Just one beer…

just one beer

I was coming home the other weekend – a Saturday I think – about 3 in the afternoon, and the sun was shining while I waited on the station platform. It was all very pleasant, and my attention was grabbed by one of those pop-up food markets taking place adjacent to the station. I observed it, peering over the station wall to a courtyard below where young mums and their toddlers were eating and chatting and young men were sitting at picnic tables, drinking, probably just one beer, all very responsibly – and not in the sort of way I remembered drinking when I was their age. Or any age.

Nearly six years sober now, I had no desire to be in that scene. I simply couldn’t see the point of having a beer in the middle of the afternoon. The activity struck me as absurdly pointless. What was ‘just one beer’ going to do other than to give a little buzz that would soon fade away leaving a dehydrated head-achy feeling , a lethargy and irritability that, however mild, would only be cured by several more beers, or a lie-down back home. Where is the fun in that?

I’m sure I’d get a similar effect from a small cup of lighter fuel!!

More and more I am convinced that alcohol doesn’t really offer anything at all, not at any level, whether it’s an epic night out or a quiet sociable drink on a Saturday afternoon. British ‘law’ decrees we engage in drinking as a mark of respect – respect to the occasion, to our friends, to ourselves. Consequently, we reach a point where we don’t really know what we’d do if it was taken away. Even without ‘just one beer’ we feel exposed, unprotected, unable to relax and most importantly, unable to enjoy.

It’s a trap. Those who get caught up in the drinking thing, perpetuate the drinking custom. Those who don’t enjoy it are forced into social customs that are unnatural to them. They don’t get many chances to experience alternative ways of doing things – without alcohol.

Where did all the pubs go?

The alcohol industry is inadvertently making it easier to turn away from alcohol. When I was growing up, it was possible to get drunk in pubs on a low budget. But capitalism, now in its overgrown grotesque phase, has infected the decision-making of alcohol executives, the same as all others, and is destroying itself like a cancer. Pubs are disappearing off the face of the earth and the ones that remain are surviving on expensive food sales – or freak footfall, due to tourism or special events. PLC companies have to keep returning higher profits -standing still isn’t enough – and now there is nowhere for them to grow. They have merged to the point of monopolism. They have inflated their prices so much that they have destroyed the most loyal of all customer bases – pub-goers.

Long may it continue. If young people are encouraged to find their self-confidence through other means than alcohol, then there is hope for civilization, for the future happiness of our children.

I say that with a heavy heart, because I had a great time in pubs over the years. But I did it too much. Just one beer was never an option, and the machinery around me made damn sure it stayed that way!

Gordon’s & Tonic advert

Gordon’s & Tonic

Has anyone seen the latest advert for Gordon’s and tonic?

Two people are discussing what to do for the evening and one of them voices a long list of suggestions. The other sounds a bit bored and after listening for a while suggests instead going for a Gordon’s and tonic – which they decide on instantly – like it’s a no-brainer.

I’m struggling because on the one what’s the problem? – simply two people deciding to go for a drink. But on the other, there’s a suggestion that going for a drink is akin to any other activity of the type they have both dismissed in their during their deliberations in favour of the Gordon’s and tonic.

Is this what adverts do?

The advert deliberately elevates the status of its product to a higher level – it’s what adverts do, I guess – but in this case there’s a knowing cynicism in the way it appeals to the problem drinker (one of their core markets, of course) by allowing him/her to feel fine about choosing alcohol purely for its own sake – no disguising it behind the respectability of a theatre trip or any other sociable pastime.

Gordon’s wants us to feels uninhibited in our choice. And their advert celebrates drinking for drinking’s sake.

It says there are normal, likable people, just like the ones in their advert who drink in this way. So why not you too?

And to a non-problem drinker, it’s just a fun advert for Gordon’s and tonic.

Is that responsible? I’m not sure that it is.

For more about my own drinking, visit my book page

1st Class Air Travel and booze – good bed-fellows?

First class air travel and booze are great bedfellows. Not that I speak from experience. Just lots of imagination. 
I couldn’t conceive winning the lottery or going on a 1st class flight to New York without a lot of Champagne – back in the old days, that is. 
In fact, even now I can’t see the benefit of luxury travel without booze, despite being not in the least tempted by Champagne anymore. Perhaps it demonstrates how far I have come with my new desires in sobriety, ones that are truer to me.

