This is freedom

‘Every day is a gift’. Could I say these words as a young woman, or at any other time in my life, with the same conviction I do today? I wonder.

There were so many days, especially in my early life, when I was afraid of what would happen next, as each day progressed from morning, through the afternoon, into early evening. Anyone brought up in a drinking household will have their own understanding of this lonely experience. For me, this is how it was for three or four days out of every seven, throughout my childhood and beyond.

Having parents who abused alcohol, and an older sister who joined their club at the earliest opportunity, it was easy to feel like the odd one out, the one at fault for absorbing the impact, feeling unhappy, out of control, and afraid. 

Don’t get me wrong, they were lovely people. My family were kind and affectionate, but they were also like a closed book. They never acknowledged their difficulties with alcohol, never spoke about it, never showed remorse for their insensitive, and sometimes bizarre, behaviour under its toxic influence. 

My mother was, and still is, the light of my life. I would do anything for her and craved her company and approval. But her drinking had the biggest emotional impact on me, not least because often she didn’t seem to remember what had happened while she’d been drinking.

With no-one to talk to about the deepening insecurity and sense of abandonment I experienced at home, I became fearful of life, fearful of everything. I was afraid of going to school, afraid of coming back from school. I was afraid of social situations, of people I didn’t know, of people I did know. I was ashamed of my home life and spent precious time comparing it with the simple, safe, and predictable lives of school friends.

I dreaded coming home to an empty house, or, worse, coming home to an open front door, the record player loud and harsh. Strangers in the living room, dancing woozily with my mother, snogging my sister with greedy mouths, arguing aggressively with my dad. I cannot erase the smell of booze, fags, burnt offerings, and the sweat of strangers. 

I didn’t hold the moral high ground for long.

I began drinking alcohol when I was 17, going out to pubs and clubs with my best friend who came from a hard drinking family too. Her mum made her own wine and would allow us a few glasses while we got ready to go out. We had a lot of male friends, so we tended to join them for pints of lager after work. We could match them pint for pint. None of us seemed to have a limit. It all felt normal.  

Soon I went off to university, got married, and had kids. Priorities changed. I didn’t drink much, or often, in the early years of family life. But as soon as I went back to studying for a master’s degree, the heavy drinking resurfaced like an old friend. I got out of control on nights out, woke up not knowing where I’d been or how I got home. Divorce was inevitable but it didn’t stop me drinking. It just changed the routine. I’d stay sober, looking after the kids, go to work, keep it all together, then binge when the girls went to stay at their dad’s.

Romantic relationships were not a priority for me, even though I was lonely and depressed. I preferred my drinking buddies. I was coping, but only just. Eventually something had to give. I quit my job, got a grip again, and gradually reduced my drinking. Friends were supportive. I met a lovely guy and I wanted to keep him.  

One day, in 2001, I got a phone call from my brother, out of the blue, to say that my sister had died. She had been alcohol dependent all her adult life and, at 40, her body just gave up. My parents were devastated and for a short while they stopped drinking to be doting grandparents. Those were happy times although they didn’t last long. 

Life settled for a while. My partner and I moved to Scotland and I secured a job. But the die was cast regarding my relationship with alcohol. Soon we drifted into sharing a bottle of red, sometimes two, three or four nights a week. 

Despite the trauma and devastation of COVID-19, the pandemic was a turning point for me. It brought unexpected positivity in ways I did not anticipate. Staying home has given me insight into my own relationship with alcohol and the patterns of my drinking. Early days of the pandemic saw my partner and I panic-buying good wine by the case instead of the bottle. We had it delivered to our door, as if it was urgent medication, or a food parcel. Case after case of Italian red never lasted long (though we told ourselves they would). When the wine got scarce, we just ordered more. But it didn’t feel good, and we knew it. So, we simply buried our heads deeper into the sand and carried on. We had shown our true colours. We were not moderate wine connoisseurs; we were heavy drinkers. We were boozers, it’s pure and simple. For us, wine was a daily necessity. Without it, I felt insecure, empty, frightened. It really didn’t help that my partner felt much the same.

‘We were not moderate wine connoisseurs; we were heavy drinkers. We were boozers, it’s pure and simple.’

Things only started to feel different for me when my mum, now in her eighties, had to stop going out and doing her own shopping. For me, the first lockdown was the pivotal point, when slowly my fears began to untangle, then loosen, then unravel, and I finally felt able to relax and let go. Even though I was drinking more than usual, something vital had shifted and foundations of a new life were being laid.

Mum’s behaviour became more consistent in lockdown. She no longer popped out to the local Spar or jumped on the bus into town. This was hard for her, but, for me, Mum’s restriction became my assurance. I delivered her shopping. I knew what was in her fridge. I popped over with carefully chosen treats – flowers, cakes, chocolate. I no longer had to arrange a time to phone her, so I could avoid speaking to her while she was tipsy. I could call her at any time and would always hear the same reassuring, warm and lovely voice of sober Mum. This meant the world to me as an adult, just as it had done as a child.

‘For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 56, I am no longer on edge and on guard. No longer afraid of the unpredictable, out-of-character, crazy behaviour of a loved one.’

For the first time, I was in control. I felt safe and at ease. I was able to look to the present day, and to the future with softness and gratitude. COVID aside, I had nothing to fear or anticipate. Nothing to dread or hide from. No need to block out the old pain that had been running through my veins for as long as I can remember. The pain that brought with it my own complicated relationship with alcohol. A dependency I couldn’t understand or accept. One I felt helpless to change.

