The Good, The Bad and the Extremely UGLY

First of all I want to make a request. There are many awards given to bloggers. Bloggers can be nominated for best health blog, funniest blog, most life  affirming blog, the list seems endless. If anyone reading this is familiar with the different awards on offer, then please, please nominate me in the category,”Worst start to a self help campaign-EVER.” I’m really sure I could win.  The evidence is overwhelming.  6 weeks since starting a blog whose sole intention was to document my attempt at moderating my alcohol consumption I have had some spectacular benders. Days of overindulgence where moderation was seen flying out the window fast than you could say,”Fill it up again please bartender.”

In the litany of my recent failings, yesterday now takes pride of place.  I need to document this day now, the day after,just so I get everything recorded correctly because I need to see it in front of me and to return to it one day to remind myself as to why I need to succeed in my attempt to moderate my drinking.

THE GOOD

Yesterday I went with my girlfriend to a wedding.  We were camping and it was the first gay wedding I had attended.  A gay wedding on Pride day- brilliant.  Really looking forward to it.  The sun was shining, the English countryside was beautiful, the couple gorgeous and there was a free bar. This wasn’t just good, this was heaven. The bar opened before the service, barrels of fine English ale from a local brewery.  I said to myself that I needed to remember that I was trying to moderate, cut down.  I had 2 pints then switched to a soft drink.  Good boy, Jim.  The service started.  As I said in a previous blog, I don’t get emotional about me but I do when I watch other people, be it in real life or on film. The service was beautiful.  I blubbed.  The two women getting married said the most amazing things to each other.  The love they had for each other was so tangible you could almost touch it. Just the right amount of alcohol to feel relaxed and chilled, wonderful setting, love filling the air , my girlfriend holding my hand, great company- Jim saw that it was GOOD!

THE BAD

Service over, the band playing, drinking beer with a famous sportsman who I did not recognise till someone pointed it out later, I was getting into the swing of things.  The moderation voice became inaudible.  My girlfriend made a comment about not drinking too much and I talked about not spoiling the fun. When I drink,I drink fast.  It was a help yourself bar. People were taking my glass and refilling it.  I didn’t object.  Beer, cider, bubbly for the toast. I was getting tipsy. We sat down to eat and next to me was a woman with a huge laugh and an even bigger capacity for alcohol. We were kindred spirits.  My girlfriend did try telling me to slow down but it was past the point of logic or reasoning.  It was getting BAD. I reached for the red wine and knocked a glass of red wine over me and the woman sat next to me.  VERY BAD. I staggered to my tent to change my clothes. Whilst I was gone several people spoke to my girlfriend to ask if I was OK and if she was OK. BAD but not quite UGLY…..Yet.

The VERY UGLY

Most of this comes from my girlfriend who told me about events this morning.  I remember very little. I was covering my ears and saying,”Stop! I don’t want to hear any more”. And …. “Oh no I didn’t, did I?”

I got back to the main tent, I drank more, I danced, I asked the drinking woman to marry me.  Very oddly I accidentally burped during one of the speeches.  My dancing cleared the dancefloor.  I was the epitome of the embarrassing drunk at the wedding. My behaviour was boorish and objectionable (why didn’t someone just hit me?). I went back to the tent and slumped across the air bed. My girlfriend tried to move me but I was out cold.  She said that she was worried I might have alcohol poisoning.  She went back and I’m glad that she had a couple of hours without me embarrassing her.When she came back I woke, sorted myself out and we went to bed. My drunken antics had been very UGLY.
This morning as my girlfriend told me of how I was yesterday I felt ashamed of myself.  I wanted to pack up and go. I did not want to see or face anyone.  The drinking woman came over and she said I had been great fun and had started speaking Spanish at one point.  I can’t remember but I was just thinking, “I need to get away from here.” My girlfriend said that I was not nasty to her or anything like that.  If I was the kind of drunk that became aggressive or nasty I would definitely never want to drink again. Nevertheless,  my behaviour had been terrible and I felt for my girlfriend.  She will have friends saying that she should stop seeing me.  They would have a point.  I think I would stop seeing me. 
So that was the wedding; the question remains; why did I drink like that? I’m not a great fan of weddings, talking to people you don’t know; a drink or two definitely helps to lubricate the social gears.  But that excessive drinking, what is that all about? Partly habit, partly my excessive nature.  Could I have been trying to disgust myself, show myself that I will never be able to moderate my drinking?  Could I have been trying to disgust my girlfriend so that she does give up on me?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that  this is not the first time I have got this way at a social function.  July was always going to be a tricky month and with a family BBQ reunion next weekend and a trip to Germany the week after that the testing times are still here.  But I am not going to subject my girlfriend again to what she had to put up with yesterday. For next week I need a plan, a strategy.  I have one or two ideas and I shall have a few alcohol free days this week and really start going to  social events with more than just a vague intention to drink less.  That clearly does not work. 