Then it struck me how much of a parallel lies between the illusive world of first-class air travel –

first class air travel

and special social occasions.

Both are actually ruined by alcohol. In first class, all the little treats and extras laid on by the airline are completely overshadowed by the prospect of endless “free” Champagne. you would never really enjoy the buffet in the first class departure lounge, or the seats that turn to beds when you need some rest, or all endless meals, snacks and films. You’d be thinking about the wine, the spirit mixers in their posh glasses, the circular bar, the top-ups.

Real-life parallel

And in real life the same can be said for special social occasions. 
In those dark old days I would look forward to and plan such occasions down to the first and last mouthful of booze – from the continuous flow of alcohol, the number of pre-paid bottles to get everyone started, the mix of heavy and light drinking company. And on those occasions I would drink from the earliest opportunity. For the duration I would keep topping up my levels of alcohol in case I started to sober up.  
And then I would go into blackout and do silly things or get emotional or fall asleep or get argumentative. 
All the preparation for the social event would have been wasted. As would I. And I would wake up the next day with a sense of impending doom and a lot of gloom. Shame and anxiety would keep me sheepish and full of self-loathing for some time to come, relieved only by the next drink. 

So if I won the lottery or came into huge sums of money, air travel isn’t what I would seek, nor champagne (of course). I’m not really chasing huge sums anyway. I need money to live on, and that’s all I want. I love my life in all its simplicity and although it would be great to have a bit more cash to free up some more time for the things I want to do, I don’t crave a flashy life-style. Far from it.

For more of this sort of thing, pop over to my amazon page

Drink Questionnaire

If the choice was between a sober night at a lovely restaurant with friends or an evening of unlimited wine/beer/spirits/drink with someone you don’t really like very much, which would you pick?

Have you ever taken offence at someone’s comments, walked off then forgot why you were offended?…

Or had an argument on the phone, and the next day forgotten what you were arguing about?

Do you measure all occasions by their drinking opportunities?

Do you come into a room and feel like an outsider, until you have had a drink?

Do you feel depressed in the afternoon if you don’t know when you’ll be able to get a drink later that day?

Do you feel a sense of dread when you hear or read a news item about liver disease caused by alcohol?

Do you take secret swigs from bottles of alcohol?

Do you buy  drinks from bars in between rounds without people noticing

Do you buy extra rounds so as to get a drink more quickly than waiting someone else’s round.

Do you feel comforted when you hear about someone drinking more than you?

Do you feel you could stop or cut down if you really wanted to?

when you think about winning the lottery, do you think about the drink you’ll have in celebration.

Do you think about travelling first class on the plane, and think about free drinks?

Does the thought of a Sunday lunch and a log fire make you think of alcohol.

Does the thought of your favourite meal – without alcohol – turn you off?

Do you eat less in order to drink more

Do you put off eating as long as possible so as to have more capacity for booze.

Do you see food after booze as the end of the night’s main entertainment.

Do you reward yourself with drink?

If you answer”yes” to any of the above, then you’ll find some useful help on this website – and via my book page

Pink Cloud still pink

I’m happy to report that my pink cloud hasn’t blown over, even after 5 years.

My Pink Cloud

We had friends round for Friday-night dinner last night and I felt excited all day about them coming. I guess it’s because we haven’t been all that sociable recently and these friends are special to us, and a lot of fun. They are mostly quite big drinkers too.

So it’s with euphoria that I tell you how fluffy my pink cloud still is and how happy I feel today at how fun and successful the evening was, and how mentally strong and healthy and energetic I feel today. The sobriety drug that I got hooked on 5 years and 4 months ago is still working its magic. This is the real ecstasy! You have to believe me!

pop over to my book page for more of my experiences in the world of sober!

Baby Boomers: prone to alcohol dependency?

