The Last Bender

Two days after my bender, I wiped the last traces of red wine off my bathroom wall. It was going to be okay, I told myself. Things were going to be different from now on.

It wasn’t the only time I’d told myself this, but it had to be the last. I had a flashback of the first time I’d gotten drunk, at fifteen. I was hanging out with the popular crowd and was crippled with shyness. That first drink at a party seemed like the solution to my problems; it helped me to be confident and talkative. However, it replaced my shyness with raging exhibitionism. Items of clothing were flung off, tables danced on, and boys kissed. The next day, came my first taste of shame and regret — one I would get to know well. But the lure of feeling free from my self-hatred, just for a few hours, was too great, and I did it again (and again) over the next thirty-plus years. Not every week, not every month, but often enough for it to become a troubling pattern.

Ironically, I married a man with severe alcohol use disorder and I despised his drinking. I would watch with disapproval, as he gulped down his wine at restaurants, his glass empty long before anyone else’s. I would cringe in embarrassment as the tell-tale signs of tipsiness showed in his behaviour and language after three glasses.

I was conscious of what our friends or the waiter would make of it, and I worried about getting him home and what would happen when we got there. Attempting to control his drinking on a daily basis was a stressful ritual, and just as futile. Eventually, we divorced.

Living by myself was heaven. Being a loner, I didn’t socialize much, apart from drinks with the girls after work every other week, and the occasional meet-up with a friend. Invariably, I would knock back the drinks at a rate of knots. I became loud and opinionated but thought I was hilarious. The next morning, on cue, I would force open my eyes and worry about what the fuck I’d said and done and whom I’d offended this time. I’d be too hungover to go to work and would lie in bed all day, feeling utterly rotten, the self-loathing now turned up a notch.

After twenty successful years of working as a conference organiser, I’d become unhappy at work and started to suffer from anxiety attacks for the first time in my life. I’d wake up feeling dread and panic at the thought of going to the office or having to attend client meetings and events. I’d begin panting as my heart raced. The first time it happened I reached for the only thing available to relax me — a can of beer. I necked two of them at 8am and crawled back under the duvet to hide. When the anxiety was still there after three weeks, I saw a doctor who prescribed me sedatives. They were sublime. Now, instead of seeking a high from drinking, I only wished for oblivion, to switch off from life’s stresses and just sleep. I found that the sedatives were more effective when taken with alcohol. This was a dangerous practice, but I figured after years of drinking and a stint of drug taking in my twenties, my body could handle it. And it could.

When Covid arrived, lockdown gave me the perfect reason to stay home, and also released me from the guilt at not being at the office. I was off the hook and the anxiety decreased. Instead of drinking occasionally, I’d have a glass or two of wine every night, out of boredom. Over many months my tolerance to alcohol increased and I realized that I was able to drink larger quantities without suffering the awful hangovers. This wasn’t a good sign.

I knew I was drinking too often, but being someone with poor impulse control, I’d make any excuse for it. I was happy, I was sad, I was lonely, I was bored. Once I’d been double vaccinated, I regained the confidence to leave my flat and began going to restaurants on my own. The pleasure from drinking red wine with a meal after a year at home, was incredible. As usual though, I pushed it too far. Hours later, I’d still be at the restaurant, chatting to the staff and strangers and probably making a fool of myself. I’d sometimes start an argument with my boyfriend afterwards, as pent-up frustrations and jealousy came tumbling out unchecked. Naturally a mild person, excess wine made me aggressive.

Eventually, I found I no longer had any enthusiasm for cooking, exercise, writing or anything else constructive. I gained three pounds. I wasn’t sleeping well. The only thing I looked forward to were my weekly meals out. In between, I would visit a hotel next door for a glass of wine, as I didn’t have any at home. I was so embarrassed to be seen there every single day that I would surreptitiously alternate between the hotel’s two bars. I’d never worked so hard to hide my drinking. This was when I knew something was wrong.

Then came the last bender. This was followed by a three-day hangover. On the fourth day I had a glass of wine, but didn’t enjoy it. That night, straining for sleep, I downloaded a book appropriately called ‘Rock Bottom’. It detailed the writer’s alcoholism, her own benders and eventual recovery. Although the author’s situation was far more extreme than my own, I saw many parallels in it — mainly the reasons why she drank. It made me see that something had to change. I finished the book over two nights, and didn’t drink again. I had headaches, depression, loss of appetite and was generally wiped out, but I knew these were the mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and I welcomed them.

Then something happened. I woke up one morning in a good mood. I had energy. I was productive. I was cheerful. I wrote this story.

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Tamara Green

Tamara Green

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Tamara shares a mixed bag of fiction, non-fiction and musings.