Think alcoholics are just like everyone else once they get sober? Think again. By Nicola O’Hanlon
I am a shameless people watcher. People fascinate me in all their glorious and numerous shapes, colours, sizes, nationalities and creeds. Now that I am sober, I have begun to notice things about people that are all brand new to me, things that really highlight the difference between me and a non-alcoholic or addict.
Normal people say things like “No thank you, I’ve had enough” when the waiter comes around to refill their wine glass. The first time I saw this happen was about two years ago, when I attended a friend’s wedding and was in recovery about a year. It absolutely blew my mind. The wine was free and there were bottles and bottles of the stuff. I was sitting around a table at the reception with some people I didn’t know too well, and honestly I was uncomfortable because I was just beginning to learn how to communicate and socialise sober; a whole new concept for me which was proving quite difficult as really I didn’t like people much, and well, alcohol enabled me to see them in a better light. Anyway, along comes the waiter. “Would you like some wine, Madam?” Of course first I thought, Enough with the Madam, do I look like I’m 60? And secondly YES I want that wine, all of it! I wanted to swallow every drop straight from the bottle so I could feel comfortable in my skin, in this place, around these people. But instead I said, ”No thank you, I don’t drink”! What? Did that just come out of my mouth? I thought. I said it over again in my head—“I don’t drink, I don’t drink, I don’t drink.” Those three words had never come out of my mouth since the age of 13 when I took my first drink, so it was the first time in my 22 year drinking career I had ever said them. And then I just sat there and watched in utter amazement all these normal people who could or were allowed to drink as much as they wanted, but they just didn’t. To this day, I still cannot fully understand that concept….I mean, why drink at all if you’re not going to drink everything?
Normal people are horrified by the sight of a girl in a nightclub bathroom snorting coke off the vanity unit. I would always roll my €20 or €50 note in a certain manner and it always had to be a €20 or a €50 because I thought that using a note of a lesser value kinda cheapened the whole experience. Thankfully today I can see how that thought process makes absolutely no sense even in my crazy head. Progress, me thinks. So there I was, bent over in front of the mirror, money shoved in my nostril, sniffing the lines of white power up my nose as if my life depended on it before then rubbing any traces left on my gums. Standing upright, I checked my reflection in the mirror and rubbed my nose to make sure there was no evidence of what I’d just been doing. That’s when I saw a girl stand behind me with a look of disgust on her face that I hadn’t seen since the nuns caught me smoking cigarettes at the back of the school some years previously. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she said.
“Fuck off you bitch” was my classy, subdued reply.
Her friend caught her by the arm and ushered her out of the bathroom, their self-righteous, superior expressions plastered on their faces. I straightened myself up and got out of there pretty fast as I knew she would be back with security to play God cop and kick me out. But I just mingled with the hundreds of clubbers, many of whom had been doing their own snorting, and I didn’t see her or a security person for the rest of the night.
Normal people also do things like eat just one piece of chocolate. I’ve observed this strange bewildering event in complete awe. Allow me to explain: only one piece is taken from the wrapper, eaten slowly and enjoyed and the rest is put away for another time. There is no possible way on this earth that I could ever do that. I simply do not understand discipline when it comes to substances that cause great pleasure. It doesn’t matter what size it is, it could be the biggest bar ever made and I would have to eat it all of it in one sitting. Even if there were two bars in my cupboard, there is no way I could just eat one; both would be gone before the end of the day. They would call to me loudly from the safety of their dark hiding place, teasing me and taunting me until I couldn’t resist any longer and bam, they would get eaten in 30 seconds flat. I’d barely taste them. And then of course the guilt would come because, I’d think I was going to be fat and that would feel like just the end of the world at that moment. I have learned not to keep chocolate in my house and buy it only when absolutely necessary—which is about five times per week. Progress, me thinks?
Normal people are also cool with other people not liking them. A normal person’s reply to “But he doesn’t like you” might be “So what?” I’ve seen this particular issue come up quite a bit for fellow recovery participants. Many of us feel like we have the most wonderful friends that we have ever had in our lives since coming into recovery but we obsess about that one person who seems to be very cold towards us and we torture ourselves wondering, Why why why do they not like me? Do they think I’m stupid, ugly, boring, a bitch? This particular obsession has triggered every conceivable insecurity that I have ever held. I am actually quite a bit better when it comes to this issue these days but once upon a time it would really play havoc with my serenity and self esteem. Now I couldn’t care less what people think of me. Progress, me know!
Finally, the biggie: normal people do not fall in love with nor become obsessed within one day of meeting someone new. Oh holy mother of God, is it any wonder I had to drink so much with such erratic and intense emotions to contend with? And even in recovery no man who showed interest in me was safe for my first six months of sobriety; if they didn’t show the required level of attention to keep me from feeling devastatingly rejected, then yet again it felt as if the world was sure to end.
Thank God for progress.