Now where’s that award, I must have won!

Jim x

Posted in Alcohol dependency, Drunkenness, moderation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Just what is your problem Jim?

Saturday morning.  Last night was supposed to be the third of my no drinking days this week and also my first attempt at not having a drink on Friday since the dawn of time.  I cracked and wrote a blog post full of anger and indignation. It was at best insensitive to those bloggers who have taken the abstinence route but there was a truth there that I needed to put down.

I now need to unpick last night.  Wednesday and Thursday were two of my designated no drinking days. No real problem.  Certainly made me realise that I am not physiologically addicted to alcohol as I had no cravings or shakes etc.  In fact I felt really good.  I also did some more research and decided that for me, in the future I should aim to drink no more than 40 units a week.  That is quite high but it seems the real damage happens when you drink 50 + units and my average has been 55 units a week although this last week, despite 2 non alcohol days I have managed to consume a ridiculous 70+ units.

I knew my girlfriend was coming round, I was cooking and the power of association, not addiction got the better of me.  It was Friday night. Friday. The end of the week;release and enjoyment time.  The sun was shining.  It was a warm evening In England.  Friday, warm evening; THAT EQUALS WINE! Looking back I should have realised that I should not have tackled this powerful association so soon in my “trying to moderate”phase.  So I opened the wine.  I drank  three-quarters of the bottle. It felt good.  I was at peace with the world. My girlfriend left early as we are off to a wedding tomorrow and she needed to get home and pack etc.

I knew at that point that I should not have any more, but I did. Half a bottle of a nice red, a large vodka and bitter lemon. I was going for it. With the food too. Crackers and cheese.Why was I doing this? I suppose it was that thing of making a promise to yourself, breaking it and then saying,”Fuck it,” if I’ve screwed up I may as well do it big time.  But then I wrote last night’s blog post, almost taking out my anger on the sober bloggers. (I can be the most annoying tit sometimes).  But there was a truth there for me anyway.  That’s all any of us can do.  Reflect our reality.  My relationship to alcohol is unique, it shares features with others’ journeys but the elements are unique and my way out of it must be mine to figure out.  I have to do what’s right for me, and that means stop looking at alcohol as the problem. If I focus on alcohol I’m missing the crucial point – why do I crave/need/abuse/enjoy/celebrate/despise alcohol? What is it about my unique make-up and history that makes me drink far more than most of the people I know?

Going back to last night I think there were a couple of clues.  I shall put to one side the “I cracked and then went the whole hog” argument.  Of course that came into play but there was something else going on. I felt sad that I lacked the control over not just drinking but also food and relationships. I tend to do everything in excess.  There is a voraciousness there; a need to consume.  Consuming to feel the void maybe? To make myself feel a little less sad? I know last night that as I was chatting over dinner, the wedding of my former girlfriend came up.  She is getting married in two weeks and a family member who maintained her friendship with my former girlfriend is coming over to England for that wedding. Would I be meeting up with this family member? I said that was unlikely as I did not accidentally want to bump into my ex girlfriend. Simple enough but why was I feeling knotted up inside?  Did I still have feelings for her.  My life has been full of failed relationships; is it me? Do I have what it takes to maintain an intimate relationship? Intimacy. Now we are digging into it. I find true intimacy difficult, drink covers it up; allows the sense of intimacy to emerge or maybe alcohol gives me permission to be intimate.  I usually only tell my sons I love them when I have had a few. Why’s that?

