Drinkers come in all varieties, from homeless drunks to celebratory sippers. There are heavy drinkers who drink openly among family and friends, and those who prefer to hide their drinking from everyone around.
There are drinkers whose lives are ruled by alcohol, who need it at all social occasions. They rub shoulders at the same functions with drinkers who are as happy with orange juice as they are with wine.
Some exert self-control over their drinking and keep within imposed limits – either their own or their partners’. Others drink to black out all of the time.
I have met many people who don’t drink for several weeks, then have a few and go off the rails. Others drink regularly and never get into difficulty.
Not Alcoholic, But… is for all these drinkers, but most especially the ones who, from time to time, worry that they might have a problem with alcohol.
I never really intended to stop drinking. What happened to my thirst was something of a mystery. I don’t know whether I changed my desire or it changed me, but after 36 years of relatively trouble-free drinking, I quit.
You read many a tale about alcoholics drinking themselves into near oblivion before turning their lives around to fame and fortune. Well, this book isn’t one of those stories.
What I want to do is explore my sudden change of desire in order to see if there are any lessons that could possibly be learned from it. This book is for heavy drinkers who are ambivalent about the excessiveness of their drinking and it is for those who haven’t made up their mind whether they have a problem or what they will do about it if they do.
During my 36 years of drinking, the latter end particularly, I would occasionally worry about my consumption. It was usually on account of my behaviour after a bad incident – a drunken row, or making a fool of myself. Sometimes, it was about health or money.
In the aftermath of these incidents, I might read about the subject of alcohol on the internet or in books, and I would always find the same unsatisfactory information about the different types of alcoholics, about the Government guidelines for safe drinking, and a host of literature that was clearly aimed at drinkers who had resolved to give up.
There was nothing in between. And that’s where I felt I was – in between.
So, this book is for drinkers who don’t feel they are as bad as the worst out there for whatever reason, but on the other hand, feel like they should be getting a better handle on their own drinking (whatever that really means).
What I want to communicate to all such indecisive worriers is: don’t fixate solely on how many units you think you can get away with drinking, or trying to analyse whether you might be an alcoholic, or whether you need to cut down your drinking, or indeed give it up altogether. What you should be questioning is your relationship with alcohol.
That’s what this book aims to help with. At the end of this tale, I offer the reader a more useful set of questions to explore their own relationship with alcohol to see if their desire for it really is as strong as they think it is now.
What the reader chooses to do after that is entirely up to them. Even if they choose to carry on as before, this book will always be there for them in the future to test their desire and see if they are at last ready for something completely different.
But first I want to tell you a bit about my own relationship with alcohol.
My Drinking – an Introduction
I love that famous old quote of Vivian Stanshall’s: “If I had all the money I spent on drink, I’d spend it on…drink.” I love his brazen honesty, and I love that line because it summed me up. It encapsulated how I wanted to be seen by my friends and even colleagues. On the one hand, it was just plain funny, and I wanted to be thought of as a funny drinker, an amusing drunk. It also told you how proud I was to be a heavy drinker, how it defined me. How rebellious I was. And in a breath, it conveyed where all my money had gone and where it would always go. And I was okay with that.
If you asked my friends what they thought of my drinking, they would tell you that I was a good drunk by and large. That I came to life, that I made people laugh. It’s what I wanted to hear, and they would have supported me in that view of myself. I’m sure they would. I liked to enjoy a night out, and I wanted everyone else to enjoy it too. Alcohol was the glue that held us together. I loved the way it could both crank everything up to a state of excitement and slow everything down, holding me, holding us in the moment like a photograph. I loved its soaring highs and that sense of adventure it gave. I loved the way it allowed me to hit the slow-motion button in real time, so I could savour any moment however big or small – celebrating anything from a minor achievement at work to a victory in the cup, thunderous music booming all around me. Nothing adds pathos, euphoria, and tragedy to a situation like alcohol can. Its chaos is exciting and unpredictable. I loved drinking, and I was certain I was never going to stop loving it.
I’m sure there was a big dose of insecurity in there somewhere, but so what? Insecurity can be quite endearing, and I wanted to endear myself to those around me. And I was having a good time in the process. Alcohol ensured this, more or less, in all circumstances.
Alcohol had a sort of rollercoaster effect on my social life, creating big, surging highs followed by inevitable lows. You know, that terrible Sunday night feeling of finality when the party is over. But I always felt this was the natural way of things: the rough with the smooth.
Those big highs were well worth living for: Sunday drinking marathons; Friday pub and curry nights; sessions at the bar in airport lounges before flying off to the sun; festivals of never-ending music and cider; gin and tonics after work, wine with dinner, champagne to celebrate, whisky in coffee, Bucks Fizz in the morning; beer at the pub. Never mind the sickly dehydration of Monday morning, the anguished recall of a heated debate, the empty wallet, the missing credit card. It all sorted itself out eventually. Besides, there had to be a price for all that fun.
I don’t think I ever said no to an invitation to drink – not unless there was a clash of diaries or I had reason to avoid the person doing the inviting.
Alcohol was the main reason for doing anything social. I could liken alcohol to a best friend, but even best friends can lose their appeal if you see too much of them. No matter how often it was around, I never tired of it. Its occasional unexpected absence was a catastrophe for me and I would immediately try to find a bar, or just get away as soon as possible.
I could guzzle a bottle of wine in minutes if left to my own devices. This meant that in slow-drinking company, my frustration could be intense. As soon as I felt the buzz, I wanted another drink and I would keep buying them for everybody in order to keep the flow going.
Alcohol has been the fuel of celebration and consolation all my life. It’s given laughter, courage, and opportunity. And because of its power as a fun multiplier, I was willing to entertain all sorts of social invitations: open-mic nights at the pub, seeing bands I’d never heard of, a friend’s performance in an am-dram production the other side of London, a goodbye drink at work for someone I’d never even worked with, an invitation to a private reception at a gallery.
You’ll never find a better fit than booze and football. I went to hundreds of football matches and watched countless games on the big screens of numerous pubs. I was passionate about football.
Booze was a super-drug. It made a great fist of a disappointing night ahead, and it made a brilliant night legendary.