‘A Letter to Alcohol’ by Beth Burgess

One of the most powerful pieces of writing I have come across about a person’s relationship with alcohol was written by Beth Burgess, a UK Recovery Coach from Smyls. I first posted this letter on Recovery Stories in May 2013.

‘Dear Alcohol,

Well it’s been a while now, and although you are a bad influence, I do miss you sometimes. I miss our secret relationship, the way that no-one else was part of it and could never get in on it. I miss the way you comfort me when I’m down. It sometimes creeps up on me unexpectedly how much I miss you. And other times I am glad you are gone.

Of course you have changed – and I know that. You’re not fun any more. But I seem to forget that when we’re not together. I don’t know why my memory is so short and why I always remember the good times with such intensity. It hasn’t been that way for a while.

But I occasionally kid myself that we could get on great again. I sometimes believe we could have back what we had in the early days. Deep down I know it is not possible, but an aching part of me still believes it.

I can’t entirely hate you because originally you did help me when nothing else could. You were there for me. I could always rely on you and you protected me and made me feel safe.

I still remember the very first time I experienced what a good friend you could be. I had been round to a friend’s house and when I got to the door I heard screaming, shouting and thuds. When she finally answered the door, I could see she had been crying and she told me it wasn’t a good time.

I had never seen her like that before. She never cried. She was always strong and untouchable, unbreakable. I remember feeling shaken when I walked home – I suspected her boyfriend had been hitting her. I felt sick with worry and when I got to my house there was no one home.

I paced around feeling lost and unsure of what to do. And then I remembered how comforting it could be to have you around. How you made me feel as if I was wrapped in a delightful bubble, and I wanted you. So I went looking for you. Immediately you reassured me that I could cope – and I instantly felt better. I felt strong. You got me into your protective bubble and I stopped worrying and felt calm and soothed.

That year was when I started hanging out with you more often – I’d see you more often than any of my other friends would and we spent longer together, me and you in our relaxing bubble. You made me feel so good. By this time I’d realised how anxiety had become a problem for me – my Social Anxiety Disorder had really kicked in, although I didn’t know what it was then. I just knew that things were just easier when you were around.

You had no drawbacks for me at that time. I hardly ever regretted the time we spent together. In fact when I stopped seeing another friend of mine, Dope, you were the only thing that seemed to take away the empty feeling that was left when our friendship turned sour and had to end.

We had to spend some time apart when I first went to uni – I had Hepatitis and couldn’t see you. I missed you, but could cope. But my Anxiety Disorder was getting worse and I started to really experience how bad it could feel and how alien I felt around others, how abnormal, out-of-place and different.

I remember, too, the first time I met you unsociably early on in the day. I had a morning appointment for a medical procedure – and the nurse had warned me it would be excruciatingly painful. She advised me that I might want to have a couple of glasses of wine to numb the pain, so I did.

Now I knew you could be physically soothing as well. I only did it for the physical pain, but as I walked home through the streets I noticed I wasn’t as scared of being outside as I usually was. I felt lifted and comforted.

I wanted every day to be like this. I remember thinking what a great friend you were. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t spend every waking moment with you around – even though other people would see that as wrong.

I eventually had to get a job because we were broke, and I was terrified as I found myself standing behind a counter having to be face-to-face with customers every day. That’s when I did start seeing you every day. I had to have you with me at all times, although I hid our relationship from everyone as best I could.

I would panic if you weren’t around. I would feel wrong if something prevented me from being with you – I turned on people who tried to take you away. I wanted your security, your comfort, your safety. I found sneakier ways of seeing you; my schemes became more sophisticated. Nothing was going to stop us being together – you were the only one who truly made me feel better. Freer and able to cope.

Eventually you became more important to me than anything and anyone else. Sure, sometimes being with you caused problems, but it didn’t matter because I still had you. Whatever else happened, I still had you.

And you were still on my side, making nothing and no-one else matter, making me carefree, making me bolder than I’d ever been, opening doors for me, making me grab my chances, letting me get away with things I never thought possible.

Even when you made me feel depressed and dark, you would be there with me to howl and cry together. Even when you made me ill, you were still the tonic that would make me feel well. Even when I hated what I lie my life was, you were there to share the secret with me. And even when I knew my life was in pieces, and I would stare sadly at my shaking hands, it was you that made me see the beauty in those pieces.

You helped me to still see the magic in my life even when I was on my knees and in the dirt. Even if from the outside I was hurting others and living a crazy existence, you made it all seem worth it. Because it was you and me against the world.

You never disappointed me, you never let me down. Whoever else fucked me over, or wasn’t what I wanted them to be, you were always consistent. You never let me suffer, you never asked me to do anything I didn’t want to, you never asked questions, never pricked my conscience, you never made things difficult for me.

And best of all, all you asked for in return was that I needed you and continued to be with you and put you above everything else. That it was just you and me.

I will never forget the first time I considered life without you. I had begun to start almost passing out though dizziness. I would just be getting on with my daily life and the world would start to be enveloped by blackness before my eyes. It got worse and eventually it happened at work and an ambulance was called because I fainted.

As I went through a battery of expensive tests – ECGs, MRIs, blood tests – everything, I secretly knew it was because of you. I told myself it wasn’t. I even wished cancer upon myself, a brain tumour, anything, as long as it wasn’t because of you. There was no way I could give you up – nothing could ever replace you.

When did you change? When did you start hurting me? Because you have betrayed me. I thought I could trust you to always fix things. Is it because I tried to pull away from you? You know I risked everything I had so we could still be together. But you started to change. I didn’t really see it coming but you were making me iller and iller – you were poisoning me.