This to me is now interesting (probably not to anyone else but then this is my attempt to understand myself), am I getting to some of the real reasons I drink? Intimacy, the lack of it, the fear of it. I could add emotions generally.  When I drink, one of the benefits is that it allows emotions to surface. Last night I felt anger and sadness, but at least I felt something.  I cry in two situations, firstly if I am watching someone else’s emotions/story from a viewpoint such as television,film or opera and secondly when I have a drink.  With a drink I can lament or feel sorry for the losses I have experienced or the things I have never experienced. When I am with people whether with or without  a drink I am happy-go-lucky Jim, always a smile on his face, in control and willing to help others. Today when I go to the wedding I shall be the life and soul.  I’ll drink,chat,dance, maybe play guitar,sing, tell jokes, drink and be merry. Hopefully I won’t get drunk and fall over (that’s not really my style).

But right now, writing these words, I can almost touch the pain that is lurking under the surface.  The pain of losing my son and only brother within a year of each other nearly 9 years ago, the pain of knowing that the anniversary of my son’s death is only a week away, the pain of knowing that someone I did love but we were just too fucked up to ever be able to live together is getting married in two weeks time. The pain of not having the emotional capacity to share these feelings with my current girlfriend.  Scary. Setting it out like this. This is the stuff I need to explore I think.  No wonder I am clinging onto alcohol.  It might be the one thing that has kept me going, that has allowed me to feel and cry on occasion.  Alcohol has helped but I have allowed it to move from help to hindrance.  I think I do have to confront some issues and maybe in turn that could mean me being less dependent on alcohol.

In typical Jim spirit, I shall now put these uncomfortable thought to one side and get ready for my first camping wedding. I shall forget my problems, have a great day and maybe just have a little cry later on together with telling everyone how much I love them.

To the sober bloggers, particularly the wonderful Wendy,  I want to say sorry for being unnecessarily opinionated and insensitive. I do admire those that give up and I completely get that for some people it can be the only way to go. For me, if I give up I may never understand what drove me into drinking unheathily in the first place.  I want to be able to drink but drink moderately and at peace with myself.

Jim x

Posted in Alcohol dependency, Influences on drinking, moderation, sobriety, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Alcohol is not the problem, we are! 

This is the controversial post;the one that could alienate. But what the hell. I have read so many posts from sober bloggers, demonising alcohol and although I know I have a problem, it’s not alcohol’s fault. Alcohol in its myriad magical forms is merely a drug. It lacks consciousness; it doesn’t target, it doesn’t manipulate. It just is. It’s how we use or abuse that is the issue. I’ve heard the same thing said about so many things; Facebook, the internet, junk food, pornography. They are not the problem. We are the problem. We have choices, we can choose to destroy ourselves with alcohol or equally with cocaine, motorcycles, climbing mountains. I have seen friends die from alcohol abuse yet I never once blamed alcohol. Alcohol was merely their chosen suicide vehicle.

I never want to spend my life counting days since my last drink, floating in some no man’s land of denial, shame and desire. If I give up alcohol I have failed. I’ve lost control and I have lost something I love. No way. Alcohol is not the problem; it’s our shame, anxiety, excess, whatever. It’s rooted in the person not some neutral substance. Sure the way it’s so available, so acceptable doesn’t help but at the end of the day it’s a  choice. I can’t control my food intake, is food to blame? Clearly not.

If I do end up giving up alcohol then for me it means I have failed. Failed to control my intake of a substance I enjoy but which I allowed to dominate. If it’s harmful then I have a choice. But abstinence that’s a failure. It’s saying I can’t control an aspect of my life. It means a miserable future of counting bloody days like some sad endgame. Not for me. If I drink too much then I have to work on me. I’m the problem. I need to sort that. Giving up alcohol will not only deny me a pleasure but also signify a failure of will. For me alcohol is a drug, sure, but it is also something that I have allowed to be associated with times and events that mean it has taken on the appearance of being in control. Nonsense. I am the cognisant one. With thought, planning and resolve I can be in control. if I can’t succeed then I am at fault, not alcohol.

Someone needs to put the other point of view.

Jim

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Diary Entry- Is this blog making things worse or have they always been this bad?

