By Marcelle Pillay
Oh, so many, many tears and so many, many beers, for so unnecessarily long.
I was so excited when I was invited to write this piece! And then I got nervous and then I got sober and I thought “now my story is so different and is it even interesting anymore.” And I think that is where I answered my lifelong question. You see, so much of who I was, or who I thought I was or wanted to be, was somehow tied to alcohol. It gave me energy, it made me social and it made me feel like I was one of the ‘cool kids’. Most importantly, I was an adult, and I could make up my own mind… no-one was going to tell me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t drink alcohol. Besides, it made me industrious, clever and witty, or did it?
My dance with alcohol started when I was around 14 or 15 (I think). I don’t remember my actual first drink, but I remember the many, many times that I was horribly drunk, sick and hungover. The many, many times that I did things I would never do sober and that were even embarrassing and sometimes dangerous. And here is the sad part, I wore all those stories like a badge of honour, like I had arrived and I was THE coolest kid, because my drunk tale could top yours. As I got older, everything I did socially somehow involved alcohol, and not just a bottle or two of wine. I never thought of myself as an alcoholic, because I only drank socially. The problem is that I could NEVER have just one or even two drinks… I literally drank until I fell down. All of this seems fine in your 20s and early 30s when recovery is relatively quick. But as you get older it wears on you. And suddenly I found myself stuck. So I am not an alcoholic, merely a social drinker, who creates social situations in order to drink… hmmm.
And then it happened, I started drinking alcohol to FEEL better. Bad day at the office, hello bottle of wine! Tough time with the toddler, 12 beers would soothe my soul. On and on and on. And I would tell myself that if I didn’t drink, that I simply couldn’t wake up in the morning, so it was probably better to drink and wake up feeling (semi) refreshed. I also told myself that I was a better parent and wife if I drank, because I coped better and felt like Martha Stewart. The problem is that I wasn’t a better anything.at.all. I was mediocre at best, but I told myself whatever I wanted to hear, just so I could continue drinking. And here is where it gets quite strange. I didn’t like drinking. Not one bit. For many years I thought I did, and I kept on keeping on. I would block my nose and down the first 2 drinks and then I didn’t care about the taste and the rest would simply be to get my buzz on. For the last few years I really hated it. I would often say the morning after the night before “this is it! I’m done!” I would last a week and be up to my old tricks. And then I started hating myself too. “Why can’t you just stop?! What the hell is wrong with you?! You wouldn’t drink poison, you avoid chemicals and try to eat organic, and yet you poison yourself every day with alcohol – what gives??” And to be honest I didn’t know. I still don’t have all the answers, but my best guess is that it stems from a long, long line of deep seated issues of inadequacy. Being a part of the cool kids and being an adult damn it, and making my own choices!
For a while, alcohol had been making me sick (in fact, if I am honest, for years I have not been well, and I am sure it is related in some way or form to alcohol). It was one afternoon after work, I got myself a cider out of the fridge, after a long day at work, cause, you know, I deserved it! I was sitting on the couch, in the lounge (being productive as usual) when my 4 year old daughter said to me “mom, are you drinking beer again? You know it makes you sick!” Wow! Even a 4 year old has this figured out, but no, not me!
I didn’t stop drinking immediately, but that conversation with my precious child played over and over in my mind, and I got to thinking about what my story looks like to her. My slavery to something so insignificant, that seems to have a significant impact on me. This thing that makes me so ill, so frequently. My inability to be present for her and my family at large, because it was about the drinking, always about the drinking. A part of me started to get very worried “you know you can’t stop drinking, your husband drinks, alot, your relationship just won’t be the same. Your mother drinks, has for many, many years and she is fine. What about braais and diners and oh! No! What about birthdays and Christmas! And, and, and! What will you drink?! What will the people say?! You won’t be one of the cool kids anymore AND you will be socially awkward unacceptable company for everyone. You NEED the alcohol to fit in” on and on and on. It was exhausting.
And then I found an audio book, Alan Carr’s How to stop drinking for Women. What an odd title, I thought. And why would it be different for men than what it is for women. I’ve listened to it twice and wow. It IS different for women. I am not a man, so I cannot speak for them, but as a woman, we take on so very much and we give and give and give, without ever expecting anything in return. We feel like we have to do it all, to have it all, in a male-dominated world. Ultimately though, I think the thing that eventually made me put down the proverbial bottle, was anger. Anger at the injustice of it all! Anger that the breweries, liquor stores and society at large gear their marketing towards women to make us feel like we are inferior without alcohol. And government’s apathy surrounding alcoholism. We need wine to deal with our children and we need wine to be more demure and sociable. Wine is sexy and seductive and having a beer with the boys, well, that makes you one of them and you have arrived. You can’t have tea with your friends anymore, noooo, now book club revolves around the wine and everyone forgets the book. And therein lies my other problem with it. Alcohol makes you complacent. You come home, open the fridge and have drink. Make supper, bath and bed, probably drunk. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Where is the ambition? Where is the fire? Where is the excitement and fun! I can say, without a shadow of a doubt you will never, ever find it at the bottom of a bottle!
So I have not touched a drop of alcohol since the 4th of August 2017. I have been in a few social situations where the old me said “go-on, just have one!” but I am proud and very happy that I have been able chosen to abstain. Fun fact, without alcohol, I am even better than Martha Stewart! I am Marcelle Pillay, ruler of the Pillay kingdom! I now cook up a storm and love every second. I do sewing for my daughter when she has a design in her head that she wants to bring to life (ok, it was only once, but it has me excited to do so much more sewing). I am reading more, sleeping better and just feeling better in general. Is this it, have I cracked the code and will I be forever alcohol free? I like to think so. Because it’s my choice and I choose to live a full and productive life and I cannot do that with alcohol. I can say for sure, that I have been there and done that, and it is certainly not for me anymore.