In March 2017 I decided to give my liver a chance and give up alcohol for the month. Not only was I exhausted, but my Drunk Shopping was in danger of becoming embarrassing. The kids were loving the regular buckets of gummy bears, but the morning my internet search history revealed that I’d been looking for ‘wine pants’ (which don’t apparently exist, at least not in a form that Drunk Me was prepared to purchase) I decided enough was enough. I’d also accidentally friend requested a load of complete strangers on Facebook (swiping past the ‘friend recommendations’, I’d somehow managed to friend request them). I was getting kind of concerned (as well as grimly intrigued) about what Drunk Me would buy next.
Whilst the ease with which I stopped drinking reassured me that I wasn’t spiralling into alcoholism, it was still uncomfortable being sober. This wasn’t because I wanted or needed alcohol but because it meant I had to live with the sharpness of what I was feeling on a daily basis.
I hate to say this, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but in some ways the cliché that is ‘drinking to numb the pain’ actually works – to an extent. Drinking in the evenings blocked out the hurt I was feeling and let me pretend to be ok for just a few hours. However, alcohol’s anxiety increasing properties meant that drinking certainly didn’t help during the Dark Hours – that desperate time between 1am and 5am – when I was wide awake, staring at the ceiling, heart racing, palms sweating and my brain running over every detail of what had happened and what might happen next. Without alcohol I was better able to cope with those Dark Hours – I still lay awake thinking in tortured loops for hours, but that gut clawing sense of panic and anxiety were lessened slightly, meaning I could face the next day without being exhausted by the night’s ‘sleep’ I’d just experienced.
Not drinking had also given everything back its edges – including my sense of hurt. Not drinking had sharpened my senses and I became much more angry than I had ever been before. When I had discovered E’s first affair it was like a loss of innocence – until that February morning in 2008, when I’d found all of those texts on his phone, I’d had an almost childlike belief in E, and in our relationship – in that moment something very precious had died and I knew my life would never be the same again. Now, nine years later, I felt that all the years that I’d invested in our relationship after that first affair were a pointless, soul-less, waste of time. I’d lived under the oppressive shadow of that first affair, and the way it made me feel physically and mentally, for all that time. I’d tried so hard to move on and not make it an issue. I’d tried so hard to get things right. I felt so stupid.
I also felt so much resentment and anger – why couldn’t he have just been honest after that first affair, or in fact after the others? Why did he effectively trap me in the relationship and deprive me of the chance to make a new life for myself? If he’d just been honest and just left after that first affair, the kids and I would have had time to get used to things. If he’d left after the second or even the third affair, I wouldn’t now be in the house with a massive mortgage that we bought when he came back from Singapore. Even if he’d left when he met P, I’d have had at least two more years to try and start a new life on my own. As it was, he’d spent nine years doing exactly what he wanted whilst lying to me and about me, and I’d wasted nine years of my life, literally thrown them away, believing I was in a relationship with someone who loved me.
I felt that he had denied me the right to make a new life for myself. If he’d left me after that first affair I would have been in my late thirties, living near my parents and sister, with the chance of maybe meeting someone else, and, vitally, with the opportunity to start rebuilding my career. Now I was in my late forties, living over 60 miles away from my family, and whilst I could start trying to rebuild my career, I’d lost so much time. I felt like he’d robbed me of nine years of my life.
However, despite forcing me to confront how I felt about what had happened (or perhaps because of it) not drinking did put me on a more even keel emotionally. Ironically, one of the things that I’d tortured myself about during the Dark Hours was the fact that I was drinking too much. Now that I’d stopped drinking, I was able to start a ‘things that I’ve done right’ list to counter the ‘everything you’ve done wrong since you were 18’ list that my brain was throwing at me every night. I started reciting a list of ‘things I achieved today’ to myself as I went to sleep. This list would include things like ‘got out of bed and got dressed’ – because most days that was an achievement. It would also include the little things like ‘didn’t text E when Youngest Daughter came home from school in tears’ – because, trust me, that really took some self-discipline.
Alongside the not drinking, I’d also decided to try and take care of myself a little bit more. Although I’m usually pretty healthy, a nd despite the incredibly healthy purchases Drunk Me had made in a alcohol fuelled ‘must be better’ haze over the last couple of months I’d pretty much lived off gummy bears, pizza and chardonnay. I started walking 4-5k a day and got my fruit and veg consumption back on track. I was still struggling emotionally – the slightest thing going wrong, or even just not as planned, could still send me into a spiral of stomach plunging, heart palpitating, anxiety – but I was beginning to feel like I was Me again. Only this was a New Me – Me without E.