Giving up. Dress Rehearsal.
Note: I wrote this eighteen months ago in the summer of 2015, during a three month period of abstention. I began drinking again after being rejected from two exciting jobs I had pinned a little too much hope on. The reason I’m posting this is because it was the first time I admitted to and articulated longer-term problems that my alcohol abuse fed into. For me it’s an honest, painful insight into stuff that I still haven’t addressed properly.
When I drink I feel like I am at war with myself. I cannot elicit any pleasure from the taste anymore although some small part of me tells me that I never did and that instead I acquired only a tolerance that I maintained for fifteen years. Abstention is the commonly used term by recovering alcoholics and support groups. The word’s focus is on the willpower to withhold, restrain, to curb an urge. But we might also consider it a stepping back that offers the opportunity to survey one’s own dependencies and their consequences. For many people to abstain is to turn away from habit, and in turn face the inevitable emptiness that lies in its place; to realise time lost by experiencing days and nights and weekends without drink, to have to fill that space with something else. I mourn wasted time, and recoil in horror at the cumulative effect of days frittered away on weekend benders, mid-week sessions, and innumerable, paralysing hangovers. At thirty-one I suddenly feel more than ever that I am a pale shadow of the person I could have been, that I should be, given the opportunities and privileges I was afforded in my twenties. I often wonder where I would be today if I had exercised restraint and self-control. I often fantasise about having a sharper, more disciplined mind, a healthier physique, and the apparent sense of self-possession and self-confidence that many of my friends exhibit.
My twenties were abridged by alcohol, punctuated with memory loss and blackouts. I drank to celebrate, to ease social anxiety, to relax, to commiserate, to de-stress, to battle depression, to avoid working, and most destructively of all, I drank out of boredom. One of the most basic horrors of coming to terms with your drinking habit is understanding that your assumption that everyone is doing the same as you is false. It is a conviction that feeds back into your own sense of what is normal. When I think back to weddings, parties, gigs, events, weekends out, after-work drinks, I feel overwhelming embarrassment, shame, and guilt. If I am not careful in managing my emotions, they easily turn into a dangerous cycle of self-loathing and despondency.
I think of friendships and relationships I neglected or undermined or destroyed because of a psychotic urge to consume alcohol beyond any reasonable measure. Was I witter, happier, or cleverer? Probably not. Not that I could remember, so it didn’t really matter. If I could overcome my crushing self-consciousness and temporarily smother the growing chorus of admonishment in my head for a night then I’d drink and drink and deal with the consequences the next day. I began attributing alcohol to my many failures of character, depending on it to excuse awful, inexcusable behaviour, and externalising its effects to absolve myself of responsibility. I know that most people can drink in moderation, but I am acutely aware I cannot. You have no brakes, a friend once told me, possibly out of concern. I laughed it off of course, but his casual remark cut through enough that it has stayed with me ever since.
Looking back at the past with a clear head is painful, sad, and upsetting, but being able to the future with a sense of clarity feels good. Here goes.
Note: It saddens me somewhat to read the last sentence, as I soon fell back into old habits. Right now I am trying to recapture and hold onto that same hope and optimism.