There’s been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the dramatic increase in hospitalisations amongst baby boomers, due to alcohol dependency – a trend that is counter to all other age-groups in society, we’re told. The cause of this spike is something to do with the boomers’ adolescent experiences of alcohol back in the 60s and 70s.

a drink for every occasion

Back then, drinking alcohol was an adult pastime that was universally participated in and accompanied almost all social as well as many formal occasions. Drinking alcohol was for a large proportion of the population the only social activity they ever did. Drinking alcohol was therefore a right of passage in many adolescents’ lives and for these baby-boomers, me included, the anticipation of that first proper drink was momentous. There certainly wasn’t any fear or warning about the dangers of alcohol dependency.

I came across an article recently by a baby boomer who said that when she went to University in the 1970s her family warned her about the perils of “pot”, not alcohol. She was told to stay away from dope and stick to cider; the presumption being that cider would bring no harm, while marijuana would lead to heroin addiction.

Stick to cider and you’ll be fine! Really?

Cider was “of course” harmless; unless you drunk too much of it, in which case you had a problem. But to acquire alcohol dependency takes a long time, and if you start with the premise that cider and beer are harmless, then you have a lot of time to play with before anyone, including yourself, notices that there is a problem. It’s not surprising then that 40 years ago, problem drinking went unchecked, that dangerous habits were forged in broad daylight.

Alcohol was associated with ceremonies of all kinds (it still is to an extent) including religious ones – the “blood” of Christ – and its place in 1970s culture went absolutely unchallenged. If anyone drank too much, that was due to their own weakness, not society’s – and very much their own business.

In the 70s people were less inclined to point the finger at other people’s habits anyway. I remember the big fuss made about the infringement to personal liberty brought about by motorcyclists’ compulsory wearing of safety helmets. The Liberal Party was dead against it. So, you can imagine what people would have made of interfering with other people’s drinking habits.  It was no one else’s business but yours when you had a drink. The idea of printing the Government Health Inspector’s recommended number of weekly units on the side of a bottle of beer, wine, or spirits would have caused outrage.

I don’t think the 70s attitude was particularly laissez-faire or bohemian either. Pubs were closed for most of the day and alcohol wasn’t available in anything like the number of places it is now – like petrol stations and cafes

1970s pub

But that’s not in any way to diminish alcohol’s central role in adult life. Pubs were literally everywhere, and when they were open, they were full. Alcohol was consumed at every occasion of  any note. Alcohol was one of those facts of life that were too interwoven into the fabric of society to be isolated and challenged – like obesity, unsaturated fat, sugar, tobacco, lack of exercise, food-additives, pollution, amongst others. Where would you start, even if you wanted to?

I’m not suggesting that everyone suffered from alcohol dependency back in the 60s and 70s, but everyone was exposed to alcohol at all occasions back then, and participation on at least some level was expected. To be t total back then was as “suspicious” as being vegetarian, Muslim, black, homosexual. If it wasn’t exactly wrong, it certainly wasn’t “normal”.

Excluded from the club

I think my life was on hold up until the time I was allowed to drink. That’s how it feels. I longed for the day when I could go to the pub, or pour myself a glass of whisky, or open a bottle of wine. I vividly remember all those alcohol adverts, the cocktails and champagne in films, the smell of stale beer on train carriages where football and rugby fans had been.

At 15, alcohol, at last, was allowed to become my primary interest in life. And it remained that way for 36 years, until 5 years ago I realised I had had enough of it and wanted something new and different. 5 years on, I am happy to say, there is still a novelty in being free from the burden of worry about alcohol (drinking too much of it; not having enough of it, spending too much money on it, hiding it…) There is also the joy of discovering new things about myself; the things I like doing and not doing; where my priorities lie in relation to family, work-life-balance, free time, holidays. Alcohol clouded my judgement of these things, because it was more important to me than anything else, even if I wasn’t prepared to admit it at the time.

And the world seems to have moved on a bit now too; not that I noticed it while I was drinking. People aren’t so bothered about alcohol as they were. Pubs are shutting in their droves. Young people seem to be far more interested in food than alcohol these days. Sure, they binge drink (which is a problem, I know) but alcohol doesn’t have the mystique it once had. There are so many more activities to occupy kids in 21st century Britain – like mobile phones, social media, computer games, limitless TV.

Alcohol dependency is still alive and kicking, but it’s no surprise to me that the biggest group of dependents are the baby boomers.

