I was gaslighted by alcohol.
It’s so obvious to me now, but I only realised it once I decided to leave that abusive relationship.
There was a strange conversation going on in my head most of the time. It went something like this…
Monday night: my kitchen
Me: (Opening the fridge door and seeing wine) Nope. Not tonight. It’s Monday, and I promised myself I wouldn’t drink on weeknights from now on.
Alcohol: You’re not actually doing that, are you?
Alcohol: Come oooon!! It’s Monday! If ever there was a day to drink, it’s Monday.
Me: I know, but other people only drink at weekends.
Alcohol: You’re not other people.
Me: Damn straight! Where’s the bottle opener?
One glass of wine down.
Me: Jeez! Where did that go?
Alcohol: It felt great though, right? Have more.
Me: I shouldn’t.
Alcohol: Well, you’ve started now, so you may as well. Just don’t drink tomorrow.
Me: Good plan. Drink now. Stop later!
Next morning, having had a bottle of wine the night before.
Me: Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Alcohol: No comment.
Me: I have literally no willpower.
Alcohol: Why don’t you just stop after one?
Me: Because I am weak.
Alcohol: Yes, you are. Next time, I will remind you to stop.
Friday night. Having had a few drinks every night that week.
Alcohol: You know what day it is?
Alcohol: Yeah, it is. Let’s do this!
Me: Hell yeah! Everyone is drinking tonight. Me especially! Oh, alcohol, it’s so good when our love for each other feels okay. You, me, Friday—it’s meant to be!
Alcohol: We belong together!
Later that night, after several drinks.
Me: I’m going to text Ryan and see how he is.
Alcohol: Why the hell not?
Me: Exactly. It’s fine to reach out to your ex. It’s emotionally healthy.
Alcohol: Totally. Oh, you know what he’ll find funny?
Me: That meme about the cat?
Me: So funny!
Alcohol: Send it. Send it now! And then a selfie, ’cause you’re looking fine tonight!
Me: I am! It’s the sense of freedom I have right now. My life is good, and I am in a great place. He should see that.
Alcohol: Hmmmm. He hasn’t replied yet, but he has opened the cat meme and all three selfies.
Me: Should I send more?
Alcohol: Yes! Send the one with the guy falling off the thing. You know the one.
Me: Oh yeah! And that bad lip reading thing. Ryan loves those.
Alcohol: You know what you should do? Call him.
Me: Should I?…Of course I should. What could possibly be wrong with that? What time is it?
Alcohol: Who cares? It’s Ryan!
The following morning.
Me: Oh no. Why did I drink so much?
Alcohol: Don’t ask me. You were on one of your missions.
Me: Oh god, I think I went on Facebook. And I remember…texting?
Me: My head. I just want to sleep forever, but I am buzzing all over. Oh god. I can still taste the wine.
Alcohol: And the whiskey.
Me: Ryan! I called Ryan!
Alcohol: Several times.
Me: Oh no. I hate myself.
Alcohol: Do you think other people behave in this way?
Me: No. It’s me. I’m a f*ckup.
Alcohol: Yes, you are. You need to learn to control yourself.
Me: I do. I will. You know what? No more alcohol for me this week. No more.
Alcohol: I think it’s for the best.
Alcohol: I think there is half a bottle of wine in the fridge.
Me: Would it get rid of this horrid feeling? The shame and the wanting to crawl into a hole?
Me: Then let’s go.
Over time, my relationship with alcohol became more and more abusive as the space between rational, healthy thinking and alcohol-related thinking widened. As alcohol played a larger role in my thought processes, it gained more control and was better able to manipulate me. My willpower reduced as I became more reliant on alcohol, which was now heavily involved in many of my decisions.
The evening of a friend’s 30th birthday party.
Me: I will have a few drinks tonight and then leave.
Alcohol: Excellent plan. Maybe a glass of water every now and then?
Me: Can I do that? Should I just not drink at all?
Alcohol: Have you met you? Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Just have three drinks and then head home. You’ll be fine.
Me: What should I drink? Gin and tonic? Wine?
Alcohol: Maybe change it up tonight. Prosecco only. It’s low-calorie. And no shots! Stick to the plan.
Me: Oh, definitely no shots.
Later that night. At the party. Four proseccos in.
Alcohol: Feeling goooood! You know what would make it more fun? Shots! Who else would be up for a shot?
Me: Julia! There she is!
Alcohol: And Dan. Find Dan.
Me: Let’s go! I love you, alcohol!
An hour later…
Me: Is the party dying a bit? Feels like it’s dying. I don’t want it to end.
Alcohol: It doesn’t have to. It never has to.
Me: Ha! You’re so right.
Alcohol: Party back at yours. Gather people, gather booze, get ready to party all night.
Me: Why? Why? Why!???
Alcohol: Because you set goals you can’t keep. That’s so you. You make rules and then you break them. You’re flakey. Predictable. Pathetic.
Me: I should have stopped before the shots. I knew I should have stopped then but for some reason I kept on going. It’s always me.
Alcohol: It is always you.
Me: Do I…have a drinking problem?
Alcohol: No way! You have a fun problem. You just love having fun. Is that so wrong?
Me: It doesn’t sound like a problem.
Alcohol: Do you want a drink right now? First thing in the morning?
Me: God, no!
Alcohol: There you go, then. You’re not an alcoholic; you’re normal. You just have a hangover.
Me: I seem to have a hangover a lot of the time!
Many people find it hard to understand how anybody can stay in an abusive relationship. They say things like, “If my partner hit me, I would leave immediately!” But that’s not how these things work. The violent relationship doesn’t start with a punch in the face in the same way that an abusive alcohol relationship doesn’t start with wanting to drink at midday. However…
Midday. Wednesday. Bad news just arrived in the form of an email declining my services for a job I really wanted.
Me: Ouch. That feels bad.
Alcohol: Quick, do something.
Me: What is this feeling? It feels like…craving.
Alcohol: It’s me. It’s the solution.
Me: But it’s just gone midday. I can’t drink now.
Alcohol: What do you mean? People drink at lunch all. the. time.
Me: But I’m not having lunch.
Alcohol: How bad do you feel?
Me: Really bad!
Alcohol: Would you like to feel really good?
Alcohol: Make a sandwich. Go for an early lunch in the pub. Don’t overthink it.
When I noticed that there was rarely a time when I didn’t fancy a drink, I knew I was in the grips of something scary. As always, however, alcohol helped me brush all my worries under the carpet. When I was drinking, I was fine; when I wasn’t, I was thinking about drinking.
The only way to stop the internal dialogue and switch off the gaslighting and the lies is to cut alcohol out of the conversation completely.
For me, cutting down was not an option. You can’t only half be in the relationship, only half married to someone who beats you.
It’s all or nothing. You are in or you are out.
I chose out.