Ramblin’ Man

Happy New Year to anyone reading this. Before I start this incoherent ramble a message to any new readers who are trying Dry January. For whatever reason you have decided to give up alcohol for one month. Stick with it. At the very least it will give your liver a well earned rest but it could well be the start of a fascinating, sometimes uncomfortable period of introspection and change. Nothing to lose and lots potentially to gain.

OK down to business. This is a tough post because I haven’t posted for a while and I’m not sure what I want to say. Having said that I have felt a strong urge to post and yet have been putting it off. So this is a more than usually self indulgent post, a shambolic attempt to figure out what if anything I have to say and where if anywhere this blog is going to go. If that all sounds like an existential crisis, it’s probably because it is one. I’ll just dive in.

The “not drinking “is going well. I’m still not drinking but not drinking, the original rationale behind this blog, is beginning to feel like an irrelevance. I don’t mean that giving up booze wasn’t a big deal and important. It was and it is, it’s just that now that being sober has become a set part of my life, I can see that drink was just a manifestation of deeper issues. I focused on alcohol because it was an issue in my life but its absence has starkly highlighted other issues in my life. As alcohol has moved into the background, other things have moved into the foreground. Alcohol kept some things in their place but like some semi permeable membrane it let other things through.

I’m grateful to myself that I stopped drinking but the landscape that has been revealed by its absence is not always comfortable. One example; feelings and emotions. With alcohol I could dampen down those unconscious emotions and conscious feelings. One example from my youth. Crippled by anxiety, I wanted to simultaneously approach girls and run away from them. A few drinks and those emotions and feelings subsided. I no longer feared rejection, I stopped worrying what people would think of me, I stopped comparing myself to other guys. It was liberating and I could join in. I felt normal. An illusion maybe but I had experiences I may never have had. Of course if I could go back to my younger self I would help me to understand why I had such shockingly poor self esteem at that point in my life. I see that now but at the time I just felt defective and alcohol made it seem OK for a while. And so it goes on and builds up. That’s why, with the perspective of not having drunk for 16 months, I can see that my dependence on alcohol was not about the alcohol per se, it was what the alcohol was helping, and later,not helping me deal with.

So having given up, I can see why I was attracted to alcohol and why bad habits developed but recently I have had something else to contend with. Alcohol helped suppress some difficult emotions but it also let others through particularly as I became older. Through necessity and application I managed over the years to control my feelings. I learned to shut down, to blank off difficult stuff. I became good at that. People dying, yeh let’s deal with that, divorce; let’s not let that get you down. I started to take a perverse pride in how I was able to deal with stuff that others couldn’t understand were not breaking me. But these things always come with a cost and that cost for me was a neutral emptiness or maybe better described as a gnawing, nagging emptiness, a void where I knew there should be something. Then I’d drink and the dam would break. tears would flow and I’d allow myself the misery and sometimes ecstacy of feeling. Of course with alcohol it’s impossible to regulate where things would go. Sometimes I would wallow in regret and anger, at other times remember wonderful times where there was a promise of a fantastic future. But the alcohol has stopped. The membrane now holds up and very little gets through. That, I’m realising is not good. I feel sometimes like the physical lock down we have all had to experience for me has been accompanied by an emotional lock down. Safe, sanitised but not how life should be. And where alcohol would, in the past, help me deal counter productively and self destructively with some of this “stuff”, other coping strategies have now tried to take the place of drink. The “stuff” is still there and needs dealing with. That’s why I say the alcohol feels irrelevant. It’s not a part of my life and I’m tremendously happy about that, but it was only a symptom, a reaction to other things, and unless I deal with those other things, alcohol and similar coping strategies will always be pulling at me trying to lure me into a false sense that all is OK.

Not sure that I have expressed what’s really going on but still trying to get a sense of it all. Maybe with it being a New Year I might let my blog go in a different direction. Like may others, food has taken up some of the slack left by booze. If booze was never really the problem but became the problem, perhaps the same applies to food. If that is indeed the case I need to deal that and unpick what the food is really feeding. What is the real hunger? Let’s see where that goes.

Happy New Year. Jim X

Small Reminder to Self about Why I Don’t Drink Anymore

First off, what’s happened to my good intentions? I was going to blog more regularly, really I was. I was intending to read other blogs, make comments and generally be a more responsible, committed blogger. Sounds very much like my approach to giving up drinking; a good idea that just took me a bit of time to get round to. At least with blogging it’s only been just over two weeks. My decision to finally give up alcohol took slightly longer; maybe 30 years give or take.

