Saturday, 6 November 2010

Confessions of a lush

Alison asked earlier, via her blog at, about people's experience of abstinence with regards to drinking. Rather than post a huge comment there I thought I'd do a blog entry on the subject here. Its a bit of a confessional and its rather long.

'Officially' I haven't had a drink since the 27th July 2008. 'Unofficially' I did have 2 small bottles of Stella on Boxing Day that year but after a few months off didn't much like the taste any more and absolutely hated the light headed feeling to the point where I had to go and lie down. Prior to then there had been no finality in my decision but that experience ensured that abstinence would be permanent.

I'd drank since I was 13. Before then I'd had the odd drink at Christmas (port & lemon, Advocaat or a shandy) but at the age of 13 I looked 16 and that was good enough to get me served in off licences and in certain pubs and in a working class mining town in the recession hit early 80s that was an attractive thing to do. I can still remember the first time I went into 'town' aged 13 and had 4 pints of Castlemaine XXXX and Fosters. Within a few months I was drinking cans with mates several evenings a week and at weekends would go to the rugby club disco where I'd down pints of snakebite and then numerous vodka and limes to the point where I'd hardly be able to stand and would be sick the next day. At 14 I went on a school trip to Bulgaria, drank a full bottle of Vodka and fell off a first floor window ledge, fortunately landing in a pile of snow. That was a blessing though as for many years after that I couldn't face spirits. I'd walk to and from school most days in order to save the bus fare and exaggerated the cost of school dinners to get more money that way. Between those and other occasional less honest means I had the money to drink.

That sounds like I was some young teen addict. I wasn't. Certainly not physically; but it did establish an emotional relationship/reliance with/on alcohol that became entrenched.

Nothing much changed during 6th form, accept by then I was working part time so had more funds available, and would go to the pub most dinner times as well as 4-5 nights a week.

Then came university. There I'd drink heavily and regularly. Sometimes I'd drink all day long for 2-3 days on the trot and alcohol was the main cause why I regret not taking advantage of the opportunity university offered - I was bright enough to very rarely attend yet still get a 2:1 - had I worked I might have found it hugely fulfilling and breezed a 1st . I never really felt like I belonged though and found that period a strange one as I was away from home, had access to money, for almost the first time regularly had girlfriends or girlfriend troubles and was amongst people of a type I'd never really met before. Before going to university myself I don't think I'd ever met anyone who'd been to one.

Drink seemed to be a way of dealing with that but it came at a cost as drink also highlighted my demons. I'd get into fights, be aggressive, once punched through a glass door (still got the scars), had someone try to glass me (fortunately they tried to break the glass on my neck rather than breaking it on a table first). Not good.

After university I met Sue and whilst we'd always have beers in and would go out 2-3 times a week I'd rarely have more than 3-4 pints and all was well. Every couple of weeks though I'd go out with mates and have a skin full. When I got my first office job there was a serious drinking culture and most days I'd have 2-4 pints before driving (told you it was a confessional) home.

At the next job it was similar (only I used public transport) and after Beth was born and while I was struggling to adapt I'd go out once a week and get wasted. One night I went out with people from work and ended up head butting one of them.

After that job the work related drinking pretty much stopped but the focus then became one of drinking heavily at rugby league games. The old aggressiveness had largely gone but looking back I know that even the one drink could leave me moody or short tempered as easily as it might leave me feeling merry or chilled.

At home we still had beers in and I got into wine a bit too. That was a more relaxed 'drunk' but if we ever went anywhere I'd be manic about going to a pub and could easily have 4 pints with a pub lunch then go home with a headache for the rest of the day. From time to time I'd still drink to absolute excess - I always struggled to stop - and at a party next door had so much that I fell down the stairs when we got in and threw up across the bathroom floor.

Another thing I found by my mid 30s was that my capacity for alcohol diminished. Previously I'd been able to drink very heavily but appear relatively sober. I'd see others sway, slur their speach or repeat themselves but these were only characteristics I noted in myself from about 35.

Then I came back from 2 weeks holiday and decided to give up. It was only meant to be a temporary measure to help me lose the weight I'd put on whilst there - losing the empty calories as well as the reduced willpower that alcohol provides.

The first few weeks were genuinely tough. As I said earlier, I don't think there was a physical addiction but there may well have been an emotional or cultural one. We drank regularly at home - Sue still has wine most evenings - and going to the rugby or football meant drinking as did most of our trips out anywhere.

After about 6 weeks it got easier and I decided to keep it going until my birthday, around 14 weeks after stopping. By then though it seemed second nature not to drink so I decided to carry on for an indeterminate period.

How do I feel about it now?

Foremost, I have no intention of starting again. Partly as that Boxing Day tells me my body no longer likes it but mainly because I feel my life is simpler and easier without alcohol. Money is saved, no hangovers, no concern about drink driving, no alcohol induced moods, no getting drunk and ill, but most of all far more of a feeling of control.

I really do feel it was a hugely positive thing for me to do and whilst not everyone is the same as I was I do think that a great many people would benefit from abstaining.


Alison @ Running From, Running To said...

This was really interesting to read, thanks for confessing :-)

During my undergrad days I was pretty well behaved when it came to drinking. I used to work in the student union, and that was enough to put anyone off the boozing lifestyle! It was as a grad student that I started drinking more. Because it was with meals, or over erudite conversation about philosophy(!), it didn't seem like boozing somehow. In the end though the hangovers, moods, and cost started to get the better of me, and I made a conscious effort to pull back.

I've never gone completely dry -- I don't function well as an all or nothing person. And I find the odd beer or glass of wine to be very enjoyable (and stress relieving!). But I do think that in an ideal world (in which I dealt with stress better), I probably wouldn't drink at all.

Running Rob said...

How's your head feeling today? ;-)

I do miss a social red wine with or before food and its the one drink I can sniff and it still smells good.

runningcupcake said...

Well done for confessing. And also well done for giving up- if it makes you feel better, in control etc then it is the right decision for you. I think you are so right about it not being physical, but rather an emotional or cultural attachment to drinking that makes it hard for so many people to stop.

Laura said...

Interesting post, thanks for sharing. I gave up in my final year of university after lots of excess, after about 2 years of nothing I have a few, and sometimes a few more now but never like I used to! It's just not worth it, I am not a good drunk!

RoseC2 said...

That was definitely a very interesting read and as someone who still drinks more than they should do......very thought provoking!

I am a lot better than I used to be, for example I only have 1 glass of wine on a Saturday night because of the LSR on a sunday AND I do try not to drink on school nights but..... it is definitely an emotional crutch of mine. If I have a stressy day I can't wait to open the wine... however... baby steps and all that...


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