Our behaviour is as absurd and incomprehensible with respect to the first drink as that of an individual with a passion, say, for jay-walking. He gets a thrill out of skipping in front of fast-moving vehicles. He enjoys himself for a few years in spite of friendly warnings. Up to this point you would label him as a foolish chap having queer ideas of fun. Luck then deserts him and he is slightly injured several times in succession. You would expect him, if he were normal, to cut it out. Presently he is hit again and this time has a fractured skull.
Within a week after leaving the hospital a fast-moving trolley car breaks his arm. He tells you he has decided to stop jay-walking for good, but in a few weeks he breaks both legs.
On through the years this conduct continues, accompanied by his continual promises to be careful or to keep off the streets altogether. Finally, he can no longer work, his wife gets a divorce and he is held up to ridicule. He tries every known means to get the jay-walking idea out of his head. He shuts himself up in an asylum, hoping to mend his ways. But the day he comes out he races in front of a fire engine, which breaks his back. Such a man would be crazy, wouldn’t he?
– P.37, the Big Book
As the Book acknowledges, the illustration might seem extreme. Ridiculous, even. But that’s the point. My behaviours, and my attitude towards them, have been ridiculous. Despite repeated warnings- friendly and light at first, then desperate and serious- I have continued along these self-destructive paths.
Some people can pinpoint the exact moment at which their power of choice was lost. I can’t. I have been walking in front of traffic compulsively for as long as I can remember.
Before I started drinking, I used to shoplift. From big supermarkets, small shops, market stalls. I would steal absurd things. Things I didn’t need, or even want. I kept them hidden under my bed. I was ashamed of my behaviour but I didn’t want to stop. Warnings were frequent: I was once chased by a Camden Market stall-holder. I was banned from every Tesco in Great Britain (as it turns out, they don’t actually check- but let that not be an encouragement to you). I was caught thieving a silver necklace. That day, I threw my loot (including a pair of rainbow shoelaces) into the tracks at Ilford Station. I vowed never to shoplift again. And, as I recall, I never did.
Then, of course, there was the self-harm. Again, there were multiple warnings. Stitches, scars, a hospitalisation. I heeded none of them. I was determined to destroy myself and I would listen to nobody. I carried on self-harming until very recently. Again, I took up my tools and, one by one, threw them away.
Throughout university, I would have sex with anyone (female) who felt like it. I cheated compulsively, though I never lied about it. I hurt people without necessarily meaning to- I was drunk, I needed affection, I wanted to prove something to myself. I think part of that was wanting to prove how gay I was- being repeatedly told that you “look” or “seem” straight does nothing for your self-esteem as a young lesbian. Then, one day, I decided not to have sex unless I actually wanted to.
Finally, I put down the bottle. Bottles. Glasses. Cups. Jars. Jugs. It is the hardest thing I have done. It feels like looking at yourself in the mirror, naked. You want your clothes back on, your beer goggles back… but they have stopped working. They distort you until you look bloated. Ugly. Until even with them on, you can barely stand the sight of yourself. But now they’re off and you don’t know what’s worse… you can barely look yourself in the eye. Worse, you feel everyone else can see you naked. Drink was a safety blanket you wrapped around yourself. It’s slipped.
Change doesn’t come easy. The path to recovery doesn’t run smooth. I’ve slipped up, I’ve screwed up, I’ve opened up. I’ve started again.
The last few days have been hard. I feel boring, uncomfortable in my skin, because I can’t (or choose not to) do the things that other people do. “Normal people drink to feel different… alcoholics drink to feel normal.” I keep trying to convince myself that I could drink to feel different, to have fun. But I couldn’t. I would only return myself to that normality that is abnormal, unmanageable. I would return my life to chaos, snatch it back from the care of whatever is caring for me. I would let people down (not least myself).
So I’m struggling. But I have love around me. For that, I can only be grateful.