The reason it took me so long to finally quit booze was down to one main reason, DENIAL. Good old denial, it keeps us following the same tired old path regardless of the evidence in front of us. Denial is sneaky though. It concedes a tiny little bit. In my case I knew that drinking excessively was bad for me, I knew I didn’t want hangovers that lasted two days and the wasted days that entailed. I knew that dependency creeps up on you. Despite that , denial is a strong adversary to our good intentions. Here are some of my favourite denial soundbites; a top ten” Jim’s favourite denial tracks” if you like:

  • You’re doing a demanding day time job- you can’t be too dependent
  • Jim, it’s OK you don’t drink in the mornings
  • You only lost your licence once and that was 30 years ago
  • Your liver function test was fine, you’re fine!
  • That homeless guy clutching his cheap cider- now that’s a guy with a drink problem
  • You’re overthinking it, just enjoy life
  • If your’e worried just moderate a bit
  • Everybody has one too many occasionally
  • You deserve a treat
  • Churchill drank far more than you Jim and he won a war and was a national hero

You get the picture. I could add another twenty justifications for my drinking and one of the “sobering” aspects of being sober is the stark realisation of how much denial there was in my relation to booze. Had someone confronted me at the time however Mr Denial and Ms Protect would have emerged to defend my drinking at any costs.

I was thinking about this in relation to a little trip I have planned. Next weekend I’m off to see my son and his girlfriend for an outdoor meal at a pub near where they live. I’m not seeing them at Christmas as I am not keen on catching Coronavirus by sitting for hours in a heated enclosed room with several people in close proximity to me. So outdoor pre Christmas meet ups is my preferred option. No problem… except, in my drinking days this would have put me in a highly agitated state. Driving somewhere like a pub and not being able to drink alcohol was my personal nightmare. I hated it. I couldn’t envisage sitting down, seeing drink all around me and not having a drink. Here’s another list. Jim’s “What I used to do when invited for a meal/pub/party/ far away”

  • Work out cost in terms of time and money of trains and taxis (not always feasible or desirable)
  • Find some way of manipulating someone else to give me a lift
  • Find some way of manipulating other parties to come nearer to where I live
  • Work out how many units I could drink and still legally drive and how much time that would necessitate me being at the venue
  • Arrange to drive, get a lift back and get someone else to drive me to venue to pick up car next day
  • Consider the horror of going and not drinking alcohol at all (very rare)
  • Decline the invitation rather than the hassle and torture of any the above

The scary thing is I was thinking this last week that the last option of declining invitations rather than not being able to drink was quite a common one. Just consider that in all its sad truth- I actually occasionally used to make decisions not to see family or friends if it meant I couldn’t drink. Drink before relationships. There it is in black and white. No denying that one and I may well have done that this weekend. I know I would have probably not gone, or tried to get them to meet me somewhere else or have driven and not drank but spent most of the time thinking about the fact that I couldn’t have a drink rather than enjoying their company.

Reading that back it’s horrendous the grip that alcohol had over me, preferring it at times over spending time with family. Wow. Next time I feel tempted to drink, this will be one of the scenarios I will remind myself of. To be free of that power and grip that alcohol had over me, that I often denied to myself, is the gift I gave to myself 15 months ago and it keeps giving. People mean more than drink. Obvious really when the fog of denial has lifted. I just need to remind myself of it now and then. Sober batteries fully recharged!

Jim X

Thank God for Sober Heroes

It’s everywhere isn’t it? The references to booze, no wonder it’s so bloody hard to give it up. The other day I’m looking at a website and an advert pops up. Campo Viejo wine. I loved it and those bloody tailored advertisers knew it. Bastards. Not only that, the advert talks about all the things we are missing in this pandemic and shows an idyllic summer setting, with an outside meal being set up. Sun shine, family, Meditteranean country setting, friendly chat and then the uncorking of wine and the glug glug as it’s poured into glasses. The not so subtle message; wine is the oil of social interaction, the gift of the gods that makes life so much more pleasant. As I say, bastards. It’s an advert, I don’t get taken in by adverts but those associations are so powerful that I can feel myself willing to jack in a year plus of sobriety to reconnect with that old life and down a glass or two of Campo.

But it’s an advert. It’s designed to trigger us and make us want to rush out and buy the wine. I notice there’s no one at the table passed out with their face in the bloody lasagne or a pissed uncle boring everyone with his outraged stance on politics, ranting and raving after drinking one too many or cutting to aunt Sofia in the local hospital hoping for a liver transplant after a life of excess bloody Campo Viejo.

