I’ve been thinking about this day for a few weeks now… Do I celebrate it? Is it really an accomplishment? In the grand scheme of things is it really that important? I do this a lot, grind things down in my head until they are just a speck on my path, barely noticeable, one hop and they are behind me without a trace of recognition. But today I listen to those voices who know me through and through, those who have known me sober and drunk, those who have listened to me ramble on in the late hours of the night, and those who have reached out to me in the early hours of the morning. I will listen to those who have stuck by me, and who I have stuck by over the years, despite everything. Because their voices are the ones that are telling me that this is something to celebrate.
I’ve been completely sober for 5 years now. Five years and one day ago I was doing shots of Herradura Reposado after my shift at the restaurant. It’s quite fitting that my last drinks were tequila and Heineken in a Mexican club in Queens, rather than my usual Guinness and Powers in one of my regular Irish pubs… I won’t ever forget that day, or that night. It was a wonderful night.
I wrote the below a few months ago for another site, but it ended up not being used (which in hindsight is perfect, for many reasons). So I have edited it a little and am using it for my 5 years of sobriety celebration post. I am very much aware that during these past 5 years I have been pregnant three times, and breastfeeding, and that the next 5 years will be more telling when it comes to my sobriety, but 5 years is 5 years. (David Bowie just started singing in my head). I’m going to celebrate my own strength, because some days it takes a lot of it. Other days it’s easy. Sometimes I feel like I have had many lives, all connected together by a rope that was handed to me before I was born. That rope is threaded with hope, determination, and a lot of luck. I’m going to celebrate life, love, and happiness, and I’m going to celebrate a life that has never stopped being amazing, even when it wasn’t.
I was a walking paradox through my late teens and well into my 30’s. It was either abstinence or a full on 23-hour month-long party, the last hour of each day left for sleeping and sobering up before going at it again. I could go a year without drinking and then BAM, there came a 6 month binge. Life is always fun when you happen to be the life of the party, but it wears thin after a while. Some people have this innate ability to jump in and out of partying and maintain a healthy lifestyle (physically and mentally), but I’ve always been all in or all out. With alcohol and all that it entails.
I used to blame everything and everyone but myself. It was a cop out really... My childhood was messy. Well kind of. I never went hungry to school or had to run from machete-wielding murderers (this is what I do, I normalize stuff: whatever happened to me I internalized and normalized it). But in a nutshell I had a father who was an addict and who killed himself when I was 10, and a stepfather who was an alcoholic. And a ton of other stuff behind all that that I’m only just allowing myself to start processing correctly. Basically I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t keeping some kind of feeling or thought hidden away, or conditioning myself to hide my feelings and put on my game face. I used to blame my love of alcohol on the lack of stable, responsible and healthy father figures, and the normalization of booze and drugs from an early age. I used to blame my fear of a proper relationship on the fact that I had never seen one while growing up, well not a healthy one anyway. And sometimes I would even let myself believe that I was somehow predestined to be an alcoholic, because that’s just what we did. We use something to level the ground over everything else.
But after a while blaming everything but yourself gets old. I had to learn to let go and put it all behind me, all of that booze-soaked guilt and blame. I may have felt like I needed alcohol to navigate all of the areas of my life, but I had to teach myself that I didn’t.
I was a very shy child, plagued with a lot of anxiety and lack of confidence. Of course not everything was bad, I have some good memories, but a lot of them involved being hidden away with a book, hiding away somewhere, or just being away from home. Somehow once I was able to get my mother and stepfather to agree to letting me go on a school trip to Prague: I bawled my eyes out when I came home as I didn’t want to leave the cocoon of that trip. It was one of the first times that I felt like I belonged anywhere as me, and that I could be myself. I always felt I had to play some kind of role. I was very good at hiding all of my anxiety and worries though, I learnt to carry the weight on my shoulders. I still do. It’s hard to let go. Alcohol was a great way to lift the weight for a while (until it all inevitably fell right back down with a wallop).
I was born in England, lived in the Netherlands for a bit, but ultimately grew up in France. I come from a very much working class family, but my mother is a bit of a technical genius, and worked her backside off to give us a better life than we may have had if we had stayed in England. She moved to California in 2000, but I didn’t because US immigration is a very long and heartbreaking process, and, anyway, I was happy with my life at the time. I stayed in France, partied my way through Israel for a year, and then London for another, and randomly secured a job in NYC in 2005 with a temporary visa.
