I have recently been using up a box of supermarket Earl Grey bought by my misguided husband, who should know after all this time that the only Earl Grey which will do is Twinings, thank you! it took quite a while to use up because it wasn’t nice, so I was glad when eventually I opened the box of the proper stuff.

This is the quote I found inside the Twinings box:

‘This is tea to make an occasion of. So settle into your comfiest armchair and find your favourite cup. Add a delectable delicacy like a slice of lemon drizzle or a shortbread round. 

Give the Earl the time he deserves, and drink in the day.’

I wonder if the writer of that blurb knew the effect that those last words would have to a formerly alcohol dependent tea drinker? whether the contrast was deliberate?

drinking in the day was something that alcoholics did. not something that I would do. except that I did do it, and have done on and off for pretty much my entire adult life. often it was on high days, and holidays, but there were occasions when it was not. I thought I’d write here about a couple of such times, and see where it takes me…

the first occasion was when I was newly out of university, working at a job I hated in a town where I knew no-one. I’d made a mistake and didn’t know how to put it right. I was deeply unhappy for a year or so before I changed jobs and cities, and during that time I was over-eating and definitely over-drinking. I was trying terrifically hard to keep a handle on both, and failing miserably, bingeing on food and alcohol in quantities that makes me sad to think of now.

I was sharing a flat with two others, both of whom were out or away most weekends. one of my flatmates had a bottle of sherry, only one third drunk, in his room. it was a supermarket own brand – Waitrose, I think. the flat was too far from any shop to walk on my own at night, but I knew that bottle was there, and on weekend nights when everyone was out I could swear that I could hear it singing to me. after the first time I cracked, and went into his room, and stole the bottle, and drank most of it, I had to take the bus to the nearest Waitrose the next day, buy a replacement bottle of the same stuff, and top up the original bottle. I swore to myself I would never do that again. of course, I did. not just once or twice, but frequently at weekends after that. perhaps ten or fifteen times? and then the payback the next day of spending money I could ill-afford on something that disgusted me, shamed me at my lack of ‘self-control’.

it was after one such occasion when I was hungover on the Monday morning that I remember sitting at my window, blowing cigarette smoke out and feeling like death, and deciding quite clinically to have the last half an inch in the bottom of the bottle, to see if it made me feel well enough to go to work. and it did. and that in itself terrified me, because how had I become that person, at 21? I didn’t drink in the mornings again, after that, telling myself that if I finished the bottle the night before I wouldn’t risk drinking it in the morning…

the second occasion was maybe eight years later. I was newly promoted into a tougher role and had just successfully navigated a difficult meeting away from the office. it was about 3pm on a Friday afternoon. I needed a drink. I deserved one, I told myself. but I’d been alone at the meeting and surely I couldn’t go into a bar on my own? maybe I could go into one near the office, and hope to bump into a colleague?

so I went to a local wine bar – no colleagues there. but I wanted that drink – so I decided to order a large glass of white wine, drink it quickly, and then get back to my desk. which was fine, and I can still recall the relief that swept over me with the first sip. can recall, too, how my stomach plummeted a second later as a group of my colleagues entered, laughing, to find me seated at the bar, drinking on my own in the middle of the afternoon….

I brazened it out, saying, “I’ve just had a nightmare of a meeting with XYZ and I needed a drink!” to which one of my colleagues, a woman of the same age and seniority as myself, said, half in awe, half in surprise, “Wow, I would never have the nerve to come in here by myself and order a drink!”

there are lines we cross, and look back over our shoulders, surprised that we have come so far. lines which we think we can retreat back over, and never repeat. maybe we can, maybe we can’t. maybe the fact that we have done these things once should tell us something.

like, for example, that alcohol doesn’t suit us, never has, never will, and that we should excise it from our lives like a cancerous tumour.

I don’t think of myself as a recovering alcoholic. I think that gives alcohol an ongoing power over me which I refuse to allow it. I am not a cigarettaholic, I am an ex-smoker. I am an ex-drinker and, please God, will be for the rest of my life on this beautiful crazy planet of ours.

because alcohol has never suited me. in the darkest places of my life, while I was drinking, alcohol was always there for me, laying out a picnic blanket of lies and shame for me to sit upon. it would still be there, if I went back to it. the lies would be even more threadbare now, the paper-thin pretences that I still had at the very end of my drinking worn to invisibility, withered away.

there is nothing now that alcohol can pretend to offer me, not even the illusion of oblivion for a few short hours. all gone. it holds not even that.

nowadays I stare at the advertising blurb on a box of tea, and the contrast hits into my stomach like a cannon ball. I make my cup of Earl Grey and go back to sit on my sofa, where I’ve been doing my morning meditation before the rest of the family awakes. I sit next to my dozing dog and check in on some sober blogs before heading upstairs for a shower.

I inhabit my life, my world. I take up space here, rather than trying to make myself disappear.

I sip my tea, and am grateful from the very bottom of my heart.

there’s a lovely article here by Eva Wiseman on why tea is better than wine. she says:

‘…all the things that drunkenness does, tea does better. If alcohol helps you forget, tea helps you remember.’

I remember who I am, with tea.

have a crafty cuppa with me? and help yourself to chocolate digestives, won’t you?! Prim xx