But that’s just one advert. I watch my favourite programmes. They all arrive home and open the wine to relax, they go to bars and order a beer. Everyone is drinking. It’s inescapable. Here the message is a little more subtle. Normal people drink small amounts but do it all day long. It’s nice, it’s what normal people do, it’s part of what makes us human. You, sober viewer are abnormal. Come on join the party. Bullshit I scream but it’s like i’m constantly having to be on my guard to challenge and counter these perpetual, persistent messages. Even bloody Bake Off has people sticking rum and other spirits in their cakes. Wink, wink , oh a cake laced with booze is so much better and naughtier than a sober cake. Well I’m a sober muffin and I’ve had enough. I can be as naughty as a gin soaked chocolate eclair on a good day. I don’t need a drink, I don’t want a drink. I know what drinking does, it’s not romantic, it doesn’t relax me, it doesn’t enhance life. So what to do when faced with this constant onslaught?

This is where my sober heroes come in. The ones who prove to me that you can be cool, talented, smart and sober. (let’s leave Donald Trump and Hitler to one side for the moment- they give sobriety a bad name). I still remember the guy at my drama group when I was in my twenties who loved to party, was a hit with the girls, was at ease socially and loved to dance. It was a shock when I found out he never drank. It was so unusual back in the 80’s. He didn’t need a drink to have a good time. That stuck with me. Then came my obsession with the Irish musician Christy Moore. Gave up when it was getting out of hand and recently heard him speaking about how his life has been so much better since he stopped drinking. Sober heroes, role models. We need them. Then there’s the American Writer Raymond Carver. Ah, a true hero. A great writer and for much of his life a true alcoholic. It nearly killed him. He stopped suddenly by himself and did the best writing of his life. He also found love with another writer, Tess Gallagher, whom he married and they had 11 great years together. Here’s what she said about Carver, I’ll leave it to her:

Raymond Carver- A Great Writer and a great role model for what sobriety can do

Instead of dying from alcohol, Raymond Carver chose to live. I met him five months after he’d made this choice, so I never knew the Ray who drank, except by report and through his stories and poems. One result of his decision to stay sober was that he became an internationally respected master of the short story, a writer who, at his death, was called by the London Times ‘America’s Chekhov.’ For me, the best result of his choice was that we found each other, and could write and live together, challenging, inspiring, and supporting one another in this new life we created day by day.

Every artist and writer faces the challenge of how to honor his or her intensity while not being consumed by it. Ray was nearly consumed by his. The decision that changed his life happened on June 2, 1977, a date that, if it were up to me, would be declared a holiday to honor all those who make it out of alcoholism. When I go to his grave now (he died at the age of 50 of lung cancer caused by smoking), I find messages from those who, as he did, want to stay sober, and who lean on his humility and generosity of spirit. They leave him notes: ‘Ten years sober, Ray! Life is sweet, you bet! Thanks, man.’

Ray and I always celebrated the anniversary of his sobriety by doing something simple, like eating chocolate after a nice meal at which we’d toasted the occasion with sparkling apple juice. I’d give him a gift: one year a stuffed elephant to remind him of his story by that name; another, a briefcase in which to carry his newly drafted short stories.

I think, in the end, Ray managed to exchange a deadly intoxication that would have killed him for an intoxication with language and story-telling. Ray had been ‘in the drink,’ as the Irish say, for 25 years by the time he finally quit for good. It took the wounded grace of moments added to moments for him to inch his way free and later, at age 50, finally sit on the mountain of 10 years of sobriety. He considered his decision to stop drinking the single most important event of his life. He wrote this poem shortly before his death on August 2, 1988.

Here’s the poem that Carver wrote:

Gravy

No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. ‘Don’t weep for me,’
he said to his friends. ‘I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.’

So Campo Viejo- next time you try to lure me in – I shall remember my heroes and the wonderful “Gravy” of sobriety. Thanks Raymond, Christy and the guy from my drama group (and all the wonderful inspiring sober bloggers). You remind me why not drinking is the better choice.

I’ve Given up Sex!

Ok that title was a cheap, cheap stunt to grab your attention. This isn’t really a post about sex, well only as a metaphorical allusion, but before you trudge off with a grumpy face having missed out on a bit of voyeuristic titillation stay with me a while and let me explain.

I was looking for an analogy to giving up the booze and surprise surprise- sex appeared. Those of a nervous disposition should turn away now.

Let’s begin by forgetting booze for a moment. Let’s suppose I’d become addicted to sex.

For a short, disturbed while imagine Jim as this over sexed, dog like human, always on the look out for his next sexual encounter,(Suffice it to say we are in the realms of both metaphor and fantasy here). Poor sex addicted Jim, sniffing the air for pheromones, flirting shamelessly, looking at his Tindr app every few minutes. Poor man; one shag a month used to satisfy him then it turned into needing sex once a week and soon his sexual hunger got out of control. Soon he found himself needing some form of sexual activity every day. And Jim tried them all; you name it he’d tried it. Friends noticed his haunted expression, his lack of interest in anything unconnected to sex. Things were getting desperate. His sexual addiction was affecting work, family, even his grocery shopping, where one day he found himself after a grocery shop with no basic provisions but several salamis, kilos of plums and the store’s supply of figs. Things were indeed getting out of control. Women would challenge him, “Why are you talking to my breasts Jim!?” His self esteem lay in tatters. Sad, pathetic old Jim was losing the little respect he had left. Guilt and shame followed him round like the shackles on a convict. He had reached the bottom (stop it!)

