46,15

That’s the number of days and hours I went without drinking. 1119 hours, to be precise. I wrote last month about my struggles with alcohol and wrestling with making some major changes to my relationship with booze. That meant sobriety to clear my head and give myself a break. Now the real challenge has begun – to see if I can maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol or if complete abstention is the only way forward.

I’d sort of pencilled in yesterday as the day when I might have a beer. I was up in London at a Don McCullin exhibition (an extraordinary photographer who is a creative hero of mine) and after doing a lot of walking and sightseeing I found myself thinking about the pub as the sun was beginning to set.  I was tired and if I’m honest, enjoying the thought of having one. So I found a decent pub serving decent beer, and bought a half.

It was strange for the first minute or two. I had the glass stood on the bar in front of me, and I just looked at it. I waited for someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask what the hell I was doing, but nobody seemed bothered. It looked like beer, with a bit of froth running down the side of the glass and that pure golden colour picking up the last of the sun coming through the glass. I knew what it would taste like. But still I hesitated. I did have a fleeting moment where I was going to walk out. I thought of the 46 days I’d accrued. Whether this drink was going to set me on a downward spiral or be a nice relaxing, solitary beer to end the day. Then I drank some. It tasted fine. I waited for the buzz of alcohol to hit. It took a few more sips. I finished the glass and left.

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only drink I had. Indeed, I had a couple more than I was planning to. I stuck to halves, but did myself a disservice by buying a couple of cans to see me through the train journey home. That’s always been part of the problem, stopping before the night is over. I drank one on the train and the other at home after dinner. so the pace was leisurely and sensible. Only 3 pints in total, but deep down I know it’s not ideal. Still all the hallmarks of the old bad habits.

Today I haven’t felt too fantastic either. On the lighter end of the hangover scale, but still noticeable. I did an hour’s walk and felt slightly nauseous on my return, and definitely dehydrated. I haven’t missed this side of it, that’s for sure.

So what have I learnt? Not much, I’d wager. Those 46 days weren’t too bad, once the hangover and guilt had dissipated. I know I can put together similar runs in the future, which is something I didn’t know three months ago. I hope my wild drinking bouts are over. But in reality I’m not sure. I think I will continue to drink for the rest of this year at least, it’s my 40th in November and I can’t imagine being dry for that, but beyond then, well I just don’t know. I have a feeling my drinking days are numbered, now. But that prospect doesn’t fill me with dread anymore. So maybe the end of the road is somewhere on the edge of the horizon.

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Dark Days and Drinking

In the writing game, the propensity for substance abuse appears to be higher than in other parts of society, particularly alcohol. A number of my favourite writers all had problems with the bottle – Stephen King, Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler to name but three. As King brilliantly articulates in On Writing, the idea that creative endeavour and booze or drugs are somehow connected and necessary in a world of emotional isolation and despair is a myth. Alcoholics drink because they are addicts, anything else is just another excuse.

Which brings me to my own battles with the booze. I’m obviously far from the standard of the legends I’ve mentioned, but I’ve used that excuse for my own excesses on occasion. And in the last few months the excesses are starting to get out of control. I drank heavily over the Christmas period, culminating in an ill-advised solo drinking session on New Years Eve which resulted in a substantial blackout period and one of the most savage hangovers I’ve ever experienced. I spent the first day of the year sleeping and puking and swallowed in a sea of self-loathing and guilt. Twenty six days later, I sit here and write, and I’m still sober.

I’ve been drinking for all the wrong reasons for a long time. It’s my fall back pastime when my mental health takes a tumble, which is the worst possible solution for that problem. When I’m bored, I drink. When I’m lonely, I drink. When I’m sad, I drink. When I can’t get the words down right, I drink. And on and on and on.  That my life is so much harder than anybody elses and I deserve to drink as some kind of a reward. It’s pathetic, really. I have friends with serious family stuff going on, life and death situations, and I get drunk because I feel I’m worthless as a writer or because I’m lonely. What a self-indulgent load of nonsense that is. Like I’m inviting the despair on to give me an excuse.

That’s not to say my mental health problems shouldn’t be acknowledged, far from it. But alcohol is not the way to do it. Once the fog cleared I made some enquiries and will hopefully be going back into therapy soon. I spent the best part of three years seeing somebody a decade ago and it really helped. More fool me for thinking I can do it on my own. And I’m sure that if I can keep my drinking under control my creative output should remain constant, and everything else will improve both physically and mentally.  I’m already sleeping better. My skin feels clearer. And its lovely to wake up in the morning without having to wonder how I got home. Simple pleasures.

It would be nice to get to the stage where I can enjoy a beer again, make it an occasional pleasure rather than a habit. If I can’t handle that, then it probably is time to give up for good. But I know now that I can’t go on as I have been, and that’s revelation enough.  I can not drink and be cleaner and happier, and still be able to write and live.