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Death

Aubade. BY PHILIP LARKIN

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

Morning Folks! Is that what you wanted to see on a blog post. A first verse from a poem that’s a meditation on death and dying? In these times? Probably not.

So why have I put it out there? I think it’s because despite all the daily statistics about the numbers of daily deaths many of us haven’t quite confronted or looked at our own fears of dying and mortality. We know that we will all die but we are uncomfortable truly coming to terms with it. But this virus has shaken things up. It’s stark message is that any one of us, at any moment could be infected and could be one of the unlucky ones that ends up dying. It does affect older people more but there are plenty of younger and healthy people dying as well. It feels like it’s out there, ready to pounce and any of us could be next.

That prospect of imminent death is clearly always there but the virus has put it centre stage and made it a collective anxiety. Every single one of us could be susceptible to it and it’s very uncomfortable. It makes us consciously or unconsciously face our dread of dying. There’s no avoiding it and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Of course for some, there is no dread or anxiety because they have faced the reality of death and come to some accommodation with it. For others death holds no fear because they are either fed up of life or have the comfort blanket of their faith to envelop them in hopes of an afterlife.

For the rest of us we can either push the subject away or confront it. Push it away and I believe it will not actually go away but will haunt your subconscious manifesting itself as unease or anxiety. Confront it, maybe for the first time in your life, and there could be a surprise.

Philip Larkin confronted death but found no comfort, only dread and some great poetry. Others though have found that confronting death is not only natural and normal but can also enhance our experience of life. To know what will inevitably come to pass can make us appreciate what we have in this very moment in time. It sounds trite but it’s true.

So, far from being depressing; confronting our own mortality, honestly and without pretty embellishments, could be the best way of enhancing our enjoyment and appreciation of life.

So let me finish with a positive view off death to counter balance the dread view of Philip Larkin. Here is a quote from a writer from the Buddhist tradition, Sharon Salzburg:

“I think [meditating on death] could make us a lot happier, we can feel free from so many of life’s irritations and annoyances and be truly in awe of the miracle of life and the time we do have. If we deeply see the folly of holding on, we can be much more in harmony with the flow of change.”

Maybe a message we will all get from this situation is a reminder that humanity and individuals are not in control of everything, that things do constantly change, our lives are indeed finite, but being alive is something we often under appreciate.

This rumination has helped me, (I tend to be more Philip than Sharon) so I’m going off now to eat a fantastic breakfast, walk outside and tell someone now how much I love them.

It’s good to be alive.

Jim X

Isolation Consolation

One of my sons lives near London, the other in Sheffield. I see them maybe once every few months. I call them on the phone- no joy. They don’t do phone calls, it has to be conversation via WhatsApp. I send a message saying it’s easier to say what I want to say via a call. They text back that they are in the middle of something. Then there’s 20 minutes of intermittent texting to communicate something that would have taken 2 minutes on the phone. It’s a generational divide. At least we now have one.

Growing up I wondered when they were going to exhibit the generational rebellion I had shown to my parents. My dad hated it when I played Hendrix in the house. “Rubbish!” He would shout, “the Devil’s music” or most bizarrely, “That bloody Hendrix can’t even play the guitar properly.” Try getting your head round that statement. I loved that feeling of inhabiting a different counter cultural world to my parents. My offspring,however ,have been a massive disappointment in that respect. Sure at 8 years old they mocked my musical preferences; laughing at my Tindersticks albums, yawning at Leonard Cohen and running a mile at Hank Williams. Then it all changed. My music collection became “cool” and they were right of course. My unrecognised claim to fame is that I single handedly championed the music of Nick Drake when I was 16 and no one else was listening to his albums . Now everyone’s on the bandwagon and I tiresomely have to remind everyone that,”I FOUND HIM FIRST, HE’S MINE.” So, you get the picture, they love the music I loved and now own all my old vinyl. No generation gap there. But when it comes to communicating we live on different planets.