You can read more about this sort of thing in my drinking memoir

Alcoholic blog compares Sri Lanka with Goa – 11 years on…

On holiday in Sri Lanka very recently, I was reminded of a Goa trip 11 years previously when I was drinking heavily. Despite the low cost of everything in Goa, I still had to organise my rupees into daily piles in order to make sure I didn’t go over budget. We had cocktails and beers and brandy every day, and I bought some dope too which made me sleepy and nauseous and yet I was continually debating in my head whether to roll one up “now” or leave it until later in the day. Once I had that dope in my possession, I became obsessional about it. My holiday was ruled by those piles of daily rupees and that bag of grass and all those drinks. I wish I had been writing an alcoholic blog back then, because it would have made interesting reading.

Palolem Cocktails

Rupees, Euros or pounds – it doesn’t make much difference!

Sri Lanka shares the same climate, more or less, as South India, and a broadly similar culture, at least to us holidaying Brits abroad, so it’s not surprising I was reminded of my former trip to Goa. What came as a great relief however was my ability to enjoy the culture of Sri Lanka without the burden of those wretched daily piles of rupees. I didn’t really need money to enjoy the sights sounds and smells of the jungle and beach and that wonderful country’s amazing towns and cities. Whether cheap or expensive, my decisions on what to do were not determined by my budget and certainly not by an overwhelming desire to have a beer or get stuck into the cocktails, or roll a joint and stare nauseously into the middle distance, like I did 11 years ago in my hut on Palolem beach.

Thank God for my continued desire for sobriety. It fuels everything I do, including, of course, this alcoholic blog. And now that I am starting to get a handle on the concept of mindfulness, I feel even more empowered to enjoy my own existence, without worrying about the past or the future.

For more of this sort of thing, have a look at my alcohol journal at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01M67O736

Cutting down is a risky business!

I got the call about Glastonbury Festival while on holiday. My friend had managed to buy  re-sale tickets for us both and then phoned me with the joyful news; except that it didn’t feel very joyful; more like something very bad had just happened. That’s because I was in Portugal at the time, with my partner and had been enjoying an extended spell of cutting down alcohol. I had really got into the whole vibe of cutting down – you know, drinking wine with meals – and only with meals –  and only half a bottle (max). I swilled the wine around my mouth to draw out the full flavour and I savoured the combinations of various spicy and sweet foods with the taste explosion that the wine added. It wasn’t about getting drunk. It was different now. I had turned a corner. I cherished my new-found control over booze. And I wasn’t turning back. I really felt elated with my new lifestyle.

Moderation?…at Glastonbury Festival?

But the Glastonbury news threw me. What was I going to do? It wasn’t as though I could swill wine and cheese in a field in Somerset. I mean, you’re out there all day and all evening at music festivals like that, battling the elements, immersing yourself in sensory overload for hours and hours at a time. Everything is full-on there, maxed-up, super-sized. It’s big, bold, bad and it’s all day and all night. Pints, litres, barrels; almost medieval in its earthiness – the open-air life –  bonfires, camping, latrines, stand pipes. Cider flows all day and it feels both natural and electrifying at the same time. Cutting down is as far from your mind as it could possibly be.

The place is designed to take you out of yourself, mentally and spiritually with music, booze, crazy people and the whole back-to-nature essence of it all. I mean, how is ANY of that going to happen unless through a haze of alcohol. Lots of it, all day.

drinking at festivals

At first, when the news about the tickets came in, I didn’t think about the hedonism element. I deliberately shut it from my mind and carried on with my cutting down regime. But far back in the recesses of my mind I was anxious. Trouble was brewing. And as the countdown to Glastonbury continued, I slowly came around to the view that I should regard the festival as a one-off treat.

After all, how was I going to impose a drink limit on myself when I was with friends who were expecting me to do all the old festival rituals?

I don’t think I could say the F** it button was pressed yet. But I was whimpering like a whippet in its race trap, waiting for the gate to open.

