Looking about for something to say to mark 300 days since last orders, that doesn’t involve referencing a certain film…

So I was turning over the maths of it and there it is: 60 sets of five-bar gates tallied on the wall, next to J4M and various pithy obscenities concerning the current state of politics in the UK. ‘Looks like I picked the wrong year to quit drinking!’ Brief pause, eyebrow movement.

repeat

The implication of viewing it in these terms is, though – as I noted fairly early on when I started writing about this in February 2019 – that something is being denied. That there is some sort of sentence being served, time done for crime done.

I don’t find those a useful way of thinking.

The difficulty of not-drinking-alcohol in the society I’m in (the UK) is how the pervasive normality of it makes it near impossible to explain in positive terms. Still can’t think of a way to phrase it without sounding evangelical. ‘I’m spending a year sober’ sounds relentlessly po-faced, enthusiastically well-scrubbed and twitchy of eye, with an added hint of being perched on a particularly lofty horse.

I’ve become comfortable talking about a dry life just as something I haven’t done before. People seem to accept the challenge aspect of it quite readily, if slightly uncomprehendingly. Someone I was in conversation with recently said that they did a booze fast twice a year, for a couple of months at a time, though admitted they usually stopped because they got bored with it. I quite like ‘booze fast’, even if it carries the connotation of breakfast (of champions).

It feels good, though! I don’t feel anywhere near the levels of dreads about mundane matters like, say, getting up and going to work, that I did when I used to drink lotsobooze to quell those dreads.

And, it’s not something I feel like I’m getting bored with, yet. Maybe there are dark shadows flitting about the mirrors that I’m disregarding (pause for Stephen King-ish italicised chuckle). I don’t mean periodic nostalgia for the sting of a decent malt whisky, or the contemplative pleasures of an afternoon pint in a quiet bar. The glinting golden glow softening the edges.

Those are quite enjoyable phantasms, really, partly because as moments they depart quite readily anyway, and mostly because I recognise them for what they are: flowers with serpents underneath, a first beguiling glimpse into a somewhat hazy and increasingly threatening upside down, in which the encroaching darkening evening would inevitably lead through more measures into messiness, clouded mornings of self-recrimination, and so on and on, rinse and repeat, miserably scratching off lines on breezeblocks.

There they are; regard was had for the dark shadows. Cooee! (shadowy tendril waves back as it slurps in reverse into the mirror)

Having regard, I would say, at this stage of my process, works for me. It’s an acknowledgment? Not of something missing but of something positive revealed.

So, yes, still keeping a tally, but not to the extent that that becomes another thing to carry about, a self-imposed sentence, a punishing regime. This is not Sparta.

I’ve been holding off on posting anything alcohol-related, waiting for something worth saying about it, and here it is: 184 days.

The story of stopping began earlier this year (check out the Booze tag). Lots of those first posts were foundation stones; some laid carefully, placed with precision, some just tipped out and left where they landed. There’s a bit of biography, a fair bit of working through ideas about process and motivation. I spent a month or so writing my way out of something and into something. Finding myself inhabiting a different kind of mindset, kind of one I always had in mind but maybe didn’t feel set on, was where a need to write about it all so much fell away.

Perhaps my motivations altered.

“…distressing memories succumb especially easily to motivated forgetting”

– Freud

There have been a lot of associations with drinking bubbling up. I have been intending to document them (a richly-stocked draft folder attests)… but it all felt a bit too personal. As the above quotation suggests, it’s quite easy to ignore “that stuff”, seal closed a door and move on. That stuff beyond the symptoms (a constant sense of inability; feeling bloated in a vast, round number of ways; impoverishment (same); self-negation…)

While I have got on pretty well with being a sober person – lots of exercise, and diary, and making music, and reading a lot, and leaving my old job, and all that stuff – what all that clear-eyed thinkery reveals also is that, even with the dampers off, one’s head still works in certain ways, and that one of the reasons for applying the dampers is because those ways of working can be pretty fucking annoying.

Stopping seemed easy because I was ready to do so. Talking about the things that had me doing it in the first place… the walled-in rooms, the crumbled ruins discovered beneath the lake, are where the interesting stories are, of course.

Today, though! Strike up the anniversary waltz. It’s officially just over six months since I stopped drinking alcoholic drinks. Halfway to my target of a year off drinking, feeling good about it, break out the cake.

“Anniversaries”, though. As discussed in one of those early pieces, how to signify short-term dates of significance is unclear. Checking back through the booze tag from earlier in the year, I think a week was pebbles. Rocks tend to appear later in the anniversary stakes. Six months being a semiannual return, it’s better than pebbles. Something concrete, perhaps?

Easter holidays. Springtime associations of refreshment, rebirth.

