Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Five Years

On January 8, I reached a significant milestone - I had been sober for five years. I don't believe in hiding one's lamp under a bushel, indeed, I think it's positively better to broadcast this. Not just to invite a round of welcome back-slapping, but more importantly to offer a tangible example to anyone I know who's in the same unhappy situation as I was when I regularly abused alcohol.

I want to declare that stopping drinking doesn't turn you into a recluse, a bore, or a holier-than-thou do-gooder. You don't have to join AA, take special medication, or wait until your marriage is in tatters and your career compromised, either. I still fraternise with drinkers, serve wine with meals, and take delight in recounting anecdotes of distant revelry.

The moment of clarity for me arrived on the morning of 8 January 2005, when I unequivocally realised that, on every level, I would be happier if I no longer drank. I kept this to myself at first, telling beloved spouse that I was just having a January lay-off. A few weeks later, when she'd got used to that, I admitted I'd stopped for good. Prior to this, the longest I had ever gone without drink was a week at a time during 1997 when I was on-call overnight for work, and a three month attempt to stop in 1991, which had foundered when I idiotically fell into the trap of thinking that if I could stop for a few months, I could start again, but drinking in what I told myself was moderation.

I only ever missed drinking on one regular occasion for a few weeks - at 6:15 on Saturday evenings, when I would customarily fix the first gin and tonic of the day while starting to cook dinner and listening to Loose Ends, declaring that the achieving part of the weekend was officially over.

Yes, I'm happier. No, I've never regretted it. And maybe I wish I'd done it sooner, although then I wouldn't be me, and maybe I wouldn't have made priceless friendships, come to Edinburgh, or met Helen. The Doctor (not that one) tells me that my liver isn't sautéed, so it wasn't too late in a purely physiological sense.

Psychologically, there have been a few wobbles. Drinking to excess, day in, day out, really does stunt your maturity, and I've only really entered adulthood in some senses in the last five years. I don't sulk any more, for example. I believe that one of the things which drew me to alcohol, beyond it's vampiric self-sustaining nature, was that it helped mask underlying conditions such as depression, and obsessiveness. But it's better to get these uncovered and work on them, work with them, in the latter case, than just paper over them while they fester and grow untreated.

If there's a most characteristic tangible benefit to stopping drinking, it's that you start to dig deeper and solve problems at root level instead of becoming oblivious to their symptoms. At work and home, I now actively relish being given a mess to sort out. That's got to be better than the old way.