Wednesday, 26 November 2014

101 Days Sober - Possibly The Least Exciting Post You Will Ever Read

I had thought things might be more dramatic to be honest.

Imagine you have set off for uncharted waters, unmapped lands. You’re expecting mountains and jungles and strange beasts. A flying unicorn or two. Dragons. You’re expecting to have to do battle with many headed crocodiles, scale cliffs, maybe live off berries and sips of evil smelling water as you cross inhospitable lands. Deserts. You’re expecting the driest and hottest and sandiest of deserts, deserts swept by fiery winds. A demon mistral blowing straight from Hell.

And you’re worrying too about the people you might meet. Desperate outlaws. Robbers and highwaymen. Flaxen haired temptresses. Capricious wizards. Capricious wizards in hoodies juggling with flick-knives. It’s going to be an adventure – that’s why you’re doing it. You are Bilbo Baggins, a pudgily reluctant hero fallen into a world you can hardly comprehend and just hoping you’ll be up to the many trials you’ll be facing. Crossing your fingers that you won’t disgrace yourself

And you discover that this brave new world of fearsome thrills looks a lot like the Home Counties. Mild and ordered. Exceedingly clement. A bit… well… a bit dull really… And then you discover that it turns out you didn’t want adventure after all. Turns out that dull was really what you needed all along.

101 days ago I stopped drinking.

At first I thought I’d just do it for a month. I’ve done a month off the sauce before. I knew I could cope with a month. I wouldn’t enjoy it but good to test your self-discipline every once in a while.

I didn’t have especially high expectations. I thought I might lose a few pounds. I thought I might get through a bit more work. I thought I might find it a little easier to get up in the mornings.

I should say here that I love drinking. I love pubs. To be in the corner seat of the rub-a-dub at 6pm with good mates, twenty notes in your pocket and no rush to get home is – or was – possibly my very favourite thing. And if they’re serving decent beer then so much the better.

And I like wine at home too. A good red with dinner or in front of a film. A crisp cold white on an unexpectedly warm evening. A cheeky vodka and tonic when you get home from work. And then an even cheekier second one. A good malt whisky before bed. Or a cheap blend even. Tesco’s own brand. Hell, even a can of piss like Fosters or Carling can hit the spot from time to time.

I started drinking regularly at about 13 and apart from a couple of miserable sober Januarys I’ve not gone more than a day or two without the company of Mr Booze since then. Many of best nights out (and all of my worst ones) have featured rivers, waterfalls, foaming fucking seas of alcohol. I love getting pished. I have got wrecked on almost every drink. I don't think I've met a fermented or distilled beverage I couldn't get on with. I even like Advocaat. And not just as part of a snowball either.  (A Xmas snowball made by my gran was my gateway drink as it probably was for you too)

My gran and my uncle ran pubs. My mum was born in a pub! Pubs are important to us as a family.

And yet, this time, for whatever reason giving up drinking didn’t seem grim. It didn’t seem like I was holding on and just trying to get from day 1 to day 31 without going completely crazy. This time it was fine. I did find I was eating more chocolate and of the worst and cheapest kind too. Freddo bars, for fuck’s sake. And that pretty much did for the potential benefit of losing a few pounds. But hardly the daily terror I'd been expecting.

I had thought people might pressure me into drinking. The writer Satnam Sanghera tried not drinking recently and he describes situations where good friends practically beg him to drink and finally give up the attempt to browbeat him to submission by sighing and saying ‘well, ok, I’ll just get you a beer then…’

That sort of thing has happened to me in the past, but not this time. No one said ‘go on just have a small one.’ Not once. And this worries me a little. Had I really got so I was so boring under the influence that people were very happy not to encourage me to drink. Or maybe they just wanted a lift home. Or maybe it’s just that we’re all older now and more respectful of other people’s choices?

Anyway, the month breezed past. And so I just sort of carried on. I was curious by now to see at what point the usual horrors would kick in.

And the answer seemed to be… never.

Instead I managed to kick my incipient  Freddo habit. And so did, finally, start to lose a little weight. I went to some parties and drank sparkling water. I’d go out and when I got bored I’d just drive home without waiting at bus stops or railway stations or handing over fistfuls of paper money to cabbies and getting a tiny handful of small denomination coins back in return.

And about six weeks in I realised I felt… well… I felt amazing. It was like I’d had some undiagnosed disease and was now cured. A kind of low level ME, a sluggish that I had been mistaking for normality. A cloud that had lifted. I had somehow forgotten that sometimes it was meant to be sunny. It was like discovering that there were other climates apart from Yorkshire rain. (I love Yorkshire and its rain, but nice to know that other weather is also available)

So I pushed on into the third month… And that was fine too. No biggie. Maybe I have just had enough to drink. Maybe that’s all it was.

So 101 days of sobriety. No big revelations. No white-knuckle ride. Instead a sunnier disposition. A lot more energy. 16 pounds lighter. A spring in my step.

And Christmas is coming and maybe I’ll have a Stones ginger wine on Christmas Eve (I love ginger wine!). Maybe I’ll have a nice whiskey before bed. Maybe I’ll drink the sherry we leave out for Father Christmas. That would be traditional. Maybe I’ll be wasted for the whole period. That would be traditional too. That will be entirely fine.

But maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll stay out here where the countryside is cultivated, the rivers meander and where life is congenial and nothing much happens. Maybe I’ll just leave the sherry to Santa. Maybe I'll just do that.