Despite an overarching theme of annual rejuvenation – green shoots of recovery and all that – over the Easter weekend the negative implications of return and revisitation sat squat upon the mantelpiece. A chocolate figurine of Cthulhu, glowering.

With a dismal sense of familiarity, I found myself struggling through a four day festival of booze triggers. Classic sweet and sour British combinations of hot weather, no work to endure, personal and social stresses kicking about half-resolved and shoulder-barging good vibes aside, football matches not even remotely going one’s way…

The perfect half-empty cup for topping up with a little something to Set You On and See You Through.

The weather was kind of awesome. In particular, I was jonesing for iced cider – “Two pints of cider. Ice in the cider.” Ah, crisp freshness! The sun meandering into that golden hour glow, refracting through the glasses, the mellow clink and fizz of fresh cubes dropped in.

Then of course a turn to paschal red wine for sorrow and mournful contemplation as the weekend pressed on, and a heaviness accumulated in the air, suggesting rain and thunder were needed if not quite imminent.

It wasn’t just the football. For me, considering the combination of contributory factors, there’d been a fair bit of build up. It was bound to take a week or so of not having work to take one’s mind off things to filter through. Family things… and I need to get a new job, so there’s all sorts of associated existential angst, and blah, blah, blah – how about a beer?

Because that was another element that recurred, a familiar odour in among the cocoa wafts and barbecue scents and fresh mowed grass, generating instant recall. The little voice questioning what business I had in not drinking, in denying the urge to fest and to commiserate with such a true and tested companion.

Savour the solace! Trust it. Let it soothe and slake your thirst. Let it slip down and softly caress away those cares and strifes…

Kind of Kaa in The Jungle Book? Only I was on to it, so the voice modulated into sounding more like Sylvester the cat, thuth lothing itth efficathy.

So, no. Every excuse I was making for myself to have at it and recommence boozing was allowed to express itself, then given a polite yet firm nod of acknowledgement before being shooed away.

I mean, yes, I seemed to have eaten my weight in sugary treats… but even that ebbed over Monday, as with a final baleful glance ever-waiting dread Cthulhu slunk off in search of someone else to pester, leaving a trail of chocolatey footprints.

What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise.

Today I made it to 72 days off boozing, anyway. A number of cosmic significance! Re-set.

Today was one of the Mondayest Mondays I’ve endured in quite some time.

There’s a global village feeling of all the now being moments in the End Times. There are a lot of things to get exercised about, and a concurrent feeling of there being little-to-nothing that one can do apart from get exercised. The late-capitalist hamster wheel.

Locally, there’s a general sense of weariness on the air: low professional motivation occasioned by imminent threat of job loss, a not-approaching-quickly-enough Easter break, classes in the dismal zone of end-of-year examinations…

This communal emotional lethargy is being compounded on the personal plane by a cold that’s lurking on the threshold of my upper respiratory tract, unable to make up its mind as to whether to step in or not. Also, I had joint aches, and a colossal crimson roundel of a nascent pluke on the very end of my nose, ffs.

Still! Endured it all was. In the teeth of uncertainty, one thing I can say for sure is that I have a pervading feeling of equanimity, which I am in very little doubt is occasioned at least partly by not drinking alcohol.

It’s a habit that seems to be entering a self-sustaining stage. 56 days today, and increasingly just a thing I’m doing, rather than The Thing I’m Doing. I was talking about it with a pal yesterday – various processes at work are all easier to set in an appropriate perspective because they’re not amplified/filtered as they might have been, have been, in previous iterations, around the spiral, with booze.

So yes, thanks, Mondayish Monday: got your number, ta. *thumbs up*

A tough week comes to a welcome conclusion, as unexpected developments at work lead you to reconsider career goals. The full moon shines a harsh light on processes of all kinds. With so many to-do lists to create, it might feel like it’s impossible to know where to get started. Yet start you must! 23 and quinoa for luck.

Yeah, and Brexit as well. When forced to sit through a shit show, what better excuse could there be to head to the shop, purchase the nicest bottle of gin on the shelf and get it finished in the interval?

[beat]

Reader, I did not. Solid though the urge was, I ignored it, and the smaller aftershocks of bottles of wine, single bottle, couple of ales, a pint… They all spun about a bit and then back in to their deep space orbits.

Looking at the forthcoming schedule, I think a clear head is the least I can do for myself.

Obviously “Monday motivation” is a thing, but I was surprised to discover that the same thing exists at the other end of the week.

Beyond the TGI Friday notion of the weekend starts here, I mean. When I worked in bars,  Friday was always when work really started anyway. The motivation for that seemed at times to come from being in a kind of oppositional role. You were not like one of the norms coming in from work on a Friday. Different calendar, different clock. You’d see the punters get leathered, then do the close down, then enjoy a massive lock-in til late on. Back in the next day, either opening up or doing the same thing in the evening.

