Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Year's Worth

A year ago today, England FC played Kosovo in a Euro Qualifier match, beating them 5-3. And I stopped drinking alcohol. For me, that was a big deal. The drinking thing, that is, not the chaotic and, frankly, unconvincing England display. It was a big deal because alcohol has been a big part of my life, from my work (as a bar person), to how I socialise and spend my leisure time, to being a brewer's son etc etc. However, due to using it as a coping mechanism during a shitty few years in my personal life, it started to become too big a part of my life, and, having tried reducing my intake and struggling, I decided to haul on the anchors completely and stop, for as long as I could. For a year? Forever? I wasn't sure, but I was going to try it and see what happened.

The first two weeks were pretty interesting. After my second day, I'd already been the most sober I'd been in about six months, because, even though I wasn't necessarily drinking lots every day, I was drinking a little bit almost daily. After a week or two, I had this very strange feeling of complete sobriety. I noted at the time that it should be the other way around; I should feel weird/different because I'm drunk, not because I'm sober. It underlined what a friend had been saying to me, that we often use alcohol as armour, to help protect us from our nerves or awkwardness, for example, but there comes a point [when we abuse it] that all that supposed confidence and protection becomes toxic, and our dependency on it increases so that what we can do without it decreases. I still don't know exactly what point I got to, i.e. whether I'd have classed myself as an alcoholic. For me, that would be the point at which I can't hold down a job, or my relationships suffered. But my relationship with myself was certainly suffering, and my bodily health too, so I can't pretend it wasn't affecting me, and was merely 'hard socialising'.

I normally get asked one of two questions when the subject comes up. The least-frequently asked is "Why?" often followed by a slightly awkward, "Was it your decision, or... [the ellipsis meaning 'are you an alcoholic, and/or has a doctor intervened']?" Most people don't have more than two seconds to wait for you to speak before they interrupt me (but you, dear readers, shall feel the full brunt of my ramble!), so I hodge-podged it slightly, giving people various flavours of the following reasons; I have an alcoholic in my close family. This has stimulated me to stop in two ways - firstly that I speak to a lot of service users/providers for people with substance misuse issues, and their knowledge and wisdom made me re-examine my own relationship with booze. Secondly, when this family member was to come out of rehab, they had to come back to an alcohol-free abode, and I found it easy to quit while they were away, so that when they returned, I would a) not have any alcohol in the house, and b) not be tempted to bring any back while they were here. Other reasons include various 'normal' considerations. I have been suffering health-wise for a few years with various mental and physical complaints, and drinking helps none of them (even though I have used it 'to help me sleep', and de-stress, it adversely affects the quality of one's sleep, which then affects how you deal with stress etc). I was hoping to lose weight, too. Stop spending so much money... Y'know, fairly normal stuff. And there were also considerations such as the challenge of it, do I still have willpower, etc. Which I do.

The thing people most often ask is, "Do you feel better for it?" It's asked in various ways, often in a leading way, assuming that I'm absolutely going to say yes, and wax lyrical about a million and one ways I feel great now I'm no longer poisioning myself. Actually, although I wish I could say a resounding 'yes', it's an absolute 'no with a but'. I don't feel much better, if at all. My aches and pains are no longer being numbed, and neither are my moods. I was actually a bit scared at one point, because all my mental issues (of depression etc) loomed larger at me when I was sober, with an edge and strength that hadn't been there for a long time, and I thought about drinking again to make me feel better in the moment.

To balance this, tho, my mental clarity has increased. My speed of analysis, recall, ability to separate emotions and assumptions from 'truth' and whatnot is quicker, so I feel perhaps a little better able to deal with what comes. And this sort of brings me on to what I've learned as a whole - that alcohol isn't the big issue for me. It's events and environments make me want to self-medicate, and I could take all the coping mechanisms out of my life, only to find a new one (human nature?). At the minute, I'm really battling with eating. I've always liked (a lot of) food, but really, I think not long after my mum passed away, and I went back into bar work after an all-too-brief absence, I started really eating, lots of takeaways late at night and stuff like that. Trying to fill a hole, as it were, though the 'problem hole' is not literal, it's emotional and mental. Anyway, my weight is up and down, my inflammation problems, depression, sleep, they're all still bad, still causing me problems, and that's because there are other habits that have, if anything, only increased in severity since I stopped drinking. You can see, then, that 'do I feel better for not drinking' is not a straightforward question to answer. There have been benefits, but my problems are still very much here, and won't go anywhere unless I tackle them at root.

So not drinking has been a fun 'experiment', but even though I've known for ages that I'm obviously not addressing things 'properly', it's only in this past month that I've started thinking that I really need to change things again. This time I need to try and build health into my life (who knows, maybe even get some targeted help for my depression...), with sleep, anxiety management, more of the five paths, etc etc - something that goes beyond merely forgoing things that are not helping.

Anyway, this isn't how I planned this post to go on. I don't know... It feels a bit bland, and not very educational or inspiring... Nothing ever works out how you think, tho. I wonder what a year's worth of alcohol consumption would look like, how big a barrel it would fill? Maybe I'll get the boffins on it, get a figure to you all by next week.

I hope things are well in your world. Well, they're probably not great at the moment, they're tough all round, but I hope at least that you're finding joy in the little things wherever you can. That's as positive as I can be!


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Just keep it clean (ish)!