My Primary Purpose

I am a bit like the Queen. I have had two birthdays every year for the past nine years. I have no idea which is her favourite – her official one, or her real one, but I know which is mine. It is the birthday I have today, 29th September. It is my sobriety birthday and this year I am nine. Nine years sober.

I am just going to let that sink in for a moment, if you don’t mind. Nine years without a drop of alcohol. Not a jot. No cheating or hiding bottles, either.

It still seems unreal, when like now, I sit down and think about it, which I don’t do very often. I’m not saying that I take it for granted. I don’t. That would be a killer. It is why I say a little prayer every day. A prayer to stay sober for the day. Just for the day. Then show gratitude. “I’m truly grateful to be sober, thank you.” I am too.

I don’t take time out like I am doing now though, to think about how amazing it is that this hopeless drunk hasn’t drunk booze for so long and, what’s more, how it is that this hopeless drunk has not had the slightest inclination to drink since 29th September 2011. I’m not taking the credit. It’s a miracle, which means I’ve had very little to do with it.

During the last six months of my active alcoholism, I struggled to stay sober for nine minutes. I’m not much kidding about that either. Alone in an apartment in a town in the south of France. Lying on the bed at night, unable to sleep, unable to do anything but listen to the endless whine of French mopeds going past the window all night. Seeing the walls moving when I close my eyes. The shakes. The sweating. The terror.

Then in the morning, crack of dawn and out to the supermarché.  A real effort, in itself. Crawling from bed to bathroom. Throwing t-shirt and shorts on. Splash water on the face and clean the teeth, trying not to retch. Doing my fairly limited best, not to look like death warmed up, but obviously failing. “Make sure you take your money, some carrier bags and your keys. Make sure again.” Hands shaking. Legs like jelly. Call the lift. “I hope there’s no-one in it. Please God, don’t let there be anyone in it.”

There’s no-one in it. Phew. Get outside. The supermarché is only around the back of the flats. Less than a five-minute walk. It feels like it’s five miles away. Concentrate. One foot in front of the other. Is anyone looking? No. Ok. Heart going ten to the dozen. In the store. Get a basket and straight round to the booze aisle. Grab some beer and some wine. Easy does it, don’t drop anything. Everyone is looking. (They’re not).

Finally, the till, the worst bit. I’ve tried to calculate the amount to the exact centime, so I can give the cashier the exact amount. All so I don’t have to wait for change. Avoid an awkward conversation in French.

‘Merci, au revoir.’ That’s fine.

Sigh of relief. I’m off again and with a bit of a spring, if you can call it that, as I’m on the home leg, which takes all of three minutes or so. In the foyer of the apartment block, no one is around and the lift is waiting and free. Up to the 2nd floor. Key shakily in the door and… I’m in. Thank goodness. Thank, goodness.

I take my booty into the lounge. Open a can and ‘glug, glug, glug’. There’s a warm glow as the alcohol hits the back of my throat. Another can and then another. Finally, at last, the state of ‘even keel’ is reached. It’s 9 am.

Eat little, drink, repeat.

Today, I’ve been sober for nine years. This day, my primary purpose in life is not to drink alcohol. Just for today.