Men’s Week - ‘Living life in high definition’

My relationship with alcohol was always a difficult one. As a child, I watched my mum descend into serious alcoholism. Thankfully, she's now been sober for eighteen years but whilst her problem with alcohol should've taught me that drinking is neither big or clever, it didn't.

My younger years were blighted by excessive drinking. Young people drinking too much is hardly a rare scenario these days however now I can see that I had a faulty 'Stop' button from the start and regularly partied to abnormal extremes.

As I got older, my drinking patterns changed and in my late thirties, whilst my party days were behind me, the drink remained ever present. I had a decent job, two fantastic kids, a house with a garden and my own car. I was doing okay.

I became what I believed to be a discerning drinker, drinking expensive white wines at home. I joined CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), drinking bottled ales with silly names and also enjoyed pretentious ciders that could knock out a horse.

By drinking in this way, I convinced myself that I was fine, that I was better than the geezer on the park bench drinking cheap alcohol from a plastic bottle. After all, I was drinking a Chilean Sauvignon which cost at least six quid a bottle, so that made it ok. They were addicted. I was not.

But soon it became any excuse to drink; good weather, bad weather, good day at work, bad day at work, watching football - you can't do that without beer! It's an insidious addiction that creeps up behind you when you're not looking. Any sign of trouble, I would drink. Thinking about it, I don't think I've ever had an argument that wasn't either caused or made worse by alcohol. And once I started, I would carry on until bed.

Alarm bells started to sound more loudly in 2015 when the frequency of waking up feeling like shit was getting too much. I'd recently turned forty, and suddenly opening my eyes with a dull headache and a mouth like a pub carpet, was becoming a chore. I'd go to work and sit in meetings, glugging Pepsi to fight the feelings of nausea. I'd devour Rennies for the incessant indigestion I couldn't shift and count the minutes until I could escape.

On the really bad days, I'd think 'right ... that's it .. I overdid it last night... tonight, no booze'.

But, by five o'clock, I'd be on autopilot in the supermarket, buying a bottle of wine. And just in case that bottle didn't last the night, I'd get a couple of beers. And perhaps I'd get a second bottle of wine in case my partner wanted some. You get the gist.

I started realising that saying 'not tonight' and not being able to stick to it was happening too regularly. I was drinking pretty much every day; it wasn't always a lot, but always something. I could easily drink a bottle of wine and remain upright. I didn't fall over or throw up. I just drank a lot and then suffered for it the next day.

One night, I got into bed next to my sleeping partner. That morning, I'd vowed not to drink but had once again ended up in the supermarket on the way home. I'd drank quite a lot that evening and as I got under the duvet, the room was spinning. I felt terribly sad, and had an overwhelming urge to wake my partner and tell her I thought I had an alcohol problem. But I didn't and just lay there quietly crying.

That happened more than once but when I woke up in the morning I would just feel silly and think hey, I got a bit emotional last night .. it was just the booze talking.

In 2017, my partner left me. She'd finally had enough of living with a bear with a permanently sore head. My way of dealing with this of course, was to get as pissed as possible. My mental and emotional state deteriorated way beyond anything I have experienced before. I wasn't eating and instead bought multiple bottles of wine which I drank alone late into the night.

One morning, I woke up in such a horrendous state that I was unable to go to work. I was broken physically, mentally and emotionally. I messaged my boss and told her I was experiencing a mental health crisis and was all over the place. She was wonderful about it and made me promise to go to the doctors.

That day, I made an appointment. As the doctor was in the process of referring me to the local mental health assessment service, I calmly admitted my concerns regarding my alcohol consumption. We had a chat about how I was feeling and the volume of wine I was drinking and I left clutching a phone number for my local drug and alcohol service called ReNew. I called them straight away and arranged for a counsellor to call me back.

I completed an assessment over the phone and achieved a moderately worrying score on the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorder) test. Despite this, I still had delusions that I might be able to drink in moderation; a glass of wine with a meal, or the odd pint down the local. I now know if I was the kind of person that could manage moderation, I probably wouldn't have been in this situation in the first place.

I started a managed alcohol reduction plan with ReNew and put together a care plan outlining activities I would do in the evening instead of drinking. Once the plan was in place, it all came together quickly and any naive ideas I had of moderating were soon discarded. I wanted a better life and I decided that I didn't want to drink alcohol anymore.

I took my last drink on the evening of March 26th, 2017. It was just 100ml of white wine, exactly in line with my reduction plan. Then I went to bed, and woke up a non-drinker. The following week I joined an abstinence group through ReNew, where I met similar people who were just normal people like me who happened to drink too much. I have to admit that I wasn't sure about 'groups' as I thought they would be like those awful meetings you see on TV, but after the first couple, I really started to look forward to going.

With every day and week that passed, the committed booze beast I once was drifted further away and I began to embrace my new sober life. I talked about it regularly with my Mum who I called after every meeting, and weirdly, our shared alcohol issues actually brought us closer together. I now understood the dark place she'd been in all those years ago more clearly, and similarly she understood me, even though our stories were not the same.

I'm now fourteen months abstinent. If I said I never thought about drinking, I'd be lying. There are times when I think about having a glass of wine so much I can almost taste it. But I know the damage it would do is immeasurable. I didn't come this far to throw it away for what is essentially coloured liquid in a glass. So I gently remind myself how much better this sober life is and the thoughts eventually go away.

Now, probably for the first time ever, I like myself and I feel happy inside. I'm not trying to please anyone, or fight with my own mind. I don't feel depressed anymore, because I'm not pouring a depressant down my neck at every available opportunity.

I don't have many friends but the ones I do have are close friends and they've all been supportive. Privately, I think they probably think I'm a bit nuts but that's okay! I'm quite comfortable with being a bit nuts!

I became sober at the age of 41 and I feel like I have a second chance at life. It is, as the saying goes 'life in high definition'. The past is the past – it's what you do today that counts and today looks pretty good from here.

Written by Nick 2018

Edited by Sober Fish

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