Quit alcohol and you’ll solve all your problems?…

When I quit alcohol back in 2013, I believed that all my many character faults, in particular, mood swings, anger bursts and irrational irritations – character faults that I was quick to attribute to my newly lost alcohol dependency – would melt away to reveal a calm, content version of the old cantankerous me.

cross face

It was therefore with some disappointment that I discovered one morning on my way, ironically, to an AA meeting that my levels of irrational irritation were sky high. Fellow pedestrians seemed to have the audacity to walk straight into me without looking where they were going; narrow streets would suddenly fill with people all wanting to use my space at precisely the same time.

Looking all around me in a seething, barley disguised rage, I observed the clearness of the path everywhere else, except the immediate area around me, and found myself baffled at how sod’s law had once again contrived to put a pedestrian right in my way.

The same incendiary rage could, and still does, occasionally, blow up in some other predictable places. Losing objects, like keys, is guaranteed to bring it on, or putting them in the wrong pocket so that I have to check every other pocket to find them; dropping things on the floor; fetching items that I have mislaid, then instantly leaving them behind again.

When I am tired, hungry, or in a hurry, things only get worse.

Before I quit alcohol, I never felt the need to address my short fuse and irritation. Bad moods were corrected soon enough with a drink or two inside me. Life’s troubles usually faded (others appeared quickly enough with alcohol, but that’s a different matter!) and I was even able to laugh at myself once I had a glass in my hand.

It was all part of a general philosophy of: life is tricky, full of difficult people and awkward things, demon moods and occasional dark despair. But alcohol is there to help me along the way, make it feel better.

When I quit alcohol, I was dazed by the new world I found myself in. It felt as if I was inhabiting a new body, one that I really didn’t know very much about. The feeling was mostly very exciting. So, I was quite surprised to find this new person was just as irritable as the old one.

In a very small way this demonstrates the point that if you quit alcohol, it won’t take away all those personal flaws that make you draw solace from it in the first place.

Kicking away a crutch doesn’t help you to walk. For many people, the biggest problems are still very present even after you quit alcohol for good. That’s why AA is so wonderful. It will help you put your life back together, whatever your past, in addition to helping you quit alcohol.

What made the difference though, was that I was for the first time interested in finding out more about this person, rather than running away from him – to a bar.

Actually, the reality was, I had no choice but to find out more about myself, because booze was now no longer an option to hide behind.

And I have found out some good things too, like I don’t need a drink in social situations in order to talk to people and enjoy myself. I get off on the fact that I can do it all sober, leaving the function at a sensible time and driving home. I have had to learn all this since I quit alcohol, but the journey has been both challenging and exhilarating.

However, I have still not properly addressed my irritability.

I find that forcing myself to smile and laugh when I’m actually angry and cross, is a good way to break the bad mood, even if it doesn’t go all the way of making me happy.

forcing a happy face

Also, I find that slowing things down and concentrating on the now is helpful. Is that mindfulness? It seems to make me less cross.

But I’m lazy; sometimes too lazy to make the effort to stay calm instead of shouting (when I’m alone, that is!) which is what I really want to do. It’s much more instantly gratifying to have a good loud swear. I’d prefer to blame my glasses or pen or phone for hiding from me, rather than acknowledge my own mistake, force myself to smile and stay positive.

I’m thinking of exploring meditation classes for this. I wonder if that would help me relax in social circumstances, as well as make me less irritable with fellow pedestrians and with my loathsome keys when I mislay them!? I guess I need to give it a try.

There’s more of this sort of observation my my drinking memoir

 

 

Desire for sobriety! How to find it…

Problem-drinkers often claim they want to quit alcohol. It’s a good starting point, I guess, but only a very small number seem able to do anything about it. This is generally taken as a sign of how difficult the whole thing is. But if you think about it, the desire for quitting is a somewhat gloomy goal. By contrast, you rarely hear problem-drinkers talk in a positive way about the much more positive desire for sobriety.

But that’s maybe because problem-drinkers are not encouraged to do so. It’s all quite woolly this desire thing. I mean, professionals in the recovery field don’t draw much of a distinction between a desire to quit and a desire for sobriety. These things are seen as 2 sides of the same coin. But everyone seems agreed on how important “desire” is to the therapeutic process. “You have to want it” is a phrase you hear a lot from professionals, whatever their therapeutic method. But it needs clarification.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that sobriety isn’t seen as a desire, so much as a state that is achievable once alcohol has been successfully removed.

