Day 294

My life sucked. Not only was I drinking too much, I…no, that’s not the start of the sentence, that IS the sentence.

I was drinking too much. I was miserable and unhealthy and my life was a Groundhog-style cycle of repetitive days with a variety of different backdrops. My lonely suburban house, hectic annual work conferences and trips, the open road on solo travel ventures. It all geared around drinking to excess, hiding it where possible and not giving a fuck when it was hanging out for all to see. I just couldn’t stop and it coloured every aspect of my life. I was totally miserable hiding in plain sight. People could see with one eye closed that I was a drunk but I don’t think they could see how deeply unhappy it was making me and how isolated I was becoming. I think I was quite good at hiding my misery.

I spent a lot of time in the past many years reading about how to give up drinking. Trying to find some rehab option that sounded right to me. Something residential where I could go away for some time and have professionals say something to me that would make it all make sense and make me stop. Many times I googled ‘but what do they ACTUALLY say to you in rehab?’, hoping to find some secret mantra on the web that would suddenly make sense and either make me stop drinking through its sheer wisdom or make me sign up for some magical programme on the spot. I became too reliant on trying to google my way out of my drinking problem and of course it didn’t work.

I think I might have tried rehab if it had been clearer how to get there. I guess I wanted something like where I could make a choice based on the programme, location and price and then narrow it down by reading reviews. Still, all the rehab sites seemed pretty generic, had testimonials that clearly they themselves had selected and never gave anything away about price. I wasn’t prepared to contact them to start a discussion so I never got beyond adding ‘so how much does rehab ACTALLY cost?’ to my google search pattern and not getting any satisfactory answers. I still have no idea what rehab would actually cost and where a middle income northern European would choose to go. Somewhere in the south of Spain maybe? Would my GP know?

What did work better – unsurprisingly – was abandoning google and taking action. By taking action I mean locking myself away isolated for months on end until the urge to drink went away. I didn’t tell anybody or go to AA. By all accounts this is the wrong way to do it but it seems to be working okay for me and I’ve got some way past the isolationist approach now. It feels like it is over. I guess it depends on your character type and the nature of your drinking. Giving up alcohol for me was a lot like giving up smoking, 70% physical and 30% psychological, and once I got past the physical withdrawal I was readier than I expected for the battle with my psyche. Like the Wizard of Oz that devil was much smaller once the curtain was pulled aside.

Back when I was still searching for the elusive rehab miracle I began to wonder how much would I pay? What is it worth to me to get sober? £5k? £10k? 10% of my net worth? How much of my money would real, meaningful sobriety be worth. A lot. But how about if I spent that and it didn’t take. Wouldn’t that be a monumental waste of money?

Anyway it turns out for me I needed to jack it all in and take an extended break from normal life. It took me two years of that unfettered life before I finally put the bottle down but now I am coming up to day 300. I really don’t think I would have given up drinking if I had stayed in my last lonely house in my last full-on job. I was too stuck in the cycle of highs and lows, misery and self-gratification and messed up thinking. I needed to get away to do this. So I’m glad I abandoned all that even though it has left me distinctly poorer than I was three years ago and without the safety net of a job. Financially it has cost me a lot to get here but I am sure it was worth it.

But now I need to get off my sober laurels where I have been resting for too long and get my act together to start building my external life up again (and my net worth!). I’m really out of practice but it has to be done. As with the drinking I know I need to stop with the googling, hoping to chance upon some magical solution, and start using my brain again to figure out what I really want and how to do it. Okay, off now to try and do that.

280 days

I went clothes shopping and didn’t feel like hell. I can fit in clothes 2 sizes smaller. I have eaten a small mountain of sugar since I gave up the booze so can only imagine the benefits if I could start cutting down on that.

My hair is gradually getting less fine and brittle. I put this down to better nutrition and self-care.

I never thought I could give up drinking and STAY given up as I thought that the weight of time would become too oppressive. I do occasionally think I would like to drink again but I rarely think that I would like just one glass. I never think of moderation only that I would like to drink A LOT. And I know that going on an extended bender would be the absolute worst idea and nothing like how I imagine. It really helps because if I wanted to moderate I think I would find that idea very hard but because I really only idealise excess I know if it is simply off the cards. It can only be a total fantasy.

So I hold onto these tangible physical benefits and record them here in case the total fantasy ever becomes more alluring, back to being closer to a possibility than an impossibility. I don’t want to forget how crappy being bloated and physically run down made me feel never mind the psychological crap that came along with the drinking. Actually I know I can spin the psychological crap in my mind into some kind of romantic pain with not so much effort but there is no romance in physical decline and remembering that helps me stay on track.

My coffee detox

It has been more than 8 weeks since I mostly gave up coffee. Since then I have had about four decaf coffees but mostly I have just stuck to tea, and occasionally other hot drinks without caffeine. I was drinking a lot of espresso-based drinks before, maybe five shots in the morning, a few more in the afternoon and one or two in the evening. I was drinking coffee like I was drinking alcohol. Way more than other people and one was never enough. I also ‘needed’ a coffee which was a feeling I was also very familiar with for another kind of drink.

