I thought I’d ask my other half if he would kindly share some thoughts on his view of the journey from his perspective on this day – his one year sober birthday!
Mrs Hangover-Free has asked me to write a few words on the first anniversary of giving up drinking. It may irk her somewhat that I am about a week ahead of her on our abstinence journey but if it does, she doesn’t show it and generally she wears her heart on her sleeve. I like to think of myself as the swarthy native hacking down the undergrowth of the jungle at the forefront of her expedition into hitherto uncharted territory. But more of my bizarre delusions later.
One aspect of my own experience of dry sobriety has been a gradually dawning realisation that I have been playing this game of life all wrong. Well, not completely wrong but let’s say I have been missing some major tricks. I can’t help thinking of the best episode of the sci-fi comedy series Red Dwarf. In Back to Reality the crew of the spaceship were attacked by a giant ‘suicide squid’, seemingly resulting in a crash and a massive ‘game over’, whereupon they ‘realised’ that they had been playing a total immersion game called Red Dwarf. As the characters were unplugged from the apparatus they were told by the game engineers that not only had they scored very poorly but they had missed out on all the best parts of the game. All this turned out to be a massive hallucination but it looks like I am finally here in my own reality (whatever that means) and here to stay.
So what are the things that I have missed out on? This is a difficult question to answer as it involves a considerable amount of speculation. I can’t help imagining what my life might have been like if I hadn’t spent so much of it imbibing alcohol. For most of my life it has been a constant ‘companion’ of sorts. I acknowledge that there have been many experiences which I may not have had if I had not been under the influence and not all of them cause me acute embarrassment when (and if) I recall them, but sometimes the embarrassment and regret I feel about not doing things is much worse. For example, I could have spent more time playing music. This is something that I have focused on recently as an alternative to drinking, which also provides some kind of escapism, I might add. I finally immersed myself in a focussed, concerted effort to learn more about playing guitar. This has meant learning stuff that I previously found really boring like scales and theory. Previously I might have given up and had a drink instead but my rapid improvement has not only been a revelation but also one of the best presents I could ever have given myself. In fact, I can’t help thinking how much better it would have been if I had done it years ago. Who knows where it could have led. Of course this is a dangerous game to play. Nowadays I have a different set of values to when I was younger. But I do still love playing guitar. Maybe even more so.
As a musician, I’ve written quite a few songs and many of them whilst under the influence, well the lyrics at least. I struggled to come up with ideas to write about so I would often sit up late with pen in one hand and glass of rouge in the other, telling myself I couldn’t go to bed until I had finished the song (or the bottle). When I first gave up drinking I struggled with the words but now I seem to have more ideas than I could possibly write about. It is as if some kind of veil has been lifted and I have become more exposed to and in touch with life.
The first song I had written in ages was inspired by Mrs HOF mentioning that I had reached a significant milestone in my abstinence. When I told her that I had written 300 Days in the Desert she said that it sounded very negative. Yes it is, but within the lyrics I have included some very positive metaphors; 300 days in the desert under a cloudless sky / The Sun’s burning brighter as my blindness has gone. Both are references to my depression lifting and my outlook improving. While my immediate view might be one of a journey of endurance the overall impression I have is that though my destination might be unknown, the feelings I have inside are more within my control, like a personal inner journey that I am making on my own terms, though I really must give credit to Mrs HOF for her part in this journey. Were it not for her I may well have given in at some point. I can think of at least one occasion when it would have been easy to surrender to temptation and/or peer pressure. She has been an inspiration in so many ways, providing encouragement, support and irresistible incentivisation.
Whilst drinking it was easier to delude myself that I had all the things that I wanted and needed and that I was within a gasp of becoming the person that I thought I always should be. Around midnight, I’d feel like I could take on the world, maybe even be a great musician or songwriter, but come the morning though the feeling still lingered like a dream there was a usually a humdinger of a hangover to take the edge off of the reality which was that nothing had changed. And so it went on like a pernicious circle.
Now it seems like I can’t hide from myself. Gradually, I’m coming to terms with who I am. I’m learning more about the person I’ve become, maybe always have been, truth be told, and getting a grip on how best to deal with him. Who knows? I might even get to like him! Perhaps it’s possible to mould him into someone who might be able to live with himself more comfortably and actually take on the role of playing himself?
Now that my year is up and I look back, one of my thoughts is how quickly it has gone. Some people say if you give up drinking and smoking you won’t live any longer – it just feels like it. I have to disagree. In my song I sing “the further I go, the further I know I have to go”, which is kind of illogical, but it makes perfect sense to me – I know that the longer I continue to abstain from putting poisons into my body, the better my chances are of living longer and what’s so bad about life going slowly anyway? It goes too quickly, with not enough time to cram in all that I want to do – I want to learn to play the piano next and who knows what after that?
A few people have asked if I would go back to drinking upon reaching the magical mark of a year. Would I launch myself into a celebratory binge-drinking session? Somehow I don’t think so. If I am honest with myself, I probably told them I was having a year off because it was easier that way. If I had said I was giving up for the rest of my life that would have sounded like madness to them as well as being a daunting task for me. Right now, it feels like it would be madness to go back to drinking. And the rest of Mr Hangover-Free’s life doesn’t seem so daunting after all.
1 year for MrHOF!!
6 days for me to go 😉