The Subtle Impact of Drinking Too Much

blackand whiteI was never a bottle-of-vodka-at-7am type of boozer. I loved alcohol and, as I transformed from a child to a teenager, I never imagined I wouldn’t become a drinker. And I got started early, aged just thirteen. But I (almost) always managed to restrict my consumption to within the realms of social drinking, regular UK-style binge drinking – ‘fun’ drinking. Of course, there were always the exceptions, and, particularly during the last five years of my boozing life, I occasionally veered into the dark world of lone, secret drinking, and seeking a certain level of self-medication via the wine I was buying increasingly more of.

But the metaphorical wheels never fell off spectacularly. I didn’t lose my job, or invite the attention of the social services due to alcohol-related child neglect. I didn’t even look especially booze ravaged, other than on the odd mornings after very heavy, late night drinking sessions.

In fact, right up until I ended up in A&E one morning as a result of passing out after consuming three bottles of wine, I mostly managed to convince myself that the odd negative consequence of my wine habit was just part and parcel of life as a drinker. Blackouts? Didn’t everyone suffer alcohol-induced amnesia once in a while? Snogging someone who I didn’t really like (never mind be attracted to)? It was merely evidence of my rock n roll approach to life. Wiping out yet another weekend due to a debilitating hangover? Ditto the rock n roll lifestyle – I was living life in the fast lane and enjoying myself. Wasn’t I?

The truth was that there were many bad consequences of my habit but I was so accustomed to them because of the longevity of my alcohol dependency that I failed to recognise them as being the direct outcome of drinking: my snappy, uneven mood that manifested itself in me being an inpatient and unpredictable mum; the deeply entrenched feelings of self-loathing that arose each and every time I engaged in regrettable behaviour when under the influence, and lingered beyond; the fact that I struggled just to make it through the morning at work without my hangovers being noticed, ultimately meaning I never strived to excel in the workplace; the endless small change that dripped into the tills at Tesco in exchange for the odd bottle of wine and the accompanying packet of fags, amounting to somewhere in the region of £300-£400 per month; the frequent panic attacks that often rendered me struggling to breathe and terrified that I was having a heart attack. I accepted all of these as life just being the way it was, the hand I’d been dealt.

The thing is that as soon as a few months of sobriety had passed, all of the above were relegated to my history, and I quickly acknowledged that life wasn’t like that for a person who doesn’t touch alcohol. But as a drinker, I was so immersed in the world of hangovers and boozing and planning to drink, that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t see the clear downsides of excessive drinking from the alcoholic fog that I was permanently inhabiting.

If the outcomes of alcohol misuse are not catastrophic, this does not mean that life cannot be immeasurably improved upon by becoming a non-drinker. I will be eternally grateful that I tried my hand at not drinking; it turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.

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FOUR Years of Life as a Soberista

Me at the start of a very boozy night - which ended badly as ever.

In April 2011 I awoke one morning in a hospital bed, my clothes plastered in my own cold, congealed vomit. It was an earth-shatteringly terrible moment in my life but one that led me finally to understand that the game was up – I could no longer fight the fight with my long-standing love, alcohol. I have never touched booze since that night, and I’ve come a very long way in almost all aspects of my life as a result.

Fortunate, and I never forget it. I am a lucky bugger. I woke up to the fact that alcohol was at the root of pretty much all the shit in my life. And when I was only thirty-five. I thank my lucky stars almost every day that I saw the writing on the wall and that I read it, understood it with such profound clarity that I was able to indisputably quit drinking for good. Things could have stayed as they were and I may not have ever come to recognise alcohol for what it actually is – a potentially lethal substance that draws you in repeatedly with promises that this time will be different, this time you will be able to moderate how much of the stuff you drink. I was very fortunate to see all of this. I’m very fortunate to still be here.

Over it. It took a while, and many, many books about stopping drinking (thanks Jason Vale, again), and days and weeks of soul-searching, and hundreds of miles of running, and hours and hours of meditation, and untold glorious moments of appreciation for the small stuff, and the love of friends and family, and the interaction with the fabulous people of Soberistas – but eventually, I got over it. I got over booze. I stopped fretting that my life would be dull without it. I stopped missing it when I went out. I stopped not cooking pasta because I couldn’t eat it without craving a large glass of red. I stopped staying in the house at night because I couldn’t face socialising without being off my head on drink. I got over my dependency. My life moved on.

