When yet another Friday night ended in oblivion, 37-year-old Sarah* finally had to face up to the truth she’d long been denying
Usually, I barely shake hands with someone before reaching for the hand-sanitiser. But three months ago, at 2am in the morning, there I was, sitting on a stranger’s lap, his hands all over me, kissing him passionately. My friends had all abandoned me hours earlier because they’ve got partners and kids at home. But the thing is, so do I. My boyfriend had been calling me over and over and I was supposed to be looking after my four-year-old son, Woody*, the next day.
The next thing I remember, I’m in the stranger’s house, and fear hits me like a wall. He’s angry, spitting that I’ve led him on, saying I have to stay, that I owe him. I want to go home but I’m scared – both of his anger and that people would say it was my fault. I lock myself in the loo, call a cab and, when it arrives, I run.
The next morning, the relief of waking up in my own bed is quickly overtaken by nausea and sickness. My head and heart are pounding. I’m late to pick up Woody and make excuses to his dad, who’s all too used to my shambolic parenting habits. I feel like a terrible mother and girlfriend. I cry thinking about the danger I put myself in and how it could affect my son. I don’t know how I ended up like this – I’m educated, home-owning, with a good job in recruitment, but I have to face facts: I have a drink problem.
My relationship with alcohol has never been healthy. As a shy, anxious 13-year-old, I discovered that the magic potion could turn me from a specs-wearing, mono-browed wallflower into an entertainer. Alcohol stopped me worrying about everything – at least temporarily. And so began my psychological dependence. For a long time I didn’t care if the laughs were at me rather than with me, as long as I was getting attention.
But by my late twenties, it stopped feeling fun. My friends were losing patience and my hangovers were crippling. I had constant feelings of regret, paranoia and panic. I started getting palpitations the day after a binge, where I couldn’t catch my breath and felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Everything felt negative and doomed; like I was spiralling out of control. Yet still I didn’t stop. There were countless work parties, weddings, christenings, birthdays, occasions and non-occasions where I got annihilated. Blacking out, slapping work colleagues, wetting myself in public, verbally abusing friends and boyfriends, getting into cars with strangers, flashing, getting intimate with men (and women) – it all became my norm.
I’ve lost count of the people I’ve had to apologise to. Especially my family, who have always been concerned about my drinking. But seeing how much I hurt those I love didn’t stop me. I’d say sorry, beat myself up and vow never again. I might even stop altogether – for a few weeks. But I always started again.
It wasn’t until that awful night with the stranger that I realised I needed help. The next day, my panicked boyfriend gave me an ultimatum: sort myself out or lose him. After a year together, watching me do this and seeing me so drunk I’d wet myself, he’d had enough. And he didn’t even know I’d cheated on him.
His ultimatum made me really see the black shadow alcohol had cast over my life and the people I love – especially Woody. During my pregnancy, I’d not touched a drop, terrified alcohol would harm my baby – but now I couldn’t deny the impact on him. Days when I should have been cherishing time with him, I’d spent hungover or overwhelmingly anxious. He didn’t deserve this mother.
I contacted Addaction, which organises meetings for ‘alcohol control and reduction’. The first session was terrifying but I quickly realised there were all types of people there, all struggling with addiction. There were habitual drinkers, people who craved booze from the minute they woke, and those on a bottle of whisky a day. Frighteningly, there was a woman who’d lost custody of her child because of her drinking. The common denominator was that we were all being controlled by alcohol. I learned that I have to rewire the way I think about drinking and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has helped me tackle my anxiety (a big reason I abuse alcohol, I’ve worked out). My danger zones are weekends or any form of going out, so I’m trying to use exercise and hobbies as distractions. Addaction have also suggested setting a drinks limit when I’m out, enforcing a curfew, setting an alarm to stop or carrying a picture of loved ones that I’m making changes for. Revelatory? No. But they’re all things I never did because it stopped me getting as drunk as I wanted – needed – to be. I’m getting there, but I’ll admit I fell apart on an all-weekend hen do recently. Afterwards, I had a bout of alcohol poisoning so bad I couldn’t look after Woody, so my brother had to step in. Understandably, my family came down on me like a ton of bricks. But my support group built me back up, reassuring me that screwing up is part of the process: we can’t all be fixed instantly. Right now, I feel mentally tough and determined to get my life on track. I’m not facing my demons alone any more and, every time I get back on the wagon, my grip gets a little stronger.
Find help and support at addaction.org.uk