Are there really men who do this? (Answers on a postcard please)

So Jim started a blog “standing tall- reclaiming my pride” but clearly was still being affected by sexual connotations. He went cold turkey, he knew he couldn’t moderate, he would have to give up the thing that for so long had given him such pleasure, he was going to have to give up sex!

At first it was easy, he found other like minded sex dependent people through his blog and shared their stories of how they were coping with a life without sex. Yoga was very popular but all that tight fitting lycra and body posturing just acted like triggers for poor old Jim. Then Jim was told about cross stitch and knitting. It was heaven. Jim would spend hours doing cross stitch and sex became the last thing on his mind. For months Jim stuck to his goal- no sex, no pursuit of sex. He thought he had cracked it.

And yet… As time wore on, Jim was surrounded by images and references to the thing he had given up. Everyone seemed to be having sex and enjoying it. Some appeared to be happy to have sex just now and Jim realised he could never be that way. Then Jim began to think fondly of his early adventures with sex, those innocent days of clumsy fondlings with Susan from the convent school when he was 17 but deep down Jim knew there was no going back.

Has anyone else written a post which they wish they hadn’t? This is mine I guess but I’m sure there’s a message in her somewhere and at least the psychoanalysts out there can have some fun dissecting this. Suffice it to say giving up something you enjoy is hard- but when it does you harm (hopefully unlike sex) it really is so much easier to say goodbye to it.

Jim X

Happy on my Birthday

If i’d had the type of birthday I had this weekend even ten years ago I would be feeling miserable, unloved and hard done by right now. For my birthday I went for a walk in the countryside with my partner, I read the paper with football on in the background, had an afternoon nap, received and sent messages, had a takeaway curry, watched some telly and went to bed. No meal out (still a possibility here until lockdown this coming Thursday), no alcohol, no meeting up with friends, no special outing and it probably would have been like this even without the pandemic.

Ten years ago I would have been thinking why was my life so dull, devoid of event, empty. I certainly would have consoled myself with drink; oh yes indeed. I would have used the excuse of my birthday to drink copiously until I felt even worse than I did, fell asleep and lost the next day to a hangover.

Happy birthday to anyone with a birthday in the next 365 days!

So this weekend I had what I would have previously labelled a shit birthday. The strange thing is it wasn’t a shit birthday. It wasn’t great but I had a good day; relaxed, couple of nice presents. It was Ok. I didn’t feel aggrieved or that I was missing out on anything. I was quietly content. I was intrigued- why was I content with a situation that previously would have made me miserable?

One possibility is that I have learned to expect less. Maybe life has become uniformly flat and and my suffering was bourne out of a desire to see life delivering more than it ever could. Expect less, suffer less. In one of my favourite plays, Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge,the lawyer Alfieri tries to understand the tragedy of Eddie’s overpowering passions. He concludes,”Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better.” The message for me? Rein in those passions and desires. You may lose something in the process but you’ll survive. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.

The other possibility which I think applies more is that the things that I felt were important previously simply are not anymore. Was I really having fun down the pub, drinking pints, seeing unpredictable situations emerge, hoping deep down inside for some flirtatious encounter? Enveloping myself in the illusory cloak of being alive . Looking back it all seems like desperate attempts at finding validation, connection, excitement and to deny the existential truth of our mortality. Sorry if that sounds heavy and morbid, it actually is the opposite. If those earlier attempts to find joy, meaning, escape all fell flat what else was there?

I suppose it’s the feeling I have now that one doesn’t have to look so much out as in. If I can look at myself, be by myself and find that Ok, I don’t need to find external elements to give me a sense of contentment. I can then focus on what is around me already. It’s about accepting that we are here for a brief time and that that window of consciousness that we have is incredible and to be cherished not lamented before it’s time is up. It’s the old cliche of being able to be in the here and now, appreciate the people we have in our lives, love others and accept their love and extend our own resources to help others. Doing the small stuff is what often gives me pleasure, so on balance, my birthday was not a washout, it was a day where I could enjoy and appreciate being alive. Maybe I’m just getting old, but here’s the odd thing. I wish in a way I would have been able to look at life a little more this way when I was younger. Chasing illusions, desperate for some peace and some answers. That sounds like regret but it’s not really as you can’t get to your final destination without passing through some dodgy stations. It’s another day today, let’s see what that brings, see what tiny but important impact I can make. Right now it’s time for tea and toast- magic!

