My name is Natalie and I’m an alcoholic. Words that, after three and half years, simply roll off my tongue now, but this hasn’t always been the case.
I could admit that I had a bad relationship with alcohol or that I didn’t have a stop button, but it never occurred to me that my problem was, in fact, alcoholism. You see I’ve always been a party girl, and partying and alcohol went hand in hand for me, so I would drink no matter what and drinking meant getting drunk, because I’m simply not someone that can have “just a few”.
It was fun at the start, but as the years passed, the bad times began to outweigh the good and I soon saw that the person I became when I drank was far from the real me – that person was aggressive, both verbally and physically, unfaithful, malicious and mean to all the people I loved most. Yet no matter how much misery and pain I caused as a result of my drinking, I couldn’t seem to stop getting drunk.
Unfortunately, as our culture is dominated by drinking, it makes it all the more difficult to spot when you have a problem with alcohol. A surprising number of women in Britain are physically dependent on alcohol, however just a small percentage of these women are actually receiving treatment because they have the wrong idea of what constitutes an alcoholic, in the same way that I used to – I always believed I was too young, too functional to have the ‘alcoholic’ label imposed on me.
Besides, I didn’t drink every day, and certainly not in the mornings, in fact, I could even occasionally give up for weeks on end, so how could I possibly be an alcoholic? What I had failed to acknowledge was my inability to stop once I’d picked up that first drink, that once I’d started, I was like a train going downhill with no brakes and had no control of how much alcohol I put into my body. Before a night out, I used to pray that I wouldn’t get drunk, as I was so nervous of what the outcome would be, but then I’d wake up the following morning with a pounding head and little to no recollection of the night before and just think to myself, “how have I let this happen again?” I never intended to get into such a state.
I also believed that my drinking was non-problematic because I was mostly confining it to socially acceptable places, like pubs, clubs and parties. Alcoholics only get pissed at home and on park benches, right? Wrong. If you’re one of us, it doesn’t matter whether you’re knocking back drinks in the club every Saturday night, or reaching for the bottle first thing each morning; the internal struggles are exactly the same.
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By the time I finally admitted defeat in May 2015, I still had a job, money in the bank, a lovely boyfriend and a comfortable home, but I was emotionally bankrupt.
I went on to learn that alcoholism is a mental illness and that you can be alcoholic before you’ve even picked up a drink. I’ve always felt different, and can see quite clearly that ever since childhood, my thought processes and reactions have been unlike other people’s, plus my emotions are on another level, which is why I took such a shine to booze – it quietened my head and pushed those emotions down. In other words, alcohol wasn’t my problem; I was my problem, and I was unconsciously using alcohol to change my reality.
This meant that just because I’d put down the drink, I wasn’t suddenly going to be well and nowadays I have to constantly work on myself in order to prevent a relapse. I can honestly say though that I have no desire to drink, and haven’t done for quite some time now, as life is a lot better when you can go out, let loose (and believe me, I still do let loose!) and wake up in the morning with a clear head, as opposed to a killer hangover.
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If you’re struggling to control your drinking and think you might be an alcoholic, but aren’t sure, this questionnaire is a good place to start.
All sorts of help is available, from 12-step fellowships to rehabs, and everything in between, but the first step is admitting that you have a problem with alcohol – only with that can you build a solid foundation for sobriety.