But maybe there’s some work that could be done around this desire for sobriety at an earlier stage. I’m keen to explore.

In my own case, it was my newly found desire for sobriety that fuelled a change in my behaviour, not the other way round, and I’m intrigued to find out if this might hold for others.

It was mid-December, 2013 and I had just hired out a small pub in Kings Cross to celebrate my 50th birthday the following month (which tells you something about my relationship with alcohol at the time!) The Christmas party season was in full-swing but I wasn’t having such a good time of it.

That’s because I had got drunk at a works-dinner – a bad place to get drunk at the best of times. I had pre-loaded in the day-time and become argumentative with the boss during the celebratory meal; although I didn’t think I had been particularly drunk; nor had the argument been much more than boisterous banter in my view, but it was enough to get me into trouble the next day. I knew I had fucked up, so the unravelling of this faux-pas was excruciating. I wanted to get it over in one go, but unfortunately, I was subjected to the drip-drip torture of silent disapproval for hours and hours before finally being confronted with the accusation of drunkenness.

I had also had a big row with my girlfriend a couple of nights previously at which I had got extremely defensive and sarcastic. I was very drunk of course, but not too drunk to whip up a bitter and malevolent line of defence at what I saw as her general disapproval of me.

Both incidents had left me reeling with anxiety. They both left me with an impending duty to offer extensive, grovelling apologies. I just about managed to pull it off. But it wasn’t pretty, and I wasn’t out of the woods completely, either. But I had bought a little time, during which I intended to get things back on track.

I decided upon a dry January as the best way to demonstrate the sincerity of my intentions. This had the very strong advantage of being sufficiently draconian to give me some very real credit both at home and work, but it also gave me a 2-week drinking window before needing to start the self-punishment. I could get myself back into the good books of all those I depended on, whilst also enjoying the festive period. I even quite liked the idea of a sober January, as a way of re-setting my levels.

But there was a problem. My 50th birthday celebration was scheduled for mid-January, and there was no way I could be sober for that. Furthermore, if I gave myself even one night of birthday drinking, I knew I wouldn’t be able to return to sobriety for the rest of the month. And it had to be a proper dry January to have credibility; so I was stuck.

drunk at work dinner

Now this is where the miracle happened. This is the bit that I wonder if others might draw inspiration from. That’s because it was at this point the idea of sobriety appeared before me in a very different way. The birthday dilemma made me think how wonderful it would be if I didn’t have to worry about drinking. I thought about all those people who don’t drink alcohol and I suddenly felt envious of them. Within moments I found myself imagining the sober version of me at my own birthday party pouring drinks for friends, chatting and even dancing, and having a good time, but without touching a drop of alcohol. I imagined giving people a lift home at the end of the night and waking the next day feeling great about myself and about the night before.

These things were actually desirable outcomes – I liked the idea of drinking sparkling water while those around me became gradually intoxicated and bloated with booze. Sobriety became a desirable state in its own right, rather than merely the consequence of staying off the more undesirable state of intoxication.

It was this moment of clarity, the birth of my desire for sobriety that snowballed into a plan to quit 3 weeks later during which time I did a number of mental exercises to keep that desire for sobriety focussed.

Firstly, I thought about every sip of alcohol I was consuming in the run-up to my quit-date and analysed what it was doing for me – or rather to me. I asked myself what the 2nd/3rd/4th drink offered that the first one hadn’t delivered. I questioned my need for alcohol on every occasion over the next few weeks. It made me feel increasingly disillusioned by what alcohol was actually doing for me anymore.

Secondly, I developed a quitting mantra every time I thought about alcohol. The mantra had 3 prongs:

  • I’ve done it all before; alcohol has given me everything in its armoury and I have tried all of it many many times.
  • If I drink again, the same things will happen – because they always do, whatever I say to myself. And even when bad things don’t happen, it’s all predictable stuff – nothing new.
  • I’m going on a new journey now – a really new uncharted adventure. And there’s no turning back from it after the start of the journey.

