Have you any idea how many times I have tried to write this blog? Over the years, a lot. It's not going to be an easy one for me to write and who knows, maybe it won't be an easy one to read. But I'm glad I have waited until now to share it because a) it's only now that it has a happy ending and b) it just might help somebody else.
To start with the traditional cliché, 'My name's Penny and -' OK, I'm not an alcoholic. But for years I have drunk way too much. I've known it and I've hated it but have never been able to beat it. Almost everybody has some sort of vice; some evil nemesis and for me it's the booze. I've written blogs about it before over the years, gleefully announcing 'I've quit!' and managing to last a whole two days before succumbing to the lure of an ice-cold bottle of Chardonnay. But not any more. Like with giving up anything I guess the timing has to be right. Either that or you hit rock bottom, which is what I did.
Let me take you back a few years (OK, more than a few!) to when I was 17. I was already a heavy drinker - perhaps that's a slight understatement. Like many teenagers I would raid my parents' booze cupboard but unlike most teens I also used to hide bottles of wine in my knee-high boots in my wardrobe and carried a hip flask at all times, even in my school bag. I had a two-litre bottle of orange juice in the fridge at home but Mum and Dad didn't know half of it was vodka. I was rarely rolling drunk; just in a permanent state of never quite being 'all there'. To be honest I never knew why I did it - I didn't do it to try to be cool. I didn't have a traumatic childhood, quite the contrary. I simply liked the stuff.
At first my friends thought it was funny - particularly the day I sank a bottle of wine before school and had to stagger my way up the school bus and be helped into my seat. But drinking on your own isn't cool and before too long they were grabbing my hip flask or whatever bottle I happened to have on me and tipping it down the sink. They were worried sick about me but I didn't care. I must have been a right royal pain in the bum and I consider myself very lucky not to have lost those friends. I'm still in touch with each and every one of them after all these years but I know how close I came to losing them.
I wasn't so lucky with everyone though. When I was 18 I fell head over heels for a chap called Garry. I thought my sparkling personality was enough to keep him but he didn't want a drunk for a girlfriend and I got a heck of a fright when he dumped me. After a week of grieving and worrying the heck out of my mum by not eating I somehow ended up sobbing in my dad's lap confessing all. My dad bless him, didn't bat an eyelid. He just told me 'it's alright mate, we'll fix it'. And he did. Before I knew it my mum had poured out my troubles to our GP. He didn't think I was an alcoholic - but he did think I needed a good fright.
So before I knew it I was making a daily trip to Eastleigh Ward - a centre for people with drinking problems. I did this every day for six months. There I became part of a big family of wonderful people, all of whom just happened to be ruining their lives with alcohol. There were about 20 of us but there were a few which really stick in my mind. There was Peter H, a successful graphic designer whose downward spiral began when he started drinking G & T's with his colleagues on the train at 8 o'clock every morning. There was Mick, a 23-year-old train driver who had been sent there by a magistrate after being caught driving his train drunk. He had no intention of giving up and thought the whole thing was just a big joke. There was Craig, who was younger than me and as brash as they come, with a heart of gold. Unfortunately he was so hell bent on getting his hands on alcohol he had even been known to drink after shave. Phil was a jovial man in his 50's who, unlike the others who all had broken marriages as a result of their drinking, had the support of his loving wife. Unfortunately he also had cirrhosis of the liver and his blood was so badly poisoned you could see every pore showing purple against his yellow skin. Saddest of all was Peter A, a lovely old chap in his seventies whose daughter had banned from seeing his grandchildren. His tears at not being able to see them broke my heart - but he still just could not give up drinking. In fact, he had been to the centre so many times that he had been told there was nothing more that could be done for him.
Everyone there had lost someone dear to them as a result of their drinking. Wives, girlfriends, children, grandchildren. I became fond of them all and during the six months I was there I didn't drink a drop. Next to them I felt strong. I was also lucky enough to have youth on my side. I still think of them and wonder what they are doing now but if I am truly honest with myself they are probably almost all long gone.
Just a few months after that I met Noel. Ironically he was the barman in my local pub! But by then all I would drink was lime and soda. At only 25p a glass I was a cheap date! However the landlord still felt it necessary to warn Noel. 'You want to watch that one, she's got a problem with the bottle', he said knowingly. 'I'll be the judge of that', came Noel's reply. We never really talked about it and to this day, I've never talked to anyone about it other than my parents - well and now you. He just told me he wouldn't 'take any crap' and I knew he meant it. That was enough.
When I was at Eastleigh Ward they told me I wouldn't be able to drink again but when you're only 18 that sounds like a very long time. After all, I had only just reached the legal age limit! Still, for several years I didn't touch a drop. For starters the budget didn't allow it. But as time went by I started having a glass of wine on special occasions and holidays and once the kids came along and we started to earn more it started making an appearance in our weekly groceries. And that's how it's been ever since. The only difference this time around was that drinking wasn't an addiction, it was nothing more than a habit. A big, expensive, fattening habit.
But still a harmful habit nonetheless. When you have glandular fever for months without knowing, are training for a marathon and lose 20kg in less than 12 months your tolerance for alcohol goes down. In my case it went down to pretty much zero. The crunch time for me came on January 2nd when we had a guest for dinner who I had never met before. A pleasant and interesting chap, I had just ONE glass of wine whilst preparing dinner and realised to my horror that I was slurring my words. No matter how hard I tried to engage in scintillating conversation I just couldn't get the words out properly and I could see this guy looking at me thinking 'what is her problem?' That was it. No more booze for Penny.
I haven't touched another drop since and that was 28 days ago. I know in my heart that this time I have finally cracked it. I don't need it, I don't want it and I sure as hell don't miss it. I don't miss the arguments I had with Noel at night because a few wines made me say things I would never normally say. I don't miss the memory loss, forgetting things I had promised loved ones or checking texts and emails the next day to remind myself what I said and hoping and praying it wasn't anything too bad. I don't miss the 3kg I lost in two weeks through not consuming all the extra calories. I don't miss the hideous amount I spent on wine and cider every week.
Instead I am relishing my freedom. I am relishing waking up every morning not hating myself for drinking too much AGAIN, which I have done every morning for as long as I can remember. I am relishing sleeping like a log every night instead of waking up religiously at 2.30am and laying awake beating myself up. I never realised it was alcohol which was ruining my sleep but yep, it was. Better still, I'm not waking Noel up with my tossing and turning any more either so he's happy too! I am relishing being everyone's sober driver and hearing about everyone else's hangovers. I am relishing the weight I have lost through no longer pigging out at night simply because I've had a few drinks. I am relishing the fun nights I am spending with my children making muffins or watching stingrays at the wharf instead of blobbing out in front of the TV with a glass of wine, or not being able to drive them anywhere because I'm over the limit. No more drunken arguments, no more memory loss. Admittedly I think my karaoke performance is suffering without the help of a little Dutch courage but what the heck, it's a small price to pay. From now on it's just freedom - and an extra $3000 a year in the bank. I'm back on the lime and soda and that's how it's going to stay!