Unrecognisable. In some respects I am unrecognisable from the person I was when I drank. In a lot of ways I am totally changed; I’m fitter, I’m calmer, I don’t live a calamitous life that throws me uncaringly from bad situation to worse situation, I look younger, my priorities are in the correct order, I am in control of my world. In other regards I am the same – stubborn, a bit silly, prone to the odd moment of impetuous behaviour just to get a thrill. But essentially the negative components of my existence have all but disappeared and I am fairly content with how things now look on the landscape of my life. Things have changed a lot, for the better.

Right. Stopping drinking was the right thing for me to do. I never needed it. I didn’t need to quieten my mind, or boost my confidence in social situations, or wipe out emotional pain that would have healed faster if only I had allowed myself to feel it as it occurred. There was no need for me to cover up my personality with that of a loudmouth party girl. I was fine as I was. I didn’t need to force myself to fit into situations that I didn’t feel comfortable in, or to blend in with people with whom I had nothing in common. I would never have been able to moderate my alcohol consumption therefore becoming a Soberista was my only choice if I was to enjoy a happy and fulfilling life, and to do my best to provide the same for my gorgeous girls. I was right to forge ahead with my belief that living completely alcohol-free was a good choice for me. It was the best decision I have ever made.

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Pizza, Wine and Big Fat Profits

I am not a new wave temperance movement believer. I recognise that the factors inherent in a person developing a problematic relationship with alcohol are vast and wide-ranging, and not all those who drink do so to excess. That being said, I am also of the opinion that we live in a heavily alco-centric culture, in which the alcohol industry is granted an extraordinarily free rein when it comes to advertising and marketing its products (which, let’s face it, amount to mere variations of a highly addictive, toxic substance, wrapped up attractively in a variety of innocent looking bottles).

There are many people who have crossed the line into alcohol dependence but who remain in denial with regards to their habit, believing it to be one borne entirely out of choice. Lots of people will grab onto a multitude of convenient excuses in order to maintain a mild (and for some, not so mild) addiction to alcohol; it’s a sunny day, it’s Christmas, it’s a cosy night in with a DVD, it’s a wild night out with the girls/boys. And adding weight to these excuses are the purveyors of alcoholic beverages, who are only involved because of the profits to be had in flogging the stuff – especially the supermarkets.

pizza

Last night as I unwrapped my pizza from its packaging, my eyes fell upon the ‘Serving Suggestion’ provided on the corner of the box. Tesco were advising me of suitable accompaniments for my Finest Wood Fired 12″ Ham Mushroom And Mascarpone Pizza: a simple green salad and a glass of my favourite white wine. Really? Is there any need to consume an alcoholic drink with one’s pizza in order to bring out the taste? Is a pizza less of a pizza if it is washed down with a glass of water? In providing such a serving suggestion, Tesco are interested only in selling a lifestyle – the sophisticated Italian wine drinker, enjoying an ‘authentic’ pizza with a simple green salad whilst sitting in a piazza somewhere, a setting sun and the tinkling of an ancient fountain in the background. Tesco are keen to ‘sell up’ their pizza with this marketing twaddle because it is a highly effective means of getting the consumer to dig a little deeper into his or her pocket. Go on, buy the wine, buy the salad – make like an Italian for the evening (and forget the fact that, actually, you are sitting in a house in Sheffield, watching crap on the TV and listening to the howling wind and rain lashing against the front door).

As I watched the above-mentioned crap TV whilst munching on my pizza (and not feeling at all bereft by way of not enjoying a glass of my favourite white wine to accompany it) I suddenly found myself watching Aldi’s latest advert, in which the song ‘Favourite Things’ plays in soft, girly tones as a variety of wine bottles are displayed against a pretty pink backdrop. I felt incensed by Aldi’s blatant feminisation and glamorising of wine in such a manner, the way in which the supermarket has produced a couple of minutes of television that portrays wine as entirely innocent, almost childlike; a happy little beverage that goes hand-in-hand with fun-filled summer days and gay abandon.

There are people who drink in moderation, who consume alcohol ‘responsibly’. But there are an awful lot of people out there who do not and who are seeking out any excuse to down more of the stuff without facing up to the fact that they are, in reality, dependent upon it and regularly drinking at hazardous levels. While ever the supermarkets are allowed to market alcoholic beverages as innocuous products that bring only light and happiness to peoples’ lives as opposed to containing an addictive substance that should be treated with caution and which is detrimental to health in a major way unless consumed in very small quantities, alcohol and binge drinking will continue to be trivialised. And the health of a massive percentage of the population will remain compromised as a result.