I am scared of being alone. I’m not just scared of the long-term-never-settling-down alone, I’m scared of just spending the night alone. Scared enough to have made a million mistakes and scared enough to make a million more. Now I’m sober, it’s harder to make those mistakes, even though sometimes, in a bizarre way, I wish I could. When I’m in a pub or a club, I look around me and I watch people hooking up, being embarrassingly forward or going home together and I know that they would be hard pushed to do something they couldn’t justify the next day. I was one of those people, I found it so easy to walk straight up to a guy at the bar or to silence someone by leaning in for a kiss. I used to ask people out or make the first move and even if it went catastrophically wrong and they said no or pulled away, I would shake it off because ‘I was drunk’, everyone would laugh about it and life would go on, even though inside I was dying of shame.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my past actions don’t get a carte blanche because I can tether them to a diagnosis. On September 24th, 2014 I had my final drink; I didn’t stop because prohibition hit or someone locked me in a room, I stopped because of voluntary actions which, by default, means I am responsible for everything that has come before this very moment.
There’s one particular memory that springs to mind about four years ago, I don’t particularly want to share this, but what with it being burned in to my retina I think it’s as good a place to start as any. It’s strange, I can feel a pressure and an emptiness in my chest whilst I’m typing. I’m sitting on my bed and I’m fighting the overwhelming urge to bury myself in the duvet, which normally means I should just get on with it… Liam, older, attractive, I barely knew him. We’d had an introduction once when I was struggling with some music and he, not knowing me and not needing to, sat and calmed me down. He had no motive other than plain and simple kindness. I think it was that modest act of compassion that piqued my interest. From a frighteningly young age I was used to both boys and men hanging around and waiting for me to get high or drunk enough to take advantage, a friend once told me how scared she was for me when the “vultures” descended. I’m not saying every guy in my life was like that, far from it, but when a girl gets in to a state as often as I did, they regularly attract the ‘undesirables’. Liam wasn’t a vulture, he wasn’t waiting for a time to strike, he was just there; he was charming, funny, not to mention he knew his way round a guitar and there lay the foundations for quite a significant crush. One evening we were in a bar, I was dangerously drunk and I don’t remember how I’d got there or what we were even talking about, but I was fascinated. I didn’t need the idea to be planted in my head, my brain just acted on impulse. I leant, or rather lurched, in to kiss him and he pulled back. The next few minutes are hazy but I remember him being, unsurprisingly, lovely about it. Instead of doing what I should have done and left, I went in for a kiss again! It was mortifying, only made worse by the calmness with which Liam dealt with the situation. A friend who saw it happen told me the next day that it was like car-crash TV and he couldn’t pull his eyes away. I think the fact that Liam had said no only made me like him more; not in a treat-them-mean-to-keep-them-keen kind of way but more of an obviously-not-just-after-one-thing way. After all, his reaction over the course of that interaction could’ve resulted in a very different outcome. After years of playing it over and wondering what it was about Liam that used to make my stomach somersault when he walked in to a bar, I have come to the conclusion it was because I thought he had all the answers. It wasn’t even deep down that I knew I was a mess. Normal people didn’t have quite so many memories of coming out of blackout at a stranger’s house, kissing someone they didn’t want to or worse, sleeping with them; friends have since told me to report one night, in particular, but the gut-wrenching reality is that I know how I used to be and I could’ve initiated everything and that man could’ve been none the wiser as to how violated and afraid I would feel when I mentally came to, mid act. I couldn’t run away from how messed up my life was and Liam had somehow begun to represent a softness, stability and safety, all things I desperately craved but feared I could never obtain. I felt alone in a self-created poison of circumstance and Liam was the antidote, he never was, of course, but I clung to that thought because it was one of the few hopes I had left.
The morning after the almost-kiss, already drinking, I was discussing how much of an idiot I was with a friend. The only way to ensure things never got spoken of again was to laugh and brand my ever-growing discretion folder with a big red-lettered stamp reading ’OVER THE LIMIT: EXCUSED’. That stamp got destroyed on the day of my last drink; now, every mistake I make, I make with a clear head, mania being the only tenuous exception. There’s a part of me inside, a part that wishes I could claim drunken oblivion and let a date get a too cosy or a first meeting get too friendly, purely because being lonely is scary. It’s an aspect of sobriety that nobody tells you about and one I find surprisingly hard to swallow. I’ve always been one to want that text, those flowers and that perfectly timed kiss, even when I’ve pretended not to care. When I drank I used to just go out and get those things myself but, looking back, none of it was real and I was just as, if not more alone than I am now.
Today I choose reality and even if this current reality is sometimes cold, it’s a much better alternative to the drama, shame and guilt that encompassed my previous existence. I’m happy to say that nowadays my life is soft, stable (enough) and safe. Yes, it would be a lie to say I don’t feel an occasional pang when I watch a cute scene on TV, see someone greet their partner or wake up alone but all of that will come with time. I am only now learning to be on my own and to exist inside my own head; It’s giving me the ability to learn who I actually am, what I like and what I don’t like, for that I am eternally grateful. I’ve just torn my eyes away from the laptop and scanned the walls of my bedroom, on which hang scores of paraphernalia, memories in frames and on scraps of paper. This is a far cry from once sitting on a bench being consoled by a friend, over having nowhere to live. I can handle being alone if being alone means getting to know myself, after all how can you be with someone if you’re incapable of knowing what you like about them?