I woke up to flashes of blue light and the crackle of radios. Men in navy blue shirts peered down at me—some kneeling, some not. I remember there being four of them, but I may be wrong. Coming back to consciousness, all I can recall was the firetruck, and the stern faces of strange men—men who ought not to have been ushering a bemused young woman into her apartment after she’d passed out outside, next to a glass of neat gin and a small heap of cigarette butts.
I mention the above scene in my recent memoir, and it’s one incident among many that, in hindsight, are acutely alarming, from any reader’s perspective. While the book isn’t necessarily about my addiction, per se, I touch on it frequently—the everyday vertigo, the slurred soliloquies, and the excessive day-drinking, for example—and did so with a chilling irreverence that shocks me to reflect back on.
Worse yet, there is far, far more to the story of my alcoholism than I mention within the book. I do not use the word “alcoholism” lightly, by the way—that’s just exactly what it is. The collateral speaks for itself: broken relationships, physical and figurative scars, and several brushes—if not full-pelt collisions—with rock bottom.
And so, a month after offering this story to the world, I decided to get off the sauce for good. Or, at the very least, for the foreseeable future.
I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating how and why my relationship with alcohol went from rendering occasional, mildly amusing mishaps to something as sinister—and, ultimately, life-threatening—as it did. Growing up in England, I come from a family of fairly heavy drinkers, and a culture in which binge-drinking is the norm. That said, aside from the odd tipple of champagne with celebratory meals, I didn’t really start drinking until I was eighteen and legal, and trotted off to university. Sure, I got sloshed at a few friends’ parties here and there, but drinking didn’t actively become a part of my life until undergrad, when my friends and I would traipse the cobbled streets of Exeter—high heels in hand—until the small hours of the morning, on school nights. And even then, while I got into some interesting escapades, it was rarely problematic: I met my deadlines, I maintained my grades, and I was altogether a very harmless SUI.
So no, it wasn’t as a generic, rum-and-coke-swigging student that alcohol became a foe. Having mulled on it, I can pinpoint exactly where the capital-P Problem started. It was a little over five years ago, shortly after I first moved to the U.S. During the thumb-twiddling life slump in which I hadn’t yet received my green card, I’d hit the apex of my eating disorder. While my ex went off to win bread early every morning (and rarely came back before dark), I wendled my way into a wretched state of self-loathing and personal inadequacy, and I purged daily. He had no idea; truth be told, no-one did. But, with my sister and my brother-in-law on their way to stay in our small apartment for the festive season, I knew it wouldn’t be feasible for me to hide my intimate relationship with the inner rim of toilet bowls, what with us all in such close proximity.
So I vowed not to purge for the duration of the visit. The prospect was terrifying. I had become so dependent on my destructive form of release—and was so deeply afraid of gaining weight—that I was, quite simply, sick with worry.
The solution? Drink.
And so drink I did. I started replacing food with alcohol, and it worked—worked, that is, to the mind of someone quite mentally unwell. As such, I replaced purging with alcohol. I had found my loophole, and I loved it. Thus began an extremely abusive love affair that lasted for several years.
I drank wine for dinner, and I drank wine for dessert. After my ex went to bed in the evenings, I would stay up drinking wine and chain smoking. Social events made me tense, so I’d drink the nerves away, and then I’d continue drinking after I got home. I was drunk at my ex’s homecoming ceremony from his first deployment. I was drunk throughout every major holiday, every vacation, and even for the first (and only) baby shower I’ve ever thrown.
It’s just who I am, I would think. I’m British. It’s what we do. I’m just the adorable British girl who drinks too much. I’m not hurting anyone. I hold my alcohol well. People can’t tell if I’m drunk. I’m good at this.
In 2018, I discovered hard liquor, and simultaneously took a sharp nosedive for the worse. Over the course of several months, the relationship between my ex and I had rapidly become a proverbial dead horse that we were progressively less and less interested in flogging—but it was in a whiskey stupor that I sealed the deal, and I cheated on him. My drinking continued spiralling at that point, and I went from having the odd drunken outburst to being virtually intolerable to live with.
After we split up and I was left to my own devices, I was drinking half a bottle of whiskey a night. Relaxing, I called it. Downtime, I called it. Coping, I called it—although it’s hard to see how the whiskey was helping me relax, unwind, or cope, when I think back to all the tearful nights I spent sorting through our possessions and blubbering into a Solo cup full of Bulleit bourbon.
From there, it was pure self-sabotage. I was so ashamed of myself, so aware of the whispers in our community, and so frightened of the uncertain future that lay ahead of me that I sought comfort in the one thing that—I thought—had never let me down. But boy, did my liquid lover do me dirty—and I was too pig-headed, too full of obstinate affection for it, to recognize this.
