Let’s try and cut to the chase. I’m 11 months without a drink. There is no physiological need for me to drink, any physical dependency is long gone, but I’ve had urges, oh yes. Like many others I’ve had to reflect on all of this. There were lots of reasons I had for giving up (see crap graphic that proves my art teacher was correct when he told me NOT to pursue art at school), health, hangovers, impact on others, blah, blah, blah. But, like others giving up wasn’t a one way street. I was not some down and out drunk. I drank too much on occasion, I took it to excess sometimes, but…. I enjoyed it, I loved it, the drinking in company, different wines with different foods, getting slightly tipsy, switching off for a while, losing the anxious straightjacket for a few hours, I was a drinker, an unapologetic, “you only live once, you boring bastard,” drinker.
Now when I get the urge it’s when I’m with family or friends, pubs, restaurants, BBQs, where the norm, the expectation is that everyone will drink. At those points, despite the growing AF drink selection, I am an outsider. The UK is a drink based culture and I am now the outsider, constantly reminded of that every time there’s a meet up in a pub, house, anywhere.That gap between what I’m trying to be and what the social expectation is, that is what creates the unease. That’s what is fuelling the urges, the thoughts of why not go back to something I loved.
I knew the “something I loved” was no longer good for me and I took the decision to part with it and yet the pressures, enticements and yearning remained. That’s when it hit me. This is no longer a battle with alcohol. 11 months without, I’ve won that battle. No, for me this is now about who I am and how I identify myself, that’s where the tension comes from, I am convinced of it. For 50 years I developed the identity of a drinker. I was known for it. People told stories about my drinking, my drunken exploits. IT WAS WHO I WAS. My drinking defined me and wherever I went,I went with a drink in hand. Booze and me melded into one seamless identity. We went to places we felt comfortable; pubs, restaurants. I hosted social events so i could be Jim the Drinker. I had an identity and, good or bad, it was a consistent identity and we all need one of those.
Now. After 11 months I realise that smashing that identity is at the heart of my sometimes malaise. I have ceased to be the same Jim to many people. I don’t like sitting in pubs anymore. Many of the things that helped define me have gone. I have been stripped naked and it feels raw at times.
This growing realisation about identity being the crucial element in my current position in relation to alcohol is important for me. It’s helping me understand why the separaration has been painful at times. I didn’t fully appreciate how difficult giving up my identity would be. When I had the urge to have a few pints with my son and a few others, it wasn’t the drink calling me, it was my old identity. Give me the props of my old identity; pub, drink, silly conversation and for a moment I’d be back to the old me. The safety and warmth of a distorted identity. I was missing being me.
Wait a minute I thought. Does that need reframing? Was I missing the old me or had I simply not worked at creating a new me.
This seems to be the issue for me at least. I gave up an identity, failed to see the enormity of that, and did not take the time to build a new one. In the absence of a new secure identity I understandably felt drawn to the comfort of the old one.
So now after 11 months it is finally time to say goodbye to the old identity of Jim the drinker. It served its purpose, it was good while it lasted but it had to go. No more regrets. It had to go and I’m glad its gone. My task is to now build a new identity and be secure and happy in that. No more looking back. It feels like a time of grieving has come to an end and a time for renewal has begun. Maybe a time to feel both glad and proud to be sober? Brave enough to finally ditch one identity and embrace another.