Since starting this blog it seems that I am thinking of little other than my drinking. In between entries I think of what the next post should be and I often do not post because there are so many potential posts that I end up writing nothing. In between posts I think about my drinking, I record what I am drinking, I contemplate future scenarios where I will be drinking – to be honest it’s enough to turn a man to drink! And that is a real worry- is my writing about, and focus on drinking actually making me drink more?  To be honest I think I know the answer-NO IT’S NOT!

I think the writing and obsessing about it is making me realise just how bad things have become.  Take the last few days. Since Friday I have had 4 days out of 5 where I have drunk at least 15 units of alcohol.  The UK guidelines are that a safe level of drinking is no more than 14 units in a week- that means that in less than one week I have consumed  a month’s worth. Before starting this blog and recording what I drink I would have gently reflected that I had had a few days of slightly excessive drinking and carried on. Now I see the amount in front of my eyes- 4 days out of 5 where I have exceeded a week’s safe drinking level. 68 units spread over 4 days.

Yesterday was supposed to be one of my first tests for moderation.  I’d set myself a reasonable target of a few drinks – maybe a very generous 6-8 units.So how did this test of my resolve and moderation go? Crap! That’s how. Yet priceless in what it has shown me.  Let me backtrack.  Last night I went for a meal with 7 women that I had trained with last year. We are all volunteers for a charity and occasionally we like to get together and do a bit of social catching up. We had planned to meet at a cheap and cheerful restaurant. Everyone drove there, except me.  This was a social occasion and I knew that meant I would have to drink. So one of the group kindly agreed to pick me up.  All day yesterday I was looking ahead and feeling anxious; would I be able to moderate?  Should I just drive and that way not drink at all? That seemed impossible. I knew if I did I would be sitting there all evening just thinking about the fact that I didn’t have a drink. As I contemplated this prior to going out, I felt depressed- is this what it has come to? A very ordinary get together on a Tuesday night has taken on massive proportions- all related to alcohol.  I ditched the idea of driving.

I had an hour before being picked up.  I knew most of the group would not be drinking and I dreaded both the prospect of drinking moderately (harder for me than not drinking at all) or drinking normally which would result in me being visibly the one with a drink problem. I didn’t want to go. It would be easier to stay home and not drink.  That was scary- I would choose not going out and meeting friends because I was worried that I couldn’t drink in a normal way.  I found a solution – an alcoholic solution.

I went to the fridge and poured a large glass of wine.  Genius Jim! Pre-load!  I ignored the sarcastic voice that was ringing in my ears.  I had cracked. A second and third glass quickly followed. So this is it.  The great plan?  Get pissed before going out so that I can appear not to drink much when I get to the restaurant.  I am guessing this is a common tactic for those who are alcohol dependent? Once the wine was flowing the voice stopped and I felt calm and relaxed and good.  I enjoyed the evening and probably no-one guessed that I had already drunk nearly a bottle of wine. I had a beer and a large glass of wine with the meal and felt satisfied that I’d appeared to drink reasonably whilst at the same time tanked up with alcohol from my pre-loading at home.

I got home and felt good but of course I’d spent 3 hours drinking very little so on arriving home I had two large gin and tonics. I was starting to feel disgusted with myself.  My first real test at moderation and I had ended up drinking nearly 20 units. The experience of yesterday shows me that my problem with alcohol is much bigger than I have previously admitted to myself and that the various factors that converge to make me feel compelled to drink are going to be difficult to overcome.  There is a wedding coming up this weekend and I am now dreading it. I should of course be looking forward to it but all I am thinking is, “Will I drink too much, how can I disguise it, will I embarrass my girlfriend, will I make a complete dick of myself?”  I dread these social occasions and that seems sad. I think I am slowly coming to the conclusion that if I cannot learn to moderate then I will have to consider giving up completely.  Let’s see how this weekend goes?

