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 reduced alcohol consumption. I had really got into the whole vibe of cutting back – 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.
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.
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.
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 abstemious 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 be sober again.
And God it was awful.
I never got back to the abstemious version of me; the one who enjoyed 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? 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.
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!