Four years ago yesterday, I stopped drinking. I wasn’t going to celebrate, given the noticeable decline in enthusiasm that I’ve experienced for sobriety in 2011. I haven’t felt positive about AA in months: why would I bother to go to the effort to celebrate a meaningless number?
By Thursday, somewhere deep inside I realised that actually, four years does mean something. It means that I haven’t taken a drink for a very long time; that I’ve managed to avoid temptation and keep myself on the straight and narrow for all that time. I never expected to last nearly as long, but I have. Given how rocky things have been this year, there’ve been moments where I very nearly didn’t make it. But I have made it.
So I decided to celebrate. I sent a message out to five or six old AA friends, inviting them to a meal in Soho on the Friday evening. We’d meet at Hop Gardens first, hear a bit of honesty, then go for dinner. When it came to yesterday, I actually felt like celebrating. It would be a special day. Work was a breeze. Then I came home, got dressed in my nice suit and shirt, and headed off to the meeting looking like a fashionable, healthy young man. There I found my friends and we all sat together to listen to some really good sharing. The chair talked about the basics of sobriety: first things first, not taking the first drink, keeping AA close, all the things I’d do well to remember in my dark moments. I was glad that I’d decided to go.
Afterwards six of us walked to Old Compton Street, to eat in the Stockpot, my favourite restaurant in London. It’s hard to put a finger on why I like it so much. The food isn’t the best, the seats aren’t the most comfortable, but there is something about it I’ve always found endearing. I guess it’s one of those places, like Costa Coffee two minutes down the road, which I’ll always associate with sobriety, because everyone from AA goes there.
The meal was delightful, as was the company. It was nice to see Dean again – I haven’t seen him more than twice in the last year. I invited him out of courtesy, as he’s always been there for my sobriety birthdays and we’ve grown up together, in a way. He seemed happy to be invited, and we caught up on our lives and times thoroughly.
After the meal I had a couple of hours to kill before a midnight screening of the final Harry Potter film, which I’d pre-booked tickets for. I was knackered after eating so much food, but I was too excited about the film to think about not going. While everyone else went home for the night, I decided to walk back to Waterloo and get changed into some comfortable clothes for the late movie. The best thing about living here is that it really is close to everything. I wouldn’t have been able to pop home and get changed were I still living with mum. I’d have got home and not wanted to go out again.
At 11.30 I went back out; the night was still warm. I walked across the river, my favourite walk in London, and twenty minutes later I was at Odeon Leicester Square. The place was absolutely packed. Everyone was obviously thrilled to be part of such an experience. I was taken back to the night exactly four years ago when I queued up for the final Harry Potter book. The circumstances that night were astonishingly similar, if you think about it: I’d just come from the Hop Gardens meeting, and there I was standing outside in a queue with thousands of other squealing Harry Potter fans. It’s as if the intervening years hadn’t changed anything. I guess that excitement for the conclusion of the story could never be taken away. Though we all knew what was going to happen, seeing it on the screen was an experience you could not be prepared for.
The film, in the end, was by far the best in the series. I’d go as far as to say it was better than the book. They’ve brought to life all the best moments, and the acting was spectacular, as were the special effects, which blew me away. I was on the verge of tears from the beginning to the end. Knowing that this part of my life was finally over made me feel somewhat emotional. The link between last night and that night four years ago when I queued up for the book in my first week of sobriety made the whole experience seem very meaningful. It enabled me to measure how far I’ve come, as well as see how far I’ve got to go. Harry’s growth as a character seems to mirror mine in some ways. The whole journey of the films is about him coming to terms with death and change and the end of things. I too have to come to terms with those things. Everything in my life has changed, is changing, and the comparison between me now and me four years ago is truly startling, as is the comparison between the final Harry Potter film and the first one.
When the film came to an end everyone in the theatre cheered and clapped wildly. There’s something you don’t see every day. At 2.30 in the morning I came home on a high. Harry’s dark days are finally over, and so are mine. That final scene in Kings Cross station had me at the heartstrings. We’re both grown ups now: childhood and all its traumas are gone. We’ve made it.
I woke up on edge today. The weather is thoroughly miserable, and my mum was expecting me to go to this party for one of her colleagues who turns fifty today. We went to Westfield a couple of weeks ago to choose her outfit. Mum never goes to parties, so I guess she was excited about this one. As soon as I woke today I knew I couldn’t face it. I fucking hate parties. I wasted years trying to pretend that I enjoyed them, but I don’t. The only parties I go to now are at work, where I at least know people. The thought of going to Crouch End with mum to celebrate the birthday of someone I will never see again was so off-putting that I had to risk upsetting her by cancelling. She wasn’t happy. I sensed her whole body drop as I said the words to her. “Oh, OK then.” She said before abruptly hanging up on me. She’s never done that before. Well, that’s that then. If she never talks to me again I’ll have to live with it.
Oh I’m sure she’ll forgive me. We’ve fallen out over worse stuff before. Even if she doesn’t forgive me, perhaps it would be good for us to have some sort of break from each other. I don’t feel bad for cancelling tonight: I have to put myself first. Even though I’ve got to four years sober, the thought of drinking is still there, and I just can’t afford to put myself at risk at the moment. My mother could never possibly understand that, which is why I had to tell a white lie about having a headache. To me it’s not much of a lie – my head is in a funny place today – calling it a headache makes it easier for lay-people such as mother to understand.
I’m annoyed that she would get annoyed over something like this. There was no “are you OK?” or “you should get some rest.” It was just “oh, OK then.” She could probably tell I wasn’t being completely truthful. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d taken the trouble to explain what’s really going on for me. She would never understand. Non-alcoholics don’t understand why putting sobriety first is so tantamount. I need a meeting this evening: if I’d gone to the party I would have had to miss it. The chair last night talked about having to cancel important engagements so that he could get to a meeting. Thank God I was there to hear that last night.
I’m not going to chase my mother for forgiveness. A few years ago I’d have been desperate for it, at the time when I needed it so much more because she was my financial and emotional support. Today I support myself. Not just financially: I am entirely my own person today. This sort of thing was bound to happen eventually. Her co-dependency remains toxic. I have to break away from it. I have to be a different person with her. I’ll still go and see her every weekend, but if the neediness starts to get in the way of my sobriety, then I have to put sobriety first.
Of course I feel bad for her being upset. But don’t you see it’s not my fault? I didn’t do this to her. She can still go to that party by herself. She’s a grown woman, she doesn’t need me to hold her hand. God, I wish she could see that. I wish she could grow her own personality and build a life. For years my growth in those areas has gradually come between us. It’s so clear to see now. I don’t really know where we’ll go from here. But things have got to change.