the worst of me because of my drinking, so it was really lovely to see that it isn’t actually that obvious to people I haven’t told. I don’t generally tell people I work with. Well, one knows because he was there when I was struggling and I didn’t want him to think I was nuts. I felt it was fair to tell him, but I don’t like to broadcast it. Apparently though, and to my surprise, it isn’t actually something that everyone sees.
Another thing I used to be very self conscious about was my recycling. I hated the noise it made when the men tipped it into the van early on a Monday morning. In the end I used to take it to a recycling bank so it was quieter and more discreet. Recently, both Lee and I have spoken to one set of our neighbours separately. On both occasions we were invited to the pub with them. I told them I didn’t drink, but they didn’t really take me seriously. I think they thought I meant I didn’t drink a lot. I tried to convince them, but I didn’t want it to be weird and I didn’t want to say why, which in hindsight seems silly. When Lee was invited he said the same and although I wasn’t there, I was told they laughed and said we put out a lot of glass recycling for people who don’t drink. Now, they were probably joking but it touched a little nerve with me. It’s funny to think before when I put out a lot of recycling and was self conscious, no one noticed and now I don’t drink, and ironically, seldom put glass out, people think I do.
I know I tell all of you who read this about everything, but I don’t feel the need to advertise it to everyone else. A lot of people still don’t understand, and so this isn’t for them. My addiction took over and defined me for a long time. It’s nice to feel that it doesn’t anymore. It’s made me who I am, or at least contributed to it, and in some ways looking back I’m glad. It’s been a funny and difficult few years, but I’d rather be the person I am now than the person I was then any day!
Years ago I lost contact with some of my family. It was at a time when I was particularly low. I’d fallen out with several members of the family and I was trying to work it out, but it was hard. I felt lost and misunderstood, but then it was probably hard for people to understand as I’d kept the full extent of both my drinking problem and my attempts at recovery fairly close to my chest. While opening up might have gained me a little more understanding, I was terrified of judgment, or of being told to pull myself together.
The majority of my family have always enjoyed a few drinks, I’m not saying that is a problem, it’s just hard to say that I was different as I felt a bit like the black sheep, a little bit odd. And it’s hard to make yourself heard when slowing down, or only drinking at special occasions just isn’t an option. Making the decision to get sober was the right one for me, but perhaps difficult to understand for those who hadn’t seen the whole, bigger picture.
I thought it was easier to bury my head in the sand. I’m quite good at that when it comes to problems. I’ll have a go at fixing something and then, if it’s too hard, or looks impossible, I just put it out of my mind, in a little box, and then for the most part, I can forget about it. I’ve always thought it’s odd I can do that, when I suffer from such bad anxiety most of the time, but I do seem to be able to partition certain things. Of course there’s always triggers that open the box and make me remember, and then I circle on memories for longer than I’d like, but I always seem able to repack that box and put it away again.
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past five or six years, folding up thoughts and packing them away. The thing is, it doesn’t really work, and for people like me, even though there might not be an actual worry, there’s a kind of buzzing in my mind that I can’t put my finger on. It felt out of my power to sort it, and yet it was there fizzling away in the background making me feel uneasy. I had run out of ideas to fix it myself, and was scared of being shot down. So I stopped trying and things got worse. Or maybe not worse, but they didn’t get better, and that was sad, but I didn’t know what else to do.
Sometimes things come to a head and you can decide to leave them, or to do what you can. It would have been easier to avoid the situation again. It wouldn’t have caused me any worry, but it also wouldn’t have changed anything, so I tried, and it was reciprocated and I am glad. For something that wasn’t worrying me, it’s amazing how it can feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Families are funny old things, but they are often the closest people we have in the world. Times can be hard, and things challenging, but it’s probably worth trying to work through things where you can. Especially now, in the midst of a global pandemic. Things change on a daily basis, and it’s best, at least where we can, to live without regrets. So don’t put things off if you have a chance to do something, because putting yourself out there is always better than wishing you had.
I was told about an event in the news where several deaths had been linked to drinking hand sanitiser. One comment to me was that it was strange, but my reaction was why? If someone has an addiction and can’t drink, then it is likely that they might try to obtain the feeling elsewhere. When I said that, I was told yes, that perhaps they couldn’t get cheap cider. I was a bit shocked to hear that and again wonder if it was because I kept up such a charade that even those close to me didn’t see how bad I was? It is such a stereotype to assume alcoholics only drink a certain drink, although it reinforces the feelings we have that we are okay, because drinking wine (or whatever our personal choice is) is more normal and socially acceptable.
Stereotypes make it harder to seek help and to admit we have a problem. It’s hard enough to face anyway but when you don’t fit the so called expectation of an ‘alcoholic’ it’s even worse. I was so good at keeping up appearances that it took me a long time to admit and address my problem. I find it strange now though, that my struggles seems somewhat forgotten due to the fact that I’m now ‘fixed’. Others tell me to move on from it, but how can I when it is something that played such a big part in who I am? Not drinking may not be a daily battle anymore but I do have triggers and I have to be aware. Complacency could put me back right where I was before.
When I was at the worst point of my dependency I saw my doctor. She was non-judgemental and understanding, not because she had experienced what I had, but because she had worked on hospital wards specialising in addiction and recovery. She told me they’d had to remove the hand sanitisers back then due to people drinking them. I was surprised, even in the state I’d been in, I can’t imagine ever going that far, white wine (and lots of it), was my vice.
Due to it’s high alcohol content hand sanitiser can be used as a means to get intoxicated. It seems that in many prisons before the pandemic, hand sanitiser was banned due not only to the possibility of it being drunk, but also the fact that it could be used as a fire starter. In one case in New Mexico, three people died and one was permanently blinded from drinking something that is designed to protect us from disease. In India, ten people who suffered from a dependency died although many others were hospitalised. It seems that they made their own substance using hand sanitiser as the local shops selling alcohol were closed during lockdown. After a quick google search, I’ve found other cases too, including some in the USA.
I am so grateful for my sobriety right now. I couldn’t imagine going through lockdown and the stress of coronavirus with additional worry of a lack of alcohol. I can’t imagine how I would have been able to keep up with supplying my demand either with the limits on shopping, and it would have made everything so much worse.
It is very easy to look in from the outside and judge others, as I’ve said, I can’t imagine ever drinking hand sanitiser, but who knows what lengths any of us would go to if the need was that great? We can’t always do the ‘right’ thing. Especially when we are dependent on a substance.
It’s a sad old world when people are literally dying for a drink, but when those that need something for a physical or mental dependency can’t get it, I can see why they’d need to try other means to satisfy their need.
So, moving on… It is something I’m trying to do, but, I’m not going to forget, because sad as it is to hear about incidents like these, it reminds me how far I’ve come, and how lucky I am. As I’ve said before, if I can do it, anyone can.
Thanks for reading,