Ok, so away back in the mists of time I used to enjoy a convivial drink or two. Over time, and with much dedicated practice in hangover suppression, I came to enjoy a convivial drink or twelve. It gradually became apparent that, while I wasn’t the heaviest drinker in my circle of friends, increasingly the only people who would keep pace with me were the couple of people who clearly had a problem with alcohol. At the time I didn’t particularly take note of this, partly because, unlike them, I was reasonably good at handling my booze. I have only been ‘physically unwell’ (to use a euphemism) as a result of alcohol twice in my life. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times when I have woken up not remembering what I did the previous evening. If the Daily Mail are to be believed (ha ha ha), most teenagers would experience this on a typical weekend, in between mugging a pensioner and getting stabbed to death 13 times in a row by 11 different illegal immigrants who are only here to get free treatment on the NHS…
But this is irrelevant, of course. The salient detail is that I was drinking a lot. As in really a lot. Over time, I started to drink more and more, mainly at home, and usually on my own. I managed to cut back significantly once I lost my job. A massive drop in income will always help with that, but it was also a conscious decision not to spend my money (i.e. your money, given that I was on benefits at this point) on booze. I would like to say that I noticed a great improvement in my mental health, but I didn’t. Actually I found anxiety, in particular, much harder to deal with, because I had been using alcohol as a way of coping with it. Life without my alcoholic crutch was really rather horrible for a long, long time.
In any case I persisted with my reduced alcohol intake for a good while. I would have a single beer with my dinner on a Friday night, and would have a few pints of lager when I went out on a Saturday night. (The switch to lager was deliberate – I don’t actually like the revolting, gassy stuff, so drinking less of it was quite easy.) I was still somewhat dependent on alcohol, however – I would have found socialising sober literally impossible. (This is part of the explanation for why I have stopped socialising of late.) In time, however, my alcohol intake started to creep back up again. I switched from beer back to wine on a Friday night. It was when I found myself picking up two bottles (for myself, for one night) that I decided that I was slipping back, and that I had to stop.
So I did. I literally stopped dead. In the time since I ‘stopped drinking’ I have drunk alcohol three times, but I have basically stuck to it. This is one of the few things I am actually, genuinely proud of myself for. Giving up alcohol is something that people find very difficult, and some find impossible. But I managed it on my own, without help, and with alcohol available to me all the time – I still have beer and cider in the fridge (although seriously out of date by now), and a bottle of vodka in the freezer. (In fact, having alcohol available was part of the plan – the fact that I can have a drink whenever I want helps me to feel that I don’t in fact need one right now.) Willpower I can do.
But there are limits. I transferred some of my alcohol fixation on to food, and, specifically, to biscuits. Talking about an ‘addiction’ to biscuits is nonsense, of course, at least assuming that we’re using addiction in its proper sense of a physical dependency. (In fact, talking about an addiction to biscuits is literally laughable. In the final episode of The High Life, an addiction to Bourbon Creams is the precursor to all kinds of villainous behaviour…) But eating biscuits did provide an outlet for some of the compulsive behaviour that was involved in making me drink.
Over time, I became increasingly dependent on biscuits (this is starting to sound like a confession from one of the Rutles…), particularly in terms of getting to sleep at night. Specifically, if I tried not to eat biscuits I would find myself assaulted by waves of nausea that made it impossible to lie down, let alone sleep. Munching my way through most of a pack of biscuits became part of my nightly routine. Then it became two packets. As of a few months ago it was creeping up towards three. Now, obviously, this wasn’t particularly good for me, as my ever-expanding waistline would testify. Without wishing to be too unpleasantly graphic, eating that much processed flour in a short space of time also has some…intestinal effects that, other things being equal, it would be quite nice to do without.
Eventually, I decided that enough was enough, and that I had to stop. So I did. I am currently in my 3rd biscuit-free week. I’ve cut them out altogether because, unlike with alcohol, I’m fairly sure that if there were biscuits in the flat I wouldn’t have the willpower to resist – I’m at my weakest when I’m bleary-eyed, and half asleep and nauseous.
Now I realise this all seems very pathetic, especially if you compare it to the real struggles people have with actual substance abuse. For the record, I’m not sure I was ever even addicted, as such, to alcohol – certainly the ease with which I gave it up would suggest that it was something more like a psychological compulsion that I switched onto food rather than a physical need for the substance itself. But still, I’m trying not to beat myself up for taking my ‘victories’ where ever I can find them, and this does feel like a bit of a victory to me. Although I have noticed that my consumption of individually wrapped McVities Flapjacks and Milky Ways is starting to creep up…