Jim x

 

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Diary Entry- The road to moderation one month on

I started this blog 4 weeks ago as a way of reflecting on my attempt to moderate my consumption of alcohol.  The first phase has been to:

  1. Admit that I am dependent on alcohol– I’ve done the questionnaires, I have looked at my drinking behaviour, there is no doubt- I have become dependent on alcohol in some situations. I think about alcohol, I plan around its use, I disguise my drinking and I often lose control over how much I do drink. My use of and dependency on alcohol has reached a point where action was necessary.
  2. Record my intake of alcohol. I needed to record exactly how much I drink and when I drink.  I use an app provided free by Drinkaware that lets me record simply what I drink and shows me my consumption over time. over the last 2 months my average consumption is between 50-60 units of alcohol.
  3. Reflect honestly and openly about my relationship with alcohol by writing about it on this blog. It feels like the relationship is so complex and multi-layered that it will take time to truly unpick how my drinking evolved to the point I am at today. If I am to change the relationship by cutting back my consumption then I have to understand how and why my drinking behaviour became problematic.
  4. Read other people’s journey to moderation and/or sobriety.  Looking at other people’s blogs and stories has really helped me understand my own situation better.  Those stories have inspired and supported me. Everyone’s story and situation is unique but it is interesting how many similarities there are to my situation in many of the individual stories I have read. These accounts resonate and inform.
  5. Set a target of 3 alcohol free days per week. I know the attempt to moderate is going to be difficult and I am open to the idea that I may ultimately fail but this target of 3 days without alcohol every week is achievable and will help reduce my weekly consumption.

Four weeks in and I can see that it is going to be a tough journey of ups and downs, successes and failures. On the positive side I am maintaining this blog and therefore recording and reflecting on my journey warts and all. Secondly I am recording how much I drink on my Drinkaware app and recently I have managed to have three alcohol days a week. On the downside this last month has not been overly challenging in terms of “difficult” situations such as celebrations, meals out and other occasions where my drinking gets out of control and yet I have still had too many days where my drinking has been problematic. In particular there have been 3 or 4 occasions where I have been on my own and still drank to excess and felt guilty about this.

Yesterday was a good example of a bad day. On Friday i went to the concert I had planned to go to with my son. I spent the day in London, saw some sights and avoided having a drink.  I then met up with my son who is in his 30`s. I knew that I would be drinking and my aim was to have about 4 pints and that would constitute a successful evening of pleasant, moderate drinking. We met about 6 with the concert starting at 7. Knowing there would be a support act we decided we would find somewhere to eat.  Our first stop was a lovely pub in Kentish Town. I went for a weak beer.  Wasn’t I being good? 2 pints of that and we went to another pub for something to eat. At this point I should have switched to a soft drink but my pattern of drinking has never included that and I also felt that pull of ,”It’s Friday night, out with my son, a buzzing atmosphere, have a beer and enjoy yourself.” So that is exactly what I did. 2 more pints, off to another pub. We arrived at the venue ready for the main act and 5 pints inside us. I was also well into my “drinking persona.”  I get to the bar and I do not just order two pints of strong lager but insist we have chasers.  By the end of the evening I have probably had around 8 pints and a couple of chasers so probably 18-20 units.

Yesterday, having managed to get back on the train without falling asleep and missing my stop, I wake up with a proper, old school hangover. I feel annoyed with myself at having failed miserably at one of my first moderation challenges.  Worse is to come.  A big reason for wanting to cut back is the effect heavy drinking has on my health and diet. A day of heavy drinking is bad enough but the next day is often worse.  Yesterday was like that.  I craved food.  This always happens. Cheese on toast, crisps, biscuits. I pile crap into my body in a vain attempt to feel better.  Then I have a drink to try and make myself normal. I try to distract myself by doing the garden.  I reward myself with wine. I then stop for a while because I do not want to appear drunk before my girlfriend comes round. She arrives and I pour gin and tonics as though its my first drink of the day. I finish the day sipping wine.  My attempt to get over the hangover has resulted in me drinking around 15 units of alcohol, eating huge amounts of food and feeling angry with myself.

It’s now 5 in the morning on the Sunday.  These physical consequences; feeling hungover, not sleeping, sweaty, bloated are why I have to moderate.  I do hear the voice that says,”just bloody stop drinking completely,” and that will be an option if I do not learn to moderate.  July is a big test. I have a  meal out on Tuesday, a wedding on Saturday, family reunion the following weekend and then a trip to Germany where I will stay with my lovely but beer loving cousin.  I need more than a vague “I will try and cut down,” for these events. Friday showed me that that approach is useless. I need a definite, agreed plan for each ocassion.  This coming Tuesday is a a meal with colleagues I trained with last year as part of my volunteer work with a charity.  I have already organised a lift so that I can drink and last time we went out I pre-loaded at home.  This time I will set myself a limit of how much I am going to drink; no more than 2 pints and 2 glasses of wine.  That would still be a lot for some people but for me that would represent succcess.

