There was a time when camping was all about kicking back by the fire, beer in hand. And then another beer. And another. Until I’d be put to bed by a responsible adult.
Of course, I’d occasionally feel a needle of discomfort when my fellow campers trilled, ‘well you must feel pretty ropey this morning?!’ But in the main it was par for the course. Camping = drinking, drinking = passing out. Then came the time I took a sleeping tablet, on top of already going to bed extremely drunk. The next morning a fellow camper shook her head disapprovingly at me. Said my children had been screaming the tent down over a spider – crying for help, which she’d had to come in and give because I was dead to the world.
I remember thinking, ‘how bloody sanctimonious’, as I brushed off her judgement.
But, even so, it ate away at my soul a little bit. Underneath my nonchalant shrug, I felt ashamed of myself as a mum.
Over time, those twinges of guilt and shame built up, but I did a stellar job of ignoring them. And it was that eyes squeezed shut, hands over ears, ‘I can’t hear you, la la la la la’ approach that was quite literally killing me.
My body, my heart, my soul and my mind were sending up every imaginable flare. The message was clear – alcohol wasn’t serving me. But I didn’t dare listen, because I was terrified of what would seep out. What I would have to deal with. When I finally did, I realised nothing was worse than what I was already putting myself through. I had driven myself into the ground because of the responsibilities I was carrying, but medicating myself through that just pummelled my self-esteem even further, until I was a shell of a woman… strung together with adrenaline and alcohol.
For me, alcohol was just a coping mechanism, which I then re-used to take away the ensuing shame. It’s an insidious, messy and – amazingly – a completely socially acceptable cycle of doom.
We all give ourselves a by-ball with the morning-after platitudes of, ‘you were fine! Everyone does it!’, but I knew deep in my soul that I wasn’t where I wanted or needed to be. I was leaning on, misusing and hiding in alcohol because something was making me uncomfortable, and then my ‘solution’ only deepened that discomfort.
It’s only when I got the courage to take a long hard look at the reality of how I was living, with alcohol and everything around it, that I was able to make a change. And facing up to the truth of that experience meant accepting that I’d been hurting myself all along …much more than I’ll ever truly know.
But that wasn’t my only challenge – there’s this confronting notion of taking a stand, of going alcohol-free being a wagon you are either ‘on’ or have fallen ‘off’. But I finally realised that alcohol is just the symptom – one of many crutches we human beings use to navigate (or hide from) the messy intricacies of life. The exhausting, overwhelming, depleting parts we don’t know how to manage.
If I wanted to ditch that crutch, I first needed to rehabilitate the tired, lonely, sad, scared, overwhelmed woman underneath. The woman who needed a hefty measure of self-compassion, rather than gin.
When I started to look after myself, before and above others, I was better able to set meaningful boundaries to protect my own wellbeing. From there, alcohol became incidental. And this was a process, not a success/failure equation. No great skill is ever learned in a day, and those skills are developed in layers and over time. Setting myself up for an alcohol-free future meant doing the groundwork on how I viewed my place in the world – how I care for and nurture myself in the mire of demands that threaten to engulf me. And that wasn’t easy! So why would putting the glass down be?!
Ultimately, I’m so glad I listened to that ‘niggle’, that ‘sanctimonious’ commentary rather than continuing to brazen my way through the tidal waves of shame and despair.
I’m glad I realised that I wouldn’t be a failure if I ‘fell off’ my self-compassion wagon – I was learning, and I still am.
When I stopped berating myself for my stumbles, I could invest energy in looking around – working out what it was that made me fall so hard. And each time I patched up my grazed knees and got going again.
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Beautifully written, bravely shared. Well done, Mama. You’re a titan x
Your story is honest and brave and makes perfect sense. Thank you.
Thanks for your honesty Emma. I relate to everything you’ve shared here. It’s encouraged me today to keep working on myself – the improvements I see without booze are so vast and yet… I stumble. Determined to keep going though. Xxx
Beautifully written Emma! I think there’s a writer in you. It truly is all about ‘forgiving oneself’ and coming to the realisation that life is truly wonderful without leaning on alcohol, or thinking we are missing out.
Thanks for sharing, Alex 🤗
Thanks for sharing this Emma. This is so true for me and so many of us.
What a magically honest and powerful piece by Emma.
Thank you for sharing this part of your story and the importance of self compassion.
Good for you.
My body is starting to tell me it’s time to stop. Im thinking i may have left it too late. I will soon find that out I guess. Throat cancer is what I’m dreading might be my diagnosis.
Yet right now until I know I still can’t make the change. I wish I could find your courage in myself because I have too much to live for. I work hard every week and spend many hours away from home and my family but as soon as I’m there I drink. I then miss the important time I get with them. I don’t know how to just be. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t know what I’ll uncover if I do.
Your story is trully inspiring. I’m in a bad place at the moment and reading what you went through, and how you feel about yourself now, makes me want the same.
