The Passage of Time and an Altered Perspective


I was listening to Oasis a couple of days ago, driving through the Peak District with the sun casting shadows over the moorland and my toddler sleeping in the back of the car, her angel face the picture of innocence.

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In my late teens/early twenties I was a huge fan of Oasis. Hearing those songs again that so acutely defined a particular period in my life pulled me into a reverie, and I thought for a long time about the person I was back then, and how the passage of time has dramatically altered my perception on the world.

That noticeably underweight, cocky girl, who thought nothing of walking alone into her favourite pub, ordering a pint of Boddingtons at 2 o’clock on a weekday afternoon, picking up a pool cue and challenging  whoever was loitering at the bar to a game – smoking, drinking, music on the jukebox, a session emerging, boundaries blurred and personalities changed. As the day wore on, the pub would fill slowly with climbers, students and a variety of left-leaning types; alcohol was a broad leveller that drew everyone together, helped get them acquainted.

It seems to me now that I was incredibly naïve back then, even though I was frequently immersed in a dark world where the people I associated with had little self-control and did not operate within the parameters of normal society, the law, or common decency. Many times, neither did I. Instant gratification and a relentless desire to get completely out of it were the order of the day. On the surface we may have appeared to be a group of young people having a good time, but right there beneath the cheerful veneer was a tangled mess of lies, drunkenness and danger.

As time went on, I learnt that people can hurt each other – physically and mentally. I got hurt, and I did my best to handle that. What I didn’t understand in my twenties was quite how ferociously I would come to hurt myself; how low self-esteem and a destructive streak can combine to breed a malignant set of behaviours that feed off each other, nurturing a powerful desire to wipe one’s self out. And as the black thoughts worked away, striving to prevent a better way of life, I failed to recognise that things simply didn’t need to be that bad. For a long time, I just accepted that that was my lot – the hand I’d been dealt.

I am a reasonably private person these days, much quieter, far less cocky. I still enjoy the music of my youth – songs that make me smile when I recall the good times I had listening to them, when a blind faith that everything would work out OK despite my being hell bent on ruining all my chances of happiness, somehow got me through the really shit times.

The major difference in my outlook today is that whereas back then I thought good things would eventually just land on my doorstep, I know now that I control my destiny; every action, word spoken, the care I afford myself, choosing to not drink alcohol or take any other drugs, focusing on positivity, and seeking to discover the good in situations and people, wherever possible, are the things that determine my path. And I worked out that hurtling through life at a million miles an hour, always looking for the easy way out and a good time, is not a recipe for contentment.

I slowed it right down, and concentrated on the positives. I thought more about other people, less about my own insecurities. I worked on my weaknesses. I created a life that would make me happy. And I quit drinking.

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Women, alcohol and the 1990’s

The report which was published yesterday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and which highlighted a worrying trend in women (especially those born in the 1970’s) dying at a younger age as a result of alcohol-related illnesses, did not surprise me in the slightest.

As someone who was born in 1975, I came of age around the time of the explosion in both the wine culture in the UK which began with a vengeance in the early 1990’s, and the phenomenon that was women drinking in similar quantities as men and subsequently adopting more male characteristics – the ‘Ladette Culture’ so famously embodied by Zoe Ball and Sara Cox.

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It was absolutely de rigueur as a young woman circa the mid-1990’s to hang out in pubs all weekend, drink pints, play pool and smoke cigarettes, and that lifestyle utterly defined me from about the age of 17 onwards, until I became pregnant at 22. In my early twenties and a new mum, I then fell for the widespread marketing campaign of the wine manufacturers, completely buying into the idea that wine was somehow good for us – just look at all those healthy Mediterraneans guzzling their vino for goodness sake!

I am not attempting to excuse my personal responsibility here for the fact that I went on to develop a major dependency upon alcohol which was to last until my mid-thirties (I will be forever grateful that I managed to put the brakes on then, and my problem did not escalate further), but I do think that the wider cultural influences that were at play during that era of Oasis and Blur, grunge, a mainstreaming of rave culture and Third-wave feminism most popularly exemplified by The Spice Girls and their brand of ‘Girl Power,’ played a part in contributing to the notion that it was ok for women to drink heavily.

My mind-set back in the ‘90’s was characterised by what I recognise now as a false bravado – I presented myself as a hedonist, someone who was always ‘up for it,’ who could drink anyone under the table and beat most blokes on the pool table. It was misguided feminism that propelled me into a lifestyle defined by heavy drinking.

By the time I married and became a mum the habits were deeply engrained, and despite an effort to appear slightly more feminine by swapping the pints of Boddingtons for bottles of Chardonnay, I continued to drink, and always until I was inebriated. Because I was already a heavy drinker by the time I had my first baby, the now widely and effectively marketed wine suited my needs down to the ground – here was a sophisticated grown-up drink that I could consume in large quantities but yet remain firmly anchored in what was considered to be perfectly acceptable social behaviour. Nobody was going to accuse me of having a problem with the booze whilst ever I was drinking expensive bottles of Chablis or Barolo from Waitrose.

I bought into the wine industry’s advertising strategy and felt more than comfortable with being a ‘wine drinker.’

Ultimately, I would not have relied on alcohol in the way that I did if my underlying emotional problems had not existed; my terribly low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness together with the anxiety I experienced in social situations all combined to create the perfect conditions in which a booze dependency might establish itself.

However, if, in the light of the publication of yesterday’s report, people are searching for an explanation as to how this terrible situation has arisen where women are increasingly dying in their thirties and forties from alcohol-related illnesses, I would highlight the cultural background of the 1990’s as a major contributing factor.