This time last year, I was busy hitting the yoga mat in a drive to finish ‘Dry January’ and keep off the booze for 31 days – I documented that time quite well on my blog (some may say, over zealously….) but then I went silent for a couple of months.
Whilst on a cyber level I wasn’t bothering anyone, unfortunately the same cannot be said for my interactions on a face to face level with London’s publicans, bar owners and taxi drivers. I had quickly slipped back into old routines – my new year’s resolution of ‘no paramedics in 2015’ looking increasingly likely to slip in the first quarter – but having had a month off drinking, I now had some perspective that made the self-analysis of what had happened the night before all the more painful.
There was nothing normal about my drinking, the scrapes I was getting myself into were harder to laugh off and pick myself up from, the blackouts were getting longer and more finite in their ‘blackness’ and emotionally I was feeling more unstable as a result. I was wearing this instability like a badge – at work, with my friends, at the bar – I rarely knew what I was going to do next, but I could almost guarantee it would be at one end of the spectrum or the other, never in between.
Looking back at old blog posts like Backslide, Breaking Hearts not Bottles and Cheers I cannot help but wince. I’m not embarrassed by my words, or by the sentiments that I am expressing, but I am startled at the lack of direction, the amount of unknowing and what I can only see as a grasping loneliness – I am lacking direction because I have no guidance, I don’t know what to do because I don’t have any one to help me, and I have no one to show me because I don’t know anyone who will understand and won’t judge.
The straw that broke the camels back so to speak was a Saturday in May last year. I had been invited by my old flatmate to join her and some friends for a ‘bottomless brunch’ for her birthday – unlimited Bloody Marys / processco over a 2 hour period in a restaurant, with food I believe featuring at some point. I behaved myself and held my own in a group of people I didn’t know, who were a little older than me, who could on a day to day level find myself quite intimidated by. By 8pm, having been at a pub for a few hours, I was now in my ‘restless drunk’ stage – I’d been drinking for 8 hours, and now was ready to have all the fun, and make all the friends with all the strangers, and so instead of carrying on with the group back at my friend’s house, I went to join another friend’s birthday in Soho.
I remember walking into the bar at around 10pm and ordering a cider. I remember saying hello to my friends – hugs and kisses. We stayed in that venue for 30 minutes, and then left for the club that an ex-colleague of mine now ran. In the cab, out of the cab, through the doors, at the bar and then… lights out.
I woke up, literally and figuratively, outside the bar, on the pavement with the bar manager, my ex colleague, telling me through a mixed tone of pity and disgust, to take myself home. I was on a busy Soho street, it was roughly 2am on a heaving saturday night, new lows for anyone and everyone to see.
I got up, and stumbled off, the heavy stage-curtain of a blackout descending again.
This time, almost as if to mix things up and keep them fresh, I came to in the front seat of a moving car, somewhere in London, to find myself being told by my unlicensed cab driver that he was not willing to take me any further on my journey, and that I had to get out of the car. Of course, as per, I had no idea what he was on about and insisted that I had been the model passenger, even though I had no recollection at all either way.
I had no debit card on me (see previous drinking misdemeanors), and had already paid for my journey up front (I don’t know how I know this, but I did) and so refused to move. He pulled over in a quiet residential street, which proved later on to be next to Clapham North tube station, and asked me to get out. I refused on the basis that I had no money to get home, and wanted my fare back.
In the ensuring 10 minutes, for want of a better term, I got the shit kicked out of me. I had thrown the first punch, (first and only time I hope to find myself throwing punches) and then sat back in order to take a beating, something that I remember wanting like I haven’t wanted anything for a while. And so, with this little exercise culminating in me being hit over the head with a bin lid, I decided to call it a night, and find a way to get home.
It was on the back of this successful and breezy night-time jaunt that I went to my first meet up with Rough As in June. Set-up and run by Claire, Rough As is described as looking to ‘open up a conversation at points of need, rather than crisis points,’ to ‘normalise our discourse on sobriety’ and to provide an ‘informal space to talk honestly, openly and candidly about the difficulties but also the more light-hearted moments connected to changing a relationship with alcohol.’
I felt that the meet-up could offer me some perspective, give me some space to untangle all of the wires and allow me to breathe and think a bit more clearly. A little bit of humour may also not go amiss, thanks. To be honest, more than anything I just wanted to talk and say everything that I felt I couldn’t say to my friends.
Having Rough As to go to, having Claire to speak to – someone who had her own stories and experiences to share with me, and in return never judging for one second what I had to say – along with anyone else who attended, allowed me to come to terms with the situation that I found myself in, a situation which I had to take ownership and accountability of. As Claire was now trying a moderation approach to drinking – one or two beers at the pub if she wanted – after she had been sober for a year and a half, I never felt pressured to sign up for abstinence and sobriety, to make a pledge that I didn’t understand the consequences and implications of as was the case 5 years prior.
As far as my story goes, or has gone so far, maybe moderation didn’t work for me because I didn’t try very hard at it, or maybe I failed because I am chemically programmed to not be able to stop after 2 drinks, but either way, at the beginning of September last year I found myself content and confident in signing up for indefinite sobriety – to see how it goes, have a drink if I wanted one, but in the knowledge that at the end of the day I only had to answer to myself.
Having used drinking as the corner-stone of my social, and to a point (read: quite a large extent) professional, lives over the last 10 years, taking alcohol out of the equation was like removing the glue, or the nails from a structure, and watching it wobble as a result. I have had to learn how to interact on a basic human level without alcohol – how to hold a conversation at a networking event, how to be interested and interesting in the pub with mates at 10pm on a friday, to be fun and have a sense of humour on the dancefloor at 2am when everyone else is shitfaced. I’ve had to learn how to take my trigger points, and direct them elsewhere – the gym, running, writing, listening to music. I’ve had to learn to date sober, and considering I never dated when I was drinking but had the occasional one-night stand I find that it is for me like reliving the side of adolescence I chose to drink through.
I cannot emphasise the scale of the role that Rough As has played in helping get me to where I am now – it is the space that I go to when I want to talk about dating apps and sobriety (do I need to acknowledge my sobriety on my Tinder profile? ), it is the place I go to when I want to talk about the fog that sometimes descends (how do I work through when I can’t stop feeling sorry for myself, and angry?), and it is where I go to reach out to others when I want to talk about being in my mid twenties and living a life without alcohol.
Rough As is the bridge between being 25 and working through a drinking problem – it grounds me, and makes me feel like I can be part of both discourses and don’t have to choose between 2 non-mutually exclusive entities. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.
Sitting here on day 136 sober, I do not see myself as a finished project, in fact I strongly argue that I am just getting started. I feel a sense of investment in myself, and am excited for what my future holds – over the last few years I’m not sure I would have often said that.
Rough As is for anyone, and everyone, who may need it – it is informal, it is not 12 steps, you don’t have to be sober, it is a continuing and evolving conversation. It is the kind of inclusive structure of which I hope Johann Hari would be proud, as it encourages the connection after which the addiction will slowly dwindle. I wrote earlier in this piece of how I found myself with a lack of knowledge of my options, lack of guidance as to where I could go next – I want Rough As to be that place for anyone in a similar position.
I’ll be at the next Rough As on Saturday, 23rd Jan at the Canvas Cafe in Brick Lane so anyone fancying a chat come along – bring change for coffee and some cake (I always make a point of trying all the cake. all of it.) – and if you behave yourself, you may even be given a pen to draw on the walls with. For anyone who can’t make the 23rd, or who loves us so much they want to come twice (more likely) we’re also there on the 30th.
If you want some more info about Rough As, and where it has come from then find it by clicking here.