Drink had claimed two of Liz Jones' closest relatives' lives and held her in its grip
Her eldest sister drank so much that she nearly fell into their father's grave
Her lowest point came when she bought wine from Lidl wearing her pyjamas
Published: 17:11 EST, 10 February 2018 | Updated: 07:26 EST, 12 February 2018
Although I’d made a New Year’s resolution to give up alcohol, I’d broken the pledge on New Year’s Day
My skin is glowing and my eyes are unusually bright. I have a clear head and have just taken deep lungfuls of crisp, sub-zero air, the sort of thing that usually makes me dizzy.
I feel upbeat, which isn’t like me at all. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just spent five days in the Swiss Alps eating nothing but vegan, mostly raw, food swilled down with mineral water, have been swimming for the first time in aeons, and climbed a mountain in snow shoes.
But a far more likely reason is the fact I have just endured five days without alcohol – the first time I’ve gone without a drop for more than a day in 12 years.
Although I’d made a New Year’s resolution to give up alcohol, I’d broken the pledge on New Year’s Day. On a normal day, I will drink a bottle of red or white wine or Cremant. I only ever keep one bottle in the house, just in case I want more.
My lowest point came on January 5. I went to pour another glass to find the bottle empty. I actually licked the rim. I shook it. No, it was definitely empty. It was only 8pm, too early for bed, which is what I usually do when I run out of booze. So I walked to Lidl in my pyjamas and a jacket and spent my last £4 on another bottle.
I hid it in my jacket because who wants to be the older woman in nightwear staggering along the side of a dual-carriageway, carrying cheap plonk? I got home and almost opened it. At that point, I knew I needed help.
One of the reasons I wanted to stop is that I turn 60 in September. I don’t want to be 60 and still drinking like this. I’ve never rolled around in the gutter or blacked out or been drunk, but alcohol makes me belligerent.
I tend to get into arguments over email with my on/off boyfriend; during one spat, he even wrote: ‘Go and have another drink.’ I am always angry in the morning, mostly at myself.
I wake every night at 3am, desperate for water and riddled with worry about money and my future.
Invariably I have a headache the next morning, so I start with vats of black coffee. I will then spend all day wondering when would be a reasonable time to have a delicious glass of something cold. I live alone, so there are no disapproving looks.
One of the reasons I wanted to stop is that I turn 60 in September. I don’t want to be 60 and still drinking like this. Pictured: Liz on Celebrity Big Brother in 2014
I never ever thought this would happen to me. From my teens until my late 30s, I was so clean-living I even took along a jar of decaf coffee when I went out. The reason? I’d seen the effects of alcohol up close.
A sister-in-law lost custody of her two daughters and died alone in her mid-50s, surrounded by empty bottles; she never lived to see her eldest daughter get married.
And my eldest sister drank so much before my dad’s funeral that she almost tumbled into his grave. She eventually died in her 70s, alone, from the effects of alcohol.
I had sympathy for them, although I don’t believe alcoholism is an illness, nor is it easily diagnosed. It’s a choice, and it’s complicated.
We can have good reason to need to blur the edges. My eldest sister started drinking when she moved with her husband to the Middle East and became a bored expat.
It was hard to stop when she returned to England, and her marriage fell apart. Another sister was driven to drink after she lost her 21-year-old son to leukaemia.
I've never considered going to AA: the shame, the defeat. I am stronger than that, surely? I have to try to beat this on my own first
My sister-in-law, like me always painfully shy, started drinking to be more sociable. It tipped into alcoholism after she and her family lost their home following a gas explosion at the house next door.
She denied she had a problem for years, even when her daughters would arrive home from school to find her unconscious on the floor.
Maybe I’ve been in denial, too. In the past I have hidden a bottle of wine in a wardrobe when people are staying with me, fearing disapproval. Am I an alcoholic? I would say not, but my dependence on it increased incrementally, so who knows?
I’ve never considered going to AA: the shame, the defeat. I am stronger than that, surely? I have to try to beat this on my own first.
Why do I drink? Fear. Alcohol emboldens me. For many years, it was just social drinking. I’d get to a fashion show and there would be a sparkling flute of something crisp and expensive.
In the Noughties, I knew I would never go as far as my then managing editor, whom I’d spy after the show had ended, making her way around all the tables, surreptitiously necking the dregs.
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But everything is telling me to drink. I’d be glued to Sex And The City, thinking how beautiful and successful were those women drinking Manhattans. I wanted that lifestyle. I wanted to not be nervous at parties.
