Day 165 – pt 2

I just read another blog where someone was saying how they have let the cravings for alcohol go but they now need to address the bit about why they drank and find ways to be a better person and more present in their own lives. I need to do that.

I’m putting a lot of pressure on day 180 and beyond to be my sort of sober apocalypse. The era when I start to take steps towards working on that bit. Maybe the time where I dare to say out loud to family and friends what I am about and not keep thinking I will fail.

But I like the idea of having two weeks off before I need to think about that. My addiction to procrastination is still nowhere near over but at some point I would like to work on that.

Day 165

I’m so over drinking. After what I am calling the Great Temptation of Galway back in February on day 26 I haven’t had a legitimate full-on craving for alcohol. I know I am supposed to be careful and not get too cocky about it but the reality is I can’t imagine a situation where I would think that drinking would be an option. I used to live in Japan and today I was wondering what I would do if I went back and went out on a typical Japanese food crawl. The drink options are so many and so delicious and go so well with the food. I guess there would be temptation and nostalgia for days gone by when I could drink frosty draft beers in a chilled mug, followed by plum wine and little cups of sake and shochu. Sticking one finger in the air and shouting ‘biiru mo ippon kudasai’ (one more bottle of beer please – one of the first expressions I learned in Japanese. My friend remembers ‘biiru mo nihon kudasai’ – two beers etc – as her first expression as she was with me). Not drinking would really put a cramp in my style in that situation. BUT I couldn’t imagine being so tempted that I would. The upsides of not drinking, specifically of not NEEDING to drink, are so much stronger.

This whole not needing to drink is really wonderful. It is a weight removed. My drinking clock was so precise. I could judge 6pm to within a few minutes even if I had not seen a clock for hours, perhaps even days. It’s so nice for that time to pass by and not be noticed. It is quite literally freedom and so I can’t imagine  throwing it away.

If someone was to ask me how to give up drinking I would say hunker down, do whatever you have to to get a week or two under your belt (that week or two took me decades so I don’t underestimate that effort at all) and see if the temptations don’t just start to evaporate. Even the Great Temptation of Galway was defeated by a bottle of fizzy water followed by chocolate and coffee and two hours holed up in my hotel room. I think one of the reasons why one or two weeks was so hard was that I imagined the pain would go on and on and on and on. But it didn’t. It got a bit easier and then a lot easier. Then it kind of totally evaporated. That was a massive and welcome surprise.

So now it is 9pm. I went for a walk at around 6pm, past pubs and shops selling alcohol but at no point did alcohol even occur to me. Actually the truth of the matter is that I am probably now more programmed to think ‘read sober blogs’ at 9pm now than I am to think ‘let’s get drinking’ at 6pm.

I’ll really kick myself now if I relapse and read this back but I think I am going to risk putting it out there.

The Lost Weekend

Last year I thought I’d read my way through a range of works written by alcoholics, many of them about or including drinking, either for good or bad, mostly bad. That included Raymonds Chandler and Carver, John Cheever, Malcolm Lowry, John O’Brien, F Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter Thompson, Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill. The only insight really was that some of the above were terrible misanthropes (Cheever and O’Neill) and most did their best work before the really heavy drinking set in or after they got sober. Hunter T was mostly just phoning it in after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I liked the premise of the Assault on Tony’s by John O’Brien (drunks locked in a bar with dwindling alcohol supplies during a massive riot outside) but I found the book itself didn’t deliver much.

Anyway I suppose the gist is that I have always been attracted to alcoholic writers as much as I have been to alcoholic musicians. I think it is because there is something I can relate to in the imaginations of these people, their alcoholic selves.

I’ve had the film of the book The Lost Weekend on my list for some time and yesterday watched it. I tend to imagine that films made in 1945 would not cover the issue of alcoholism in a realistic way but this one pretty much does. The story covers a five day bender undertaken by Don Birnam as his brother and girlfriend try to get him back on track. He lies, he steals, he gets hospitalised, he has blackouts so he can’t remember where he has hidden his stash, he gives speeches to barmen romanticising his drinking and he ends up trying to kill himself. The film ends with a glimmer of hope as his girlfriend cleans him up and gives him optimism about his writing. Over all it’s a truthful and honest account of the lies and deceptions alcoholics maintain. In real life the author Charles R Jackson continued to be addicted to alcohol and pills in the early 1950s, tried to kill himself and suffered from a nervous breakdown. He got himself back on track in the mid-50s but reverted to drinking and committed suicide in 1963. So now I can’t help seeing the film’s hint of optimism at the end differently, knowing what I do about its author and his continued relapses.