In conclusion I think the past month has been good in that I see my problem more clearly than before and I do I accept that I do have a problem.  Change is always difficult but it is possible. It will take time, but I will have to start showing a bit more resolve and planning ahead.  I know I am trying to control my use of a powerful drug , a drug that usually ends up controlling the user, but I want to try and get that control back. I have to get that control back.  If I fail, I know I will have to consider sobriety and that feels too big a challenge to contemplate at present.

Onwards and upwards.

Jim x

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Dispatches from the Frontline 2- it’s why I call it sweet poison

Cutting down -that’s the theory.  Did well this week.  Three days without alcohol, a Friday night where I drank a bottle of wine (but see this a success) then today a test. Went to a food and drink festival. Self talk beforehand-“have a drink but dont go crazy- this is a good test.”

So how did I do? Saw stall selling Thai food, the odd beer etc. Nowhere to sit. Suddenly an oasis springs up. A local restaurant had pitched up a tent. Food and drink with a table and chairs. Yes please.  Ordered a bottle of wine and my girlfriend was in a good mood and drank a glass.  I made sure I had most of course. Lovely pleasant feelings, that slightly tipsy feeling when you feel at peace with yourself and the world.  This is why I drink. It’s good, I feel good, we chat effortlessly to the couple on the next table. Wine- the great connector. So far so sweet.

The wine is finished. I know inside that this is the point where normal drinkers stop. Of course they do.  To drink more now takes it to another needless place. I call over the waiter,”one of those nice local beers please,”my girlfriend raises an eyebrow but says nothing. I’m now feeling what I can only describe as loosely relaxed. We look around the festival.  I try some local wines before trying and then buying \a glass of rose.  We then head to the gin and vodka stalls. My girlfriend wants to move on.  I try the gins. I buy two bottles to take home.

I walk back to my house stopping off to buy overpriced tonic. My girlfriend is coming over soon. I’m sitting here having drunk at least 14 units.  I know, I absolutely know I should stop.  And I have. I’m writing this but all the time I’m thinking,”beer or Gin and tonic?” This is the poison.

Today encapsulates everything that defines my relationship to alcohol. I love it. I love how it makes me feel. I hate it. It takes over. I cant imagine giving it up completely.  It feels that a life without alcohol will be duller, less fun.  I love the people who drink.  This blog is making me think, like never before about how big is the relationship with drinking I  have had/am having. If I pour that G and T I know I will look at the blue sky and experience a slightly euphoric feeling.  I will also feel guilt and tomorrow I will feel disappointed and wonder why my moderation strategies did not work.  Sweet poison indeed.

I’ve nodded oƒf mid blog.

It’s 7 pm – Spotify is on in the background as I wake up. It’s John Grant – GMF- how appropriate- self loathing at its most poignant.  I love John Grant. Melodies so silky smooth, a voice as rich as expresso and lyrics that rip and tear at your soul. That little gap, the snooze as the blog entry lies open on the iPad is enough to help me reach for the kettle rather than the gin.  Little triumphs.

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The Origins of My Drinking Habits Number 1 – Childhood

It always seems to go back to childhood. I read a report just yesterday suggesting that things such as stress in childhood can be linked to shortened life expectancy and susceptibility to a range of health conditions in later life. Not a surprise then if our drinking habits can sometimes find their origins in our childhood. For me the patterns of harmful, excessive drinking as well as the incredible pleasure I have had in my drinking career are rooted in three main themes of my childhood:

1 The early socialization into drinking culture and culture via the German side of my family

2 My father- both my reaction and kicking against his anti alcohol message as well as the void left by his inability to show warmth and love

3 Childhood illness that left me feeling different and lacking confidence

Number 1- The Germans! My mum was German. She was loving, generous, sociable and was a constant but moderate drinker. Even in her final dementia ridden years she loved to share a glass or two of red wine with me. A few sips and the old German folk songs came out. Maybe moments like that explain the love side of my love hate relationship with alcohol.

