Sitting on a roof-top terrace in the early evening, overlooking the mediterranean, in the company of friends – one from school, and a couple new. A cool breeze on a linen shirt, smiles and laughter. Cucumber margarita in hand – the cucumber giving a calming base to a firey tequila, softening the pang of lime and blending into the inviting smoothness of the agave. Midway through a holiday – sleep, relaxation, no work, no London. A time-out.
My happy place has evolved over the years – from sat on the hills above the town I went to school in with a fresh packet of cigarettes and a playlist, to dancing the macarena on the bartop of the place I used to work in and being the life and soul of the party all eyes on me, to stomping through the streets of central London in the afternoon drizzle in my biggest pair of boots and a raging soundtrack.
This here, this tequila slippered terrace, could be the happy place for the young-professional, one-drink, moving-on-up me.
I was tired, so after my one drink (I’d had one with dinner too..) I went back to the villa. I found my school friend’s mum sitting at the pool – I know her quite well from my time at school, she runs a shop in the town and I used to smoke in the yard behind, quite the social centre, and when I was 16 and considering attending AA and afraid to go through the school with this one, she was the one who offered to drive me. I haven’t spoken much to her since leaving school, but sitting with our feet dangling in the pool, an ashtray between us, we got to talking.
I told her about my blog, this blog, what I want to do, what I want to work on with myself, and she asked questions – why do you drink like you do? When does an addiction become an addiction? What makes an addiction an addiction?
‘Erm, well, as someone who doesn’t consider they have an addiction to alcohol but that my unhealthy relationship with booze is is just a symptom of an underlying problem….’
Yes, I know how it sounds. I can still hear the niggle for acceptance, for the nod denoting that this was valid, as I write this.
And so I continued on my speech, without trying to sound like I had done it before. Removing the booze, or trying to moderate, would allow me to find the epicentre of whatever I was feeling, and why, and contain it. So much progress this year, feeling so much better in myself, excited for the future. Identifying triggers, knowing when to walk away from situations that would lead to the self-destruct button, turning around before breaking through, past the point of no return during the next 12 hours..
I felt like I was writing my ‘about me’ on Tinder, and applying for the right to carry on drinking.
“Well, good luck to you Harry. You are an intelligent guy, and you are gifted with an ability to form words. Alcoholics can be extremely manipulative, including with themselves. This is from my experience, and I just wanted to tell you that I hope it works out for you, because you are so talented, and it would be such a shame for that to be wasted.’
I have a confession (actually I have about a million – how long do you have?) but I’d decided before the holiday that it was going to be a ‘last hurrah’ in terms of drinking, at least for a little bit. I just wanted to enjoy that ice-cold beer, sitting on a boat, or that cocktail from a roof-terrace at sunset. I also wanted to explore the possible of getting monumentally fucked up, and hooking up with anything with a pulse. But after that, I wanted a prolongued break. At least a month. My birthday is mid-October, we would re-assess then.
Dot. Dot. Dot.
Why am I trying to hold on so much to something that I am also trying so hard to let go off? I’ve wanted to move towards a ‘moderation approach’ and this would be great, if I had actually done it. Instead the last 2 months have followed this pattern.
1) Pay day
2) Pay weekend wankered, 4 day bender
3) Monday after pay weekend, zero monies left.
4) *decides to not drink for rest of the month*, acknowledges convenience and coincidence of deciding this when have no money…
5) Look at me moderating my drinking, aren’t you impressed?’
6) …When the fuck is pay day again?
Step number 4 is a necessity. If I did not tell myself that I was not drinking for the month because I couldn’t physically afford it, then I would find the money. I would go out, spend all my money for bills, travel cards, ‘buffer money’ and then I would find that from somewhere. Someone will lend it to me. Worse comes to worst I’ll incur charges for an overdraft on my overdraft from the bank.
Notice how the worst comes to worst is not that I don’t drink, because that isn’t really the option available. It’s just a given that I will.
