When I wake up these days I am awake almost immediately. I stretch, feeling a little achey because I am getting old and creaky with a sore back and middle-aged stiffness. But I look up at the summer light coming in through the curtains and I listen to the beloved sleeper snoring beside me and I say thank you. It’s a moot point Who I am saying thank you to, but that is a whole other journey of discovery. I have a life free of shame and misery and alcoholic menace, that terror of the life under threat, the missing gaps and elipses, the memories of chaos and unintended outbursts, the emotional seesaw, the blinding headaches and nausea.
So I wake up and know I am not going to drink for 24 hours, not even if the world is about to end. Well, especially if the world is about to end because I would like to say good bye to a few people I love very much and spend time giving thanks for what has gone before. Conscious living is light years away from obliviousness. I don’t want to miss the party.
Then I get out of bed and go into the bathroom full of lavender-scented soaps and neatly hung towels and I wash my face, brush my teeth, look at myself in the mirror and there is always a small voice that keeps reminding me that I can look myself in the eyes again, can look at that recognisable me-ness, just an ordinary woman of a certain age, clear-eyed, fresh-faced, ageing with crowsfeet and a few more lines, a few more grey hairs, but nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to fear.
Making coffee downstairs, waiting for the kettle to boil and looking out at blackbirds in the young trees in the backyard. There is a bottle of Scotch for visitors in the back of a cupboard and it will stay there untouched. There is a packet of analgesics in a drawer, not needed any more. A bowl of fruit, bread made with stoneground flour, a large bunch of fresh coriander in water standing on the windowsill above the sink, green and pungent. A kitchen flooded with dawn light and warmth, a safe place.
From my study upstairs I look out over the Cusop hill, green and lovely. Great expanse of cloudy sky, with treetops and birds flying back and forth. The beauty of the Welsh Border all here on my doorstep. Seated at my computer, I go into a cyber site for recovering alcoholics and encourage others to hang in there until the dependence lessens, to trust in the possibility of life getting better. I read the blogs and online journals of those trudging the road of happy destiny along with me, the hamfisted cliches around AA that I have come to love because of the community I know so well.
Sleeping in the next room is a friend, a pugnacious man who sobered up in Glasgow more than 30 years ago when he was nearly dead and sleeping in a hostel for homeless men and chronic alcoholics, down and out, filthy and broken, dying at the age of 23 and all alone in the world. Now he has grandchildren, a loving and fierce-spirited wife, a garden crammed with his broad beans and cherry tomatoes and herbs. He himself likes greasy fish and chips and won’t touch salad. He is still as outspoken and unsociable as ever, a raw Scot with a temper. He has no time for the respectability of 21st-century AA, no time for godtalk about abstract spirituality, no time for therapizing sponsors or moneymaking rehab centres. He goes to AA each week to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety, always looking out for the hopeless cases, the hardened and homeless drinkers. The one person in a meeting whom only he can help. The person with the most to lose and nowhere else to go. He know what it is like to stand on death’s doorstep and hear the voice of someone with no bullshit in him talking about making the long journey back to life.
Alcoholism is a killer. We need more AA battlers without airs and graces, those who will fight for sobriety right to the last day alive without a drink, the courageous and uncompromising alcoholics who have seen and recognised the Enemy and know how bloody the battle can be. And how sweet the reprieve, to wake sober and know life is good.