‘He went to bed with a rich and glorious evening, and he awoke at seven to find that it had gone bad overnight, as it were (like milk), and was in his mouth – bitter and sickly. He had not, after all, had a great time: he had merely been drinking again.’ – Patrick Hamilton, The Midnight Bell (1929)
I never meant to stop drinking, it wasn’t something I consciously ‘gave up’. Not like the times I participated in ‘Dry January’ for charity, where with support we could collectively draw strength for the arduous task of ‘giving up’, for ‘abstaining’, until with a last gasp of the month we could all pile back in on the 1st February. Back to our bottles of wine and pints of beer, congratulating ourselves of a month of abstinence and a few saved pounds in cash and a few lost pounds in weight. Then everything was back to normal. That morning malaise that heralded every morning like an underlying current of depression. The ideas of morning gym sessions, Saturday Parkruns and Sunday morning long runs that disappeared into the haze of a massive hangover after a Friday night on the town. I had so much to lose, weekday wine was a hard earn reward for the day worked. Friday night beer was a reward and a good time out with my friends. Saturday night beer because there was a band on at the local. Tuesday night beer on the way to the shops that ended with a closing time pizza and the food still un-bought. This was the merry-go-round life I was leading. Alcohol wasn’t a problem, it was just a fact of life. Dry January proves it’s not a problem, we can give it up, stop it, anytime we like. Of course, we don’t want to as that what makes life fun right? Who wants to be one of those boring teetotallers? Don’t drink, no fun.
I never meant to stop drinking, my life started to change subtly, a career break, working for minimum wage for a summer season on a campsite, working fifteen hours a day, tending bar, taking bookings, cooking fry-ups. Evening wine dwindled and disappeared, Friday nights were different on the other side of the bar. The season changed from summer to autumn and a nightly bottle of cider became the norm and then that dwindled and disappeared. Mornings became clearer and something finally registered. The cognitive dissonance of having a good time of which most of it becomes a blur of good time followed by some sort of down, the down of lacklustre sleep, the down of a few beers and a midnight snack of pizza and chips, the down of a massive hangover the lasts until 3pm. These don’t feel like good times, but sure as sure, by late afternoon I’m looking forward to a glass of wine with my dinner, maybe two. May as well finish the bottle. Somewhere that all disappeared.
I never meant to stop drinking, it just happened. It’s not an effort, it’s not a hardship, I’m not even ‘giving up’. Last week we dropped by the local pub for the quiz night. It’s something we do occasionally to stay in the social loop, have a beer and amuse ourselves by how many of the answers we don’t know. This week we stayed for the whole quiz. For reference, the quiz is three beers long. From eight o’clock to ten o’clock, three beers and two packets of crisps. I was awake at 4am, all that beer has to come out at some time. Disturbed night sleep, queasy morning, skipped the gym. Life was interrupted. This is when I realised that life had changed, no longer was I celebrating the night and accepting the consequences of the next morning, this time I was regretting the loss of my clear morning, the freedom to be on top form and for anything to be possible.
I never meant to stop drinking, it just happened. Like now when I’m in the supermarket and decide I want a glass of wine with my dinner and head to the wine aisle and remember, actually, I don’t. That was just a memory glitch, my old life bleeding through into now. And then I walk on with my life.