Out of Isolation

Having seen some old friends return on here over the last few days I decided I have three ways of treating this blog:

1 Carry on as I have done these last few months- dipping in and out – making the occasional comment and infrequent post

2 Ending the blog on the basis that I have nothing more of real value to say

3 Reengaging with the blog in a new way; with a commitment to reading, commenting and posting on a more regular basis

Option 1 doesn’t really work for me . As in my drinking days I’m an all or nothing type of guy so this option doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it reminds me of previous relationships; one foot in, one foot out.

Option 2 would work in the short term but would feel like abandoning something that has helped me enormously and maybe even helped others in small ways. That’s it then, it has to be Option 3; coming out of blog isolation. I need a proper reengagement; not the manic engagement of my first few months on here but regular posting and reading. Sometimes it takes something simple like someone saying they like reading one’s posts to realise that we do this fundamentally in order to connect. Sure I like to entertain sometimes in my posts, maybe (that means definitely) I also like the feeling of my fragile ego bathed in the warm glow of feedback sometimes. More recently I had to experience a negative response not just to my posts but to me as a person. I think that unnerved me more than I realised . In Transactional Analysis talk it took me back to my Child ego state; once again reexperiencing the criticism of father and brother, believing that maybe I was a fake, that I was a crap person and wanting to lash out like a child. It was a good reminder to self about how fragile we can be despite the insights we gain and how important it is to respond as Adult. It proved to be a valuable lesson. That’s the thing with connection we can’t control how it’s going to go and how it may affect us but it’s better to take that risk than stay isolated.

Well that’s the navel gazing out the way. Isolation in my title also refers to the past couple of weeks where I self isolated following finding out that the friend I spent 6 hours with working in my garden tested positive for coronavirus. We broke concrete, moved pots, spoke a starnge mix of Spanish and English and I was convinced that when he told me two days later that he tested positive that I would soon succumb. That in itself was a strange prospect. Sitting at home waiting for Covid to strike not knowing (I’m in my 60’s) whether you are going to have a few days of feeling a bit rough or being hospitalised and dying or any number of in between states. So there was a certain amount of anxiety. Of course you start scanning your body and “finding” symptoms. I took the tests and bizarrely it came back negative. I could do a whole post about how the track and trace system didn’t bother to contact me despite my friend telling them of our contact, of his boss pressurising him not to say he caught it off other workers, how those other workers continued to go to work despite symptoms because they were on zero hours contracts and couldn’t afford the loss of pay but I won’t. I think most of us know many of the systems in place are not up to the task in hand and that there is a high level of non compliance and restriction fatigue.

I will try and do my bit; I’ve alerted someone to the factory in question , I am joining an NHS panel trying to improve track and trace and I follow the guidelines logical or not.

So a good week overall. I’m alive and Covid free. Work is going well, I’m out of isolation and looking forward to nurturing my slightly neglected blog once again. Oh and I’m still not drinking.

Stay safe all. X

The Urge to Drink – The Urge to Avoid

I had a very interesting experience a few weeks ago that gave me a real, if somewhat unsettling, insight into my own dependency on alcohol.

When I first stopped drinking just over a year ago I found social events like meals extremely challenging. The urge to drink if I sat down for a meal with others was almost overwhelming. Restaurants were things to be avoided. I had tried going to one a few weeks after stopping and far from enjoying a nice meal with friends all I could focus on was their drinks, my misery and a sense of grievance as to why was I having to miss out.

Having friends or family round for meals was also a major abstinence battleground and again my strategy was mainly withdrawal rather than engaging in the fight. The problem there was that if I avoided things I liked, abstinence was going to be pointless. So I tackled the meals out and the meals in. Gradually as I successfully navigated a few meals I could feel the urge to drink lessen. The urge was still there though and I knew that this had to be less about a physical addiction to drink and more an association. Or was it? My urges took on a pattern which I am sure is familiar to other drinkers; meals with friends and family, social events, weekends; all triggering waves of anxiety.

After the first few months I could go days without wanting a drink at all, zero desire and then a trigger event and my cravings would start. The strange thing was that the cravings would ease rather than grow as the particular situation evolved. I knew these cravings were based around anxiety, the need to blot it out, but I mistook the nature of this anxiety. I thought my anxiety was based on my inability to enjoy myself without a drink; could I still have fun, be convivial without the aid of a few glasses of booze inside me? The answer was yes I could and as the months passed so gradually did some of this anxiety dissipate.

