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What is your "why?"

Updated: Jan 13

Children running in a field

When people find out I am alcohol free, they often ask me, "Why?" Sometimes I can answer... because I feel better without it! And other times, like now, I struggle, and I have to remind myself. Like right now.

It has been a rotten week, and sometimes rotten weeks are harder without that slug of wine at the end of a tough day. There, I said it.

Now, do not get me wrong here. When I used to drink, I was terrified of how I would cope without a decent glass of Chablis or another nice red at the end of a day. How does a person cope without wine? What do you even DO with all that pain and stress and heartache?

It is not as hard as I thought it would be, not even close. And there are no afterpains such as hangovers, regret, loss of health and nasty red teeth at the end of it either. So really, a bad day is - yes - even easier without wine.

No, the issue is not the lack of alcohol, it is the fact that to get to the end of the pain you must move through it unaided and inebriated. Yes, you heard me - you have to simply move through. Awake and aware and experience the whole thing in all its horrible, horrible glory. And when life is like this, I look back on the ultimate pain, when I fell deeply into drinking, where I never wanted to stop.

I started drinking fairly late on in life, I would say in my late twenties. I had lost my Dad, was questioning everything and discovering life outside of my beloved computer games and SciFi movies. It was fine, for a good long while, I could take it or leave it. But then my beautiful eldest boy got very, very sick with a rare form of aggressive cancer, and died. He was twelve years old, and he and his younger brother were my whole life, my reason to live, and all my of joy in the world. In a few months all that joy just sort of fizzled out, like a spent lightbulb, and so began the darkest time of my life.

Naturally, I brought my 'friends' rum, wine and gin along with me for the ride. And I disappeared into a made up world, a multiplayer online game, and fortuitously found a new family there. The family I was missing in the real world.

Together we would battle and talk until the early hours of the night, and cackle with laughter and slurred words as we beat down big dungeon bosses together, and then strode through towns and cities on our hard-won horses, dressed in beautiful armour that glowed with enchantments, which you could only get from killing the biggest, toughest monsters in the game. Often newer players would whisper me, telling me I looked beautiful in my white Angel of Death outfit, adorned with wings and with my glowing silver scythe by my side. I was a 'pro-raider', I had made it in this game, and my healer was renown for expertly helping teams through the most difficult of battles, so much so that I would often be invited, and even paid, to raid with other guilds.

Slowly friendship bonds increased, and we started to meet up on an annual basis, and it was so much fun. We would ride roller coasters at Alton Towers by day, or visit castles, and by night we would sit by campfires with a beer and cook food and talk and talk until daylight. We spoke about jobs and family and solved the worlds problems. And they all had great jobs - we were not kids in basements, we were thirty and forty somethings with careers - some were directors of big companies, some were senior managers for retail, and others were engineers, or scientists, or barristers.

Except me.

I was the late thirties, just about holding her head above water, just about functioning game-obsessed woman hiding in a fantasy world, trying to avoid the place that'd hurt me so much I could not breathe.

Those wonderful people helped me in ways they will never imagine, and the annual meet-ups taught me the real world was not all scary, but could be exciting, with opportunities. I saw their cars, listened to their lives and their jobs, and soon I wanted to go back into the real world again and touch base with reality. I had been living away from the real world for almost nine years...

It was a slow return. I started simply with the gym, and I took up various classes, including Tai Chi, which my father-in-law said did wonders for mindset and mental health. At Tai Chi I was the youngest person there, and a group of older men, all retired, mostly ex-Navy took me under their wing. They all knew people in various businesses, and they would send me to interviews, giving me lots of advice and encouragement beforehand. Within a few weeks, with their advice on interviews, plus high amounts of encouragement from my Mum, I had bagged myself a job all by myself. I would start the following week, and so I had to give up all my gym classes and say goodbye to my new found Tai Chi friends.

I ended up at the loveliest company, with one of the most close-knit, kindest group of co-workers I have ever worked alongside. I was paired with a kind woman, who probably still has no idea how much she helped me in those first few nerve-wracking years, who on my first day leaned over to me and whispered: "You DO know you have to answer those emails, right?" "Oh, yes - of course!" I replied quickly, but honestly, it brought me out of my trance and firmly into the real world at last. I remember hiding in the ladies for a few minutes, staring at the ceiling, knowing I would be there for a very long time. I was so grateful to have been able to come back into the real world.

