This is my fifth post and despite sharing my most intimate secret about alcohol addiction, I haven’t shared much about me (see About Pattie on my blog for a skeleton version). This is a semi-condensed version of how I ended up here. I don’t want to bore people (if you happen to be reading this) and if I could write a haiku this would be even better. So here goes…
To begin with, Pattie isn’t my real name. I assumed this alias from my maternal great grandmother. Nor have I shown you my face (horrors, not ready for that step) but I have shared a picture of my hands pretending to type on my old typewriter. I apologize to the real Pattie, pictured above, for becoming the poster girl for my alcohol addiction. I have used Pattie as my alias as I’ve always had a connection to her as the mother of my most beloved Nana. Pattie was described by Nana as gentle and stoic. She died when my Nana was teenager, we think from high blood pressure. Did she have the anxiety curse that travels in my blood line. Nana thought she died from stress. She died at 52, is that a bad omen?
My childhood was relatively stable, with a mum and dad and older brother. I consider myself to have had a privileged up bringing in NZ- a good education, comfortable family home (my mum still lives there 52 years later), skiing, camping, beach, friends, art classes, hockey… And NZ is a beautiful peaceful country, if you ignore the drinking culture. However, mental health issues – anxiety and depression- runs on both sides of my family. It definitely impacted on my parents’ relationship and the family as a whole. I was used as a confidant by my mother (sorry mum) which exposed me to very adult worries and this really effected me until I was in my mid 40’s.
Alcohol, was consumed in my family home but at very controlled levels. My mother only has to sniff alcohol and is tipsy. She rarely drinks. My father was a very typical Kiwi (a person from NZ) male from his generation and had a beer or two at night. He sometimes went to the local pub, I suspect to get away from the family because he went there alone.
According to mum, my grandfather had a well stocked liquor cabinet. It was a status symbol in the 1950’s. Poppa had a whiskey every night, but nothing out of the ordinary. As far as know I don’t have a family with a known history of alcoholism. My great grandfather lived to 100 years and his death notice records him as a ‘total abstainer‘.
My first taste of alcohol was as a child. I loved sipping dad’s beer froth. Nana and Mum commented at the time that I loved the taste of alcohol…”oh you better watch yourself”. In retrospect, that’s a bit spooky. My mother’s third eye. Maybe I licked my lips a little too enthusiastically.
I was a ‘good girl’ at school, had friends, and it was largely uneventful. I didn’t act out or do anything crazy when I was a teenager or even as a young adult. I tried alcohol but certainly didn’t drink to excess. I recall going to a party in my last year of school and mum buying me a cheap bottle of wine to take (I mean really CHEAP and SWEET). I didn’t grow up in a restrictive environment. I probably nursed a glass and my only recollection was one of embarrassment when I overheard sniggers about ‘someone bringing a cheap bottle of wine’. Uh, if only they knew me now as a wine connoisseur.
After school, I took a year off and travelled. I drank little alcohol. On my return, I went to university, and would go for drinks to the uni bar, or listened to jazz at a city bar nursing a beer. My girlfriend’s boyfriend at the time used to get crazy drunk and I looked down my nose at this out… of… con…trol… be…hav….iour. Shake my finger stuff.
I have been happily married to my husband for 23 years and he enjoys alcohol but could take it or leave it. He can moderate with an occasional binge (but not really to excess). He binged drank as a teenager, common place in those days.
So how did I get from zero to 100%. It happened slowly. Like a frog in hot water who adapts to it. But I think its genesis was when I increasingly suffered from periods of intense anxiety working as a commercial photographer. I felt intense pressure not to f8@k up a job (it was the olden days and I used a film camera and not digital). I also felt like a fish out of water with low self confidence. I never felt cool enough nor was I into schmoozing in the advertising and design scene. However, despite this I did very well early on and got some big jobs . The problem was that the better I did and the more work I did, my anxiety and perfectionism took control. Wine at the end of the day was medicine from stress and intense anxiety. When the clock struck 5 pm it became my off button. It felt good to take the edge off and have a little private party to celebrate making it through the day or it was like a holiday or Friday night (every night).
After several years of feeling overwhelmed I changed direction and did my Masters in Social Work (Applied). Sounds like a fantastic career choice for an anxiety sufferer. I worked as social worker for a short period until I had my first child. My work really didn’t push my buttons and I felt more comfortable.