What now with isolation? Strangely I’m communicating with them more than ever before and they are even using voice calls or as we used to call them, telephone calls. The national lockdown seems to be making people communicate more than when there were no restrictions. Before lock down I didn’t see them for months and hardly spoke to them , now I don’t see them for months but I speak to them all the time. If I were cynical I’d say they are prepping me for financial support. But maybe they are being sincere, maybe they see me as part of the vulnerable group; male, over 60, overweight, and are getting in early – doing that connecting with my dad before he croaks it stuff.

The other possibility is they are bored and after doing all the other things; exercise, shopping, cleaning, cooking, hobbies, Netflix, sex, eating, more sex and toenail trimming they have run out of things to do and thought, “oh well nothing else to do, let’s call dad.” But I’ll take that and it might be one of the unexpected bonuses of this shitstorm of a situation that friends and family connect more and appreciate each other more. That seems like a good silver lining.

Which brings me to tonight. I’d never heard of “Zoom” until last week now I’m hearing about this videoconferencing app everywhere. Both sons have accounts and yesterday we even had a chat where there were four of us on screen including my ex, the boys’ mother. Let’s just say that was a novel and interesting social situation, good, just strange. The upshot is that tonight my eldest is hosting a quiz on Zoom and my ex and her hubby will be there, I’ll be there as well as my partner’s children. All dispersed but coming together for some fun and entertainment. Just as it often takes a funeral to bring people together so it now looks like Coronavirus is helping us connect more in some ways than we ever did when we were free to move around. Is there another lesson to be learned here post crisis? I think so. I hope so. In the meantime I’m going to read and digest some quiz questions and answers because those kids need to know that daddy knows best.Yes I am very competitive and I like winning.

So fuck off virus!

Stay safe everyone. Jim x

9 Weeks and Hello Again Dysphoria

9 weeks without alcohol. Good.  But I am not managing my time well.  I like blogging , I like catching up with other blogs but it seems to get harder finding the time to do it.  It has been a full on week and two things have dominated; my therapy work and organising a fund raising concert in the New Year. Excuses, excuses.  Oh and  I had my birthday on Thursday. Interesting.

I went with some friends to the pub.  Potential sticky social time but in the end OK.  The pub does a draught non alcohol beer which is unusual and allowed me to feel like I was having a good time on my birthday. The truth is I wanted a drink.  Not a,”I’m a hopeless addict give me a bloody drink,” type desire more a “It’s my birthday, I love the slightly euphoric feeling alcohol gives me, surely if life means anything it’s about being able to enjoy a wide range of experiences and sensations, it’s only a bloody drink,” type desire. But I didn’t drink and that’s because I always have to have that one or two extra and I’ve decided not to.  Sensible but slightly boring.  I guess I’m feeling that way because I’m not getting that whole, “Wow my life is so much better now I’m not drinking,”vibe. Or is this my dysphoria rearing it’s ugly little head again?

BACK TO THURSDAY.

One of my friends, who I mainly know through table tennis, noticed I wasn’t drinking “real” beer.  We spoke about drinking and I was amazed when he told me he had stopped for a whole year a few years ago because his drinking had become problematic. I was intrigued.  He said he regularly had blackouts not recollecting drinking sesssions so decided to stop. He always intended it to be a year and after a year he started drinking again but now does so moderately. Amazing.  That night he had one vodka and orange, a previous time I’d been to the pub with him he had had one pint. He is a moderate drinker and a reformed drinker who clearly before had suffered from Alcohol Use Disorder.   It was an eye opener.  Moderation is possible, but then he is a very focused individual.  It was interesting in that he said he needed a year off in order to recalibrate his drinking, gain perspective and make firm plans about how he was going to change his attitude to drinking.  Sacrilegous as it may sound I did wonder if that could be an option for me.  Stop for a year and try the moderation path.

Who am I kidding! Moderation is not my way.  There was half a chocolate cake left on Friday. Enough for 6 people.  I ate the lot. It was there, my though was best finish it.  I was the same with wine.  I never understood why people bought bottle stoppers, once the bottle was open, finish it.  When I smoked, exactly the same. Consume, eat, drink, covet. Greed, excess or numbing some emotional pain?  Certainly when I don’t have a drink like today I’m prone to dysphoria as mentioned earlier. A glass or three often disippated the mood, made me lighter.  Now I have to ride the mood, see it through.