I enjoyed the film and it’s nearly 70 year-old perspective on an issue that I sometimes perceive as a more modern phenomenon. At least all the recovery speak and blogging side of it. It’s interesting to hear the advise the buttoned-up brother, the resourceful girlfriend, the stoical barman and the cynical hospital nurse in the alcoholic ward try and give him to sober him up. I also very much enjoyed watching the depictions of bars, liquor stores, the drinks and the drinking paraphernalia in the film, just for an historical perspective.There’s a great scene at around the 50 minute mark where he flashes back to a horribly shameful experience at a classy cocktail joint called Harry and Joe’s. He can’t pay the bill for his first drink so he orders a second to buy time and tries stealing a handbag. I have to say my first thought was how small the martinis were back in 1945. The look on horror on his face when he sees the matchbook belonging to the place that reminds him on the experience is priceless. Well worth watching.

Day 162 – week 23

One of the reasons I gave up drinking was how emotionally numb I was feeling. Or was I? I couldn’t decide.  If you have to keep asking yourself if you are feeling numb you probably are.

And I continued to feel numb for months after giving up (which I think in some ways made it easier – yeah, I’m not drinking, so what, who cares, whatever) but I feel like I might be emerging from that numbness now. The trouble is I’m not emerging, as I imagined, into a state of joy and zen-like calm but instead into a state of general worry and anxiety for the future. I’ve not sober teleported to an exotic south seas island but to an emotional Syria instead.  It didn’t occur to me when I was worried about feeling nothing that the alternative was to experience a swathe of negative emotions.  And anyway I SHOULD be afraid for the future. In my alcoholic numbness I sabotaged my secure, well-paid life and set myself on an unknown, scary new course. I think feeling worried is probably a good survival instinct.

At least I can say it feels like true emotion. And it might be a bit shit but at least I am not drinking. Actually the overwhelmingly positive emotion that that last statement produces in me every time I remind myself of the fact means that I can cope with the negative, scary feelings. Which is good because otherwise I feel like I could freak out entirely.

I am giving myself until the 180 day mark before I do something about it all. I don’t even know what ‘doing something about it’  even means but it’s nice to have a date on the horizon where I can both celebrate something (six months sober – that weird impossible unexpected miracle) and begin to take myself in hand.

Oh yeah, and completely off topic, day 180 is also when I intend to take a long, hard look at my sugar and caffeine dependence. But that’s a subject for another time.


Day 158

I’ve been reading a lot about Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome as I approach six months sober. I’ve noticed how sluggish my brain has been recently and it would be a relief to put it down to something like PAWS. The alternative is that it is just me getting stupider (which I don’t discount at all).

I had a job interview for a fairly senior post with an educational organisation for a job not dissimilar to the one I had before. I’ve glossed over it with family and friends but I know the interview went appallingly. I keep imagining the interviewers’ shared glance of scorn and disbelief after I left the room. Maybe it wasn’t THAT bad (although I think it was) but I certainly didn’t answer their questions as they related to strategy or managerial style in a strategic or managerial way AT ALL. I didn’t do sufficient homework beforehand and I know now that I certainly shouldn’t try to wing it when trying to impress. I thought I might be able to fake it but I seem to be lacking the tools for fakery right now. I have never been very good at interviews and I don’t have the actorly qualities necessary to be a good faker but this reduced inability to concentrate seems new.

So I hope it is PAWS and I have a bit of cognitive impairment while my neurotransmitters rewire themselves as I get used to sobriety.

Day 137

I’m feeling a bit stuck in a rut all of a sudden. I was coasting along quite happily in my sobriety until a week or two ago and I don’t know what changed. I don’t feel physical cravings for drink but mentally I keep going back to thinking how nice it would be to go out and drink. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for drinking. I miss bars – even though the bars I miss are ones I hardly ever found. I am glossing over what a prison the constant daily urge to drink was and it looks a bit too much like freedom instead. All illusions, illusions, illusions!


Must get out more

I’ve been reading too much about drinking today. It’s made me want to drink. I thought I was reading about sobriety but it morphed into tales of excess that just sounded frankly brilliant.

I’ve even been browsing bar menus in various attractive looking locations and dreaming of a way overly idealised drinking spree. I considered not moderation but a brief vacation of excess.

Less than a week ago I was writing how simple it has all been but not so today. Today my sister got home from work, angry about something, and started drinking delicious looking chilled wine. I don’t think she noticed my longing stares. She also didn’t drink the whole bottle and then some as I would have done.

BUT…I really do want to get to the 6 month mark. I’ve got this far and I don’t want to start over again. So that helps. I think tomorrow I need to take a break from reading about not drinking.

Ryan Adams – getting in touch with your shallow side

I love Ryan Adams so this one is just for me but he talks here about getting in touch with his shallow side since getting sober. Going to department stores and expensive restaurants and shopping and the cinema and just getting in touch with being himself and doing whatever he likes. My old self certainly might think that some of the conversations I have now or the things I do are so simple or shallow and they probably are but overall it is lot of easier and more comfortable being boring me than (allegedly) witty, pissed me about to crack up all over the shop.

