It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I discovered I had a severe drinking problem. It happened gradually, without me noticing. By the time I finally recognised what was happening I’d sunk far too deeply into the pit to escape, and I had no idea how to stop. My solution for the past three years has just been to drink.
Shortly after I moved to London in 2013, I’d just been dumped and was unemployed. Drinking cheap wine with my flatmates each night felt cosmopolitan and adult, a world away from those strikingly similar evenings as a student. I can’t recall the first time I went to buy my nightly bottle and drank it alone, in my windowless room. I can’t recall when this initial solo trip became the norm – the memories are, as you may imagine, fairly hazy. I know that I reached a point where I would be more inclined to drink alone, a small part of me conscious that my levels of consumption would be frowned upon. I knew it was too much. Other people know when to stop. I became illicit and withdrawn.
I got a job I hated, and was able to make ends meet. I had another brief relationship, which ended abruptly and confusingly. In May 2014 the cosy flat I shared with friends was sold, and we parted ways. This was the beginning of two years’ moving from place to place, sometimes with others whom I didn’t know, sometimes alone, always uprooted. It never felt stable, nothing had any permanence. I drank to swathe myself in a blanket I could hide from my issues within. When you’re a child and monsters live under your bed, you know they can’t get you if you’re under your duvet. The only problem is, I’m not a child any more.
I moved into a new Guardian property in north London, close to my best friend’s house. I still couldn’t afford to move into a proper place, but luckily there were about ten people my age also in the property. My drinking intensified, as they drank every night. I’m not particularly good at making friends and our nightly rituals briefly helped me to feel less alone. After a while I knew that I didn’t enjoy their company as much as I’d hoped and began to spend more time in my room, knocking back drinks one after the other until I passed out. I don’t remember a time in the last two years where I’ve woken up without a dry mouth and a slight headache, but my daily hangovers barely faze me. I set my alarm, I go to work. My compulsion is unaided by the fact that nothing is quite bad enough yet.
Alcohol addiction is not advised for the mentally unwell. Alcohol is a depressant, and enhances the minor. Yet it seems the perfect cure. Every moment I am awake, and my anxiety is rolling behind my eyes, my depression looming like a dark empty ocean, I don’t want to think. I don’t want to cry. If I can drink so much that I pass out, I don’t have to be there any more. To a problem that seemingly has no answer (as depression often strikes with no explanation) I felt unable to do things I knew would help – strings of unsuccessful job interviews and an unsteady support network knocked me further down in the brief periods I felt hopeful. I have some caring friends, and I’d tentatively brought it up, but was unable to articulate the depth of how I felt. Not living with friends, they couldn’t witness my gut-wrenching sobs, the empty bottles piled into my laundry basket, my complete desperation. After a night out for a friend’s birthday I returned home at 2am, smashed as you’d like, ending in what to me felt like a sexual assault. I was drunkenly making pizza, he smelled it and came to the kitchen, I offered to share it and we went to his room. I knew I didn’t want it to happen and I’m not sure how it did, but I did know that if I hadn’t been so drunk I would have realised what was happening and stopped it before it did. He wasn’t a bad person, and when I came to and asked him to stop he immediately did. But I felt violated, and became more of a recluse. I managed to avoid the housemate in question for 19 days, which almost impressed me. I hid in my room, drank, and knew that once again I needed to move on.
A few days before I moved out, I went on a date. We got on incredibly well, and he kissed me at the end. I wasn’t sure how I’d used my heinous personality to my advantage, but things seemed promising. The next time we saw each other we went on a very drunken night out, during which I confessed some of my mental health issues and he seemed to understand. At about 4am knowing he lived in South London I offered that he stay over, though we passed out as soon as we got in. He has since admitted to me that when he saw the state of my room he realised the extent of my problems and was uncertain about our future, despite how well our first two dates had gone. Luckily he gave me another chance, and I moved into a new place a week or so later.
A few months later I made the decision to move again, having no reason to live in and commute from north London with my job and boyfriend both in the south. My boyfriend helped me pack, and was a little taken aback when I started crying as the move was a positive one. Although he was aware of my issues I had to explain to him the reason I was so upset to move out of a place I wasn’t happy in and into a brand new start was the instability. It’s hard to explain to someone with a solid family life. His parents still live, together, in the family house he grew up in, which he goes back to every Christmas and here and there in between. In contrast, I don’t have a childhood home. I had one, but someone else lives there now. I don’t speak to my father at all, and my mother rarely. Wherever I am paying rent to is my home, and every time I move I am struck by how easy it is to pack my entire life into a few boxes and unpack them all somewhere else. I don’t know when I will ever have somewhere which I know is truly home, forever. When I moved last week – to a real flat, with real rent prices and real council tax and most importantly a real friend, I felt upset again. My boyfriend reminded me of how I’d felt the time before, and I feel a bit better. I like it here.
Surprisingly my drinking hasn’t impacted upon my relationship as much as I thought it would, or as much as maybe it should have. At times it has impaired my ability to explain myself succinctly in an argument. At times it has exacerbated a reaction far too excessively. Occasionally it has even helped, as intoxication often removes that pesky barrier which blocks all the things you’ve been tactfully keeping to yourself. Thanks to loving each other a great deal, we’ve managed to make it a very long way down a very bumpy road. Half the reason I am permitted to carry on this way may be that he’s not perfect either, and we allow each other these imperfections. Another part is the unfortunate fact that I am a very high-functioning drunk. In my previous job I got to a stage where I was drinking during work, sometimes beginning as early as 10am. As far as I know nobody ever noticed, and I was promoted twice. In my current job I am praised frequently for doing an excellent job, though in fairness my tasks are rarely taxing.
I’ve known for a long time that I need to stop. The difficulty is that I simply haven’t lost enough. Every night I drink a bottle of wine, every morning I get up at 8.15 and go to work and perform my duties as required. My hangovers are usually mild and the worst are reserved for nights out, when I somehow drink even more than during each week night. I still have friends. My relationship is far more likely to fail for other reasons (though I sincerely hope it does not, as I love him quite a lot). But I haven’t been fired, I haven’t been dumped, I’ve just moved into a great new flat with a lovely friend. At this point, my vision is so impaired that I often can’t see why I need this to end.
The final realisation of my alcohol dependency comes on the nights when I don’t want to drink. My steady intake of alcohol means I often don’t sleep well, I get tired during the day and despite not getting raging daily hangovers, I never feel particularly good. Each morning when I drag myself to the station I say, not tonight. Made in Chelsea is on. You can cook that Buzzfeed recipe you saw and break into that bottle of squash you dropped 2 quid on, but come the evening commute and I know what I must do. Even when I actively don’t want to, I know that I will. This is who I am, and I head into Tesco armed with wearying acceptance. I know it with the same certainty that I know that my birthday is in two weeks, that I’ve got some broccoli in the fridge, and that I’m sat on my bed writing this and drinking a gin and tonic that I don’t even really want. I can’t envisage an evening without this, and that is the scariest thing of all.
Anna de Brito