5th July 2018
‘Where are we going?’ Laura says as I pull into Hunter Street car park in Dundee.
‘Hang on’ I utter, my body overheating in the surprisingly warm Scottish Summer day. The sweat is barely visible, I am that dehydrated. I calmly enter the car park, doing the one-way loop looking for the perfect spot. There it was, partly in the shade, protected from the main road by a small tree. I swung into the spot, opened my door, took one step from the van and puked all over the floor. Laura automatically dry-heaved at the sudden pouring of bile liquid that left me.
‘Oh!’ Laura exclaimed.
‘Yeah, sorry. I couldn’t make it any further.’
The night before we had gone for a dinner party. You cook and I’ll bring the wine. Two bottles of Prosecco, one bottle of white wine and two bottles of red. Plenty for four of us, right? Before we had got to dessert I had returned with 3 more bottles of red from the van. The following morning with a severe hangover and in pain throughout my internal organs, I tried to make myself sick to remove some of the pressure behind my eyes. It worked but wasn’t enough, the pain remained, I could hardly see, desperate for sleep but couldn’t keep my eyes closed. Cells were destroyed, everything felt like it was shutting down. When was the last time I felt like this? My hangovers were farther between one another now but far more potent. Drinking had become a once a month binge, rather than a weekly or even daily event than it had been. When I lived in Canada, I don’t remember having hangovers. Or if I did they would only last the length of a shift before I would top myself up, or I would head out to brunch where I could have a smorgasbord or drinks; Mimosa/Bucks fizz, Beer, Gin and Pamplemousse for the Vitamin C and probably a Ginger Ale to help with the stomach gripes.
A FEW Highlights that I don’t remember
Now I remember the last time, my 27th Birthday; I drank my age in Jager shots to celebrate, between pints of course and spread out over about 8 hours. Next day I woke having given myself alcohol poisoning. I stumbled from one cold stainless steel bench to another and then into the walk-in fridge/freezer to try and cope while working in the kitchen. However, I went out that night and the next...
‘Are you going to be ok?’ Laura asks.
‘Yeah, I'll be fine in a minute. Hang on….’ I started heaving again but nothing came out. ‘No more booze!’ I joked.
‘I knew you shouldn’t have had shots of whiskey!’
‘I had shots of whiskey?!’
Two days later, on a hot July afternoon in Yorkshire, we celebrated the wedding of two of our favourite people. Laura’s hangover had lingered from the previous days so she could hardly drink. I dug down deep and drank consistently all day, however, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. That I was drinking for no reason, I couldn’t get drunk.
Afterwards, we spent a lovely few days in Wales, booze-free. The hangover didn’t subside and I had a headache for days. Nothing would stop it. Another week later after celebrating my 36th birthday, I went away with a group to India. Always plenty of time for reflection on long bus rides and evenings on your own in tents. This is where I ploughed through a wonderful audiobook. It should be noted that I am not allowed to drink while on expedition, and am happy not to. The first time I went on one I found it liberating that I didn’t drink for over a month. That was definitely the longest time without booze since I was in my early teens. I had been stumbling through Amazon Audible looking for books when I do what I always do; I typed in ‘I don't want to drink anymore’. This is when ‘the unexpected joy of being sober’ by Catherine Gray popped up. I had a credit and I spent it. When I settled into that first 5-hour bus journey, I was nervous to start the book. What would happen if I realised I didn’t want to drink anymore. How would I live, how would I break it to my parents, family and friends? How would I have fun, dance, be funny, be attractive? It scared me how much I relied upon booze to cure all the anxieties I had for daily life.
It wasn’t long before I needed to hide the tears filling up my eyes with sunglasses and a hat. Pretending to be asleep, I relived each memory weak and strong and evaluated them from a different perspective. Each argument, each scenario and adventure, including scars both visible and not. The book discusses her issues with alcohol and how that affected relationships; how on reflection she wasn’t always right, wasn’t always funny and did horrible things she couldn’t even remember. She had to make peace with these memories, ask herself and others for forgiveness so she could move forward.
This was where I couldn’t quite work things out. Now to me, and what I drank in terms of quantity was far more than this lady. I am not trying to boast about something so stupid as who can drink more but what I didn’t understand was, was my problem worse? Was I addicted? Could I drink socially and not need to get hammered? Was it just a habit that I had created and stuck to for years and was now ready to quit, like with smoking? Nothing was clear. The clarity had not come in terms of what I should do or what the future would bring but more about what had happened in the past, all those situations I thought I was unfairly treated, those had now become crystal. Ever have that feeling that you can’t un-see something horrible? Me too. Every memory was now tainted, dirty that needed cleaning for me to be comfortable with it. But with all this uncomfortableness came the hardest and easiest decision I would make; no booze for a year. The start would be easy, I hadn’t drunk since the wedding and I had another ten days on the expedition. The first month would be over before I blinked. Happy days.