But alcohol changed from being part of a lifestyle to a crutch I couldn’t do without.
When did I last go without a drink? It was 2006. I was still married and embarked on a two-week walking holiday in India in a dry state. The only thing that kept me going was thinking of the moment I’d be back in BA business class, when the steward would bring me a glass.
I was fast turning into Ab Fab’s Patsy, only not nearly as funny: career women over 50 are now in so much trouble, an entire generation lost to the wine o’clock myth that drinking is somehow OK because we deserve to have some fun.
I imagine my health isn’t great: not just my liver, but I am more likely to develop breast cancer.
Until now I haven’t really cared about my health – it’s been the least of my problems. But this year I will be discharged from bankruptcy and I’m hopeful that life will become tolerable again.
And so I take up the offer of going cold turkey in Switzerland. It’s not a drying-out clinic but a boutique hotel, The Capra Saas-Fee, with a spa and a week-long boot camp called Peak Health. No dairy, no gluten and absolutely no alcohol.
I am to go hiking in the mountains, embark on yoga and meditation classes, be given hydrotherapy, massages and facials (great time-fillers, all: even I can’t drink prone). And the vegan menu is washed down with nothing stronger than fizzy water.
Each day my little group of six (five women and one gay man) are given talks on nutrition and health, skincare and fitness. We are here for different reasons: a back injury, lethargy, or just wanting to get fit.
Why do I drink? Fear. Alcohol emboldens me. For many years, it was just social drinking. I’d get to a fashion show and there would be a sparkling flute of something crisp and expensive
I’m using the week as a life raft, a chance to give up alcohol with the support of experts. Trying to give up at home would have been too hard. Out of my routine and comfort zone, with the beady eyes of super-fit American fitness coaches on me, I feel forced to comply.
The first day without alcohol is fine. It’s a novelty. This is costing far too much for me to fail. There is a bar in the hotel: I won’t return to a world without wine, after all. Annoyingly, to get to the spa, you have to walk past the wine cellar.
At the end of each day we have a meditation class: all I can think about is a flute of something cold and bubbly. I try to blot the image out of my mind.
I can’t sleep that first night, so I watch a French film. There is a big family eating outdoors in the Provence sunshine, bottles of red everywhere. You see, it’s normal! Look how happy they are!
But the next day I wake up feeling as though a fog has lifted. I’m more cheerful, much more ‘can-do’. I don’t have the shakes or withdrawal symptoms – I just feel more alert.
I actually make it down to breakfast, choosing vegan porridge and berries, and then we are off to climb 6,500ft in thick snow – something I couldn’t possibly do with a hangover.
The reason the boot camp helps is that it reminds you that your body is, if not a temple, then an old country church worth preserving.
Each day has structure – hiking, massage, facial, lunch, swimming, yoga and meditation. So the usual ‘It’s six o’clock, the bar’s open!’, as my gin-swilling father used to say, no longer applies.
On the plane home, I was nervous about being alone again. The way I cope with my inbox when I get off the plane is to be slightly tiddly: today, I’d face whatever horrors lurked on my phone stone-cold sober.
I ordered a mini bottle of champagne, but I didn’t drink it. I knew I was already missing the structure, the support, the whole self-care vibe, and I could glimpse the rest of my life in front of me. One great big, scary black hole, with nothing to take the edge off.
But I repeat my mantra from meditation – calm, confident, capable – and only when I get to passport control, to a man who gives me an odd look, do I realise I’ve been saying it out loud.
In the evening, I try virgin cocktails and even an alcohol-free gin, but they are revolting. I have to find a substitute but I’ve yet to come up with something that gives me an escape from being shy, boring and scared.
I try to remember what I did before I drank: I used to run, so I’ve signed up for a half-marathon in Whitby.
How am I getting on now I’m home? These sort of pieces always end with a miracle cure, but it’s more complicated than that.
I’ve now become one of those people who say smugly: ‘It’s 14 days sober and counting!’ But I know in my heart of hearts that it’s likely another setback will send me straight back to the bottle. It’s the only friend I have.
I’m grieving for my old life: let’s meet for a drink at the Cafe Royal! How on earth do people who don’t drink celebrate birthdays, New Year’s Eve or just a Friday evening?
How do women have sex sober? I never have – it’s far too terrifying and awkward. I don’t want to be the self-absorbed bore who comes for Christmas sans bubbly, and at the end of a meal out says: ‘Well, I didn’t drink, so I should pay less…’ God, I hate those people. But you know what? Maybe I love life more.
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5376021/LIZ-JONES-realising-alcohol-problem.html2907