It has taken me from 20th March 2020 to 2nd January 2022 to recognise the place I have come to. I am in a good place. For the first time in my life, at the tender age of 56, I am no longer on edge and on guard. No longer exhausted and wired. No longer afraid of the unpredictable, out-of-character, crazy behaviour of a loved one. No longer afraid of my compulsion to act out the same scene, over, and over again, in my own life. I no longer need to use alcohol as a blocking mechanism, something to relieve the emptiness and tiredness my childhood experience had left me with.  

I recognise that it is still early days of sobriety for me. But it feels good. My new relaxed relationship with my mum is wonderful. I feel more alive than I have ever felt and I have creative energy in abundance. Every hangover-free morning is a blessing; a chance for me to make the most of the gift or another day.  

This is freedom.

26 Comments

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  • Thank you Nola for the courage of your honesty and for finding the self love and respect we all deserve.
    It’s like you just read my life story accept for the fact that I’m yet to kick the booze goodbye.
    I want to, so want !
    My mother, who is 83, has alcoholic dementia which is a result of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. I am 51, divorced and have just come out of another alcohol fuelled toxic relationship. No 3 since my marriage ended 16 years ago as a result of alcohol.
    I have 4 sons, 2 of which don’t speak with me and a promising career pissed up against the wall.
    I have faith Nola and I have a deep seeded belief that there is still the opportunity for a wonderful life free of this poison, a life where I will find that best version of myself.
    After 35 years of alcohol abuse I am lucky to be alive, very lucky.

    Thank you for sharing your journey, it has made a difference to my life.
    Stay strong

    Tim

    By Timothy Hook
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thank you for taking the time to reply to my story. I’m glad it has made a difference to your life and I wish you well moving forward towards your best self. You can do it, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Wonderful to hear where this story is heading, thank you for posting it.

    By Michaela
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • You are welcome, I am hopeful and grateful every day

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Wow! I totally relate as a mother – being the unstable parent. My daughter has been sober for 5 years and I’m still learning how.

    By Helen
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thanks for responding to my story Helen. It is so difficult to see your children making mistakes like we all do isn’t it? There are ways out and I wish you both well in exploring these in your own way, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Thank you so much for your article. I am 55 and in my struggle to stop boozing, I sometimes doubt due to my age and how long I have been drinking that I can stop. You have given me hope, thankyou.

    By K
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Hi K, I’m G from the USA and I have been alcohol free for 3 months. I will turn 67 on my early March Birthday. You are never to old to make a change.

      By G from the USA
      |
      February 28, 2022
      • I agree, all the best, enjoy your new sober life, Nola

        By Nola
        |
        March 9, 2022
    • Hope is a wonderful gift K, wishing you well in all you do going forward in your life, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Thank you

    By Linda
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • You are most welcome, have a great weekend, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Thankyou for your share 🙏 I could see myself in your share as well. Sobriety to me is freedom, and freedom is living my best life. Stay happy, stay safe! 🤗

    By Debbie
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thank you Debbie, I will! Enjoy the weekend, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • This is an incredible story Nola. I very much relate to your statement about feeling you were helpless to change your situation. Yet, here we are – enjoying sobriety and another hangover-free morning. Enjoy this freedom – you’ve earned it!

    By Allyson
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thanks Allyson, I’m enjoying every minute of my new sober life

      By Nola
      |
      February 26, 2022
  • Dear Nola, you’ve expressed the normalisation of alcohol consumption and it’s sad and tragic effects SO well. Thank you for exposing the big lie which consuming alcohol is, and sharing your story which rings many truths for me ….especially the one about being a “wine connoisseur” ….the lie being, if you’re drinking the good stuff then you’re not a boozer ! What delusions we use to justify hitting the grog ! Since going alcohol free 13 months ago, and happy to label myself a wowser, I now see, so clearly, how it damages lives, health and relationships. I’m so aware now, daily, how the real me has been revealed through sobriety…..and I’ve developed the skill of “spotting the drinker” in social situations where alcohol isn’t served. There’s the restlessness, hunting for and unease with their alcohol crutch missing….scary really and now I’m proud to say I’m not one of them,…but free like you. Thank you Nola.

    By Jennifer
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thanks for reading my piece Jennifer and for your generous comments. You play “spot the drinker” too?! It’s not that hard, is it, when you know the signs? Easier still, when you’ve been there – hope you are loving your hanxiety free life

      By Nola
      |
      February 26, 2022
  • A great article Nola, openly insightful, and comprehensive lived experience. I can relate to much of your experience, as a child, as a mother and as an adult. Thankyou for sharing.

    By Michelle
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thank you for reading my story with an open heart, and for sharing. It makes such a difference to know that others have experiences similar to my own, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
  • Hi Nola, well done lady, and thank you very much for well written piece. David

    By David Charles Sier
    |
    February 26, 2022
    • Thanks David, enjoy the rest of your hangover free weekend – it’s a gift

      By Nola
      |
      February 26, 2022
    • Hello Nola, I can relate very much to your story ,
      I am happy for you,

      By Francis Madden
      |
      February 27, 2022
      • Thank you Francis. Life is so much more wonderful in sobriety, Nola

        By Nola
        |
        March 4, 2022
  • Your story is similar but different to mine except my mother married 2 alcoholics but was a non drinker.
    So not only lots of alcohol around but constant fighting at home.
    I am still struggling with my alcoholism and my husband hates it tho he is a moderate drinker.
    I haven’t used this support group in a few years, time I did.
    Thanks for the support you all give

    By Sandals
    |
    February 27, 2022
    • Thanks for responding to my story Sandals – like you I am amazed at the support I get from Hello Sunday Morning/Daybreak, stay with us, it’s always worth it. Wishing you well, always, Nola

      By Nola
      |
      March 4, 2022
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