It is the morning of Thursday January the 8th 2015.
Exactly a decade ago, on Saturday January the 8th 2005, I woke up feeling awful. My last memory of the previous night was sitting next to Helen on the sofa in front of the television, and her having to dive to catch the tumbler of gin and tonic that had just dropped from my hand. This was not a remarkable occurrence.
Later that following morning, I loaded Helen’s car with some recycling to take to the depot and in so doing, allowed our cat Poppy to leave the house from the front door on to the busy street. There was no sign of her. My temper became frayed and a row escalated between Helen and me, before I drove off to the depot. My thoughts and feelings were of remorse and anxiety. I didn’t want to feel like this. I wanted to do something, take a decisive action, that would stop me from feeling like this so much of the time.
When I got home, Poppy had returned unharmed and Helen and I were reconciled. That felt like life’s acknowledgement of my offer to do something decisive.
So prompted, I decided there and then that the previous night’s tumbling tumbler was to have been my last drink, ever.
We went to a party on the other side of Scotland that night, surrounded by people who’d got there by walking, all merrily carousing. It was the right thing to do. I managed to hide my resolution from our hosts and even from Helen by being the driver.
What kept me going through the first few days and weeks was that sense of reclaimed control. I’d made a decision and it was mine to enact, conceal, and selectively reveal as I chose. I gradually mentioned to smaller and larger groups that I was having a dry month, and when they’d got used to that idea, a dry life. As I passed a week, a month, and then wonderfully, a year, I became very attached to marking off the time.
Asperger’s, or possibly just being a Doctor Who fan, draws me powerfully to the habit of marking anniversaries. The only way to measure not doing something is to count the elapsed time you have not done it. I can’t tell you how many units of alcohol I have not drunk, how many brain cells I have not destroyed, how many stares have not lingered inappropriately, how many productive hours have not been lost, how many working days not abandoned, how many times I have not pissed myself in public, how many domestic or family arguments I have not started, how many hotel and restaurant toilets I have not vomited in, or how many times I have not been asked to leave or not refused entry to licensed establishments.
But I can tell you how many days I have not drunk for. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-two.
I can also tell you how many times I have regretted stopping drinking. Zero.
This fixation with anniversaries has meant that I have wanted it to be today for a very long time indeed. One year ago, my mind was dominated by the thought that there was just another year to go before I could tell people that I had reached this milestone. That remaining year between then and now somehow felt more important than the previous nine. To reach today, it seems, is very very important indeed to me.
Today, I feel a sense of euphoric relief, even though there hasn’t been any jeopardy, ever really, that I’d falter. That’s partly down to Asperger’s – I’d have felt utterly uncomfortable diverging from any sort of plan, or compromising the new identity I chose in 2005.
I don’t think I’m unique in celebrating anniversaries. Perhaps, like birthdays, they’re a hangover from a less predictable time when reaching another year was something that could not so readily be relied upon. They’re not about celebrating what has happened, but that unspoken fears have not come to pass.
But today, I celebrate more than just the absence of negatives. Having considered and observed what the last ten years have brought me, I can see growth, maturity and kindness, to others and to myself. I no longer feel the remorse of ten years ago.
I have reached the point on the horizon towards which I have been walking.
Today, I give myself permission to smile.