Hello. As what I wrote and said is the subject of your blog post and subsequent discussion I hope you don’t mind me contributing.
I have always drunk a lot. My best man used to run a website called Will’s Pub Guide. When I was 15 I used to go drinking in an Army pub at JHQ Rheindahlen in Germany called The Queens Head where Heineken was the equivalent of 30p a pint. In my student days, I basically lived in the union. We drank far too much. It was the best fun.
Before I started dating Mrs Wallis, I lived with some wonderful, intelligent and stone cold hilarious people. They would drink one or two cans of Special Brew an evening and four at the weekend. I tried but could never match them. I stuck to my Kronenbourg. I guess for the last 25 years or so I’ve been your standard binge drinker, sober during the week, but drinking as a hobby with friends when I’ve got “nothing” to do the next day.
Fatherhood changes all that. Suddenly you never have “nothing” to do all day. You have to maintain shared responsibility 24/7 for one, two then three little nippas. Over the last 9 years drinking on the sort of epic (and I appreciate everything is relative, epic for me would be eight or nine pints of session lager) scale I used to in my twenties was simply no longer viable.
In the run up to giving up my drinking pattern was smaller amounts, taken more frequently. This would irritate me because I would plan things around when and if I would be likely to have a drink – ie if I went over to my in-laws I knew I’d probably be offered a drink. If that were the case then I would have to think about whether it was fair to ask Mrs Wallis to drive etc. It all just became a bit tedious.
Anyway, the upshot was, I felt that although I wasn’t drinking a huge amount I seemed to be thinking about it a lot, and it was becoming reflexive. Why was I having a drink? Because I could.
When you start thinking about something a lot, you naturally end up wanting to find out why you might be doing so. I did, I admit, have thoughts about writing a book on the subject. I felt that giving up for a year might a) provide me with some decent material and b) free up the time I need to research the subject properly.
I have tried to give up for long periods before and always failed because a drinking buddy was coming to stay, or there was a big social event coming up. I felt that this time I could succeed because I was fed up with drinking at social occasions (being a parent is incredibly fatiguing and there’s just too much to think about logistically nowadays!) and my drinking buddies could, I’m sure, wait a year for me.
Just to make sure I was committed to this I came up with the idea of blogging it and just to make sure I was bound into it I started requesting sponsorship as a form of bet. The formal intention was to explore why alcohol meant so much to me and society in general, the informal intention was to do it as a personal achievement and raise a bit of money for some good causes along the way.
I’ve certainly learned a lot. A vast amount, in fact. If I had to recommend a book which lays the facts out in as scientific a manner as possible, I’d point you in the direction of The Diseases of Alcohol by Dr David Marjot. I think I must have had a galleys copy because some of it is really badly edited, but Dr Marjot’s lifetime of experience and understanding in the field of alcohol addiction is all there in one book. His approach is very interesting too – part medical, part psychiatric.
The main thing I would like you to remember about the way you read the posts in my blog and the panel discussion I had on London Live was that you were seeing me articulate the way I felt at a particular moment in time. A blog/discussion is a work in progress, a way of sharing and debating positions and ideas. I haven’t got the solution. I don’t pretend to. I’m sorry people find some of my opinions unhelpful. I was being honest. Perhaps you’d rather I lie or not express them at all? That, to me, would be unhelpful.
Would I write what I’ve written in the past knowing what I know now? No, probably not. My blog post at the 6 months sober stage marks a significant shift in thinking. Will my position change again? Probably. I’ve just finished Allen Carr’s book “How to Control Your Drinking”. He is an infuriating sophist, but he gets under your skin and makes some very good arguments for never drinking again. I want to write about that, when I get the time.
To address some points raised above:
1. I am not getting paid for this. It’s a hobby. Drinking was my hobby. This year, Not Drinking is my hobby. If someone does want to pay me to write a book about it, I’m all ears.
2. Childcare can be boring. Children are charming, delightful, lovely individuals (especially mine), but when they are young and they’re been particularly difficult, and you’re tired, it’s a drudge. There was one very specific occasion where the urge to have a drink after I’d got them all to bed was overwhelming. Instead I found myself pouring my dad a beer whilst he watched the football and I tidied the kitchen. I did wonder what I thought I trying to prove by not drinking, because the whole exercise at that stage did seem a little pointless.
3. People who say they’re bored are boring. There’s a logical inconsistency there. People who are bored can be fascinating. People who are engaged and interested can also be incredibly dull. If, by saying I was bored, I made you bored too, then I apologise.
4. Do I have a problem? Alcohol is an addictive substance. It’s just a question of dose over time. Too much too soon and you can become addicted. I have had a lot to drink over the last twenty years and I was concerned I was starting to think like an addict. Over the course of the last (nearly) seven months, my outlook has changed, my thinking has changed and the urges to drink which left me down when I couldn’t fulfil them, have gone. Completely. It took around five and a half months, though. The last six or seven weeks? Fine.
Do I still have a problem? Will I always have a problem? Anyone who drinks has a problem – they may not know it, the may refuse to acknowledge it, they may be trying to manage it, they may be well on top of it, but all of us who drink have a problem, which is that you are coming into contact with a highly damaging, highly addictive substance for purely hedonistic reasons. Anyone who doesn’t tread carefully could be setting themselves up for difficulty in the future.
Why take the risk? Why skydive? Why pothole? Why horse ride? The thrill, for some, is worth chasing. For others, not so much. Those who don’t drink don’t have a problem. Simples.
All I would say is, for the “he doth protest too much” “he’s in denial” “he’s not being honest with himself” brigade – a) you might be right b) be careful you are not projecting the value system that worked for you onto someone else in order to re-inforce your own prejudices. It might be helpful to you. It might not be helpful to other people. For some people God is the answer, for some people it’s physics. For some it’s both.
5. Responsibility. I don’t think anyone should be under any illusions about the difficulty of giving up drinking. Clarity comes some way down the line. At first it’s a struggle. Being honest about that is better than lying or omitting to mention it. Lying about it makes it look easy and sets people up for failure. The psychoactive effect of alcohol is, for many, a very interesting and intriguing place to put yourself. Its capacity to destroy awareness of time, the pleasure it adds to music, the flowing connections it makes between people sharing the drug are all, when you first abstain for a long period, missed. I was invited to sit on the London Live panel to speak from personal experience and I called it as I saw it at that time in my non-drinking cycle. You may take the view there is no such thing as responsible drinking. At the moment I think there is. You can’t call me irresponsible for articulating that view. Well, you can, but I will disagree with you.
Anyway, I have to go to the gym. Reading your blog post and the thoughtful responses has been exactly the sort of thing I need to get the neurons firing. It has also allowed me to continue to explore the strength or otherwise of my own position and thinking in this debate. Thank you.
My reply to Nick in the comments section:
Nick thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. Would you mind if I posted your reply as a separate blog post because it’s length and detail should be more central than being buried in the comments section? As you say we can only see the issue from our own perspective and no one can tell or diagnose if anyone else has a drink problem, it is as much about our thinking around drinking as it is in the act of drinking itself. Of course I would not wish you to lie about your experience but someone watching the panel discussion may not appreciate the ‘snapshot in time’ nature of your expressed feeling and therefore interpret that as how not drinking is generally. Thank you for responding and I hope that, although we disagree, the discussion has been constructive and respectful as I certainly think it has
61 days to go