Why can’t I stop drinking before I pass out? Why do I always lose control when my friends don’t? Why do I tell myself every morning that I won’t drink again, only to find myself opening another bottle in the evening? Am I an alcoholic, am I, am I, am I?
For twenty long years I asked myself these questions. I knew from an early age that I seemed to have no off-switch when it came to alcohol, but I also had a very fixed idea in my head of what an alcoholic looked like, and it wasn’t me. I used to see a friend’s mother walk to the local shop each night at about 6pm, stumbling, and looking haggard and drawn. She’d re-emerge a few minutes later clutching a carrier bag filled with clinking bottles, and I’d watch her stagger back to her home where I knew she was going to drink herself into oblivion. She was my benchmark of what ‘alcoholic’ meant.
Conversely, by the time my own drinking had crept up to (on average) a bottle of wine a night plus much more at the weekends, I was keeping my head above water. I had a decent job, I was a good mum, I lived in a nice house and I drank expensive wine. I had friends and a supportive family, and none of them ever said to me that I might be an alcoholic and therefore should try and quit my booze habit.
And so here lies the first barrier to getting help for a booze problem – in our society you are either a ‘responsible drinker’ or you are ‘an alcoholic’. If the latter, then you’d better grit your teeth, get down to your local AA meeting and prepare for a life of abstinence. If the former, then woohoo! Carry on necking that booze and join in the fun with the other drinkers.
But I didn’t feel as though I fell into either of these camps when I stopped drinking in 2011. I wasn’t like my friend’s mum who I’d seen popping down to the shop every night for her fix. Then again, I couldn’t honestly say that I didn’t have any concerns about my alcohol consumption, because I repeatedly got into a state – physical and mental – when I drank. The truth was that alcohol had begun to seriously impact on my self-confidence and feelings of self-worth. I was at a low ebb, and I knew that life should be more than an endless cycle of drinking, hangovers and shame.
When I quit drinking I was a single parent, so even if I’d got my head around the idea that I was an alcoholic, when I didn’t really think I was, I would have found it somewhat difficult to get out to physical support groups such as Alcoholic’s Anonymous. And here I came up against barrier number two: accessing support.
There was a third barrier to me finding the help that I needed for my alcohol dependency issues, and that was that I couldn’t identify with any of the language used in the field of addictions. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘in recovery’ and I didn’t want to be labelled ‘an alcoholic’. I regarded myself as being a whole person, a person of depth, and someone with a whole lot more about her than being simply ‘an addict’. I was Lucy, I was still me, but I just needed someone to help me find a way of not drinking and to feel good about it.
With all of these thoughts constantly in my head during the months after I put down my last drink in April 2011, I decided to launch the social network website, www.Soberistas.com - I created something that got around the problems I had seen when I first began to move on from a drinking life to a happy and healthy sober one.
For a start, Soberistas is online, so it gets around the problem of being unable to attend physical meetings (due to being a single parent, being unwell, living in a remote area, or simply being too scared to face people in person). Secondly, Soberistas avoids the usage of labels like ‘addict’ and ‘alcoholic’ and instead recognises its 34,000 members as people of worth, individuals with a lot more about them than merely developing a dependency upon alcohol.
And finally, because it’s online and due to its non-judgmental and gentle approach, Soberistas enables people to dip a toe into the whole issue of ‘booze problems’ without having to work out first whether or not they are ‘alcoholics’. If you’re not quite sure whether your problem is serious or not, you can read around, chat to people, remain anonymous, and never have to take it any further if you think it’s not for you. It’s a non-threatening starting point for tackling a drink problem. And it’s a place that allows people to feel positive about a life spent not drinking.
Lucy Rocca is the founder and editor of Soberistas.com. She is also the author of The Sober Revolution: Women Calling Time on Wine o’clock, Glass Half Full, Your 6 Week Plan, and How to Lead a Happy, Healthy and Alcohol-Free Life: The Rise of the Soberista.