I’ve never gone out looking for the party. I just walk into it. I meet people who are into the same things as I am and connect with them and that’s it. NYC was a haven for people like me, and we grew, and wilted, together, rose together, and pulled each other down. It was OK when I was single, the only person I had to be accountable for was me. No one bothered me when I went out drinking for 3 days straight, and no one bothered me when I went sober for 3 years. I learnt how to function drunk, but I also learnt to live without alcohol, until the next stumble. Working as a bartender was amazing, sober and not sober, and I lead a pretty wonderful, although not always sustainable, life. Too many stories, many pretty incredible, others dark, others just ridiculous. But it was often good. And then sometimes really bad. Depression and alcohol rarely mix well. When I was depressed I would black out and never know how I made it home. Life of the party, not so much, more like the dying party of my brain cells. But it wasn’t always bad, or always good; it was my life, and all in all I was happy most of the time. I do have a few regrets: I used alcohol as an excuse for not working harder at my writing career, and for not being more honest with my feelings for others at times. It’s easy to pretend you aren’t good enough for something when you are too hungover to care.
I’d never been pregnant before, not that I know of anyway. And then suddenly it happened. Aged 35, living the rock n roll lifestyle, bartender, restaurant manager, party person... I knew I was pregnant as soon as I missed my period. And I knew right then that the party had to end. I went sober at 5 weeks pregnant, cold turkey, gave my cigarettes to the homeless guy across the street from work, and I’ve been sober ever since. Five years, longer than I’ve ever been sober before, and I know that I can never even entertain the idea of a drink again. My children will never know drunk Jade – I bet when they grow up they will look at me and roll their eyes when I tell them some of my stories. I know that most places tell you to never say never, but I have to tell myself this, or otherwise I will create loopholes for myself. I can’t let there be a loophole between me and a bottle of Powers.
People often don’t understand it though. When you say you don’t drink you see the raised eyebrows, the thoughts behind people’s eyes. You can hear them wondering “is she some kind of health-addict? An alcoholic drug addict? One of those sanctimoms?”. “A glass of wine at home won’t hurt you though, right?” “Like you never drink, ever?! How do you do it??”. “Can I drink in front of her now?? Is my glass of champagne going to cause a relapse??”
I don’t explain why I don’t drink – I don’t feel like I have to. No, I’m not going to watch you drink your wine and then start downing shots of whiskey like there is no tomorrow. I go to bars. My partner drinks (although not that much anymore), and while I have to calm my controlling tendencies, it doesn’t make me want to join in. Sobriety is easy most days, hard some days, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss that tingling sensation that happens when you are a few drinks in. But I never stop at that tingling sensation. I go for the full up until 6am rearranging the world lock-in central mode. And for my own mental health, for my kids, and for my partner’s well-being, that isn’t an option.
But if someone asks me about my sobriety because they are worried about their own drinking, or out of concern, or just because they would like advice, or because they feel isolated because they don’t drink either, I have no problem talking about it. My journey is my own, but if I can help someone else while I am traveling along it, then I feel like I am doing something good with the second chance life threw at me.
I’m still anxious. I still sometimes look longingly at the whiskey on the shelf at the back of the bar. I still remember the fun times but also the awful times. And I will also be very honest when my kids when the time comes, about how I was exposed to alcohol, and also what my relationship with alcohol is like. I want them to grow up understanding the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, with people and everything else (food, booze, drugs, clothes, money etc.). And in the meantime I’m still over here navigating my own ups and downs in the healthiest ways I can think of: writing, reading, and listening to music. I admitted to having a drinking problem to myself a long time ago, it just took a life change to give me the incentive to quit for good.
Maybe one day when I’m 90 I will sit back and have a few shots and a packet of cigarettes. Until then I hope that I can keep myself on the straight and narrow. In the 5 years that I have been sober I have been pregnant 3 times, and constantly breastfeeding. Now I need to see how I do the next 5 years sober without those barriers… But I am now at a point in my life where I believe in myself, in my strengths and in my weaknesses, and I believe that I will be OK. I will be more than OK.