‘As an alcoholic, I knew I had to put down the drink. That was just the tip of the iceberg’
To mark Alcohol Awareness Week 2020, here’s my story
When did I start to drink? At the age of 13, I was sent to a Quaker boarding school in Oxfordshire. We had a school dance called The Hop at weekends, and we’d get the older children to buy alcohol for us: snakebite and cheap sherry. The moment I had that first drink, it was like liquid gold. From being a child who had felt very uncomfortable in her skin, found it hard to fit in, was quite shy, all of a sudden I could dance, I could chat up boys. It felt like the best thing that had ever happened to me.
And so every Saturday night that’s what we did. But soon I could see that while everyone else would just have a few sips, I was hanging onto that bottle for dear life. And that was it.
I functioned. I was managing it, all the way through the 1980s and 1990s, but I realised I had a drink and drug problem in about 1997. I would black out after two glasses of wine, then I’d wake up the next day full of fear – I’d be ringing round to apologise, trying to see what I’d done, how many people I’d upset. I wasn’t a happy drunk.
I’d love to have been able to get really dressed up, go to that beautiful bar at Claridge’s, have two glasses of champagne, and that would be it. But I’d be there with the champagne, and I’d think, “Right, I’m getting a room”, and then everyone would be up there, drinking the minibar dry. At the end, I’d be walking down the stairs with mascara down my face, the heels broken off my shoes and going home – for what?
You don’t ever think about consequences. I had a family. But when you’re in it, you don’t want to stop. Then you go home, and you’re lying in bed and you can’t get to sleep, and these thoughts are going through your head… you can get to some pretty low places. Sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to get through another day, but you do – and it all starts again.
Then there comes a time where a phenomenal craving for the thing just overtakes you, and that’s the scariest moment. You feel ashamed and you feel guilty – and that guilt and that shame make you use even more. And for me, it was all so public, so that pressure was immense.
Finally, I went for treatment. I thought: “Twenty-eight days in rehab, that’s it.” But the 28 days is just to get you nice and healthy. Then the hard work begins. That’s when I chose to go to AA.
If it weren’t for AA, I would never have set up MegsMenopause, because I had somewhere to go and share. That’s what MegsMenopause is – a place where women can talk. I was lucky enough as an addict to be able to sit in a room and be honest about how I felt. And at 50, I wasn’t great. I was out of sorts. So, one day I went to a new meeting and I shared. I told them I felt like a box of frogs – I was loopy, I wasn’t sleeping, I was angry, I wanted to cry all the time, I had foggy brain. And I was thinking: “What’s the sense in staying sober if I feel so shitty? Why don’t I just have a drink?”
As I left the meeting, this woman came up to me and said: “I think you’re going through the menopause.” She gave me her number. Up until then, to me, menopause was like The Golden Girls. But finally, the penny dropped. I rang her, we spent two hours on the phone, and then I made an appointment to see my GP. The rest is history.
I still go to AA meetings. As an alcoholic, I knew very soon that I had to put down the drink. That was just the tip of the iceberg. The chunk that’s underneath I’m still chipping away at – but I’m getting there.
If you need help with a drinking problem, visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk, phone the national helpline on 0800 9177650 or email email@example.com