Interesting words, thank you for sharing.
Thank you for your honesty as I see myself in the same situation. I woke up this morning feeling like sh#%* and saying this is it! I’m giving it up for good. But I continue on the same road 🥺 I needed an example that it can be done, I just need to do it !
Thanks for sharing this Emma. I like how you describe drinking as a ‘socially acceptable cycle of doom’. It’s so true and that’s what can keep us stuck for so long.
Thank you. I completely recognise the camping journey. I’ve now not had a drink for 800 days but I could notimagine camping without a drink (it’s great by the way!). Also the crutch idea chimed. I realised I needed to do something when I had a row with the person I drank to avoid and then had no idea what I said the next day. The depths of guilt were phenomenal. I’ve not looked back. It’s not easy as you have to face all the things you were trying to avoid but I feel I’m making progress rather than reading water or drowning in alcohol. (Perhaps I’m just being sanctimonious in a different way!?)
Good on you Emma! All the best for an alcohol free future for both of us.Clare
Great story of perseverance, we know were you are coming from keep up the good fight.
This … “ I was leaning on, misusing and hiding in alcohol because something was making me uncomfortable, and then my ‘solution’ only deepened that discomfort.”
So spot on for me too! Great read and thank you for sharing Emma x
I have struggled for a long time with binge drinking. I have recently tried ‘again’ to do something about it. This morning I was in a fog, a dangerous fog and your words cut through and pulled me out. I’m very grateful to you. Thank you.
Your story is inspiring and beautiful, thank you for sharing
This is a beautifully written piece which I really identified with. Keep writing Emma!
This is also my story and the truth within it! The spider situation was similar to one of my own, where my children needed me, but I wasn’t there! Physically yes (passed out!) but I recall thinking to myself, what if it had been more serious, like threatening for them. That was not ok! Like this writer, it woke me up to my selfish behaviour, and I didn’t want to do an impression of my mother anymore.
The gratitude I have for others stories helps keep me sober and this story is one of them. Thank you for your sharing Emma and being a part of my recovery ✊
If you unpack the word mistake, mis-take, I think that is where we can gain an insight into self-compassion. So we didn’t hit the “goal” we set for ourselves, there is an opportunity to look at what happened, and the important question, why. Not to beat ourselves up, and drown in shame but to recognise, a stumble, a fall, is the way we learn to become more steady on our feet, so to speak, I think.
A very honest and thought provoking writing that resonates very strongly for me. Thank you.
Oh wow Emma, this really speaks to me!
I feel you have articulated a parallel to my story around medicating to manage overwhelming responsibilities only to experience further shame, managing to deny the messages but the best bit for me is hearing you say it takes time and reflection to develop the new way of being where self compassion leads us to better management.
Many thanks Emma for articulating so well why so many of us have a concerning relationship with alcohol. I have commenced the ‘boundaries’ a number of times and will revisit this again. I gave up smoking 14 years ago when I had my first child. I had told myself for years I would never be a smoking mother. It was easy because my brain already had been trained by my mantra for years! I have not found giving up alcohol easy. Perhaps I will find a new mantra for giving up alcohol and this will strengthen my resolve to be free of this addiction sooner rather than later!
Hello Emma I just wanted to congratulate you on leaving the Alcohol behind you. Parts of your story resonated with me on so many levels. It’s been 100 days since I stopped drinking and have never felt better. When we self loath ourselves we can’t love ourselves. Funny how I tried and worried and still do about helping others always but I came last. Now I put me first which has helped me so so much. Congratulations on your amazing journey thus far and if you ever want to chat I am here to listen, well done 👍 😊❤️
well done , easier said than done and you’ve done so well
Enjoyed your story – thank you.
I realised that drinking was not who I am, like a layer that doesn’t belong to me. 😊
I love your statement that “ When I started to look after myself, before and above others, I was better able to set meaningful boundaries to protect my own wellbeing. From there, alcohol became incidental. And this was a process, not a success/failure equation…” when we are perfectionists with our recovery we just feed into the “not good enough cycle”. Self compassion opens the door to honest relationships with other imperfect humans.
Thank you. Bravery is not just the the heroes portrayed that we see. But in yourself , just look and see.
Well said and what courage.
Wow, every hair stood on end reading this. It felt like you were speaking directly to me. Thank you for your honesty, as while it was haunting, it makes me feel that I’m not alone and gives me strength.
Very well said! I’m around 65 days alcohol free after many attempts. It just clicked. I’m so glad I don’t have to drink anymore. I simply don’t want to. Now I have challenging days because life can be challenging not because I’m drunk or hungover. Now I have wonderful days because I am awake to see the wonder
Absolutely love your story and especially the last line gives me so much hope ” When I stopped berating myself for my stumbles, I could invest energy in looking around – working out what it was that made me fall so hard. And each time I patched up my grazed knees and got going again. “