I worked hard, and was promoted quickly, and my gaming and website skills started to pay off when I became the first ever social media and digital person in the company, launching everything that had anything to do with computers. I loved the job I did, and one of the Directors, as it turned out, also played the same online game as me. Gaming friends found once again! He joined us all and we played online game together, and finally I had both my gaming family and a new, real world family as well, and life was good again! I felt like I belonged.

But the pain was still there. Of course it was. Guess what I used to take away the pain?

As my earning went up, so did my palette for expensive wines and gins. I honestly have no idea how I paid for it all. I started a job in marketing and sales, and my colleagues could drink just as much as me some nights. The social nights and meet-ups went by in a blur, and I was still drinking on gaming nights as well. By now I needed the wine to blot out the stress, as well, as my responsibilities at work grew and my targets got bigger.

The amount of alcohol I was imbibing by now meant I could go on and on all night, matching anyone drink for drink whilst waving the barman over to buy another round. I was unstoppable, and so was the banter and the giant hugs every time we met up and the loud laughter and shouting as we all fought to be heard.

And when I did not go out, and did not game, I started to drink alone, feeling panicky when a bottle of wine looked too low to last the whole night. Eventually a bottle became two bottles on many nights, and slowly, insidiously, alcohol took grasp on me. I would wake up to huge bruises, not knowing where they came from. The headaches got worse, and occasionally I would still feel inebriated in the morning for work. By now I had been told my blood pressure was high, and I had put on weight with all the excess wine calories I was consuming. I still functioned fine - smashed all my targets at work, given up during the pregnancy of my third son, took care of my kids, ran a successful business, it was all fine. I was super mum. I even moved house and upgraded my lifestyle. But my skin was dry and my eyes regularly looked gritty and bloodshot. Before I went home from work each evening, I would plan where to buy more wine from, even if I had two bottles at home, as a precaution. And I had started to hide the bottles...

Each morning, waking with a foggy head, I would plan on having just one glass, for a health kick - a detox, I would promise myself. By the end of the day I would forget everything I had promised myself, and proceed to drink myself into blackout oblivion once again. Sometimes I would wake up on my armchair, sometimes on my keyboard if I had been gaming, and sometimes in bed, not remembering how I got there, what time, or what I had done the previous night. Not a clue! Just no memory of it at all. Eventually I would forget whole chunks of time, including, mercifully for a while, the death of my beautiful, perfect, son.

By 2019 almost another decade had gone by, and I was tired, so tired of it all. Tired of waking up with headaches and feeling crap. Tired of forgetting. Tired of spending an incredible amount of money on what was basically poison. Just, tired. But I was still afraid of the pain of the real world without my "buddy", wine. By now I was almost 50, and I had been drinking too heavily for far too long.

And that, my friend, is when I started to make my journey back. There was no rock-bottom, no "Alcoholics Anonymous", no fight for recovery. It was just a couple of books and a mindset change. First a 28 day break with One Year No Beer, then a Cancer Research "Sober October" challenge, and then Annie Grace's This Naked Mind in December 2019 during a health kick.

The last book changed my life forever, and it was the start of my forever freedom from alcohol. It changed me then, and again during lockdown, and even more so in 2022, and now it will continue to change my life forever more as well.

And how is the pain?

This week, I am struggling, I will admit. Perhaps you can read it in my words.

But I move through the pain, and even though I hurt so much sometimes I want to curl myself into a ball and just cry, I know I am lucky to be alive and well, despite abusing my body for so long with the effects of alcohol, despite losing so many people I love dearly to cancer or heart disease, despite losing my first-born son, I move through it all.

I am alive now. I was not alive when I was hiding in the fog of alcohol. And 90% of the time it is completely wonderful and amazing and fantastic and joyful. There is so much good in the world it is hard to take in! I had forgotten that if you drown out the bad stuff, you drown out the good stuff too! And even the 10% of bad stuff is better now without alcohol. I just need to remind myself the bad is not as bad as before.

And the good is so good, it's in glorious technicolour. Just not this week. And that's okay.

Have a good weekend, and let me know... What is YOUR why?

Amanda x

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