I always thought of alcoholics as those old men with red pimpled noses that I would see at 6.45am in the morning as they wait (im) patiently for their local bar to open. Alcoholics were those men and women who sat in the big Wetherspoons in my home town (Aberdeen) all day drinking halves, talking to themselves and sometimes pissing themselves at the bar.
They were alcoholics, I was just someone who really enjoyed a drink and yeah I got myself into a state but who doesn’t. It didn’t mean I was an alcoholic, I was just the same as the vast majority of the people I would see in the pub at the weekend.
It only really occurred to me that I might be an alcoholic when I was discussing the subject with a friend of mine who said that “well we are both alcoholics mate, we might only drink once or twice a week but we cannot control it when we do so that makes us alchies” I thought about it for a second, agreed and moved on.
I just casually accepted that yeah ok fine I am an alcoholic in that sense but that’s better than being that old man waiting for a bar to open pre 7am… it’s different isn’t it, I don’t wake up craving that taste, that feeling, I can get up, go to to work, play football, live normal life without the need for booze on a daily basis.
Turns out that only because I had some semblance of routine like going to work every morning was saving me from becoming my own definition of an alcoholic.
I started drinking like most kids do at friends houses and in parks when I was 15/16. To be honest though, it didn’t really do it for me. I didn’t massively like the taste of beers and I could only really manage to force down 4 or 5 on any given night. Yeah I know what a lot of people are thinking, ‘only 4 or 5’ trust me, that was a ‘few’ beers watching the football for me.
Now, yes I did get drunk on some of these nights, sometimes embarrassingly so but I would probably go weeks/months without another similar drinking session. Along with the general dislike for the taste of alcohol I also woke up one morning after a friends 17th birthday party with a kidney infection.
My doctor was of the belief that I was drinking too much… it was one night so either I did indeed drink an obscene amount or my kidney’s were trying to tell me something early doors. I think this scared me off a little bit at the time because the infection was particularly painful.
I don’t really have any recollection of any big nights out or anything stupid until a month or so after my 17th birthday. I had already left school and was working full time. I was still very shy back then but was slowly coming out of my shell and beginning to speak more and more to the other staff there.
One Friday a couple of lads from the workshop invited me for beers on the Saturday. 17 year old me was so stoked that these two guys who were both older than me (one a year or two the other would have been in his early/mid twenties) wanted to hang out with me in the pub.
We met at lunch time for beers and we. got. on. it. I was so proud of myself that I handled my drink so well that day, managed to stay upright all day/night and stay out until about 2am after an underage trip to the strippers. Despite the hangover on the Sunday I felt like I was both a fully fledged adult and most importantly that I had been accepted.
These Saturday sessions quickly turned into any day of the week sessions, after work of course but I would find myself clock watching the last few hours of the day away so I could go and hang out with my new friends. I say hang out but really it was to get black out drunk.
I very quickly became enamoured with the reputation that came with being a young prolific drinker who could out drink the older people in the group and then get up again the next day and do it again.
I was very proud of my drinking streaks (30 nights in a row don’t you know) and the sheer amount of booze I was getting through. To give you an idea about my level, if I was half way though a pint and I noticed the bar getting busy I would go up to order my next one so that I had it ready for when I finished. I didn’t want to have to wait a few minutes with no drink in my hand. Mentally I could not cope with it.
This was my life in Aberdeen for 15 years. Booze/nights out over everything. I would always find someone to drink with, always find an excuse to go out and always find an excuse to stay out more importantly.
It really didn’t matter to me that I had girlfriends, friends, work, plans the next day, money to save for holidays, booze would win out over all of these things. I would rarely justify any expensive purchases for things I really wanted but I’d always have treble that value readily available to spend on drink.
I mentioned the kidney infection earlier, these were a regular theme in my life through these years of drinking. Do you know what I did when I got them… drank more. What kind of logic is that?! The pain was excruciating and to most people it would mean slow down, stop for a while but not me, I would drink through it… like trying to walk off an ankle sprain.
Just for info, a ‘regular’ say Saturday night would involve between 10-15 beers (pints) and then probably about a litres worth of gin…sometimes a little more, somehow.
I’m not really sure how much detail I need to go into about my nights out, there was a lot of obnoxious attitude, mouthing off constantly at people, falling over, the usual I suppose.
In my early 20’s I was an extremely angry drunk but I mellowed (at least a little bit) during my 20’s and into my 30’s. It really didn’t take much for me to fly off the handle though, I would misconstrue almost any innocent comment and become a total asshole.
It’s actually surprising I managed to maintain relationships of any sort to be honest. The biggest problem at the time was that no one called me out on my behaviour when I was drunk so I just passed it off as being acceptable. At most I’d offer a token apology and move on.
One thing I was very aware of was alcohol’s ability to drain any energy and confidence from my soul when I was sober. So many plans, so many ideas, so many things I wanted to get involved in that sober anxious me just couldn’t bring myself to do. The drunk me would speak to anyone, talk relentlessly about ideas and plans and things I liked. Sober me would always be on the wrong side of the anxiety of course and that little voice in my head would always tell me to not be so stupid, you can’t do that, you don’t have the talent for that. And repeat ad nauseam.
One of the many dreams I had was to move abroad and at the very least try living in a different country. I had spoken about this sooooo much but had never even taken tentative steps to do it. Suddenly at 32 the company I was working for were going through a hard time and were making redundancies. I basically just blurted it out to my boss, get me out of here if you can, tell them to make me an offer and I’ll go. I don’t know why but I think subconsciously there was something telling me it was now or never. A few months later I was living in Barcelona.
