Richard Billingham – Untitled
I have a drinking problem. Many of you probably already know that, or perhaps there’s even been some form of assumption that I may have some form of such problem, I mean hell, I am part of the Acceleratosphere, I can see why you’d assume I drink a lot. Anyway, I don’t drink anymore, I haven’t drunk alcohol for just over 3 years, except for a brief relapse of 3 weeks around 4 months ago, I haven’t had a drop. For those saying “Well, that’s not exactly over 3 years then is it?”. Take it as you will, it’s best to just take it one day at a time and count up the ones you were successful on.
Why am I writing this? 1. Writers should stop asking themselves this question, because of course, I already know the answer…at least the one I wish it to be, the one I wish you to see, which leads me to… 2. It’s cathartic. And someone of Twitter once said to me ‘A great reason to write, tweet and interject in conversation, to stand your ground and stake your claim is that those who may also be pondering, in-silent-agreement or struggling with that which you bring to the fore will all of a sudden feel more at ease in the world, all because you took a little time to say ‘Yeah I think X’, ‘I disagree with that’ or ‘Hey, I struggled with this shit.’ There’s a lot to be said for admitting to failures with a staunch acceptance that they are, and more importantly can be of the past.
So, yes, I have a drinking problem. It never really goes. Supposedly it’s actually progressive, that is, I used to drink on average 12-20 pints on a night out, and if I was to go back to drinking full-time again I would – apparently – still, psychologically, need that amount if not more. So going back is not only going back to a demon who despises your being, but each re-visit is an exercise in runaway-self-hatred.
Let me get down to definitions, to the how it was of way back when. What do I mean by a problem? I imagine many of you are imagining a Bukowski-esque stumbling mess with ragged hair, dirty clothes and no life-structure simply existing on alcohol in the gutter. The Hollywood image of ‘the alcoholic’, in all its romance, has done nothing but ignore the reality of minor to moderate alcoholism. Make no mistake, I was not that kind of alcoholic. I did not need a drink everyday, not every 2-3 days (though I did get a little exhausted and tetchy), I wasn’t vomiting loads, getting in fights, or ruining everything (at least not in any ‘exciting/dramatic’ sense). See, I was pretty high-functioning. Let me step back a bit –
I’m British, which means I have a culturally inherent awful relationship with alcohol. I started regularly drinking (2-3 times a week, 4-6+ beers each session) at 15, with the prior 2 years revolving slightly around alcohol. Between the years of 16-22 there was not one week where I didn’t utterly fucked. Which technically means that was 6 years of my life alcohol simply did not leave my system. How did all this progress? Not pleasantly, not unpleasantly. The point of this post is that – like most things in life – the journey was banal and the conclusions didn’t come until too late, and at that point I was already invested in the finale. What was this all like? Well, from 15-18 it looked like this. Do the bare minimum in school/college to get by and wait for the weekend, incessantly planning how we’d get booze, who was buying it for us and where we were drinking it. The weekend would come, we would drink from around 5-7pm through to 3-4am, or pass out before. Turns out it was only really me who was drinking a lot at this point, the others were just having a few. So the university turns up on your doorstep with all its ‘culture’. As you can imagine, I hit it fucking hard, put on a lot of weight, culminated friendships which didn’t last, half-arsed my life and orbited around alcohol.
21-22. Yeesh. Ended up in a dead-end job, as most university leavers do. Still drinking (and smoking) at this point…of course, it was still, for me…an inevitability. I would drink on Friday nights. Then Friday and Tuesday nights. Then Friday, Tuesday and Saturday nights. Then Friday, Tuesday, Saturday nights and Sunday daytime. And finally it was Friday, Tuesday and Saturday nights, Sunday daytime and the occasional 4-pack in bed after work. That was when I realized, laying in bed at 11pm after some shitty late-shift, necking cheap lager for the sake of it. I began to think about my drinking, looking up the questionnaires:
- How often do you drink alcohol? – 3-4/4 times+ a week (worst answer)
- How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day of drinking? – 10+ (worst)
- How often do you have 8 units or more? – Weekly (second worst)
- How often did you find you were not able to stop drinking once you’d started? – Every time I ever drank – 1 is too few, 2 is too many…as the saying goes – weekly (second worst)
- How many times in the last year have you failed to do what is normally expected of you due to drinking? (Dependent on what one expects of oneself – at the time I was failing to do anything but go out at the weekends)
- How often do you get a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking? (Every time – worst – we call it ‘The Fear’)
- How often have you not been able to remember what happened the night before due to drinking? (Twice a week. At my absolute worst I was getting black out drunk once or twice a week. – worst)
I didn’t think ‘Oh shit, I’m fucked up breh’, nor was anything about it cool, romantic, nostalgic, poetic, exciting etc. You know what it fucking was? Exhausting and boring. Anyway, that’s the biographical stuff out of the way. I mean, I guess many of you know that I sorted my shit out.