Out of the service industry, I worked on the TGIF circuit in London for a bit. The habit of concluding work around 18.00 and walking into the nearest pub was an enjoyable one, especially as I was at a company where the boss was a work hard play hard type prone to showing off and purchasing loyalty with lavish rounds, usually including shots. I have the scars to show for ill-advised cycles home to Brixton and Brockley, full of lager, tequila and submerged loathing.

All that is well disappeared now, though – 10 years of austerity coinciding with attaining A Certain Age and disposition, progressing through various stages of home drinking on Friday being the new going out on Friday. Three-for-£10 wine from Iceland, two-for-£10 out the supermarket, craft ales, craft ciders, craft cocktails (kitchen mixology)… one really good bottle of wine that will need a supplement later so might as well just get a cheaper one as well and have that first… Taking us through to ales on a Saturday afternoon for recovery, more wine and into Sunday, etc.

Kids introduced a curb on all this, and working as a teacher has brought things like marking on Saturday or Sundays. This makes Friday once again something that is maybe more a conceptual catatonia than a calendrical certainty.

I was looking round to see if “Friday motivation” was indeed a thing. I felt in need of it a bit this evening, hitting the weekend like the top of my head off an unexpected low beam.

Somewhat to my surprise, it was, and not in the way I expected. (Click through 45 images to find out how!) Some careers website had a scroll-down list of motivational quotes for EVERY DAY of the week, including the weekend, for the sweet love of god. They suggested:

Friday: Conquer Your Fears

It’s Friday, which means it’s the end of the work week. As you move into your weekend, remember not to let your fears hold you back—in your career or your life! These quotes will urge you to leave your worries at the door and walk confidently toward the future.

Quite apposite, as it happens. Just what I needed. YET… the motivated response it prompted came from a realisation of the fact that ending the working week in a state of anxiety seems to be a common, global occurrence. Perhaps, even, an anticipated, planned-in phenomenon!

Which is fucking terrible!

So, that all perked me up a bit.

Today was all about readjustment. Back to work means getting back into the daily schedules, triumphs and grievances of secondary schoolers.

10 minutes in to form time (8.40am) and someone is blithely blaming everyone else for them being in trouble. 25 minutes later and Year 8 have begun with multiple excuses for not having done holiday work that they hadn’t even been set. Then it’s Year 7 and their unwinning combination of impertinence and extreme neediness. Lunch can hardly arrive soon enough. Duties and Year 9 to follow, Directed Time (Year 11 reports) and Briefing…

Despite a dropped cash register receipt roll list of stuff to do unfurling in front, though, there is no significantly negative stress about any of it. Young people just do young people stuff, and remembering that, getting organised and sitting down to all the other tasks in hand seems the only realistic way to get on. Storm Freya did all the huffing and puffing for us over night, and so this morning there was only a wind-chilled air of brisk, back to business busyness.

No triggering of anything, certainly. It’s only Monday, for one. Considering how this sort of not-really-thinking-about-it mode sits in the wider context of a not-boozing log, it’s worth reminding myself that there are many such moments in day-to-day life, even when drinking. Other matters just have to take priority.

In fact, sitting down to write about this seems a bit forced, a bit of an encumbrance. Why, it even becomes easy to see that the old drink is not such a thing after all. That all that talk of having to give it up for any extended period is unnecessary, really.

Ooh, listen to Wolfie. The silver-tongued devil. That sort of chain of thought is quite insidious.

But, recognising it for what it is – wobbly tooth tonguing, pressing on a bruise… allows for readjustment.

Today was making music day, and what a restorative racket it was.

Making music is a great way to clean out the synapses. For me, it’s a connection with something that goes to my core. Sometimes I do not give sufficient attention to the extent I miss it when it’s not there.

Earlier in the week, I was thinking about FX pedals when I read this piece at The Sobriety Collective.

It says ‘It’s easy to start feeling like you, not the drugs, are the problem. You’re not.’

I get where this view comes from, and what they’re trying to say here. The idea of drugs being an ‘extra helping of self-loathing’ is a true one, I think. A useful analogue (it occurred to me as I packed my practice bag) is thinking about booze in particular as a sort of FX pedal. It takes an existing signal and alters it, and in different ways depending on which dials are doing what (dose, scene, setting, so forth).

It is difficult at the least to get a handle on what your brain is really doing and thinking when you are putting drink in it. One of the reasons I have kept drinking for so long is because it so reliable at tuning out the noise. A pedal I have needed to get the sound I want.

So, going for a ‘clean signal’ is a useful way to hear what’s going on more clearly. For me, certainly, though, those feelings of anxiety, and alienation, and other associated mental health problems, do not simply disappear when I take substances out of the equation. Yes, they’re much more manageable, but they’re still there.

