I didn’t realise it was going to be such a big thing. I mean, I knew it was quite a thing, to stop drinking for a year (for me, anyway), but it’s gone much deeper than I’d ever anticipated. This weekend it’ll be 7 months no booze (apart from half a glass of Bucks Fizz on Christmas Day and a glass of champagne at midnight on NYE, more out of a sense of celebratory duty than any real desire). Well, surprise surprise, if it hasn’t been simple and complex. Simple because the physical act of not putting glass after glass of Prosecco to my lips has been straightforward and relatively easy. Complex in an emotional sense, because I wasn’t expecting anything more complicated that having to deal with urges to drink now and again.
Urges and cravings have been surprisingly few and far between. I haven’t had them at all on nights out, when I had assumed they would be most likely to appear. My most notable craving (give it a BAFTA) came in early March when I was thinking of our summer holiday in August and had an urge to drink IN THE FUTURE. It didn’t make me want a drink there and then, it made me yearn for a drink at a point in space and time that has not yet occurred. I mean, really?!?!? The power of thought, right there folks!
I wrote a post around that time in March about how I felt I was grieving. I wasn’t missing alcohol per se, I certainly wasn’t missing the hangovers, or people filling me in on the brownout bits, but I felt like I’d lost a dear old friend. I didn’t complete the post; it was a really wobbly time. The Reptilian part of my brain was having a magnificent toddler-style tantrum, perceiving one of its crutches being kicked away. It was fucking noisy as hell in there. I felt very raw, like all my nerves were exposed. It’s settling down now, but I was really irritable (more than PMS levels!) and edgy and I felt like a torrent of red hot rage was on the verge of erupting at any time. Crappy layers have been surfacing and sloughed off with all the delicacy of a 1980’s apricot scrub. On reflection alcohol and food have been two of the longest, seemingly stable relationships in my life. Neither have asked anything from me, and have always been there when I’ve looked to them as a means of temporary escape to a better feeling. Reliable. Steady.
When I agreed to do this for a year, it wasn’t coming from the perspective of needing to stop drinking, it was a choice I was making – an experiment, hopefully for the better. With this distance though, I can see just how unhealthy my relationship with alcohol has been in the past and did some part of me know I did need to stop? In the resultant space, I can see with increasing clarity that it was all an illusion, what I thought booze was bringing me. It didn’t make me funnier, more energetic, more attractive, more intelligent (ha!), it couldn’t make me MORE of anything. The desire to drink beyond the point of warm fuzziness came from a sense of lack, also a mind-made construct, so it seemed like alcohol was a really great solution to any problem, because I didn’t experience that lack for the few hours of peak drinking. I seemed more than > rather than less than <
At some point in my drinking career, my off switch became unreliable and on some ‘Big Nights Out’, I would become a bottomless pit, a human dustbin. I definitely used to have an off switch which would invariably show up in the form of violent puking and sleeping it off. I remember the excitement in my twenties of discovering that cocaine allowed me to drink way beyond my normal limitations, in fact it seemed to allow me to do everything beyond the normal range – dancing, staying awake, talking (lots of talking), being a twat. I guess years of combining drugs with alcohol overrode my body’s in-built system to let me know enough was enough.
A new thought has just occurred to me as I write, that there was something powerful in ME deciding when I’d had enough, rather than my body. A feeling of being in charge of something, being in control. Obviously that kind of control was ultimately out of control, but for some blissful hours there was peace, a break from myself, suspended in an altered state of reality, holding back time and ultimately Real Life.Steve Chandler says in his great book about addiction, that the addict is always borrowing from the future:“I drive a tap into the future and out pours pleasure and peace……..Where’s that pleasure and peace this Sunday morning coming down?……………..If I take a drug to relax I am a nervous wreck in the future when the drug wears off. Because I borrowed peace from that place. That place called the future.” Steve Chandler, Death Wish.It’s a savings account that I have plundered many, many times over and can I just say, I don’t regret any of it, even the super duper cringey awful stuff that sometimes left me reeling with shame. I feel grateful for what I’ve seen so far. As much as I can know that peace can only ever come from inside and never from a bottle, or a biscuit, or anywhere on the outside, seeing it up close and personal like this is worth its weight in gold, even when it’s been deeply uncomfortable, or maybe I should say especially when its been deeply uncomfortable.