Anyone struggling with alcohol can always DM me.
Onto the cultural ‘West’ part of the title. See, I was never really taught that not drinking alcohol was an option. Everyone around me did, everyone around them either did and there was very few people (no one I can remember) actively didn’t drink, and there was most certainly no one who was anti-alcohol. Not that I am anti-alcohol, but I do believe it really isn’t a good idea for the majority of people to consume it, for they are dumb, boring and aggressively incorrect already, why give them a drink on top of all of that, I jest, but they are a bore.
All those systems never budged an inch towards any idea that excess, progress and to-continue may not be a good thing. Even teachers smirked at the knowledge of my beer-fueled weekends and life – ‘I remember how I was at that age’, but no one keeps an eye and many get sucked into the orbit of the demonic, soul-crushing, enchantment killing possession of alcohol. What is it about that substance which brings out the very worst of opinion and personality?
It is, once again, one of ‘those’ things which one believes – due to the way in which they are instilled within culture – that one cannot be without them. They are presented not as optional parts of life, but as its very nerve system. Another short essay from Meta on how to slightly think for oneself, how original. I don’t care.
You must strip yourselves bare of all these fucking spooks! Take a goddamn look at your being, feel it vibrate in all its nakedness and vulnerability! Be more that you can be. Overcome every molecule of indiscriminate matter, atmosphere and ideology that surrounds you, think not of the third person, the external or the forces unto you, but become truly-conscious! Decide upon all. Make clear each and everything that exists now for you.
When I quit drinking I lost 95% of my friends within 2 weeks. I don’t hold it against them, nor do I want sympathy. We were drinking buddies who reveled in each other’s repetitions. The same lager, the same jokes, the same people, the same place, the same comfort and the comfort of the same, that is what alcohol has to offer you. Not one of my friends supported my efforts of betterment. Largely because I was one of, if not the key drinker of the group, I started earlier and heavier than them, I could out-drink basically anyone and had a tenacity for going until the bitterest of ends (5-6am on a park bench, routinely). And so, I guess to them it was an entirely alien experience, or perhaps they were worried I don’t know, all I know is the repulsion against my quitting.
‘So what…you’re never drinking again?’
‘…ahhh you’ll be back down the pub soon.’
‘You can have just one though mate!’
No, I can’t. No I can’t.
“Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.” – David Foster Wallace
And that’s what I did. I accepted that there is a thing in life that I simply cannot do, for if I do it, I do not become, but only undo, my being is not aligned to the strength it could be, and the goodness dissolves into nothing. I cannot do that, I never could, and the systems that are lied and I got caught in a the alluring web of destruction.
There’s a great speech in the film Smashed. A film I really like – for obvious reasons – though as films go it’s mediocre, but it hit home with me. Anyway, the protagonist Kate is an alcoholic…and they actually do a fairly good job of not romanticizing it. Her speech is the usual alcoholic-to-sober story but with the addition of one crucial thing, she explicitly mentions her – now – boring life. I simultaneously agreed and disagreed. At first I agreed. I could be down the pub I thought, having all that ‘fun’. Instead I’m in reading a book, searching the web, watching TV (back then) or whatever, and the days and weeks and months go by, and the serum seeps from your system more and more, and your energy comes back and you take up the gym. You begin to feel ok, and your self-confidence comes back. And you start eating well again. You lose 3 stone in a few months. You date some cute girls. You read some more good books. And for many blissful moments you’ve forgotten entirely of that place, that sodden pit of a pub which was sucking your time away from you.
Alcohol is the primary material alternative for being an interesting person, having an interesting life or even having anything interesting to do. If you even somewhat content, entertained, loved or spiritually tuned-in would you need a ‘few beers’, would you? That malaise which I know a little too well is nothing but an anesthetic for use against personal confidence, overcoming, discipline, motivation and being.
My boring life is mine. I like drinking herbal tea in my dressing gown or Gi. I like reading old books. I like sitting sometimes and just being. I like taking my time with a meal. I quite like the slow pace of existence once it’s stripped of all the embroidery of progress, decadence and Western-malaise.
My favourite herbal teas are (in order of greatness – greatest to great):
1. Peppermint Tea
2. Elderflower and Echinacea
3. Lemon and Ginger