When trying for a baby, I didn’t drink any alcohol and was paranoid about any alcohol entering my system. For example, I didn’t use any vanilla essence because it contained 0.00000000000000000001% of alcohol. However, once my beautiful baby girl was born, I pumped excess milk all week so my husband could take over on a Friday night and I could drink. I was driven by wine, rather than pumping to get a good nights sleep. I would then pump and dump. After I stopped breastfeeding I slowly increased my wine consumption again.
I was lucky enough to stay at home with my daughter and tried for my next baby. This was fraught with a series of miscarriages. After each loss, drinking wine was my fallback position… “oh well, at least I can drink wine now”. I finally had my second daughter 3 years later. Life went on and I really enjoyed being a mum, but wine became very much part of the mummy culture. I loved it! I embraced it! It was fun and relaxing and rewarding and I got to enjoy it alone and with friends. Note, I always waited to 5 pm. Back then, 18 years ago, I probably shared a bottle with my husband. But any excuse to open a bottle.
Life went on and eventually I returned to full time work. The period of coming out of full time mothering after 10 years brought on intense anxiety. I went into therapy and went on medication because my anxiety was so overwhelming. I was in very very bad space but true to my perfectionism set out to ‘fix myself’. Eventually I found a job in highly demanding area of social work. I continued to drink wine after work most evenings to cope and relax. The use of alcohol was also very prevalent in my team – wine club, parties…hangovers. It was a ‘rah rah’ environment and you were odd if you didn’t drink. I also felt like a fraud and very hypocritical speaking to parents about alcohol addiction.
Over recent years, I have tried moderation, taking time out and trying to ‘fix myself’ in a vacuum without support and any tools. I’d simply stop. No surprise, my drinking continued and got heavier and I felt more and more out of control. I functioned and worked in a job that suited my family more, but my drinking continued. I wasn’t stressed out. I wasn’t anxious. I was addicted. I loved the release, the ritual cooking dinner, the taste, the relaxing effect. But I became sneaky. I would always make sure I drank more wine than my husband. I started buying not one bottle of wine but two (just in case my husband drank more than his share). I would place wine bottles in the fridge with the consideration you’d give to hanging a picture on the wall. “Should I hide the bottle behind the milk or would that arouse suspicion? Lie it on its side so the remains won’t be so obvious?” I also avoided evening activities because it meant I couldn’t drink or what about picking my children up from an activity? It all had to be weighed up and coordinated.
In October 2019, I set out on a new sober attempt with manic purpose. It lasted 65 days until the day I told my husband, “I have this under control, and I’m going to have a glass of wine”. He said, “are you sure about this, you’ve done so well?” After all, I was on my own journey, a catch phrase we both liked to use, me with wine, him with sweeties. But soon, surprise surprise, I returned to my old ways. However, this time my foundations started to crumble a little. I felt my husband’s suspicion on the hairs on the back of my neck. I caught him out of the corner of my eye checking the levels of bottles wine in the fridge. I’m sure I could hear him tutting. Or he would put empties on the bench advertising my lushness like a shop front. He was a frustrated mute because he avoided the topic for the most part. I knew he loved and cared about me, but probably didn’t want to poke the angry bear.
So what changed and why now?
- I had a light bulb moment. Not a bright spark, but a slow burner like an Ecobulb building intensity. Or put another way, I had a ‘SHIT, THIS HAS TO STOP’ moment.
- Drinking wine had become my normal, like having a cup of tea or eating dinner or breathing. It had became so ingrained in my life that it just ‘was’, like you have a spine to hold you up, or legs to aid walking or wine to moisten your mouth.
- I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All of a sudden youth was not on my side. I looked puffy and fat and blotchy. I didn’t like what I saw.
- I also moved from my learners wheels to a big girls bike. I took sobriety more seriously and not as a hobby.
- I restrained my need to race into a new project and took my time to engage in the prospect of sobriety – I listened, read, and processed stories about sobriety.
- And, I’ve always followed the adage ‘when the time is right, the time is right’. I knew this was different. I had reached my tipping point.
So here I am now, writing a blog to reflect on where I’ve come from and where I intend to go. To connect with others and maybe ignite someone else’s resolve to start or continue a sober journey. It also gives my fingers something to do instead of wrapping my pinkies around a glass.
So to summarize in a not so eloquent haiku –
Child to adult
My path to sobriety
Wino coming clean