And when finally the gates were open, I was in a frenzy of joy, and I smoked and I drank and I blanked out and got separated from friends and made new ones at bars, got lost and was found, and became boisterous and tearful and loud and shouty and I sang and I wept and I fell in the mud and I was immersed in the timeless mystery of Avalon Vale. And on it went for a week, and all my settings were messed with, so much so that on the train home to big old grown-up London Town, I was inconsolable. I bought 2 expensive cans of Strongbow cider from the drinks trolley just to take the edge off the terrible reality that was looming into view. I couldn’t bear the thought that the party was coming to an end and I would have to go back to cutting down again.

And God it was awful.

The flood gates now open …again!

I never got back to the abstemious version of me; the one who enjoyed cutting down and keeping to strict limits. I drank secretly and excessively for another 6 months and then I quit completely.

Once the desire for sobriety is lost – it’s lost. Cutting down is such a dangerous game, because it keeps the pleasure of alcohol fresh in your mind all the time. You still think about it at every turn, planning when and where you will consume your quotient, how you’ll pace yourself over the course of a social event, how you feel when you know others will be drinking heavily around you. It’s still ruling you. Even if you enjoy your new relationship with alcohol, it’s still filtering all your senses through an alcohol lens and so it’s just a matter of time before you get the calculations wrong. And when the bubble is burst, what next?

Indeed, what of Glastonbury now? I have been alcohol-free for some years now. Am I to avoid it at all costs? – “People-places and things” and all that! In fact, I have been back to Glastonbury Festival twice, sober. They were amazing, both times. I was reminded how little of it I actually enjoyed when drunk all day. The pissed me spent most of the time fearful, emotionally unstable, anxious and lost. Sure, the alcohol takes you out of yourself. But when it drops you back in, it leaves you defenceless, and vulnerable. You need the booze to get back to feeling good about yourself – and round and round you go.

Enjoyment in things – for what they truly are

Alcohol-free, Glastonbury has real magic. I am able to indulge in sensory delights of so many different kinds all day and all evening long, from the moment of waking fresh in my cosy tent to buying puddings and chocolate and coffee late at night.

These things would be no temptation to heavy drinkers. It’s impossible to get excited about sober treats if you are a drinker. That’s because you are forever chasing a myth with alcohol. Nothing is ever good enough in its own right, for its own sake; it has to be experienced through an alcoholic lens. Without that lens, everything is dull and lifeless; or so you believe.

It’s only when you finally put the booze down forever that you can get back in touch with your true feelings. Cutting down isn’t enough and nor is taking months off. That’s because you know you’ll be going back to it at some point, so you don’t make the full adjustment to sobriety – there’s no need if you’ll be drinking again soon.

You have to give it time to adjust. Things will be different. I remember my first holiday in sobriety, just before getting ready to go out for dinner – about 4.30pm; less than 2 hours from aperitif-time. Except there would be no aperitifs. I was longing for something, not exactly for alcohol, but for a buzz, a lift, and I didn’t know how to get it without alcohol. Of course, when we finally went out into the back-streets of Rome and found a restaurant, me and my lovely partner, I was happy. It was the start of a journey towards understanding and cherishing the things I love doing and all the new highs and lows of sobriety (there actually aren’t any lows, I’ve discovered!).

The adjustment period may be lengthy. At aperitif-time I continually reminded myself of how bored I had got of drinking – how predictable the consequences, how I had done it all so many times in the past that I couldn’t possibly expect anything new from it, and how exciting my genuinely new adventure in sobriety actually is now.

Once I had gone through this mantra, I felt ready to move forward again, and I repeated the mantra as many times as was necessary to get me over any wobbles. Sobriety is an adventure and at first there is a temptation to back to the comfort of the familiar. But keep going, I say, because the rewards are always just around the corner. And in the long-term they are beyond your wildest dreams! Read more of this in my book

Dry January is nearly over – What’s the point of it anyway?

I always hated dry January; its air of Sunday night gloom hanging over the whole month, poisoning every waking moment with a back-to-school practicality.  It made me want to crack open the left-over Christmas bubbly, and start the party up again.

back-to-school-feeling

Why did I ever go in for it? Was it really to detoxify? That’s probably just what I told friends and colleagues, but I don’t think that self-purification was the real reason.