I have clients who experience dysphoria and I’m often surprised that when I tell them that that is what they are describing it’s often the first time they have heard of the term.  I tell them them that what they are describing; feelings of unease and a general non-specific dissatisfaction with life has a name.  I suppose they haven’t heard of it because it’s not a condition as such more a description of a mood state but a mood state that can be very commonly experienced.  People with depression often experience dysphoria but it’s not a mood state reserved solely for those with a mental illness. I would often experience dysphoria but my wonderful, euphoria (yes, it’s the opposite to dysphoria) inducing wine quickly snapped me out of it. Of course it doesn’t really work.  It’s an illusion.  You end up drinking too much, getting anxiety about your drinking, the unease and unhappiness return and one ends up writing a blog about giving up alcohol on WordPress. Full circle.

My dysphoria is often Sunday based.  I know it passes. I’ll be slightly grumpy and pissed off until it does so.  Then I’ll be OK.  Then I’ll be able to feel good about being 9 weeks Alcohol Free. Anyone know a good therapist?

Jim x

Odds and Sods and 0.5% Beer

I’m aware I haven’t posted anything for a while which is probably no great loss to the world of blogging but in terms of charting my progress for myself I need to put that right and provide an update if only for myself.

In some ways I think I have been avoiding posting because I simply needed a break from writing, reading and thinking about alcohol and associated issues.  It was beginning to feel a little bit too self absorbed and intense so a few days away from that has been good for me.  It’s probably a good indication that the alcohol free business is going pretty well that I didn’t feel the need to write about it. And it is going pretty well.  No great compulsion to drink, no cravings but then no real situations where I would feel the pull of having to have a drink. Yes, I miss a glass or two of wine at night but set against that are the benefits that are definitely now coming through of slightly better sleep, some weight loss, near normal blood pressure and generally feeling a lot better physically and mentally than I did 7 weeks ago.

Friday though will be a challenge as I’m meeting an ex colleague who now runs a small school for young people with challenging behaviour.  She is a drinker in my mould.  She likes to go out and have a drink or 6.  Prosecco is her go-to tipple as it increasingly seems to be for many women of her age (she’s 42) and she really can knock it back. In the past we would meet up – drink, loosen up, swap confidences and have many a laugh. She’s a good friend but she knows I’ll not be drinking and I know it won’t be the same kind of evening.  That said it should still be good fun and I have suggested a meal out as that takes the focus away from just sitting in a pub drinking all night.  I’ve also chosen to meet up in a pub that I know stocks some great Non Alcoholic beers.  These have been a real help for me but I know they are not for everyone trying to stay alcohol free.

On this subject, yesterday I took delivery of months’ worth of alcohol free drinks, some are zero % and some have 0.5% alcohol but that means they can still be officially described as alcohol free.  For me these beers have been a godsend, giving me the taste and feel of beer but without the alcohol kick or desire to start drinking “real” beers and spirits.  I know this is controversial as some see these very low alcohol drinks as possibly leading to relapse but for me this is not the case.  This is a key point for me.  Everyone’s place on the alcohol consumption continuum will be different.  I was never a down and out drunk or someone who frittered away my savings, career and relationships in favour of a drink.  I was a sociable drinker that on many ocassions drank too much.  Most of the time I enjoyed it but I didn’t want to continue to compromise my health and general well being.  These new range of alc free beers FOR ME are great.  I can enjoy the taste (and sorry Naked Mind writer, people can and do enjoy the taste of beer and wine) and it helps one “fit in” at the pub.  The great thing is that some brewers like Brewdog (Nanny State) and Adnams (Ghost Ship 0.5) Screenshot 2019-10-16 at 17.56.27.pnghave made non alc beers that now are good drinks in their own right not some poor excuse of a drink.  Some say they are still alcoholic drinks and it’s true that there is a very small amount of alcohol in some of these drinks (up to 0.5%) but it is such a small amount that it would be near on impossible to drink sufficient to equal even one pint of normal strength beer. We also need to remember that our guts produce alcohol naturally when we eat and digest yeasted products and even the humble ripe banana contains trace amounts of alcohol.  So alcohol is a naturally ocurring substances and I can drink these drinks without feeling the urge to drink real alcoholic drinks. I respect the idea that for some people drinking such drinks will be a “no-no” but for me they are a massive help in staying alcohol free and they work for me.