So since I have given up I feel more relaxed, less wobbly and light-headed, and possibly it’s made a difference to my brittle hair although that is too soon to say and maybe more wishful thinking on my part. I suppose less caffeine in the system should mean better absorption of vitamins and nutrients that could lead to better hair condition. I am also – most significantly – not distracted at various points in the day by a powerful need to fulfil my wish for a particular drink. The more relaxed feeling I am getting is that innate sense of peacefulness that I also got when I stopped drinking. Hard to quantify and find the right words to describe but very much there. I suppose that comes first and foremost from removing an inessential need and rewiring the brain so it is not being distracted at particular times of the day by an addictive substance.

I am not that happy to write this at all as I think I started this post with an unarticulated idea in my head that I was going to revert to coffee drinking in the future. Moderately of course. It tastes so good, smells so good and is so much more exciting as a drink than tea. A lot of the science points to actual health benefits of coffee drinking although I suppose that is true of red wine as well and little good that does me as an individual who could easily drink two bottles of red and (probably) negate any of those lovely purported benefits.

Anyway that is my coffee update. I don’t know where I am going with this particular vice but after 8 weeks of effort I think it deserves space on the blog for reflection purposes at least.

9 months

Another day, another milestone. I do like the quiet satisfaction of reaching a number with significance, watching the days ratchet up.

I had my first drinking dream the other night. I was drinking red wine with Robert Downey Jr and was thinking oh dear I shouldn’t be doing this but I am. I woke up, realised it was a dream and felt huge relief then promptly fell asleep again and dreamt it hadn’t been a dream after all and I really had been drinking with RD Jr so I was doubly relieved and a bit confused when I woke up the second time.

I know this is the scene that caused that dream. I have no great desire to drink red wine right now but I do still occasionally miss sitting at a bar, swirling whisky in a glass, smoking a cigarette, knowing you are there for a while and with good company. As I know, this is an illusion and I barely ever found bars like this or Robert Downey Jr or Jake Gyllenhaal to talk to and it’s no longer 1970

265 day sober

So just 100 more days to the one year mark. Let the countdown begin.

Back last year when I was contemplating getting sober and not getting much further than that, I read about people who had spent one year (or any substantial amount of time come to that) sober and thought that was an utterly impossible goal for me. Now, with just 100 days to go, it suddenly seems like it is possible after all.

How on earth did I get here? It is like I received a boost out of nowhere and suddenly I am here. Even though being sober has become my day to day reality, I am regularly amazed at the fact of it and need to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

259 days sober

I went for a job interview in a beautiful part of Ireland last month that went well but I didn’t get the job. That was hugely disappointing for me as the job was perfect and I would have happily moved there in a heartbeat.

Then I had a hysterectomy last week that went okay and now I am in recovery mode.

I guess both of these things are negatives but , in a way, they both have an incredibly positive ‘wrapper’. That positive is that both things, my job search and concern about my health, led quite directly to me getting sober.

In my attempt to return to the world of work I had a job interview in January 2014 that I was extremely well qualified for. By then, I had already taken a two year break and I knew I should reengage again, but I was also still drinking way too much, fat, scruffy and largely unmotivated. So, unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the January job. It was about a week after that that I decided it might be a good idea to try being sober for a month or so to jumpstart my motivational engines. I never planned to go for ‘forever’ but, at the end of that first month, I realised I felt a WHOLE lot better for not drinking and that I actually liked how being sober made me feel. So I didn’t get that job and it got me sober. Sadly I didn’t get the more recent job either but I gave it my all in the interview and did the best I possibly could. The feedback was very positive and I felt good after the interview. So, although I AM massively disappointed, I know I can bounce back from it.

At Christmas last year I knew I had a fibroid, a large benign tumour in my uterus. But after a spate of heavy drinking pre-Christmas and throughout 2013 I began to wonder if the pressure in my abdomen was something worse. My liver blowing up perhaps. Logic told me it was the fibroid but I had such awful reflux and bloatedness I definitely was afraid I had liver disease or a stomach ulcer from years of drinking. So that was also a very direct catalyst for me to stop drinking. Luckily, as soon as I stopped drinking the reflux disappeared and I began to be less bloated and it turned out that, yes it was just the benign tumour that they have whipped out of me this week after all. So although it’s a pretty crummy thing to have, that fibroid, more than anything, caused me to give up drinking and so has been an amazing blessing in disguise.

Here I am at the end of week one of my recovery. I’ve got a month or more to go before I can really do anything active.

I have resolved my drinking and that underlying health problem. All I need to do now is stay sober, take it easy for a month or so and keep scanning the horizon for the ships of opportunity that will take me to the next gainful employment. I genuinely believe that my future employer is going to get a much better version of me than my last employer got, even though I loved that job and gave it my all.

