Water boils in a stainless steel kettle on the stove. Steam rises, hissing and whistling to the window, colliding with November glass. Droplets form, and roll in a stutter to the sill, restless and silent.
A day later, they are gone, with only the surface scars left to tell us that they were there.
The form may have changed, but that water is somewhere.
It’s Thursday night – sofa, pyjamas, tea. I finished work, went to the gym, showered, met my flatmate for dinner at a local pub, then home. In the last 85 days I’ve run 2 half marathons, completed the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest event, been on 2 dates, dealt with disappointments, caught up with friends, enjoyed my successes.
And it just so happens I haven’t had a drink.
I have never considered myself to be physically addicted to alcohol, so surely, I’m not an alcoholic, right?
Alcoholic…. what a dirty dirty word.
What do we all think of when we think ‘alcoholic?’ Someone sat in a London underpass, slurring for change and swigging Special Brew from the can? A middle aged man, wearing divorce and child-support like a chain tugging on the bags under his eyes, trudging into a Church building on a grey, overcast day? A reclusive, bitter, unloved geriatric, living amongst clutter and dust, swearing at the noise outside through lost teeth?
Whilst I don’t describe myself as an alcoholic, I have become able (read: not as uncomfortable as I have been previously) to refer to my alcoholism. It’s a term that I feel is broader than the harsh, finite sounding ‘alcoholic.’ I have never woken up and felt the need to take a drink to get out of bed, and, as I was asked about at my last AA meeting, I have never experienced detox when I have stopped drinking for sustained periods of time. In my current stretch sober, have I wanted a drink? Yes. Have I really, really wanted a drink? No.
Did I find, in the past, that my life has become unmanageable due to my drinking? Yes. Did I scare myself with my drinking? No, but only because I normalised my behaviour through repetition. Did I ever allow myself to really think about my drinking? No. Did I find myself planning my life around my drinking life? Yes. Would I prioritise having money to spend on alcohol over money for food, travel, clothes? Yes.
Did I define myself by my drinking? Always.
I’m 25 years old, have a great education, a good job, amazing friends and I live in the kind of flat you would want to live in.
An alcoholic? … You tell me.
Whatever it is that has propelled my drinking in the last 10 years, if not a physical addiction to alcohol, still signifies an addiction to something. To cause the amount of damage to yourself – mentally, financially, sexually, physically, blah – as I have done to myself is demonstrative of addiction, the most blinding destructive devotion and abandon, a complete drive to satisfy a need at all costs.
So much so, that you don’t consider it a need, in the same way that you don’t need to tell yourself to breathe. You do it because it is ingrained into your existence, and you don’t consider costs because you can’t put a price on necessity and inevitability.
It is not the kind of devotion that just dies. Dead, gone, be free, be happy.
So now that I’m not drinking, where is the addiction? Where did it go?
Am I dealing with it? Am I not dealing with it? Is going for a 10 mile run healthy? Is it just a more literal interpretation of ‘running away’? Is every 10 minutes on the treadmill 10 minutes that I could have spent in self-reflective meditations instead? Would that be better?
Do I need to work through a 12 step programme? Am I an inferior alcoholic if I don’t?
Do I need human connection, or do I need to stay by myself? If I seek human connection, am I just transferring my addiction from bottle to human? Is that more progressive?
Am I still allowed to have casual sex? I was never promiscuous when sober before, but I’m sure the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Is sex addiction sexier than alcoholism?
Maybe I should just get a puppy?
Talk about transferrable skills.
I stopped drinking because I identified that my relationship with alcohol was the cause or driving force behind everything I was unhappy with in my life, and I wanted to see if there would be improvement without. So far, the prognosis is positive, but it feels too easy, and I don’t trust it.
How could something that I defined myself by for so long just disappear? Has it disappeared? Do I just call it long distance running now? Same issues, different outfit?
Fundamentally, can we, every single one of us in this world, be accused of being addicted to something? Are we essentially all the same in our attachment issues but just place greater validity, purity, clemency, to one addiction over another?
Are addictions to objects or substances just the manifestations of addictions to emotions?
Is addiction physical or mental? Can it only be one? Which one? Can it not be both?
To be honest, I haven’t had a hangover in over 85 days, I haven’t woken up to find I’ve pissed myself in over 85 days, or had a blackout and found that I am missing hours from a timeline where I have to comfort myself by telling myself I probably passed out somewhere, and probably didn’t do anything terrible.
Those things in themselves are enough, more than enough. No hangovers, no pissed trousers, no blackouts – my very own holy trinity, the normalised consequences of my drinking – part of the package, the collateral you accept as part of the deal. It is funny how the simplest things can make you so relieved, and proud. It is funny how these can show you how far you have come, but also how far you had gone.
I don’t have all the answers, but I am enjoying the exploratory process. I’ve lost 15kg since the start of July, I can’t remember the last time I felt this fit, this sharp, and actually interesting. I feel engaged with myself, happier with myself.
I actually have a sense of self.
Fuck it, I’m going to be addicted to myself and being happy for a bit.
Want to have a chat in the most informal of settings about your drinking, and whatever it may mean to you? Find me at The Canvas Cafe in Brick Lane on 5th December with Rough As – all you need is yourself, and some change for coffee and cake. The cake is worth coming in itself.