Thirdly, I nurtured the positive feelings that were developing within me until gradually I fell in love with the idea of sobriety.

sparkling water – my new drug

I didn’t look for substitutes for alcohol when I quit; sobriety became the drug that replaced booze – my new drug of choice – making me sharp and focussed, able to hold a conversation, remember things, get home safely, enjoy the remainder of the evening and wake up in the morning feeling amazing, with my wallet and phone where they should be!

I really believe that if you can find a way of developing a desire for sobriety, you will speed up your recovery process immensely. When you desire sobriety, you no longer feel deprived of alcohol. That’s a powerful feeling. By contrast, there are many people who are able to quit, but feel deprived of alcohol – if not all the time, then certainly at key moments. These quitters are able to go long bouts without alcohol – way beyond a dry January – but they stay out of its way, using all the will power they have. Any desire they may have is for staying quit; not for sobriety. When they fail in the end, they do so in a moment of weakness. Their resolve gives way – maybe a bad thing happens, or they press the fuck-it button in wrong company. It’s very hard to come back from that.

I also really believe that to switch to a desire for sobriety is a necessary step in all cases in the end. In other words, however you get there, whatever the journey, that final switch in your brain will have to be activated, no matter what – if you’re going to be truly successful. This is the desire thing that all professionals are referring to when they say you have to “want it”. But it can potentially happen at any point along the journey – whether that’s after 12 bouts in re-hab, or on the top deck of a 73 bus one afternoon, after 36 years of drinking.

My key message is: we mustn’t be woolly about our definition of: “want it”. “Want sobriety” is key. It’s not enough to simply want to quit.

More about desire for alcohol, desire for quitting and desire for sobriety can be found in my drinking biog:

 

‘Drinkers Like Me’…Adrian Chiles

I thought ‘Drinkers Like Me’ was a great documentary and very brave of Adrian Chiles.

adrian chiles

For me, what came across in ‘Drinkers like me’ was the danger of cutting down your alcohol intake, as opposed to quitting. Paradoxically, it’s far harder to cut down than quit because when you allow yourself the reward of a few drinks on certain days and certain occasions, you end up putting too much emphasis on the importance of those drinks and those occasions, and you don’t develop new interests away from alcohol.

This kind of controlled living is what millions of drinkers like Adrian do all their lives – often supported by a loving spouse who makes sure their partner stays on the rails. Unfortunately, the opportunity to explore new pastimes and people thereby goes begging.

In ‘Drinkers Like Me’, Frank Skinner made an appearance and suggested to Adrian that he didn’t really have a problem as he (Adrian) was capable of pressing the stop button when required. Frank said he himself wasn’t able to do this in his own drinking days, and envied Adrian’s ability to control his drinking.

I don’t think this was very helpful of Frank, and certainly not very empathetic. It was obvious that Adrian wanted to free himself of the burden of having to drink on every single occasions, and the only way to free himself of this burden is to develop new, sober occasions, ones that he can look forward to, away from alcohol. He isn’t going to know what occasions these are until he has learnt to live without the drug that’s restricting him from that knowledge.

More to be found on freeing oneself from the burden of drinking on my book page

 

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.

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.

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? 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! Read more of this in my book

 

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.

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.

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”.

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

can you survive social functions alcohol-free?

…This was one of my big worries when I went alcohol-free at the end of 2013. It plagued me throughout all my preparations for quitting. That’s because where big social functions were concerned, alcohol was much more of a necessity than a compulsion or indulgence before.

I wondered what on earth would replace it. What could possibly substitute for alcohol at wedding receptions, say, and networking conferences and college reunions? I literally couldn’t imagine what I would do at these sorts of occasions; how I would feel during 4 hours of sitting or standing around chatting.  I imagined myself in a sweat of self-consciousness, my mouth resisting all attempts at a proper smile, straining under the pressure to fix a look of sincerity at yet another painfully dull anecdote.

In the past, alcohol was my rock at all such functions, helping me feel normal, washing away the self-consciousness and boredom. And from the moment I arrived at these do’s I would assess its availability and start planning how I would keep it close to me all evening.

social functions and booze!

Don’t get me wrong, I would still make an arse of myself at most of these functions – with varying degrees of awfulness, thanks to alcohol. But that didn’t stop me wanting it.