So thanks failed job interview and large benign tumour! You were two clouds on my horizon that really did have silver linings.

Cannabis okay?

What about smoking cannabis but abstaining from alcohol then eh?

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that not only is it fine, it is a shift in the right direction for me. To equate the two as ways of getting ‘out of it’ and therefore both bad is misleading. The kind of high you get from cannabis or marijuana is so more benign than the feeling of getting drunk and, for me anyway, it doesn’t wake any sleeping monster. My monster wants to sit at a bar, doing shots, getting wasted, feeling misanthropic not sit around with some friends getting relaxed, a bit wrecked and having a laugh. I feel though I should be more articulate than this when talking about it as, for some people, I guess this would be evidence that I have crossed a line and things can only end badly. Luckily I only have to account for myself and how I feel. It simply does not make me want to drink and that is the big one for me. When I first went to my stoner friends’ house back in March when I was newly sober I thought I would abstain but decided to have a little smoke and came to the conclusion it was okay for me, where I am right now.

It’s ironic that I have just posted about my fear of low alcohol lager and then moved straight to top quality Mary Jane. But at the moment my focus is on removing things that imprison me. The NEED to drink each day at 6pm, the NEED for a coffee in the morning. These are things that I think are restricting and constraining and should be removed. Sugar is next on that list.

I only smoke with friends, every few months usually. When I went to a festival this summer we had a hazy couple of days in the Suffolk sunshine but it was all so benign and, honest to god, at that festival I never thought ONCE about drinking. Only occasional inklings of gratitude that I wasn’t. Otherwise it was just not there.

So that’s me. I am not suggesting anyone else follows suit. It could be a risk for some. Hey, I suppose it might yet be a risk for me. But this blog is all about honesty and so I am putting this out there as well.

Trying out alcohol free lager

I went to Brighton for a job interview. Not my ideal job. No, that accolade went to the job I interviewed for a few weeks ago and didn’t get.

Brighton glittered in the late-summer sunshine. The hotel internet was dodgy so instead of working further on my presentation I made my way to the waterfront to check out the beach and the pier. Now it was 5pm and the sun was on the water and there were a plethora of bars with outdoor seating where people were enjoying a beer or three. As usual I looked hard at the beers, sighed deeply and analysed whether I actually wanted one myself. I didn’t but I did want a cigarette. A residual feeling from K and my post-Ryan Adams gig analysis in that triangle of land called a park in Shepherd’s Bush. And there was that half-finished pack burning a hole in my bag.

Now I am not drinking coffee, let alone alcohol there is simply nothing for me that goes well with a cigarette. Tea? I don’t think so. Water, no thanks. I am quite particular about what goes well with a cigarette which in the long term is a good thing.

Anyway I thought right, yes, this could be the moment to try a non-alcoholic lager. I hadn’t really thought too much about that option before but had read a few blogs by people who seem trustworthy and alcohol free beer doesn’t seem to have caused them to revert into raging alkies. Attempt one at purchasing failed but I did have to wait quite a long time at that bar to enquire. Long enough to smell that particular whiff of beery booze emanating from beneath the counter. A smell I associate with childhood in actual fact. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed that after a longish abstention the smell of alcohol reminds me of how it smelled before I started drinking (which basically was my childhood as I started drinking at 17). My parents were big social drinkers and so I spent a lot of time in pubs as a child. There’s a certain smell combination of coke with a slice of lemon, beery bar mats and wood paneling that takes me right back there.

So here I stood at this beery bar a long time and wondered what on earth I was doing. Hairdresser = hair cut analogies springing to mind. Anyway no dice. Undettered I tried again and this time they produced a bottle of Beck’s Blue. No alcohol for sure I enquired. It says no alcohol doesn’t it? returned the hipster barman. Cheers mate. Actually it says 0.5% now I’ve looked. With my icy prize and a packet of fags I made my way to a far outdoor table. Took a selfie and a big swig. Yup, that tastes like cold beer. Quite nice. But then I was overwhelmed with a sense of wrongness. This is too close to beer. I checked the internet – what do most sobriety websites say? AVOID, AVOID, Will Robinson! I took a few more tentative sips. My stomach seemed to balloon before my eyes. It really did.

I stopped drinking it. Since becoming sober I have become pretty careful with money compared to how I was (that in itself is a post for another time). I thought that cost you £3 and you are leaving it. But I didn’t want to carry on with the experiment.

I thought you have an interview tomorrow don’t do anything to jeopardise your wellbeing such as using a beeralike drink as an excuse to binge smoke when you don’t even smoke anyway. So I walked away and got some ridiculously healthy salad and sparkling water for dinner.

I don’t know about it. It tasted nice to begin with, and it made a change from water and tea and all those dull drinks, but it didn’t seem quite right. And then the guy in the photo who is lying down beyond the bottle managed to get up, reeling drunk. The one step forward, two steps back kind of lurch. I meanwhile got up with purpose and strode off into the sunset towards my healthy dinner and an early night.