Then there was the rest of the Germans.Wow! A drinking culture of a different order. My first recollection of drinking alcohol was as a 5 year old at a wedding in Germany. My uncles playfully offering me a sip of champagne and also a puff of a cigar. No doubt this would now be considered child abuse but this was Germany in the 1960s- let the boy enjoy himself. I loved the champagne but the cigar made me feel sick. My German uncles were great. Working men who had fought in the war, been prisoners of war (two of them) in Russia, worked in factories and sung in the local choir. Coursing through this proud, interconnected world was beer and schnapps. To me these men were gods. They sang, told great stories, were warm and affectionate, made things with their hands and drank. When I went there as a twelve year old I was encouraged to have a beer, try a schnapps. Constant drink but no-one ever getting drunk, in public anyway, as I had often seen back in England.

I can see that my early positive associations to alcohol were forged in those encounters with my German family. One uncle subsequently died after falling down the stairs after a drinking session and a cousin died after having remortgaged his family home and squandering the money on gambling and drinking. He was found dead in his vomit. These were less positive associations but I was shielded from these and only found out the darker side of the drinking culture when I was in my 20s. Even then I saw their deaths as a result of deeper problems; alcohol was the means by which they died I said to myself, not the reason.

Number 2- My Father

Where the Germans represented life, fun,singing and sociability lubricated with beer, wine and schnapps, my father represented criticism, judgement, isolation lubricated with tea and scowls. Who wouldn’t, given that choice, choose alcohol?

I’m being hard on my poor old dad and I feel mean but he had been ill and for reasons I will probably never know, I was on the receiving end of much of his anger, frustration and disappointment. When he died I had no tears. I felt regret that I could not remember one single occasion when he held, cuddled or made me feel loved. But no tears. He could sometimes take it out on my mum too and I would always take her side, gang up with her against my dad. He would lecture all and sundry about why eating meat and smoking and drinking alcohol were all bad failings, weaknesses. Lovely. Now I knew how to annoy my dad. I started smoking at 13, knocked back the occasional beer from 15 and ate meat, refusing meals that only contained vegetables. I also delighted in telling my dad who fought on the beaches of Normandy that Hitler was a vegetarian teetotaler. What a little shit I must have been. As I grew up I always felt a gap where my father should have been and the self doubt caused by the constant criticism is, I am sure, part of the reason I sometimes drank to cover up difficult feelings. Part of reclaiming a healthy relationship to alcohol will be doing what I am doing now; facing the problematic feelings and emotions head on.

Number 3-Illness

My illness. At 10 I became very ill and was hospitalised. My brother had pushed my face into a chest of drawers (he was 17 and also tended to run me down). The complications from the dentistry led to rheumatic fever. The treatment on cortisone led to a significant deteriation in my eyesight, a huge weight gain and a love of blue cheese which persists to this day. I was then a “sickly child,” only able to do half days at school, constantly chubby with thick glasses and told not to do much exercise (this turned out to be exactly the wrong advice I later discovered). The doctor said my heart valves would be weakened. Do not ever smoke or drink he said. He sounded like my father. Right- another reason to smoke and drink.

As I grew up in my teenage years I felt very different to my peers. No confidence with girls, chubby, glasses, I think looking back I was depressed. I started to inhabit a dark inner world. No confidence, no girls, no fun. Then at 17 I discovered pubs and beer. My Damascus moment had arrived. I drank beer and I would start chatting to people. I had developed a “funny” persona to survive school years and that combined with the relaxed confidence meant I suddenly got the interest of girls. Without alcohol I not even be here; it got me through some difficult times. Not surprising that I’m not ready to abandon such a life saving friend.

Interesting setting it out like this. Yeh no wonder I want to keep alcohol in my life- and yet, and yet… It is harmful, it is getting in the way. I’m sure there must be others out there like me, it just seems so hard to wrest back control once a dependent relationship with alcohol has been built up. Setting some limits, increasing to three my non alcohol days in a week and really looking at my internal world when I do drink will all hopefully work.

It felt quite emotional writing about my lovely mum. She had it cracked. A glass of wine at night. Occasional sherry.Occasionally tipsy in a sweet way. I think I would like to be able to drink like she did. And thanks London Wainwright for writing the song: White winos; makes me think of my mum.

Jim x

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