So Friday will be meet at the pub, couple of Non alc beers or possibly tonic and lime and then a Chinese meal where I shall drink Jasmine tea.  Not rock n’ roll but should be OK.  I know I’ll have the urge to drink but with 7 weeks under my belt I feel confident that I’ll get through the evening.  I’m hoping that the day will come when I don’t just look at evenings such as these and hope to “get through” them but actually enjoy and prefer them being sober.  Time will tell.

Tonight I’m down the pub but playing music so no problems as I never used to drink and play anyway.  I’ll also be with my playing companion who also doesn’t drink.  That definitely makes things easier.

Be interesting to hear what others out there think about the non alcoholic beers now on offer.  One thing’s for certain, the market for alternatives to alcohol based drinks  is growing as is the range of alternatives on offer.  That has to be a good thing.

Cheers!

Jim x

Musical Evenings, Pubs and Restaurants- The Real Tests for a Former Drinker

So, in my last post, I was setting off to go to a musical evening in a Suffolk wood where there would be food, drink, campfire and music.  This was my first big test after 20 days alcohol free.  It was the kind of evening I could not have envisaged going to in the past without drinking.  

During my drinking days I would not drink before performing but once that was out the way, it would be “bring it on!” If I couldn’t have nabbed a lift or stayed over or it was too far for a taxi I simply wouldn’t have gone. In the past being able to have a drink took priority over socialising. For years I have carried this false belief that I wouldn’t be able to get through the night without a drink because drinking at such events is what I have always done for the past 45 years.

Anyway.  I went armed with my non alcoholic beer and some food to share. It all went well. Screenshot 2019-09-24 at 13.39.24.png People were lovely, food probably wouldn’t have passed any food hygiene tests, music quality was variable, the setting and weather very un English like (i.e. warm, pleasant and dry) and the atmosphere wonderful. And only one small craving.  When I arrived the BBQ was set up in a saw mill. People had put their beers and wine in a communal space and I spied one of my favourite beers. There was a brief pang, like when you see an ex lover and fleetingly think, “Oh God she was so nice why did we split up, what was I thinking?” before remembering the arguments, tears and mutual incomprehension. It passed.  And that was it. No more cravings.  I was surprised and a little disappointed.  I wanted to experience the pain and anguish of craving so I could feel a bit more heroic, but no, never happened.  The next day I asked myself why.  Why did I not experience a sense of missing out or any physical cravings? Lets do a list.  I like a good list. (BTW that’s a generic photo- not me)

List of probable reasons for not having cravings:

  • I was going to play and sing and typically I never drink and perform.  I used to drink a lot after performing but the performances went on for a long time and by that time it finished it was time to drive home and any thought of wanting a drink had gone.
  • My playing partner doesn’t drink.  This is a massive factor I think.  I knew there would be no pressure, questions, offers to fetch a few beers etc. We both had an alcohol free evening. We joked, muttered some funny  remarks to each other about some of the performers, behaved like immature adolescents and when we played we really bloody enjoyed ourselves.  Wow, a great, fun evening without booze.  It can be done.  Big lesson for me.
  • Drink wasn’t a big feature of the evening.  There was beer and wine but no-one was really drinking a lot.  It reminded me that many drinkers are sensible and moderate but that was never my style. Good luck to them.
  • I had at the back of my mind all the benefits I had from being being alcohol free at this event; being able to drive home, no hangover in the morning, better singing, more alert, more able to enjoy the moment.

One song I sang was “Thunder Road” and singing it in a Suffolk wood by the light of a campfire, feeling truly alive was a great feeling. I also reflected on the song (I mustn’t get sidetracked into talking about Springsteen or the post will go on for ever) and how that song isn’t just about boy meets girl and leaving behind small town life.  It suddenly sounded like an anthem for change.  Most of us at any time can choose to do things in a different way. We can hop in our metaphorical cars and escape the place we think we are fated to be in for the rest of our lives. Just start up that engine and drive baby!