I knew things were getting serious when my own body rebelled against me. I hadn’t really noticed how dependent I had become on you because I spent every day in bed anyway. I don’t know when I stopped getting up in the morning. I don’t remember making that decision – it was just something that happened. It was easier for us to stay in bed together and not face the world. Was it because I was ill already? I don’t even know now.

I think it happened when I had to go away and live on my own. I didn’t realise how incapable I had become of looking after myself, until it really was just you and me. I never acknowledged that it wasn’t you who fed me – it was people who cared. It wasn’t you who called ambulances, or fed the cat, or remembered things, or cleaned the house, or bathed me or made me still a human.

So when it was just you and me, it all fell apart, truly and completely. On our own, I could barely do anything but sleep. And become so ill I was given only a year and a half to live.

At first this didn’t faze me because you were still worth it to me. I couldn’t conceive of life without you, because you were still the only thing I could rely on to diminish the fear. But I couldn’t really deny any more the skeleton that I had become, the way my hair was falling out, that you had destroyed my body and skewed my mind.

I tried to push through, but eventually I physically couldn’t go on – my body was finally reacting in a way I could do nothing to prevent and I had no choice but to detox. Maybe on some level I was fed up with you too, but mainly I just could not go on physically.

I had never really acknowledged the massive devastation that our relationship was causing in other areas of my life. I never blamed you for it at the time, but really I had ended up stuck in a life I didn’t want because of you. I had settled for destructive relationships, had become resentful and cruel and didn’t care if I was disloyal.

You made me not care about lying and cheating, stealing and betraying, making others cry, putting myself in danger and difficulty, losing all my self-respect. My parents despised you and who I became with you around but I didn’t care about them because I loved you more. I knew that wasn’t the way to be, but it was all I knew.

I happened to meet someone who revealed your true colours to me in part. And with his help, I managed to leave the situation which had enabled me to see you whenever I wanted.

Part of me wanted to leave you, but I knew I couldn’t entirely, as the constant fear was still there. I realised that the fear would have to go if I ever had a chance of being independent from you. So, over the next few years I tried various things to try to get rid of the fear and try to pull away from you. But whenever I rejected you, you punished me with days of agony and withdrawal.

When I finally found the antidote to my fears, I thought our relationship would naturally end or become harmonious like the normal friendships I saw other people have with you. I thought it would all fall into place. But you had got your claws so deep into me that almost every time I tried to act normally with you I failed.

I couldn’t just see you for a bit socially – after leaving you for a bit, I yearned to be with you again. Even after the briefest meeting, I hated it when you had to leave – I was addicted to your company. I resented having to part.

I made vows to others not to see you – I meant them, but I broke them. I lied about our secret rendez-vous. Even though every time I saw you I would spend days afterwards unable to function and ravaged physically, I just couldn’t give you up – even though by this time I wanted to. I wanted to be the person I saw in others I admired – the one who broke free.

So I realised finally that it had to be all or nothing with you. I loved you too much to only see you now and then, to cut short our acquaintance. So I decided I could never see you again.

It wasn’t easy to stop seeing you – I felt like half of me had died. Without you I no longer knew who I really was. I questioned my whole identity, who I was meant to be. I was overwhelmed by the difficult feelings and emotions that I had entrusted you with burying. The guilt was overwhelming. It was agony.

At first I would cry uncontrollably, become enraged over little things, feel excruciatingly frustrated with myself. I would wonder what the point was, but thankfully I had promised my parents and I felt obliged to get through it. After all the lies in the past, I wanted to finally come good. Once I got used to feeling like my world had been turned upside down, I didn’t actually miss your presence as much as I thought I would.

Your absence allowed me to find out all the good things I was missing out on with you in my life. I found things that fulfilled me – a great job, a new-found sense of freedom, of self-respect, of pride. I no longer had to go through the physical pain that our stop-start relationship had caused. I stopped letting other people down. I woke up feeling healthier and energised. I wondered if in fact I could live without you in my life – maybe forever.

But you would still invade my dreams, call out to me when I least expected it, pop into my head during difficult times to remind me of how I couldn’t ever forget about us. You’d try to convince me that I couldn’t do it on my own. When I felt stressed and lonely and fed up, I thought about you.

Mostly I coped, but a series of stressful events, cumulatively devastating to me and my newly-thin skin, led me to seek your comforting arms again. And I found it hard to let go. I needed comforting so badly – and you knew exactly which buttons to press, in a way that no-one else ever has.

But having tasted what life without you could be like, without the constant pressure and demands you make of me, without the time I wasted secretly meeting you and then trying to break free again, I knew that a large part of me wanted that back.

So I considered all the things I might need to do to truly be able to leave you forever and to live a life where I wouldn’t need you. I needed to change myself, something you would never let me do. You made me isolate myself from all the other healthy relationships I could have and things I could be doing, with the promise that you could solve it all. And I know you can make me feel like you have all the answers, but you come at such a price and I know it is not worth it.

Above all, to be free of you, I needed to change. I needed to develop my resources and to change my responses to the world. Because at the end of the day, I will always have problems, the world will always throw turmoil into my life and the lives of those who care about me. I will always try to do the right thing only to have it thrown back at me. I will always have times when I am frustrated and hurt by events and other people.

I have issues that will always exist as remnants in my life. I have situations I can not change. My scars are there – and they will always be.

Although others try to help me, with good intentions, misguided efforts, or the best will in the world, no-one will ever be enough for me. If they were, why would I have sought out your help?

I am the only person who is there every step of the way for me, who experiences all I have to live through, who understands what it is to feel like me and be like me. I am the only person who can choose what I do, how I respond and where my life goes. I am the only one who can change my own mind, my thinking and my attitude. I am the only one who can work for freedom. And if I let myself, I can be the one who can light my dark days with the sun.


Your Ex-friend’

Check out Beth’s original Recovery Story, Becoming Beth. A seven-year update appeared in my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.