Now came the tricky part. I would spend the next year making up reasons for not drinking, lying to friends about being on antibiotics, driving where I could, not wanting to pay for a taxi so I could use it as an excuse. Watching friends and family look at me with disgust as I refused another drink or shot. ‘What's wrong with you’, ‘you’re normally way more fun’. I had to have long conversations with Laura, game plans on how to cope with public events; I have always loved dancing, but would only do it if I was drunk, and would sometimes need to get drunker to even set foot on a dance floor. Laura liked dancing with me and I didn’t want to let her down. What was I to do, how would I cope with upcoming weddings and events?
I AM PATRICK SWAYZE
So in the past when I was inebriated I believed that I was Patrick Swayze, basically, I was an awesome dancer with amazing skills and prowess on the dance floor. Sober I was clumsy, pathetic, the loser from any of the 90’s teen movies, just pick one, that was me. So what to do? Well after a quick ‘Google’ we went to a dance class. Sober.
‘Start on the beat’ they said. ‘I am sorry, the what?’ Clearly, I had a lot to learn. But soon I began to feel more comfortable. A couple of hours later we had learned part of a Waltz and a Quick Step. Not enough to be on “Strictly’ but enough to change my mind. If I could dance without booze then maybe there were other parts of my life where I felt controlled by alcohol, that could be wiped clean. The first test was another wedding. The dreaded 3-month mark. Could I do it? I couldn’t sleep for worry, how would I talk to anyone? Would anyone like me without booze? Maybe I should just drink just a little, but I know that I have always been an all or nothing type of person. There is no way I could have one glass or one bottle. Soon I would be doing shots and forgetting the whole night. So what did happen? Well, it was another beautiful wedding, another two favourites, I talked, I laughed, I danced, I was pretty much the last one to bed, around 4 am. I didn’t drink, I remembered everything. All the fun conversations, all the emotion. I woke up with a pounding headache from such little sleep, but I was happy, I didn’t mind and within an hour it was gone. I survived my first wedding, but would I cope with another wedding and two stag do’s all within the remaining 9 months…
Day 357. So what happened? Well Laura proposed, we got married and I cheated twice, I had two sips of champagne, once when we announced our engagement and the other on the day of the wedding. Literally two sips. The first was fine and the second, regardless of how nice the champagne was, I didn’t like it. Actually, I have had to avoid certain desserts and rum and raisin ice cream too, partly for the year of no booze but also because I didn’t like the taste. I spent all those years as a teenager and young adult trying to like the taste of booze so I could drink more and now I don’t much care for the stuff.
The other wedding was perfect, I was happy to be sober and the Stag Do’s were great, once the initial problem of me, not drinking had been successfully hurdled, everything was grand. Nobody seemed to care.
Now as soon as you say you are not doing something, not smoking, not eating meat, and not drinking, people seem to take it as a slight against them, like they are being judged. That is not the case at all. I set out to not drink booze for a year, but I learned far more from it. I now understand my body better, feeling rough on days when you haven’t had alcohol means there are underlying problems, I now know what these are and can act accordingly; I don’t always do this though.
The benefits; I didn’t have a continuous foggy head, I was more productive, more intuitive to my basic needs, like food and sleep, and I understand now how negatively sugar effects me. I also manage my emotions better. Hangover days were full of anxiety, and irritableness. Getting drunk days were all about getting smashed and wanting to be reckless and drink excessively, desperate attempts to forget stress and troubles. Without booze, I am much less up and down, far more steady.
Some of the things I have learned are not just about myself but about alcohol in general. The effects, the addiction, individual problems, the breakdown of relationships, a continual cycle of abuse on many levels. I learnt about others who have given up booze and felt empathy for those struggling. I didn’t know that alcohol stayed in your body for so long, for instance, you have a couple of pints or Aperol spritzers on a Friday. Saturday nothing. Sunday nothing. It takes until Monday for that alcohol to be out of your system. I am purposefully being very basic with this info. I am sure there are more scientific ways to put this but please humour me. Now for the majority of my adult life, I would have drunk every day, then maybe once every other day. I know some who drink a few times a week etc. What I am getting at is very rarely do we drink alcohol with a large enough gap that we are actually free of the toxin and give our bodies time to adjust and overcome. I am not in a position to preach but am grateful you are still reading. Another thing I have found is that true friendship is amazing and a true friend won’t care whether or not you drink they will just enjoy being with you. Maybe you don’t meet up at the pub or club, but for lunch in a cafe or an adventure somewhere, hike, bike, or swim. Now there are no more hangover days there are no more excuses for not getting up and doing exercise and living the best life I can.
365 Days Later
So as day 365 arrived, will I start drinking again? Will I never drink again? I don’t know, I won’t let it bother me whether I do or not. I am a happier version of myself, a better version of what I was a year ago. As of this moment I am content with my soda’s and lime or my sparkling water.
‘Where are we going?’ Laura calls out.
As I finish packing Matilda I shout back, ’We are going on an adventure!’