Back to a few weeks ago. I was hosting a meal for for four people. I was cooking and I knew that none of the people were big drinkers. As I prepared the food, I could feel the urge to drink creeping up on me. What! Still? I thought to myself. I rode the anxiety, we had the meal and my feelings settled down. Then last week we had four people round including my son and his girfriend. We all knew more coronavirus restrictions were on the way so this was likely to be the last such meal at home for some time. The urge to drink kicked in as I was preparing the food. Two meals on consecutive weekends and two lots of urges to drink. I was really disappointed. I thought I had beaten this thing. I enjoyed being sober and not having to plan my life around the next drink. I was annoyed that I was still experiencing times when I felt I really wanted a drink. That’s when I stopped and really looked at what was really happening. Up to then I’d assumed my anxiety was triggered by wanting a drink because it was a social occasion but this was something more. I have had a year of many social situations where there was a zero urge to drink. I knew I was anxious and that a drink would soften and kill off that anxiety but what was the real cause of it?

Anxiety is often explained as fear without a home but I needed to identify that fear. But not at that moment. Guests were arriving, food had to be prepared, table laid, drinks chilled. Both meals went well and I enjoyed both evenings. I knew I had to revisit what was going on and as I replayed the evenings and my feelings the location of the anxiety I felt started to reveal itself. It was located deep within me, and I think it was a fear of failure , of not being able to produce good food, a good evening for my guests. Would they like the food, would they approve or would the whole evening end up as crashing failure with my being revealed as the flawed individual that I am.

Wow, I was a bit shocked, was this what it’s always been about, drinking to avoid feelings of failure of being something less than others? I knew that tendency had been with me for a long time but felt that I’d successfully overcome it. The reality was that I had probably used alcohol just to mask it and give me a false sense of confidence in some specific situations. My urge to drink was really an urge to avoid that confrontation with the hurt and shame buried deep within me, to mask it. For me giving up the drink has allowed many things to surface and this particular “thing” seems the most significant. Had I not stopped drinking I would have carried on just drinking “to take the edge off” and that worked for me in a way. It blotted out a sense of failure, of not being good enough but it came at a cost. Part of that cost was that my drinking, in itself, became a cause of shame and yet another failure. A failure to control the very thing that was supposed to help. Better have another drink then, and so it continued.

When the current lockdown ends and I can enjoy a meal with others, I shall try and cook that meal reminding myself that my meals are OK, that I have put on good evenings for others in the past, that I’m alright as I am without the need to top myself up with booze. In fact what having meals like that has shown me is that the anxiety decreases as the evidence shows me that I wasn’t a failure. The food was OK, everyone had a good time and I have been able to enjoy that occasion sober. That takes time to sink in. The next time I prepare a meal the same feelings are likely to reemerge and I need to finally confront those uncomfortable feelings, look them in the eye and comfort the young Jim that grew up believing he wasn’t good enough.

Maybe it’s things like these that constitute the real challenges of giving up the booze and I’d be interested to know if others have had similar insights into their own patterns of drinking.

Jim X

The bitter taste of success

I didn’t want it, I didn’t ask for it, I don’t like it, but my buttons have been well and truly pushed. I have, like some other bloggers on here, managed to go alcohol free for just over a year now. I have known for probably 20 years or more that my drinking was problematic. I sometimes drank to excess, I always drank more than was good for me, I planned my days and weeks around drink and it was a constant battle preventing myself drinking even more than I was. I damaged friendships with my drinking, I upset my children on occasions and 3 marriages probably attest to the fact that it had an adverse effect on my relationships. I tried cutting down but I eventually came to the conclusion that I had to stop. I prepared for that, I researched it, I sought the support of bloggers and I set a date. 1st September 2109. I haven’t had a drink since. Has it been easy? No. Have I wobbled? Yes Am I proud? Yes.

So what’s the problem? Well I have been on the end of some strange comments by one person in particular seemingly annoyed that I have so far succeeded in giving up and then even more strangely suggesting that the only reason I have been able to be successful is that I don’t really understand addiction. Presumably the logic runs that true addiction in insurmountable so anyone giving up wasn’t really addicted in the first place. This I find insulting and is the logical refuge of the alcoholic who isn’t ready to let go of their addiction or sees it as somehow on a different scale to everyone else’s.

I certainly can see that addiction or dependency is a scale and some are further along that scale than others but to attack someone’s sobriety by saying you couldn’t have been an addict because it was so easy to give up is essentially saying true addiction can be proved by constant failure. That simply is not the case. Overcoming addiction is tough, it will be tougher the greater the extent of the addiction but anyone who is dependent on alcohol and who manages to stop deserves a pat on the back because it is bloody hard. And people on all points on that scale have successfully given up. They don’t boast but they rightfully are proud.

It’s hard going sober because it’s not just about the alcohol, it’s about how we change with the alcohol, how we socialise, it’s about giving up taking part in something that is woven into the fabric of our culture, resisting the urge to just have that pint or glass of wine with friends, colleagues, lovers. I’m pleased that I gave up alcohol. It was certainly not easy and I’ve never glossed over the struggle. What made a difference was reading about the others who have successfully stopped. Those stories showed me it can be done. There was a peer pressure of not wanting to let people down although most bloggers would never knock someone who did have a slip up.