I do feel like I might need to work on being smarter and wittier and funnier in a more sober way. But I don’t feel any urgency to get to that point just yet. As I might have said already though, I am lazy so this could be my greatest excuse for doing nothing I have yet found.

Week 19 – sharing v not sharing

Since posting that it has all been relatively easy I have been having some low level urges to drink. Not cravings exactly but yearnings. Slight melancholic yearnings. Still not terrible and fairly resistable.

I am staying with my sister at the moment. My brother and his family came to eat and everyone drank prosecco and wine but in relative moderation and it appears that I don’t mind people drinking around me and can pour drinks for them without the need to snatch the glass from their hands or guzzle it straight from the bottle. Okay, good.

What I do find strange is the silence on the subject. My sister-in-law made one remark that it was strange for me not to be drinking but I just said yeah, but it feels pretty normal for me right now and the conversation moved on. My sister says nothing much except occasionally if I offer to top up her wine glass she’ll says “well, I wouldn’t ask you to but if….”. I say it’s no big thing, pour and move on. But in a way I would like to have a heart to heart with someone I know about this enormous yet rather secret change in my life.

Then I wonder what such a conversation would actually entail. Would I say well, it’s been harder for me than I am letting on, that I went to a pretty dark place and liked it there, that I am full of residual self-loathing for god knows what reason which drinking only exacerbates, often in a weirdly enjoyable way? Honestly I can’t see me saying something like that to my family and have them even let me get to the end of one of those sentences or come close to understand those thought processes. I’ve always been way different from my siblings and their families. My friends then maybe? They would get it more I expect but I can’t quite get the words right. So actually the problem really is me. On my own in front of a laptop I can think straight and revise and refine what I say. I can reach the end of a typed sentence and not worry about people’s reactions or lose track if interrupted. But, in person with family and friends,I realise I either can’t have or don’t want these heart to hearts. And anyway in many respects it is better to share anonymously than with those who have known me all my life but don’t know the bit of me I want to explain and share. I’d probably get it wrong and then it would be hanging there over all future interactions and conversations.

I do find the silence on the subject odd. But, if I think it through I am not sure they want to hear what I have to say and I am not sure I can say it right anyway. Some part of me thinks if I COULD get it right it would be awesome but perhaps that’s just not me. Maybe one day but not right now. But I know there are people out there who do understand and I read other people’s sober blogs avidly and find the sharing that goes on in the blogosphere much more satisfying and far less daunting. So, that’s enough for right now.

Week 18

It’s been a while since I last wrote. This sobriety lark feels pretty routine now but I do remain on constant low level alert for temptation and that point when I suddenly think fuck it and decide to hit the bottle again. But…temptation just hasn’t reared its ugly head for some time and the more I invest in my sobriety bank the less willing I am to make a withdrawal. I am in fact becoming quite miserly in that respect. I get the odd craving here and there for a drink but my rational brain is able to bat these thoughts away very easily. I really haven’t had to go head to head with my lifelong addiction in any serious, meaningful way since I started to be honest.

It’s very, very strange. And it worries me slightly that it is not harder. Drinking alcoholically did not gradually creep up on me. It hit me over the head with a hammer at 17 and kept me in thrall for three decades or more. I was, for much of the time, a willing prisoner to alcohol and it led me on some fine adventures. But it made me do plenty of stupid shit as well and cost me physically, financially and mentally. I always functioned at a reasonable level and any trouble it caused was mostly to myself. So yeah, drinking has been my constant companion my entire adult life. I am just surprised that I have been able to dump said constant companion at the side of the road and drive off without him and barely even glance in the rearview mirror at his forlorn figure.

Obviously easy is better than the alternative. But I feel some genuine worry that I should have had to fight harder to get here and that perhaps my relatively easy journey is setting me up for a fall. But while the journey has been quite smooth and I am on cruise control right now, one incredibly powerful feature of this trip is simply how much better I feel off the booze than on it. I feel an overall clarity that is pure and clean and new to me. I am not running marathons or doing yoga or setting up my own business and my lifestyle is probably 9/10 on a scale of slothfulness but the removal of alcohol from my body and brain just makes me feel so much clearer. And actually it is that clarity that is helping me stay sober as I don’t want to do anything to jeopardise that.

I know I don’t want to drink moderately. I have no interest in that. So it is either a path where I feel like shit much the time and do stupid stuff or one where I don’t. It’s an obvious choice right now for me and I suppose that it is the reason why this is not the gargantuan struggle I expected it to be. For the time being at least. Long may it remain so.