Moving on.  Last night I went to a restaurant and then a pub. Screenshot 2019-09-24 at 13.42.45.pngRestaurant was tricky at first.  I always drank in restaurants. Last night it was Chinese food and I went for Jasmine tea.  It wasn’t the same but hey ho that’s conditioning for you.  A couple next to me enjoyed their meal and had one small beer each.  That’s it. I wish I could have been a drinker like that, but I wasn’t and I’ve tried to be but it just isn’t the Jim way.  If one beer is good, ten beers must be better, right? That, in a nutshell was my problem. I got through the restaurant experience and it did feel like a test and I wasn’t enjoying being in the moment. Restaurants may take a little time to adjust to.

On to the pub. Not too bad I have to say.  Noone who I met there was a big drinker and the ocassion was to wish someone a happy birthday. Screenshot 2019-09-24 at 13.40.34.pngI drank a no-alcoholic beer which was great because it looked like a pint and tasted quite good.  I realised by 9 that I’d survived the evening.

All in all I have got through three potentially difficult situations and done so without having to exert massive amounts of will power. The change of mindset has definitely helped; seeing alcohol-free as being a positive choice rather than as being denied something.  Plus all three ocassions were marked by an absence of drink being that big a deal even for the drinkers. Indeed in the pub out of 7 of us 4 were not drinking alcohol.  The drinkers were in the minority.  That helps.

The weekend after next will be my next big challenge.  I’m going to see my son and his girlfriend in their new house. They love a drink and my son is a prodigous drinker (wonder where he got that from).  He has a good job and doesn’t drink during the week but he does drink a lot at other times and I think part of the reason that I wanted to stop was to show him (by my actions, not preaching) that you don’t HAVE to drink alcohol to have a good time or to cover up difficult emotions. He had a tough time when his brother died and that still hangs over him so maybe he needs the sedation of alcohol for a little while longer. I  hope that one day he will decide, as I did, that alcohol doesn’t change tragedy, it just dulls it a little. What one day seems to sort the problem then becomes the problem.

Enough of the problems. I feel emboldened by getting through some challenges in the last few days. This is not a journey of denial, despite some nagging nostalgia/dependency issues instead it feels like a journey of liberation and improved living and a journey I wish I had started years ago.  Still I’m here, essentially intact and ready to liberate myself along my own Thunder Road.

Jim x

 

 

Yes , It’s Bloody Hard , But It’s Worth It!

This giving up the booze, giving up a way of living that did, at various points give us some joy or relief otherwise we wouldn’t have done it, is difficult. Giving anything up that has become ingrained is hard but booze has so many components; it affects you physically and makes changes to your brain chemistry, it has social and cultural elements and creates a strong psychological attachment. Added to that, those that are seriously dependent on alcohol will suffer serious debilitating withdrawal symptoms and experience a changed brain chemistry that will often put having alcohol as a higher priority than their own survival!

So, fat chance of giving up then?

No is the answer, because people do give it up.  Some bloggers on here have been sober for years.  I’m a newby and luckily didn’t get to the point where stopping gave me terrible withdrawal symptoms, but I’m not stupid or naive.  I know that more people go back to booze within a year than stay off it.  I need to keep reminding myself it’s hard and that it can go wrong and the way I deal with that is threefold:

1  I look and constantly remind myself of all the positive aspects of being sober.  It’s a great state to aim for and maintain.

2  I will  treat the dreaded possible relapse as firstly a minor lapse if it’s literally one drink, one mistake, a “I fell off my bike so I’d better get back on quickly,” moment or regroup, learn and try again (definitely no self flagellation or recrimination) if it’s a full blown relapse.