So I moved to Barcelona with grand plans – see the correlation here – to take a few months off to rest, explore the city, learn Spanish and start a business. If I needed to take a job in the meantime, just to keep money coming in then I was happy enough to do that for a few months. On my first day in Barcelona I met my new flatmates and stayed out partying with them until 8am…
This was my life for the next almost 2 years. I never bothered to look for that job, never really bothered to learn much Spanish and most certainly didn’t start a business. With zero structure around me to keep me from my worst self I fell apart.
Now, I wasn’t drinking every day so again I could find reason enough to keep telling myself everything was ok. However, I was finding myself drinking for breakfast, baileys in my coffee or breakfast beers… Breakfast beers were the name we gave the mini bottles that you can get in Spain. In the UK a night out would finish at 2am, here in Barcelona my nights out would end the next evening, or later. I would find myself getting up after a few days of tranquility to go for a shower, find my flatmates having a party and join in. At 7am.
I blew 30K in those two years. 30 fucking grand, the things I could have done with that money! Hindsight eh! Sunshine, new foreign friends, cheap beers and too much time on my hands meant pretty much non stop days/nights out over that time.
All the old traits were still there too, flying off the handle for no reason, falling over in bars, walking home obliterated, wearing headphones through the most dangerous of neighbourhoods. I was Indestructible when drunk, incredibly arrogant too.
There were a few steps towards sobriety for me. First was and I mean this with as little offence as possible but a lot of my social group just seemed to age rapidly in front of my eyes. And I mean rapidly. Every so often I would see photos of myself and see me going the same route and it started to play on my mind.
Secondly the hangover anxiety was through the roof! I had always suffered with the hangover fear but it was manageable, I could still function. In those times though I could not cope with it, I would hide in my room for days after a night out. Only sneaking out of my room to grab the pizza from the takeaway guy at the door. I wouldn’t even look at my phone during those times, just watch films, sleep and feel like my world was falling apart.
Thirdly and this was the biggest one, I had a panic attack one afternoon. Long story short I love street art and graffiti and at one point in BCN I started working with one of the street art tours. I had done a couple and after some initial nerves was beginning to become a bit more comfortable with them.
The tour was on a Monday and I had a pretty heavy Friday and Saturday so Sunday was ground zero for the hangover and Monday was the beginning of the anxiety. I planned on cancelling on the tour but last minute decided that I could handle it. I appeared at the meeting point and saw the group, there must have been 50 people.
My heart immediately started racing at a rate I had never experienced, my breathing became really fast and really difficult and I had to crouch down in a doorway. I dragged myself home, cancelled the tour, got fired on the spot and spent the next hour lying in bed trying to calm down. Being fired did not help haha.
After that, the next few months although I didn’t stop drinking (obviously d’uh) I really pushed myself to call it quits after a reasonable amount of drinks. My idea of reasonable of course but still a huge improvement on my previous lifestyle.
From memory I got drunk twice in around 5 months and both times the hangovers were obscenely bad. I had been speaking about getting sober for a little while but every time I was banging on about it I would always claim that it was impossible and that I just needed to get it down to a beer here and a beer there and I would be fine.
These conversations continued though so obviously something inside me was pushing me to call it quits. Then it happened, I woke up on a Sunday and decided, no drinks this week. And that was it, honestly, that easy. I didn’t drink for two years after that point. I kept giving myself check points where I could start drinking again but when I got to them I would just keep going.
I’ve thought about this a lot, Is it easy to quit drinking? I just stopped one day, boom, but only because I had got to a point where my mind could not handle anymore. If I had kept going like I was I would probably have done something stupid by now the way my head was.
I have had so many friends say that they wish they could stop and that I had a lot of strength to do what I did. I didn’t really see it that way, probably still don’t, I needed to stop and I did. But really it took 17 years to get to that point so no, it’s not easy. Especially if like me, socialising always revolved around drinking…
Stopping came at a cost. I lost loads and loads of friends, basically my whole social circle disappeared overnight. I was a little bitter about that for a while but thinking back in reality it was my lack of ability to socialise whilst sober that was the problem.
It occurred to me whilst at a gig one night that I had never ever been sober at a gig or a festival or, well at pretty much anything I could think of actually. I had zero experience at socialising sober (work doesn’t count) and was absolutely fucking useless at it. Honestly, 3 years in I still am. I went from 100 to zero and then tried to go back to 100 on the socialising part and it was such an alien feeling to me.
I don’t think I’ll ever become comfortable with it if I am being honest, I am FAR to aware of the drunks in the room and too often, their ability to switch from happy to angry in a split second. It leaves me on edge and it’s almost like a sensory overload when I am in bar, it’s pretty overwhelming. I can see why alcohol helped me so much, I was rarely aware of any of this stuff when I was drinking. That being said, I don’t miss the big nights or hangovers, not one bit.
I mentioned earlier about having a beer here and a beer there. Well last year I decided to test myself with a beer to see if I could be sensible with it and just ENJOY one. Well I did enjoy it but the feeling of MORE was gone. After I finished it I was satisfied and I knew that I had gotten over the final hurdle. So today, I have a beer now and again (I’ve not had one for 3 months) if I am out for dinner or if I just fancy one but it’s just that, one and done.
So that’s my story, even if one person reads it and thinks, shit that’s basically me and it inspires them to at least think about getting help/stopping then great, job done!
To check out Lewis´s Graffiti Blog “No Grey Walls” click here