I’ve been trying to read as many alcoholism memoirs as I can. I recognize a lot in them, but one thing that bothers me is there always seems to be a gradual descent into full-on alcoholism. My drinking wasn’t like that at all. I discovered alcohol at 19, when I was already suffering from an eating disorder, and within a matter of months I was consuming nothing but spirits. I dropped out of college, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital (to treat my anorexia) but walked out when the staff discovered I’d been smuggling in booze. In six months I went from college student to someone who was permanently drunk, constantly blacking out, sleeping on friends’ floors and sofas. Then one day I sneaked into my old college to drink vodka in one of the student bathrooms (I was permanently freezing), stared down at my bruise-covered body and thought “why am I doing this?” I poured the drink away, went through a horrendous withdrawal but came out the other side, got a place at a hostel and started attending an outpatient eating disorder clinic. I always feel that should have been the end of the story, yet within a month I was drinking again.
The trouble is, it’s never been as bad as that since. There have been some terrible times, some real near-misses, some nasty injuries and broken relationships, but I’ve never been homeless and permanently drunk like I was at 19. I have degrees now, a job, a partner, children. I can pretend to myself I recovered already even though I carried on drinking (but only in the evenings. Mostly). I’ve always had a really low standard to hold myself against. “An alcoholic” is me at 19 and I tell myself I’m not that now. But deep down, I know I’ve been using that particular crisis as an excuse. It has got worse, and I know if I carry on I could throw it all away again.