3 I will bathe and luxuriate in the mutual support of other bloggers.  ( I have oddly come to think of a few of these,often anonymous, unseen bloggers as good friends.  Not surprising given their big hearts and openness). I hope those in a similar situation would agree that the support of other bloggers and reading their stories and their joys and frustrations makes an incredible difference in terms of maintaining sobriety. I would add though that some bloggers disappear and I’m assuming it’s because they are either confident in their alcohol free lives or they have started drinking again.  If the latter, that seems such a shame because their stories are more the norm and not everything goes the way we’d like.  In my view if someone has stopped drinking for a year, a month even a week, that’s a success that can never be taken away.  Going back to drinking is not some personal failing it’s what can happen to any of us, and hearing about it and what’s been learned could be useful for all concerned. After all this is a process not a fixed point.

Going back to point 1, let’s get positive, because giving up the booze should be less about what’s been given up, less about what we are not doing and more about how great and beneficial going alcohol free can be.

Tonight I’m going to join a bunch of people who are going to be attending a small music evening in a wood somewhere in Suffolk.  There will be folk singers, a sea shanty group, violin players and I’m going with my friend and we shall play a few songs.  It’s in a private wood and the owner has laid on a barbecue and loads of drink both alcoholic and soft. Should be a great, enjoyable night.

Here’s the thing. If this were two months ago I wouldn’t be going. Why? Well, it’s because I’m going alone meeting my playing companion there. I have to drive and I would not have been able to countenance a night like that in the past and not being able to have a drink. In other words I would rather NOT have gone than have gone and not be able to drink. That’s grim. Tha’s terrible. It puts drinking ahead of music and socialising, and that happened a lot.  What I probably would have done is I would have been manipulative and invited a friend who lives nearby and subtly persuaded him to give me a lift. Once there because I never drink before performing I would have persuaded the organiser to put me on first or second finished playing and then the evening would have truly began- I COULD DRINK.  I would have got pissed, probably tried to play again , embarrassed myself, think I’d had a good time, lose friends and spend two days nursing a hangover. What a fucking joke.

Screenshot 2019-09-21 at 09.15.38That’s the negative. Here’s the positive.

Instead tonight, I’ll drive, play whenever the organiser suggests, take my own interesting non alcoholic drinks, be prepared to tackle some cravings as I watch everyone drinking, remind myself of what I’m gaining, and enjoy the music and companionship instead of focussing on the next drink and getting drunk.  Why oh why did it take me so long to get to this place?

 

Jim X

A Poem- Why not?

Not much to say today- Day 4 doing well. I thought I’d write a little poem instead. Not Shakespeare, granted, but at least it’s mine.

Bye Bye Booze

I drank like a fish as my life flashed by

I sang and I danced while the wine it flowed

Many a good time was had I am sure

And several good pounds to friends are still owed

As years rolled by the good times they did change

Now clutching my guts with a throbbing head

My ex friend the drink he deceived me well

To leave me alone sweating fear in my bed

It’s time now to leave, to show him the door 

My watery companion, pretence seen through

There’s a life to live, emotions to feel

His time I’ve cut short, nothing promised came true

Jim – September 2019

Music- My Salvation?

Now here’s a funny thing. A revelation. In this blogI’ve been going on about my alcohol dependence and the problems associated with it and getting ready to stop drinking from this coming Sunday. It has seemed to me that alcohol has dominated many areas of my life and I’ve relied too much on it. But this was the revelation I have just had- except when it comes to music. This fact only struck me this morning as I started practising for an open mic night which I agreed to yesterday and which takes place on Thursday evening. The first thing I did when I agreed to perform was cancel meeting up with a friend for lunch (another stop on my long goodbye to booze). I need to practice and when I play and sing I NEVER drink!

I need alcohol sometimes to quell nerves and anxiety but I never drink prior to or during a performance. Simple reasons- it affects my voice and I make mistakes if I drink so whenever I’ve had to do music or drama based activities I cut right back on my drinking. Over the years this must mean that I have drunk far less than I would have done without having music in my life. I also prefer listening to music without booze flowing through me firstly because being an older guy I’d be fighting to get to crowded toilets every 15 minutes and most importantly music just sounds so much better sober.

So thank you music. You have helped reduce my intake over the years and shown me that you can enjoy life without booze, I’m just amazed that I hadn’t really appreciated that until just now.

My cherished Epiphone – I love you man!

Jim x