When I opted for an alcohol-free life I didn’t fear that temptation would somehow get the better of me as soon as I had to mingle in a room of quaffers. It was that I had nothing to replace the reassuring sense of detachment from reality that booze offered on these occasions. What I feared was that I would hate every single long minute of the night. I feared that panic might set in mid-sentence, and I might have one of those out-of-body moments where you suddenly become conscious of your own voice, as an observer. I feared that I would have to stop going to social functions altogether. And it was this that made me wonder if I really was ready to quit.

The first time I attended such an occasion in sobriety was 3 weeks into my alcohol-free life – on my own 50th birthday – an event that was planned before my decision to become alcohol-free! I knew that having an alcoholic drink just simply wasn’t an option for me anymore, so my trepidation was nothing to do with combating temptation.  It was how to endure a night of sober chit chat.

Being alcohol-free that night did however have an unforeseen consequence, which was that I was able to concentrate on what people were saying and I could keep up with the conversation, without repeating myself embarrassingly. I could think of sensible questions to ask my guests, all about their lives. And as the people around me got more and more intoxicated, I realised I didn’t actually need my confidence boosted. It was just fine as it was. All I needed was to try and keep myself entertained, which I managed to do quite well up to 10.30pm simply by getting around as many guests as I could. OK, after 10.30, it got more difficult because I was tired and I wanted to go home. But overall, I succeeded and I got a great first glimpse of what to expect from functions of this sort.

I can’t say that I enjoyed it much – that would come later, once I had become more accustomed to these situations, and learnt when to arrive (later than most) and get away (earlier than most) and learnt how to get the most from them. But for now, I had done what I needed to do. I had got through it successfully. Driving home – yes, driving home (how amazing!) – I felt exhausted, but elated – a strange and very new combination of emotions.

The even stranger bit is that the next day I felt like I had a sort-of hang-over. My brain felt like toffee. I was slow and tired and just so dopey. But unlike a hang-over, there was no feeling of nausea or de-hydration or persistent lethargy. When I drank my first coffee I could feel the delicious restorative effects of the caffeine as it injected energy and life back into me.

Looking back on those early days of my alcohol-free life, I realise that what made it all possible was my determination not to sentimentalise the loss of my old comfort blanket, but instead move on. Sometimes I didn’t know where I was headed, but that didn’t matter. That was part of the new adventure. Everything is different when you try to rejoice at being alcohol-free rather than simply putting up with it for a week or a month. And that is the difference between a dry January and an alcohol-free life.

If you think you can’t go alcohol-free for life because your dry January was difficult – well they are different things.

I’ve just returned home from a college reunion weekend. It’s the second such gathering since I quit alcohol. My alcohol-free status still slightly irritates and unnerves the group. I fielded a number of questions at various moments about my ability to sit amongst 5 beer swilling mates for several hours at a stretch, and I was comfortable with telling them that it didn’t bother me at all. I’m not sure that they felt the same way towards me though.

What I didn’t tell them was how wasteful we were with our time together, how alcohol made everyone so ill-disciplined with that time, and as a result how unnecessarily long we spent sitting around chatting (and drinking).

If you don’t have a drink in your hand, then it all starts to feel a bit boring. And guess what? That’s because it is! Not many people have enough going on in their lives to sit around chatting about it for 6 hours at a stretch. And it’s not that I don’t like chatting. I love it. I’m very sociable, and I love to hear all about what people are up to.

But the fact is, we simply didn’t need to spend 2 nights away from our respective homes to have a good time. All we needed was a shorter bit of quality time together –  a sociable activity in the afternoon, some early evening drinks followed by a tasty meal, after which we’d say goodnight and goodbye. That’s plenty of time for any group of friends to re-connect and have fun.

Drinkers just don’t understand that. That’s because reunions are such a marvellous cover for extended drinking sessions. They take on a sort of legendary status of their own. There was a point on the first evening of our reunion when I realised that I am able to live my life in the moment –  making the most of the now, not hanging on to a “drug”-induced high, wishing for it not to end. Here we were, the conversation flowing and mixed with lots of laughter. And that was everything I wanted from the occasion. I didn’t need to seal it in some alcoholic fix, lest it slip away before my very eyes, holding on until dawn before conceding the night to history.

back at the hotel!

Instead I went back to my hotel, watched some telly, had a cup of tea and went to bed. They were good feelings too. Less intense than the alcoholic ones that my friends were indulging in, but far more plentiful and frequent. It’s a different way of doing pleasure (and much cheaper, by the way!)

