‘I’m never drinking again!’
Or so goes the clichéd refrain the morning after the night before. Most of us have felt the unfortunate repurcussions of unbridled jollity. The spinning headful of spanners and anxiety; the nausea – creeping at first, but soon tearing at the gullet – eventually displaying the Chicken McNuggets you scranned on the night bus; the spreading wide of the wallet or purse, to find only a crumpled receipt for 15 tequilas, and half a soggy beer mat with some illegibly scrawled title ideas for your first album (‘Beetroot Knees’ or ‘Morse Code Batman’?).
I’ve had my fair share of these cataclysmic hangovers. The ‘can’t stand, can’t sit, can’t lie down’ hangovers. The turn-yourself-inside-out over the porcelain throne hangovers. The waste a day hangovers. The deeply unhappy and anxious hangovers. Basically, it’s time to stop.
I have always been shit with a hangover, but they really do seem to get worse with age, and I’m fed up. I have long had a difficult relationship with alcohol. I’ve never been an alcoholic, in that I go for long periods without drinking, and I certainly don’t need booze. However, like most things, alcohol abuse is a continuum – and like many people, I sit somewhere on it.
When I was 18/19 my mum would say that I didn’t have ‘a drink problem’, but rather, ‘a problem with drink,’ and now that I am not a charicature of a teenager, I would agree. I don’t ever go out with the aim of getting hammered (I used to, of course), but I struggle to stop once I’ve had a few, and I’m almost always the last to leave. As F. Scott Fitzgerald has it: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” I get sucked into the conviviality of drinking. And it is that which I need to avoid.
Drink is a depressant. That is a fact which I can’t really ignore. I’ve been getting on well with my meds in recent months, and feeling a lot more positive. Losing two days in December to christmas night out hangovers (less festive than they sound) reminded me how shit I used to feel, and I don’t want that. I don’t want to keep undoing the positive progress I’ve made.
I work best with clear rules. I am a creature of habit and routine. However, I have also been known to be a bit ‘all or nothing’ in the past – either abstaining heroically, or soaking tragi-comically. The boozing boom/bust pattern has been an omnipresent part of my adult life, and I’m getting bored of it. I’m also not sure that my mental health can handle it much longer.
There are plenty of folk remedies and creative methods (read: nonsense) for dodging the innevitable, but the only sure-fire approach to avoiding a hangover is to drink sensibly. Since I struggle to put the breaks on in social settings, I’ve decided to set myself some boundaries to allow sober me to be in charge, so that drunk me can’t get hold of the metaphorical wheel.
I’ve been reading Russel Brand’s book Recovery, which translates the religiously intoned 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into characteristically foul-mouthed lay-terminology: ‘are you a bit fucked? Could you not be fucked? Are you, on your own, going to unfuck yourself?’ etc… I’ve decided that I quite like Russel Brand, and his constant reminders that you don’t have to be as fucked as he was to benefit from taking responsibility for your own recovery – however minor that might be – are helpful. However different Brand and I are, there is something within us both that bears a striking similarity (beyond our shared penchant for super-skinny denim and Dickensian turns of phrase). Brand sums up my problem succinctly:
‘once I topple, go active, decide to pursue my nominated object of addiction, I inwardly switch to a circuit of behaviour that is distinct from my better nature [… Sometimes] I seem to float up out of me, a yard or two above the carnage that I’ve created and look down at other me thinking, “oh look, there I am, I’m actually persevering with this mayhem. It’s almost certainly a terrible idea. Oh well too late now, I might as well jump back in with him and finish this shit off”.’
And so it’s time for a change. I don’t really want this to be a new years resolution – in the sense that those are made to be broken. Ultimatums tend not to be sustainable. I need to do something that is drastic, but in a banal and innocuous way. That’s why I’m not giving up drinking. That’s in-your-face-drastic – especially if you’re capable of enjoying booze responsibly in the right context.
Instead, I have decided to undertake an indefinite habitual shift. I can enjoy a single glass of wine at home with food, and I take deep pleasure in a single dram of malt whisky. To give those up would be to punish myself in an unproductive way. Instead of going Tee-total, I am going ‘contextually dry’ (trademark).
Whilst that might sound like a dermatological complaint, it simply boils down to avoiding the situations where I am liable to lose control. I enjoy the effects of alcohol in social settings so much, that I have decided it’s best not to partake. In the comfort of my house, I’ll still have the odd dram (I’ve a cracking collection), or a glass of good wine with a meal at the weekend – but that’s where I’ll leave it. The first drink is always the best, so why let it go down hill?
**I know lots of you will be getting in about dry January, so let me know if you’ve come across any good non-alcoholic drinks. Check out this post for some thoughts of my own.**