Control

I went in for Dry January to demonstrate to myself that I was in control. Usually a much-needed process after the month of December, the month that includes the office Christmas party and the 5 days holed up with family, not to mention all the spontaneous festive socials.  Sure, I told everyone I was de-toxing, but that’s because I didn’t want to appear worried about my drinking. I didn’t want the stakes to be that high. If I failed, what would it say about my drinking? I wasn’t going to be hoisted by my own petard, as the saying goes. Instead I signed up to the detox fad and afterwards, went back to drinking when I was good and ready, quite often after only a few days.

Some Januaries I even managed to go 2-3 weeks without a drink. I felt exonerated at the end, full of resolutions for a more moderate year ahead.

But here’s the thing. As self-deceiving as I’ve made all of that sound, it does nonetheless demonstrate some genuine self-control. And self-control is the one thing that separates the heavy drinker from the problem drinker. You won’t hear people in AA meetings recount stories of how they managed, on repeated occasions, to stop drinking at the crucial moment.

I mean, if you can stay sober all evening in the pub and drive everyone home, or at a party when all the guests are fueling up with Dutch Courage, or stay off the booze the night before an important presentation, or a job interview, or for a whole month so that your internal organs can have a so-called rest, then you clearly have significant control over your relationship with alcohol. But does that mean you are having a great time? Are you substituting alcohol with some other way you’ve found of enjoying yourself – not another form of substance abuse – but another way of seeing the world? In reality you are probably brazening it out, clocking up the brownie points, ready to be cashed in as reward for your efforts – in the bar!

Common denominator

The thing is, we disguise our dependence on alcohol by making it appear to be just one pleasure on a long list of others. But for many of us, it’s the common denominator in all of them – the choice of holiday, the social planning, the club memberships. If you took alcohol away from one of these activities, our interest would quickly wane. We don’t lack self-control, but we do lack self-knowledge. I don’t think I knew how to have a great time without alcohol. And even when I did, I usually opined how much better it would have been with wine.

I look back and realise what a self- deceiving con all that self-control was – and high up there with it was dry January.

Instead of trying to blot alcohol out for a month, I should have been challenging my love of it, analysing its continued contribution and considering what life might be like without it.

I should have spent a few weeks working through my relationship with alcohol, analysing what each gulp-full was doing for my well-being, working out how exactly it relieved my shyness at a party, for instance, and made me able to enjoy talking to strangers, and at what cost; working out why it made me anxious the morning after the night before.

Running away from alcohol in dry January just seems like running away from the problem, like running away from a partner for a month as a form of relationship management – then going back to exactly the same arrangement as before, without analysing the pros and cons of any of the relationship.

It’s only when you see what things are like on the other side that you realise how you’ve been missing out on so many other pleasures, many of them simple enough, but all of them without the roller coaster highs and lows that come with alcohol. It’s truly eye-opening.

Alcoholic?

For most of my life I figured that alcohol was the best way to enjoy myself. Then over time it gradually became the only way. Was I an alcoholic? I don’t see how I could have been if I was exercising control; knowing when to stop; knowing when not to start. These are not signs of alcoholism, as AA will make you realise if you attend one of their meetings. The thing is, my life had not become unmanageable – that would be a complete exaggeration of the facts. Nor had I become powerless over alcohol. Yes, I was relying far too much on it, and allowing it to influence all my choices. But I hadn’t lost a job or a relationship through alcohol. I hadn’t killed anyone, or been told to go into re-hab or been arrested. I had fallen asleep at the dinner table or on the sofa at parties. I had got a bit emotional when talking about my dead sister after too many drinks. I had got angry and defensive and horribly sarcastic with my partner when drunk and then full of remorse the next day. But could this be called powerlessness over alcohol? Was it unequivocally alcoholic? Did I do it every time I had a drink. Absolutely not.

So how many people bow to the pressures of alcohol, like I did, by including it in everything they choose to do? And how long can they go on for without hitting rock bottom? Probably forever.

So, the sad thing is, these heavy drinkers may never give sobriety a real chance. Why would they want to? If they’re not powerless over alcohol, if their lives haven’t become unmanageable through alcohol, if they’re not alcoholic, why would they bother with sobriety – except perhaps during dry January, which will guarantee they keep drinking for the rest of their lives.

More of this in my drinking memoir: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01M67O736