 

It’s not just reunions, of course. It’s everywhere else as well. Like the golf club or watching live football/rugby/cricket, or historical re-enactments or theatre-going or book clubs… these pastimes are, for heavy drinkers, only a cover for their real pursuit. Life carries on in-between, but it’s patiently tolerated – born in the knowledge that “me time” will come around soon enough. Drinkers go through life never knowing what they really enjoy doing, because the desire for alcohol trumps all other activities so comprehensively.

It takes a while to reconnect with yourself when you go alcohol-free. But when you do, it’s the most empowering feeling imaginable. It’s a glorious reward for your efforts and makes it all worthwhile. It gives me the feeling that I have been given a second life. A life that I live in the present. In the now. It’s all we have, if you really think about it, and I have finally learnt to appreciate the full meaning of that truth. Read more in my drinking memoir

Alcohol and Pubs Versus Coffee and Coffee-bars

Why don’t you hear people talking about meeting for coffee at Starbucks, then moving on to Costa for a quick frappe before congregating with a bigger group of friends at Nero for the evening? Coffee doesn’t form the centre of people’s activity in the way that alcohol does. You would be written off as a nutter if you sent out an invitation along the above lines.

But over the years I have had scores and scores of invitations that included meeting at a named pub before moving on to a bigger drinking venue, and ending up at a party via a pre-planned visit to an off-license or mini-mart. Everything centred around alcohol and nobody questioned it.

I’m not sure that our 18-24s still plan like this. Alcohol is too expense. The big brewers have shot themselves in the foot in their greed, and now young people are turned off pubs (save Wetherspoons, perhaps). Back in the 90s, pubs thought they could lure kids with sweet alco-pops, as young people started to turn their backs on traditional beer swilling boozers. It failed.

I really hope it’s true that young people are less interested in drinking than we were growing up. It’s in youth that the damage is done. I saw alcohol as a rite of passage. It was a mark of adulthood. It also made me fearless. If I did stupid things, it didn’t matter. It was the drink’s fault – although I never wanted to blame the drink in case it was taken away from me – I always took responsibility for my own drunkenness. That was my biggest problem in the end. I tried too hard to protect it at all costs.

Here are the 5 films that encouraged and inspired my excessive drinking in some unusual ways

Films have played a major role in my drinking career. Here are the 5 films that encouraged and inspired my excessive drinking in some unusual ways… (It starts with Schindler’s List)

