IIt remains the most difficult conversation that I regularly have. It almost guarantees tons of tumbleweed and awkwardness. It prompts social embarrassment. It leads to looks of confusion. Dismay. Bafflement. Astonishment.
No, not the interaction that follows from the revelation that I once had a breakdown and spent – and occasionally still spend – time curled up in a ball on the floor crying. Not, the announcement that I’ve never been to a gig that didn’t involve Paul McCartney or Tony Bennett taking to the stage. Not even the news that I once ran for parliament as a conservative, although that does provoke very strong reactions (horror, anger, pity, acts of violence etc), especially in my beloved Liverpool.
I write instead about the discomfort that I create when I say that I don’t drink. I’m teetotal. I’m alcohol- abstemious. I’m sober.
Today marks the second anniversary of my last drink: the last time alcohol passed my lips. Two years sober. Twenty-four months. 730 days. Over 17,500 hours. 420,000+ minutes.
In keeping with the assumptions, prejudices and general suspicions of tee-totallers, I feel I have to now justify and explain myself. I’m not an alcoholic. I didn’t have a drink problem. I am not in recovery.
Well, technically, aside from not being an alcoholic, that’s not entirely true. I did have a problem. It was a mixing drink with depression problem. And I am in recovery – constant, daily and ongoing recovery from my 2014/15 breakdown, in which drink played a very small role.
I feel I have to get these denials in early because I am now so used to judgments being rushed to when I say that I don’t drink. I can see the mental cogs turning. The scrutiny of my possible shaking hands. The examination of my face for Brian Clough-esque signs of heavy boozing. The thoughts that flash through the head of my fellow conversationalists that I must have been a big drinker who kept falling over, blacking out or staggering from Birkdale bar to bar.
I never was a big drinker. I took a drink. I liked a drink. I enjoyed the craic that went with drink and like many people of my age, background and heritage, drink played a significant part in my social life. But I drank moderately. Sometimes a glass of wine with dinner. A few beers watching the match. A glass or two of prosecco with Dr J to toast the weekend. My problem was not too much drink but too much anxiety and darkness that followed the drink.
It got to the point for me that even one beer could leave me edgy, tense and worried for two or three days afterwards. It was for me the effect that drink had on my already fragile mental health and the impact it had on my confidence, levels of calm and my sense of myself that hit me hard. It made my anxiety and depression worse. It left me feeling rubbish. It left me regretting ever having raise a glass and said slainte in the first place.
So I gave it up. Two years ago. I just stopped and haven’t looked back. That I know is much easier to do when you don’t have an addiction or a predisposition to addiction. I did have a few wobbles at the start but in truth it has been easy to do and the early temptations passed fairly quickly. Not because I have such great will power or self control but because I noticed the positive results straight away.
Gone went the fear. The guilt. The nervousness. The extra layer of worry. The turbo boost to my dark moods. The helping hand to my depression.
The purpose of this post is not to pat myself on the back for my sobriety – as I have said, it wasn’t too difficult to achieve – but to float the idea that those who have anxiety and/or depression should give giving up some thought. I’m not saying that everyone who has any form of anxiety and/or depression should take the pledge and give up the demon drink. I’m not saying it solved all my problems and that it will solve yours. But I am saying that is has been a big help to me; with my mental health; for my wellbeing.
I encounter so many people with similar stories to mine who know that drink is something that doesn’t help them. It brings with it further depressive tendencies. It’s takes them lower. It makes life harder not easier. For me, it did all of this and acted as something of a false medication from the stresses and pressures of my work and a hindrance to my efforts to achieve the work-life balance I needed. It hid from me the truth of how I was feeling, cruelly kidding me that I was enjoying life because I was happy when in drink after a stressful day or busy week.
I know from personal experience and from talking to many, many people who are prone to anxiety, depression, self esteem issues, grief and a wide range of mental health issues from the mild to the major, that a) there are no solutions to those issues found at the bottom of a glass or bottle and, more importantly, b) the days(s) after drink very rarely do anything but make their original issues feel much worse. It’s not just the hangover but the stimulation that alcohol provides to your darkest concerns and issues – the edginess; the paranoia; the regret; the memory loss; the self consciousness; the nervousness; the downer; the physical damage and the knock on effect it has on your state of mind. Put simply, drink is a mood changer and, more often than not, a mood killer. It is a depressant.
I am not preaching; I am not judging; I am not telling people what to do. I am simply saying this: I am yet to meet someone, myself included, who experiences a positive difference from alcohol in their attempt to get on top of depression or anxiety. I am yet to see what good it does beyond a short term high or hit. I am yet to see the benefit from taking a drink as much as I benefit from not taking it. I am calmer now; I sleep better; I feel sharper; I have more energy; my skin is clearer; I can run further and faster; I weigh less; I like myself more; I am me all the time, not me wearing a mask; I never wake regretting what I drank, said or did the night before through drink; I never lose a day at the weekend because I am too rough to move.
I have reflected on this before and some of my words above I wrote when eight months sober. I went back over them to compare the feelings I had then with now to see whether I had changed my mind, or to see if my view had shifted or softened. If anything, it has hardened. I am more certain now that giving up alcohol has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it for a second and I have no intentions of going back. I recommend it. Highly.
I feel I should end by explaining one other part of my story that also leads to confusion and despair. I can confirm that I gave up another bad habit a while ago. I stopped being a Tory. They haven’t received my vote since long before I stopped drinking. And again, I have no intention of going back. There is no u-turn in sight. No prospect of a polling day conversion. No chance of me voting blue. I’d have to be pretty drunk to think that was a good idea.