Yep, that person. When I write this down, it all looks much worse than it feels in my head.. Hmm..
And so, sat with my feet swishing in the pool at about 1am, cigarette permanently in mouth, I got to thinking ‘why not now?’
I’ve realised, slowly, over the last however long, that there never is a ‘convenient’ time to stop doing something that for so long has been the gateway to excitement, recognition, acceptance. There is always that birthday, that milestone, that tragic event. Cheers to nothing and everything. Bootoms up, skull it because you can! Five ciders down, I could take on the world, I could be whoever I wanted and you could either love it, or go screw yourself, such was the size of the fuck that I didn’t give. Its never convenient to clear the smoke and mirrors, to step out into the sunlight, to actually start to live a life as opposed to a performance, to acknowledge whatever you wanted to forget, whatever pushed you to start drinking in the first place.
Why not now? What a memory to have to go out on – the perfect drink, in the perfect place. How many times have I woken up hungover, full of self-loathing, saying to myself ‘never again’ and then to find myself at the pub with a cider hours or days later? Why not do this now, do the inevitable now, from a positive memory as opposed to one which has involved my head remaining under the pillow, emerging only to dry-wretch into a bin.
Its time to give myself a chance – see what happens, see if I am happier without, see what I can do and who I can be. I know that this sounds all very romantic, idealised, and over the top, but as per my drunk self, I couldn’t give a flying fuck. Alcohol has, over the last 10 years, given me many things – shelter, confidence, a fire that allowed me to blaze a trail, to get what I wanted, when I wanted, or at least the confidence to demand that the world acquiesced. In this process though I feel like I have lost some basics – a sense of what I’m about, an ability to name a ‘fun fact’ about myself that didn’t involve drinking (once strawpeedoed a bottle of wine, has an ability to down a 2 pint stein of beer in one, appeared on BBC London news twice in 6 months – once directing traffic in Pimlico at 5am, and once promoting responsible service of alcohol, and the measures sports bars in London were taking to ensure measures were kept in place, during the Euro 2012 football tournament – unfortunately, none safe for interviews..), an ability to easily form connections with people that went beyond the depth of a pint glass, an ability to feel sober and interesting simultaneously. I drink, and therefore you like me.
And now I don’t, or I’m not, and so maybe you don’t.
I’m not doing this for you though, remember?
Part of me feels like I am breaking up with myself, and doesn’t know how to take the reflection. Another part is relieved. Picture a lake on which several large pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are floating. A breeze will push the pieces from time to time, and they may bump into each other, but they do not come together. I need to put them together.
I’m not saying never, but I am saying ‘indefinite.’ Part of me doesn’t want the pressure of saying ‘never again, no thank you, 12 steps please,’ because what happens if I change my mind, what happens if I fail? Having spent so much of my life competing against others, and against myself to my own detriment, that is a competition I couldn’t deal with losing. Having said that, we are now at day 10 of sobreitty – I had a friend’s birthday last night, leaving drinks the night before, and another 4 nights to go of my holiday from the moment I had my last sip from that martini glass, and I’m not particularly fussed about my birthday, about christmas, about all the upcoming excuses that year on year I have taken as a chance to put the hot in hot mess.
I have the memory of that perfect drink with the no-guilt-and-no-apologies-attached, and if anything the drive to keep that memory clean, and not replace it with one where I swear off drinking again because I’ve seriously harmed myself, or worse someone else, or done something that makes me want to stay in bed, covers over my head, phone firmly turned off, incognito, foetus position, hiding from my problems like a child hides from bad dreams, is what will keep me sober.
I’ve had more than my 9 lives, and its been great while it lasted. Well, sometimes it has been. Sometimes, I’ve never banished a memory so quickly from my mind – not ‘it didn’t happen’ but ‘it did happen, but its done, and there is no point thinking about it.’ Or learning from it, in my case.
It’s time to leave the party – the sober conga line is leaving now, and I guess I’m putting my hands on the hips of the stranger in front.