  1. Schindler’s List. I was in my early 30s when this profoundly disturbing film came out. But setting all that aside, what Schindler’s List really did for me was suggest that drinking at work is fine. In fact, far from getting in the way of work – it positively helped one to get on with it.  I dreamed of having a hip flask and a little set of shot glasses, just like Schindler’s. It was no ordinary set. Schindler was the inspiration behind my venture into drinking vodka at my workstation. I decanted it into a 500ml bottles of Strawberry Volvic water from miniatures bought at the newsagent close to work. It wasn’t as glamorous as Schindler’s exquisite hipflask and shot glasses, nor as openly consumed – heaven forbid – but for me, it was rebellious, fun and it cheered up a boring day in the office immeasurably. In my mind I felt exonerated by Schindler, who after all, was a saint.
  2. Porridge (1979) starring Ronnie Barker. The denouement of this feature-length film, based on the iconic 70s series, sees Fletch and Godber having to sneak back into prison, following their earlier escape as unwilling hostages of fellow prisoner Oakes. Fletch is desperate not to let his prison parole be jeopardised by what will look like his compliance in Oakes’s bolt for freedom and so he persuades Godber to re-enter the prison with him by whatever means they can, undetected. So, he and Godber (Richard Beckinsale) break back into the prison and end up in the Officer’s club storeroom where they get drunk for 2 days before being discovered and eventually exonerated. For many years, I contemplated myself in Fletch and Godber’s shoes and envied them. They had nothing else to do but drink their way through as much of the stock-pile of booze available to them. On the outside of prison, they had no money to go to a pub or shop, where they would have been turned in by the public anway. A terrible dilemma for them. Their self-inflicted incarceration in the alcohol store of the prison was their best available option and I day-dreamed about such a thing happening to me. I often thought of this episode whenever news stories appeared about people in captivity. I imagined the day of release from such ordeals, and what I would do to celebrate my own freedom. I remember being very worried about poor John McCarthy at the time of the Beirut hostage crisis. My sympathies kept focussing on how he coped in captivity without a drink. And then one day they announced his imminent release, and I speculated when he might be allowed to have some alcohol. I thought about his flight home in a military plane and whether such a flight would have a drinks trolley and if it did, would he have to be careful not to get too drunk before being interviewed in England. It was the same with things like land or space explorations in the news. I would wonder if the explorers had any alcohol on their voyage and how they coped without it. My mind usually came round to Fletch and Godber in Porridge.
  1. Borat. The film has nothing at all to do with drinking, but in my memory, the night I saw this politically incorrect farce was a microcosm of my drinking world. The occasion of its first viewing was mid-week, when I went to see it with a group of close friends. I was excited and excitable. I had one or two drinks at home before heading out to the cinema. I bought two bottles of white wine in quick succession in the Odeon bar and acted as host to the group as they arrived, refilling their glasses repeatedly in an effort to get everyone into the same state of excited intoxication as me. My over-enthusiasm for the occasion was a cover for my over indulgence with the wine. One was an excuse for the other, and everyone went willingly along with it. And why wouldn’t they? Enthusiasm is infectious. Most of my friends would drink a bit more than usual when I was around! I brought as much booze into Screen One as I could carry. We whooped and gaffawed through the film (well I did) and afterwards I pleaded with everyone to stay for a last drink before heading off home. They stayed and I laughed and drank some more. Several years later I saw Borat again. It wasn’t quite the same as I remembered it. It had a layer of irony which had gone over my head the first time, and in so doing I had missed the central point of the film. But the night had gone down in my mind as a classic.
  2. Arthur. Starring Dudley Moore. If you had to make a case for alcoholism at its extreme – Arthur would be the principle witness for the defence. I wanted to be Arthur. I dreamed not only of his fabulous wealth, without responsibilities of any kind, but I envied his light-hearted outlook, harmless sense of fun, and affectionate delivery. His was the perfect life. I envied his every drink in every location. I couldn’t think of anyone who was having more fun than him. He was a role-model!
  3. Sideways. This film is unashamedly about alcohol and very funny. There’s some great acting and plenty of hilarious drunken scenes. It’s probably on many drinker’s lists of favourite films about drinking. It was the last drinking film I watched before quitting. I liked it so much because my partner loved it too. Her love of the film was a sort of exoneration of the things I loved about drinking, which by association had her approval. And as my drinking had become more and more of a problem in our relationship, this film helped me to feel accepted by her, and that was very reassuring to me. I loved hearing my partner’s admiration of the film, as it felt like a second-hand admiration of me.

I haven’t seen any of these films again in sobriety, but I don’t think they would stir the slightest temptation to drink again.

So much of the drinking that appears in TV and in film is sexed up that I would have to stop watching all entertainment if it held any temptation for me. Thankfully, it brushes over me. But if ever I feel a twinge, I just remind myself of how many times I have tried the drinking thing in the past, and how much I don’t need to do it again. Ever! And I’m very happy about that!

What type of drinker are you?

(article by Will Piper)

  1. Boozy Binge drinker

It’s Sunday – Day 3 –  terrible anxiety; a cold beer fails to lift body and soul after a Sunday afternoon’s drunken slumber. Reality beckons. A reality you’d love to blot out, if you could, but your capacity for alcohol is spent. You know that your body won’t let you carry on drinking, so you try to face the working week ahead. It’s a horrible sight stretching in front of you, but you drag your frame into the battle field of Monday morning, gradually rehydrating yourself into the recognisable shape of a respectable human being. Until Friday that is…when once again you can be the bon-viveur of the saloon bar, the Champagne party hound, the fun-loving partner and the bleary-eyed Bloody-Mary wag of the Sunday Brunch gang. And so the cycle goes on.

  1. Controlled regular.

It’s Monday morning and the week stretches before you like a prison sentence. Dullsville. Then at 10am you get a message from a friend asking if you will join him/her for a soiree of some kind – alcohol involved. You leap at the invitation and suddenly the week seems a bit more bearable. There will be wine at this do and you are reminded of the words of the late, great John Smith, a whisky fan and Labour Party leader in the early 90s before his untimely death, “Chardonnay is just like almost all those other soft drinks served at political functions” (brilliant!). It’s always good to know of other more serious drinkers than yourself!