Maybe one or two people just don’t want to see others succeed. That success can make their own difficulties in stopping seem like failure which of course it isn’t. We each of us have to find our own way of combating this dependency on alcohol and I think that peer support is crucial. To undermine someone’s attempt at stopping by saying your success show a lack of understanding of addiction is contrary to the spirit of mutual support which sustains these blogs. Maybe those that say such things need to look at their own dependency and ask themselves whether they really want to give up or are ready to give up. Addiction can be a powerful friend that some might be too reluctant to part company with. You can’t help somebody that doesn’t want to be helped.

Just for the record. The topic in the above rant has not been the reason I haven’t been on the blog recently. That has been down to a couple of trips in my Campervan and having more work than expected. Now I have got this triggered response out the way I’m hoping I can reengage with my blog and calmly reflect on an interesting experience I had a couple of weeks ago.

Jim X

One Year without booze- now there’s a surprise!

On the 31st August last year I went for a meal to my favourite restaurant. I knew the next day I was starting a new life without booze so this was my no holds barred goodbye to booze feast. It felt like my last supper or maybe more like the last meal for an inmate on Death Row. It had all the hallmarks of some strange self created ritual. Waiters brining me a succession of favourite drinks; Czech lager to start, white wine with the starter, red wine with the main, dessert wine, liquors. It was my last night and nothing was going to stop me. I went home and drank gin and tonic until midnight. I half wanted to make myself sick, to wake up with an horrendous hangover to have that abiding memory, to stir my resolve for future times when I might weaken. But no, a month of constant drinking had increased my tolerance levels. I felt fine the next day. At the time I just wanted to enjoy my last day with drink. Looking back I can see I was indeed making a ritual of it, a rite of passage, an identifiable marker between one phase of my life and another. Having created that day of overindulgence and expense my new life of sobriety had to work. and it did; for today marks a full year without booze. I’m surprised that I have able to do it and I’m also proud as anyone who has done this should be. It was the right thing for me, but it has come at a cost. Crucially, I must add, a cost well worth paying.

Kinder Scout- Fond memories from being there in March and heading back there soon-nothing to do with the post but I love the Peak District!

Sure, pubs and restaurants just have not had the same allure since I gave up and that is a loss as I loved pubs.. I remember doing my counselling course back in 1990 and in one group exercise we had to revisit loss in our lives. It involved visualisation and we were all instructed to start our journey of loss through our lives from a place of warmth, comfort and safety. We started there and we ended up there. After the session we shared our “safe” places. For most it was either a family home or somewhere they had been with their family. My place where I felt most comfortable? – an English country pub with a log fire and beer. Says it all really but it made a few of my fellow students smile. Now I avoid pubs and a sadness for me is the realisation that much of my love of pubs was not the cosy surroundings or friends, it was the beer. Pubs were places I drank and I could drink there with an abandon I never could have at home. Some good times, some wasted times.

Even now I sometimes miss the experience of going for a walk and enjoying a cold beer sitting by a river or village green, so yes, I did enjoy a drink sometimes.

Then I remember how I needed a drink at other times; to overcome some social anxiety, to fit in, to feel normal.

Then there were the times when I hated drinking but I did it anyway- feeling lost, heavy with dysphoria, drinking to block or obliterate, torn in two hating it but watching myself pour another one.

So I happily exchanged the occasional enjoyment of booze for being able to rid myself of the need and hate it often brought me. It became an easy and obvious transaction. In many ways my life was on the line. Probably it was the best deal I ever made; but a deal is a deal and a deal involves parting with something. That’s the thing that needs facing and confronting.

Who needs a drink when you can walk in places like this

If I have a message for anyone who has got to the place where they know in their hearts that moderation will not work for them and alcohol is having too many negative impacts on their life; it’s this. You will be giving up more than a drug, you’ll be giving up lots of associations. We live in societies where alcohol is woven into the fabric of our social, cultural and psychological lives. When the physical craving is gone the other cravings and pressures will still be there. That’s when you need to remind yourself of why you are doing this. Get through that and you start to see the many advantages; health, sleep, relationships, productivity, financial – the list goes on. Never take those for granted. And be prepared for a battle.

So one year, great. I am pleased but it’s tempered by a realisation that I could have done a lot more with my life if I had stopped earlier. As I have said before, this blog has been key to me doing a year successfully. People sharing stories, the positive, the negative, ups and downs, things that have worked, traps to be aware of- all of this has helped me. I’ll also add that I’m quite competitive so there was no way I wanted to come on here and say I’ve had a drink. I like to win, fairly of course and so far in this “game” I feel like I’m 2 sets to love up. Games can change in an instant so as I go into year two, I’ll enjoy the feeling of winning at the moment but I won’t let down my guard.