One might easily question one’s own contribution.  ‘If not the drugs, then, well, what is it?’ Yet that falls back on the self-blame that TSC correctly counsels against. In which case, if it’s not you… what is it, the ways you’re doing things?

No straightforward answers, really. There is music though, and that really, really helps. 1-2-3-4!

Further to previous posts on this theme – negative formulations, the language of avoidance – I thought it’d be worth examining the idea of ‘sobriety’.

My lifelong understanding of sober is of it meaning ‘straight’, or, in relation to drinking, ‘not drunk’. This is reattained within hours of drinking, depending on what you drank how much of when. I’d also apply it as an antithesis of intoxication in general. Not high, not totally wired. There is in addition the more general usage pertaining to seriousness, or at least attempting to be serious; strait-laced, straight-faced. Wearing a sober suit.

Something about the ways it can be used, though, means I hesitate before applying it lightly as a term for what I’m trying to achieve.

I mean, I am aware that something resembling a duck, that walks and quacks like a duck, is likely a duck. If you want to call me ducky, feel free. I’m not avoiding or denying anything, just querying terms.

The Wikipedia page on ‘sobriety’ is unambiguous. It’s all about the booze.

Sobriety is the condition of not having any measurable levels or effects from alcohol.’

This seems to narrow things considerably to a quite specific definition, ignoring any more general meanings, as well as application to other substances people might use to access their particular ‘click’.

The sobriety referred to there is linked to preconditions such as ‘sustained abstinence’ from drinking. Again, that *is* what I’m attempting, but, gah, the idea of ‘not doing something’ implied in the word abstinence! The concept of ‘self-denial’ also, where what I’m trying to foster is more an idea of… self-indulgence? Just in ways different to ones I’ve used since way back?

Regarding ‘effects from alcohol’, we must be talking here about something beyond the physical effect of having-had-booze. That (not inferior or superior) effect of the need for a drink, sometimes some weeks, months or years away from any having been consumed… That urge is important to get to grips with, but it is not associated exclusively with booze (or other substances).

Still on the wiki, I found this sentence arresting:

‘Someone who abstains, but has a latent desire to resume use, is not considered truly sober.’

Considered by whom? one might ask. It is here that I make ‘ah, but, yeah,’ faces. Any latent desire to resume use is separate to a conscious state of being sober, surely? Not a barrier to sobriety, but a distinct aspect one can process more effectively when sober and abstemious?

Saying you’re not supposed to entertain those feelings at all seems an unreasonable height of bar.

So, yeah, not sure about ‘sobriety’ in that sense. Etymologically, sobriety comes from the Latin sobrius (not intoxicated), as well as the word sobre found in various European languages, stemming from the Latin super, meaning ‘above’.

Latent desires or not… Sobriety indicates being over something.

Chatting with a pal today about This Process. We had a moment I’ve had when talking about it with other people, where it’s asked ‘…so, is that you off the drink forever?’

It’s been such a long time since I wasn’t drinking habitually that it’s a difficult question to get to grips with. That is to say, with it being such a completely normal and expected part of my life, to an often unhealthy degree in terms of both frequency and intensity, and with the habit performing quite a specific set of functions for me which I’m not entirely clear about or comfortable with, that not doing it is somehow worthy of extended thought and grappling.  Our ‘reasons’ for doing anything are complex, not easily reducible to one thing or another.

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, to not be able to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question like the one phrased above. Nor was it likely intended to elicit one. Bear in mind this pal is a psychiatric nurse, and knows what they’re talking about, and I’ve known them twenty-something years.

It was a good question!

And, so, I don’t have a short answer.  I am conscious of trying to not be dogmatic or evangelical… Leaping in with both feet usually lands you in something or other. As we chatted, I recalled what I’d said about it in the Rotating Round the Sun post (linked to at the top of this post). It’s a process I have been thinking about… at the moment my view is framed by the exploratory aspects of it, as ‘doing something I haven’t done’.

As the habit of a lifetime, and with drinking alcohol being so widespread and commonly accepted as a way of being, I’ve found myself having to work as much on the language I use to talk about it. Grappling with the semantics of sobriety, for example. The predominance of negative terms used to euphemise the process, from the way I’m trying to speak about not drinking (see!) to the very concept of that which I’m trying to do (‘Not drinking?).

Forever, though? A thought that occurred to me today was how likely one would be to ask the same type of question if someone were to become a practising Buddhist, to pick a faith system at random.  Or to take up knitting, or yoga, or running, or vegetarianism, or death metal. Such things suggest commitment, certainly. And there’s a concomitant notion that to fully appreciate benefits, to acquire a new habit, may take time. And, it depends on the habit, and on the motivations for so doing…

‘…how’s that working out for you?’

I’m at a stage where it’s working well, so far. Beyond that? ‘We’ll see what happens.’