Tuesday is ok because the week is properly under way by nowand a bottle of wine or two at dinner will seem like acceptable behaviour to your partner/family – especially if you’ve told everyone it’s your first drink of the week. Wednesday is often a social occasion, to mark the mid-point and Thursday is the start of the weekend.

In addition to evening drinking, you’re not averse to a lunchtime beverage or two, and you are comfortable with popping into a local boozer for a Vodka and tonic now and again. I used to call my hipflask my TSB (think: Lloyds TSB advertising slogan – “For The Journey”) and this, or a couple of miniature vodkas would usually be stashed away on my person at most times.

The thing is, your drinking is relatively steady and controlled. You don’t like getting roaring drunk, but the thought of an evening without alcohol is not a happy one. Your social life revolves around the bar – drinks before the cinema, wine with a meal, a few pints after squash, the bar at Gatwick enroute to a drink-centred holiday, the pub to meet friends.

You are mindful of drinking too much, but you’re not an alcoholic – no way!

  1. Controlled irregular.

You’re someone I have always admired, it so happens, but have least in common with (re the grape and grain). Depending on the occasion, and who you are with, you can be either of the two types of drinker mentioned above – for short periods.  So if you were with boozy friends for a weekend, you would be happy to drink with them. Or if you were on holiday and your friends were drinking every night for a week, this would be fine too. But left to your own devices, you don’t really think about alcohol much. After a while, you might like a glass of wine with a meal, as a treat, but you wouldn’t want any more than that. If this is you, I have no idea how you do it. Well done!

Chocolate Fondant versus Vodka

article by Will Piper

In the 3 years and 4 months since I quit alcohol, I am super-aware of the attachment I continue to hold for sweet foodstuffs, as well as coffee, and wonder whether my emotional relationship with these things is a form of yearning for the forbidden fruit I no longer allow myself – alcohol.  I also have a bit of a thing about sparkling water too. And chewing gum.

But when I quit the booze, I don’t think I actively sought substitutes for alcohol. The above list of cravings just sprung up from nowhere.

A sweet tooth, I am told, is a well-known consequence of quitting, amongst recovering alcoholics –  something to do with the reduction in sugar consumption once the alcohol is removed. I have no reason to dispute this, but I also found that chocolate and puddings (especially chocolate puddings!) were powerful rewards (think: childhood treats) such that in the absence of any other vices, they acted as substitutes for alcohol –  fondant treacle sponges tempting me from the supermarket aisles; slabs of chocolate luring me to the newsagent’s shelves, and restaurant menus tempting me with their caramelised descriptions.

From the moment I quit alcohol, I would eye up these descriptions on the menu in much the way I used to ogle the wine list, but without the same anxiety. This is my area now; my playground, and I’ll take my pudding with coffee too – to maximise the hit. Yes, “hit”. I think I’ve been seeking hits – as a substitute to the high that alcohol once promised. It really is addictive-like behaviour, based on the idea that if a pudding is absolutely lovely – then a pudding with coffee will be even lovelier – and must therefore be had! But there’s no getting away from the fact that when dining out, I’m giddy with the excitement of having my own well-deserved treat-area, impervious to cost, in this new-found paradise.

And in the ordinary course of daily life I get great comfort from chewing gum. It’s that always-available mini-hit in my pocket.

I worry a little that my addictive behaviour is being played out in these (less harmful) rituals. It’s the same with the little bit of excitement every time I pour sparkling water into my extra-large wine glass at home. The effervescent tumbler of celebration helps me rejoice at my own sobriety and self-control – time and time again. And I feel empowered by it.

I wonder what would happen if these treats were taken away from me – would I crumble? Or would I quickly adapt to their absence if they were taken away?

Deep down, I believe I’m stronger than I fear. I heard a powerful report on Radio 4 the other day about the health benefits of reducing salt-intake, and despite loving salt on my food, I have acted on the advice instantly by wiping it from my diet.

I think I’ll continue to indulge myself on these other relatively harmless excesses though, making sure that they don’t get out of hand. I may even go in for a dry January – or rather, a sour January. But I fear that might be a step too far. Sticky toffee Pudding is just too nice to shun for more than a fortnight!