Again for those in the early stages of going alcohol free; it’s a very individual experience but with many commonalities; you have decided it’s worth it, my advice is to plan for it, make a proper commitment to doing it, prepare for it, get support, always remind yourself why you’re doing it and what benefits you’ll get and strengthen your resolve. There will be times when you’ll want to abandon this challenge but you can get through those tough times and you’ll be stronger each time you do. On these blogs are stories like mine; people who didn’t think they could ever give up booze who are proving they can. Ordinary folk with extraordinary support. If we can do it with support so can anyone, so can you.

I shall celebrate today with AF sparkly wine and an Everleaf and tonic. I’ll also be able to carry on and meet some friends and play table tennis afterwards. No muggy feeling, no wasted day, no hangover. It’s great being sober! Life is fuller, richer.

No brainer really!

Jim X

Nearly a Year- But Sorry, no thanks to the “Give up the Booze” evangelists

In two days time it will be one whole year since I stopped drinking alcohol. I was always looking forward to that anniversary and planning the big, one year anniversary post and yet here I am, on the cusp and I haven’t got a clue what I am going to say- I’ll probably do something on what I personally have learned over this last year in the faint hope that others may find something useful in that to help them as they attempt to move away from alcohol. But I’m not at that point- yet- a couple more days should do it and I do feel incredibly proud of myself in achieving what will be something I never really thought I could do. Support, of course, is crucial but I wanted to say something today about something that perversely I have not found supportive; and that is the evangelical tone of many of those who write books on giving up alcohol.

Like everyone in the position of contemplating giving up alcohol I read some of the books aimed at kick starting a new life free of booze. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty that is good within those books but they are written ultimately to sell, to make money for the authors and to do that you need an unequivocal voice. That voice, that message is usually, “alcohol is a dangerous toxic drug, we have been manipulated into wanting it and it’s no fault of ours if we get hooked.” For me that was a real turn off. I drank because I liked it. Yes it’s a drug, but that’s the whole point of it. If I’m thirsty I drink water. I drank alcohol because i wanted the effect it gave me. Being a drug it then becomes hard to moderate especially in a culture where it is so freely and cheaply available, but that’s not alcohol’s fault, lay that one on society, business and government.

The evangelicals try to make out that developing a problem with alcohol is not a failure of individuals and again I don’t agree. I tried many times to moderate and despite some success I realised that when I did drink I often drank far too much- because I’m like that. Many of my friends do know how to enjoy alcohol moderately but I am not one of them. If I could drink moderately I would not have given up alcohol. It’s that simple. So my pride in giving up is tempered by a sadness that I couldn’t get to a point where alcohol was just a small pleasure in my life and not the dominating presence it became. But I am OK with that. I do not need to demonise drink in order to be OK with not drinking. As time has gone on I’m getting to like not drinking but the truth is it would be nice to think I could have the odd glass of champagne at a wedding or a glass of wine with a meal. That won’t happen because I’ve worked hard at giving up and I’m not a moderation type person.

The evangelicals talking about toxins and all the rest really have missed the point that humans have always imbibed toxic substances to alter consciousness. Alcohol, weed, peyote, tobacco, you name it we humans have tried it. Even in the Amazon rainforest they lick the backs of certain frogs to get a psychedelic hit. It’s universal but the thing that marks traditional cultures is that taking such substances was always associated with ritual which meant taking such drugs was limited and done in a revered, constrained manner. The problem with alcohol in our societies is that it’s been made into this readily available commodity that we are encouraged to drink at parties, weddings, celebrations, work dos, days out, days in, meals out, meals in, when cooking, when watching films, when friends come round, when meeting friends , new job, leave job, BBQs, when stressed, when relaxing, basically all the bloody time. That is why it becomes hard to moderate and bloody hard to give up.

So there we have it the evangelicals didn’t do it for me with thier black and white thinking. The support for me, as I have said before, has come from fellow bloggers both on line and sometimes in private off -post communications. The messy, confused, contradictory world of blogging showing that giving up is a struggle, that people do miss their booze sometimes but carry on because it is the best way forward for them. Acknowledging that we miss the crutch of alcohol sometimes but also knowing that mutual support from fellow bloggers is a much more consistent and longer lasting support than any drink could ever be.

So the evangelical “Give up the Booze” writers carry on. You have helped many people I know and you don’t sell books by saying giving up booze is complex, full of grey and with contradictory feelings. You sell those books by giving a nice, clear, missionary style message that’s full of can do and ” see the beast for what he is.” But it’s not for me. Give me the messy, anguished, nuanced and human world of the blogger any day. Nearly there.

Rant over. Jim X