When I face-planted in the sand outside my house, giving myself a black eye, I continued drinking anyway. When I passed out in places that were not my bed—on the kitchen counter, outside a public pool, in a public restroom, or on my doorstep—I continued drinking anyway. When I lost entire chunks of conversations with dates because I’d blacked out, I continued drinking anyway. When I woke up to unidentifiable bruises and scrapes and muscle aches, I continued drinking anyway. Even when the bulimia began to rear its head in my life again—at this point, only when I was so drunk I’d needed to eat to soak up the alcohol—I continued drinking anyway. And despite the escalating negative side-effects, I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it up.
There was a strange paradox to my drinking that I don’t yet have the gift of retrospect to analyze. On the one hand, I drank because sucking myself back into a black hole of drunkenness was an easy way of avoiding the deep-rooted loneliness that I faced at the end of every work day. On the other hand, in company, I drank because I needed an “out,” and the solace of bourbon and my own bed had an unparalleled allure when I was surrounded by people I didn’t know how to comfortably interact with.
Some people had no idea I had a problem. Some people did. And a few—not a great many, but certainly enough— implored me to seek help. Every time, I said I would. And every time, I would inevitably ignore them and continue drinking anyway.
The day after I received the first copies of my hastily-written memoir, I started drinking margaritas at 10 a.m., and I decided to read the whole book back to myself from cover to cover. I hadn’t actually looked at it, save for a few chapter readings, since making the final edits—so as I read it through, I saw that that whole thing was addled with references to my addiction. A night that felt like hell. A bit of a hellish night. I drank too much whiskey. I drank too much gin.
Later that night, way past the point that I can actually recall, I took a very short video of myself in which I was mumbling something incoherent and, for a split second, involuntarily pulled a face that will forever haunt me. For a flash, in that video, I looked irrevocably demonic. It’s a face I’ve never seen myself make, nor was I even aware I was capable of making.
When I found the video on my camera roll the next day, I decided that enough was enough. While I’d batted away the advice and the pleas from well-meaning friends and family for years, it was those few frames that clinched it for me. There was no way that a girl capable of making such an expression was a happy individual. So I decided to get sober—and indefinitely, at that.
While this choice is very much still in its infancy stage, the difference I’ve noticed in a short space of time is all the impetus I need to maintain the willpower to continue. In an odd way, the quarantine has presented me an opportunity to enter a state of self-isolated rehab—a time without the pressure of work, socializing, and all the triggering happy hours that were, in part at least, avenues on my internal flow chart leading to the result, “have a drink.” And then—because the hallmark of my drinking has never, ever been moderation—“have five more drinks.”
In the past few weeks, I’ve grown far more at ease with living in my own space, creating my own structure, and plodding from dawn to dusk without significant human interaction than I ever thought possible. I don’t mean for this to be misconstrued as a bad thing—it was, frankly, something I needed to develop a solid handle on before I could (or can) move forward into a healthy relationship with the world at large.
Once life begins to shuffle back into a rhythm of normality, whenever that may be, I know that there’ll be an ample amount of obstacles ahead. Parties, brunches, dinner plans, and—dare I say it—dates. It’s daunting to think that I’ll have to pose the “Hey, I’m attempting sobriety, please let that be” disclaimer to my friends before gatherings, or have the “I’m a recovering alcoholic, but other than that, I’m pretty rad” chat with anyone I’m actually interested in dating.
But daunting doesn’t mean that it’s not worthy of doing. I’ve shifted focus on the media I consume to contain empowering messages from so-called “quit lit,” and Internet support groups, all of which say the same thing: a small amount of shame isn’t worth a relapse. As such, I’m willing to risk (and nix) relationships with people who can’t understand how important it is that a girl who sunk low enough that she was awakened by a team of EMTs must never, ever put herself in that situation again. The sad truth is, unfortunately, that some of us homo sapiens aren’t naturally armed with the propensity to Go Moderate and then Go Home Like A Regular Person. And I am one of those people.
I’ve rediscovered a lot about myself in this short period of time, but the best—and most enduring—lesson is that, for the first time in almost a decade, I actually like Sober Amy. I like her a heck of a lot, actually. Sober Amy wakes up before the sun rises and gets everything on her to-do list done before 10 a.m. Sober Amy enjoys food, and naps, and spends entire afternoons getting lost in good books. Sober Amy is witty, and polite, and creative. Sober Amy is also much, much happier.
Drunk Amy, on the other hand, is a loose canon, and I am very, very, very glad not to be granting her permission to misfire her way through my life any time soon.
And I shall be toasting a hot-chocolatey cheers to that, when I fall asleep in the right place again tonight.