“I’ve got some friends, some that I hardly know. We’ve had some times I wouldn’t change for the world.” – Rise Against, Swing Life Away
A few weeks ago I posted about how my relationship with alcohol gradually turned sour and the point at which I decided enough was enough and that I ought to take at least a hiatus from drinking altogether. When I originally wrote that, for an earlier incarnation of this blog, a lot of people were very interested in how I was getting on, and in seeing just how easy or difficult it is to maintain an alcohol free lifestyle in the midst of our social drinking culture.
So I thought that it was high time for me to write a follow-up.
First of all a little background.
It probably won’t surprise you hear that I’ve never been exactly okay in the head. Whether that’s because I have a chemical imbalance, or because of traumatic experiences that I’ve had, or because my parents just failed to socialise me properly, I’ve never felt that I particularly meshed well with the rest of the world. And when I was teenager and wanted desperately to just find somewhere that I could fit in I found this terribly difficult to live with.
That was until I discovered alcohol.
Alcohol is a great leveler. It gives shy people the courage to join in with social groups. And it allows people who don’t quite have their brain straight usually a chance to blend in with the rest of the inebriated crowd.
That and an addictive personality led to my drinking heavily throughout sixth form, and then being drunk more often than I wasn’t between the ages of nineteen and about twenty-four.
I think I was drunk every single day of the first year after I graduated and started full-time working.
That was partly due to my working environment; long liquid lunches with clients were positively encouraged, and then there was a pub exactly six steps from the office that no-one ever quite managed to walk on passed at the end of the day.
Partly it was due to the fact that everyone I knew outside of work was still studying, and after a few drinks to wind down with my colleagues I was on out partying like a student.
And partly it was because this was the first time that the full extent of my mental health problems had come bubbling unmistakably to the surface.
I couldn’t be on my own. And when I was on my own I couldn’t stop crying. And my definition of being on my own including being seated on an overcrowded bus.
I had a pain that seemed to be coming from my soul as much as from any physical place, and much of the time it hurt so badly that I was convinced that it had to kill me.
The Samaritans‘ text service was consistently the most messaged number on my phone bill. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and actually speak to anyone. I didn’t want to have to admit to the way I was feeling, even to myself. And even if I had there wouldn’t have been any treatment available, I simply couldn’t get myself registered with a doctor.
I was completely stressed out, all the time, and drinking alcohol was the only thing that chilled me out enough to feel normal, never mind merry or drunken.
And yet I’m not writing this to give you another woe is me, this was my the start of my descent in to addiction story
Whatever it was that had been going haywire in my brain eventually settled down, and after a couple of moves across the country I eventually found myself in a healthier working environment, and part of social circle who met mostly in each others’ homes.
Between that and the fact that I was dirt poor drinking became less of a part of my life.
That is until some bad stuff went down and I developed PTSD, moved across the country yet again, and went back to hanging out with students and other heavy drinking martial artists.
That was the period that eventually prompted my original post about drinking and how unhealthy my relationship with alcohol had become.
And after that I did struggle with my relationship with alcohol. I tried to give it up completely, but it is hard when our entire social culture revolves around pubs, and wine bars, and restaurants that all serve alcohol.
And the thing is, nobody else wants you to stop drinking. Not even your dearest friends. Not even the people who are familiar with the kind of turbulent emotional history that I’ve just explained to you. They tell you that you’re being ridiculous to stop drinking completely; that all you need to do is cut down and drink in moderation.
When you explain that moderation is not possible for you they react as though you’re simply being obstinate. When you show them something like the clip below as you feel that it’s a perfect illustration of why cutting down just wont work, they tell you that this isn’t how you feel at all. They put forward the patently ridiculous notion that the West Wing is simply debating 101 and in fact nobody in the real world actually feels like this at all.
Because the thing is, people don’t want to believe that you have anything less than a comfortable relationship with alcohol. They don’t want to see you in that way because you’re someone like them. And so if they’re forced to see that you have a problem with drinking then they might also have to face up to seeing a reflection of themselves, and the possibility that their own habit has become as much a dependence as a hobby.
But I persevered. And it helped a lot that I flat-out can’t drink now as well as taking my mirtazapine. And I can’t stop taking the mirtazapine because then I’d end up feeling suicidal again. But I got there, and alcohol now plays a negligible part in my life.
But I have noticeably fewer friends than I used to have. And people who I had thought knew me better than anyone, people who I thought would still be there when we were old and grey, have just disappeared. Because for all the intimacies that we shared our relationships were just too deeply rooted in habitual drunkenness to survive the removal of alcohol.
And that’s before you even consider the number of people who you knew purely as drinking buddies, your friendships consisting solely of nights out in a pub or a club.
But the thing is, if you offered me the chance to change anything. If you could wave a magic wand and make it all not have happened, I wouldn’t erase any of it save for the PTSD related binges.
Partying and the friends I made while getting completely wasted were responsible for some of the best and most memorable times of my life, moments that happened even in the midst of my first breakdown with depression. In the absence of access to medication the routine at least was the main thing that kept me going. So what difference does it really make how well I really knew them, or how much else we might have had in common?
The reckless abandon of which I was only capable because I was drinking so heavily is the reason that I’ve already been to some of the most amazing places on earth.
I was only able to show you those photos of the Oslo Opera House because my now former landlady told me that Ryanair had a five-pound flight sale as I was getting home from the pub one evening. I went online and drunkenly booked tickets for myself and two friends to the first place that they still had tickets left.
I also have a bunch of awesome stories from that trip. At least half of which involve large amounts of drinking. And once again, I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I guess my point is that I don’t think habitual use of alcohol is inherently any better or worse than habitual abstinence, so long as you are able and willing to take responsibility for your own health in the long run. And that over use of alcohol can be as much a sign of an attempt at controlling a worse problem, than it can of its being an issue in its own right.