Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
The Great Big Sober Secret
I’ve just finished the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I finished it in about five days flat. It’s beautifully written and will haunt you days after you have finished. The book touches on two big themes — loneliness and trauma. The main character, Eleanor, is alone and isolated because of her childhood trauma. Her loneliness is crushing and she uses alcohol to escape from it. I have come to believe that loneliness is the disease of our times. It kills more people than anything else. Human connection is life-sustaining: we need it like we need the sun and air. Yet so many of us live in desperate isolation.
The book made me shudder at times, as there was a period of my life that was very close to hers. It was 1995. I had graduated from university and was living in North London — Wood Green to be exact. I was about 25, and I had succeeded in pushing everyone away. The only connections I had were with the people I interacted with at work.
I'd started a new job working for the Metropolitan Police in London, and my life was exactly like Eleanor Oliphant’s. I would go to work and be busy and deal with people. Then I would come home on a Friday night, stop at the off-license, and purchase two bottles of wine. I remember thinking that was okay because it was a Friday night and I would hope the person serving me assumed I was having a dinner party or something. Would assume I had a life and wasn’t some sad lonely person sitting at home getting wasted on their own. Which of course I was. I would drink those two bottles of wine, and I would spend the entire weekend on my own smoking cigarettes, watching re-runs of Friends and just drinking.
Early recovery is like flying to Barbados
Anne Hathaway’s comment that she is going to quit alcohol to be a better parent has drawn quite a bit of attention. Of course there is push back from some who see Hathaway as trying to be perfect for her kids (she’s not, she just wants to be present). In particular, there is this particularly awful piece in The Guardian by columnist Zoe Williams who is somehow trying to present drunk parenting as beneficial to children. Despite her son asking why she isn’t dead from all her whiskey consumption (I know it’s hilarious right?)
It may have escaped Williams’ notice, but we are not living in 1997 anymore. Tony Blair is no longer prime minister (or popular, for that matter), Britpop is no longer a thing, and the good ship Cool Britannia has sunk.
Way back in the day, we all thought our drinking culture was a harmless fun thing that we all did. Because so many of us binge drank this way, we thought it was normal. We are, after all, the generation that normalized abnormal drinking. We had the ladette culture spearheaded by Sara Cox and Zoe Ball (who is now sober, by the way). And we drank without thought or care.
But it’s not 1997 anymore, and Zoe Williams’ tone-deaf piece of dinosaur journalism was 20 years too late.
I am so bored by the idiotic musings on what a “laugh" it is to get so drunk you wet yourself and can’t remember half the night. Now it’s dressed up as a fun story in a columnist’s “think piece” (hello, Barbara Ellen) or in a tweet (yes, I’m looking at you, Caitlin Moran) just so the writer can signal how hardcore and cool they are.
My top 3 strategies for dealing with people who DON'T want you to stop drinking.
It’s not going to start when you find the right job, house, partner, lose ten pounds. This is not a rehearsal.
These precious seconds right now are your life. Are you going to make them count or are you going to fall back into your numbed state and sleepwalk through your life?
I often tell clients that in early recovery, those first few painful months when you ‘wake up’ to who you are and what you have become are like the experience of when you have to wake up at 3 am to catch a flight to Barbados because you’re going on your much-anticipated dream holiday.
If we numb the pain then we numb the joy
When we decide to stop drinking it's common for a lot of us to experience some 'push back' from our family and peer groups.
Generally speaking the people around us don't like it when we stop drinking as it upsets 'the apple cart.' We have all been conditioned to drink alcohol and abusive drinking has been normalized in our culture. So 'not drinking' is seen as very weird. It's a bit like being a vegetarian in the 70's. People look at you funny.
In 18 years of sobriety this is what I know for sure ...
A question I get asked a lot is ‘when will I know if I’m ok?’ Or, ‘when will I be done?’ Obviously, the answer is never, the journey of self-discovery is one that never ends. However, what I can say is we know we are firmly in the realm of recovery when we begin to have appropriate emotional responses to events.
What does that mean exactly?
On May 2nd, 2018 I celebrate 18 years of continuous sobriety. This did not come easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I made some big mistakes along the way.