Genesis: The Creation (Of a Northern Piss Can)
In The Beginning…
Well, maybe not In The Beginning but last Tuesday.
The decision was made within a minute.
Maybe not a minute, a second.
Or, maybe not a second but weeks ago.
I shoot behind the bar, grab a bottle of wine, pour it into the glass and slurp the top in a massive gulp before I have chance to change my mind. The staff are cheering, the customers are cheering, it feels fun, it feels naughty, I feel like “I’m back”. Things are going to notch up a gear tonight, don’t look back Nikki, this is what we do, you’ll be fine, back on the wagon tomorrow.
Within forty minutes I’ve drunk the bottle.
By 4am I’m awake. Dry mouth, guilt, heart racing, anxiety. Back sleeping on the sofa: “What the hell have I done?”
Here’s what I did…drank two bottles of wine within a couple of hours, a few shots, a few vodka & colas. For twenty years there was nothing new about that. A nightly occurrence, but I’d just been alcohol free for five months. I’m gutted.
You see I’m an alcoholic. An “enthusiastic drinker.” A lover of wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, shots. Even Cinzano, even Baileys, even Midori and even Crème de Menthe if need be for fuck’s sake. You name it, I’ll drink it. There was no occasion that I believed couldn’t be improved by the appropriate accompanying drink: wine mostly, but beer in the sunshine, rum in the Caribbean, Whisky in Scotland, Vodka in Russia (I’ve never been to Russia but I know full well that would be the first thing I’d have done). You get the picture, a booze romantic. A night out? Impossible without a drink, I mean who does that? Boring gits that’s who. I drank heavily and steadily for more than twenty years, no breaks for babies (child free), no “Dry January” (usually made it to the 3rd), nothing could stop me, I loved it…and most of all I was good at it, it was my number one skill.
I loved it so much I made it my life. I had a short-term career in local media and post-work drinks were nightly. 5pm soon became 10pm and I boozed hard, every night for six years. We’d visit the local pub and were the life and soul of the party, so much so that as his favourite customer, The Landlord and I fell (literally fell on a number of occasions) for each other, became an item and shortly moved in together. I quickly ended up giving up my own career to run the pub. I was 25. It was a dream come true. A career match made in heaven. I was EXPECTED to drink. Plus, I was sensible (in my head), no drinking during the day, just decent wine in the evenings. It was social. Jeez, I’d won the alcoholic lottery! Happy days!
However, social drinking is very different to what I ended up doing. By the time I was in my forties I was polishing off 100 units a week and there was absolutely nothing social about it. Necking wine like we were on the brink of war rationing, no counting how much I was drinking, there was an unlimited supply behind the bar, and as the boss, there was nobody to question me. If it was not wine, it was rum or vodka. Keep popping back to that optic, just looks like I’m serving a customer, nobody knows it’s for me, it looks like I’m just drinking cola.
Now here’s for the sad bit…this happened. Every. Single. Night.
I was trapped. Trapped in a cycle of despair where a typical day looked like this: wake up 3am, dry mouth, banging head, anxiety, retreat to the sitting room, to the sofa, don’t want to disturb The Landlord, watch TV, cry, nod off. 8am: wake up, hangover, tears, ‘this is going to stop, today’. 1pm, a few hours work under my belt, I’m ok, I’ve got this. Nap by 3pm (sleeping patterns destroyed) and by 5pm? Well I’m back! Fully functioning and doing a deal with myself over what to drink tonight. Crazy deals, where my thoughts were along the lines of: stick to vodka, that’s “pure”, better for you (?!), drink just decent wine, just wine, no spirits, beer – it’s less alcoholic, will make me less hungover, I’ll start tomorrow… blah, blah, blah. By 7pm, I’m drinking again.
I trod that hamster wheel every day for years. On the outside I appeared fine. I like the analogy of a decent car. When I say “decent” I don’t mean like a Porsche but maybe a high spec Fiat 500 that looks nice from the outside, yet when you open the bonnet you see that the engine is shagged and someone has left a dirty protest on the seats.
A few years ago I knew something wasn’t right. I was anxious, my confidence had plummeted, I was eating badly, had zero energy, was emotional, a careless partner, a rubbish boss. Something had to change. I was getting sloppy too. As I pounded the booze harder and harder at work people were starting to notice. You may kid yourself that you’re functioning normally with a bottle of wine and ten spirits inside you but you’re definitely not. I looked online, did a few tests “Am I an Alcoholic?” The answers always came back “Yes”, the only thing I didn’t do was drink in the mornings – but even that wasn’t true if I was at an airport for a holiday, a ferry terminal, early train for a day out with friends.
Then came the sobriety blogs and memoirs, my goodness did I identify with all that! For 5 more years I read that stuff, telling myself I’ll start tomorrow. The positive in reading these is that I was building knowledge, a toolkit of understanding my skewed relationship with the poison and formulating a plan in how to tackle it. I knew, deep down, that the booze had to go. What was the alternative? Keep boozing myself into despair and ultimately an early grave? But I was scared. I didn’t believe I could do it and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I liked pissed me – even if those around me thought I was about as funny as a dose of chlamydia.
After a particularly heavy wedding weekend where I walked my sister up the aisle, pissed, at 1pm, I decided to give it a go. No AA, no SMART just me, my knowledge and some tweeting with like-minded people in recovery. I was sober for 5 months. Life became unrecognizable: better sleep, I was kinder, more motivated, had more confidence – the compliments alone for how much better I looked could create a whole new addiction of their own – a better boss, the list was endless. Then after five months, after weeks of questioning all I had learned and wondering if I could become a “normal drinker” I tested myself. That test was passed (or failed, depending on which way you look at it) and it reaffirmed my love of my sobriety but also confirmed that I can not do this alone. So right the next day I attended AA. I’d always been scathing of AA, believed it was reserved for the “real alcoholics”, not “enthusiastic drinkers” like me. Yet after just one meeting I loved it. So let’s see how this next chapter of my sobriety goes.