This was a good article in The Telegraph in June by new author John Doran entitled ‘why giving up booze is only half the battle for a recovering alcoholic.
Alcoholism can throw a lot at you. Depression, homelessness, the break up of the family unit, losing one’s job, losing one’s career, losing one’s house, losing one’s mind, losing one’s life even. But perhaps the most insidious aspect of this disease is the dawning realisation that even if you manage to quit the booze in time, you’ve still got half the battle to go.
I started drinking seriously when I was about 13 in 1984 and then stayed pretty much drunk until the age of 37. I quit in 2008 after I nearly died a couple of times; I was in so much pain with my liver that I had to roll out of bed onto the floor each morning and couldn’t even bend over to tie my own shoe laces.
But when I finally managed to stop I had a shocking, negative epiphany: all I’d managed to do (bar save myself from dying of liver failure) was sort out the fact that I was hung-over and ill all the time. All of the stuff that I’d drunk to avoid – mental illness, debt, depression, the impulse to self harm, the impulse to commit suicide, anxiety, social dysfunction, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, stress, anger, violent rage – was still there. And now in terrifying, sober clarity.
Alcoholism is debt consolidation for your life. Submit to the disease and your life becomes incredibly simple. Drink becomes the only thing you care about – and you will end up just fine with letting all the other stuff slide to the extent that it doesn’t even matter if you die or not.
Picture a reservoir surrounded by mountains. You have been tasked with draining the massive body of water away to repopulate the area. But once the water has gone you are faced with the former town that was initially flooded and the now wrecked buildings which need to be pulled down. Call several construction firms. People have been fly tipping here for years. There is tons of rubbish here. You will need help to clean the area up. There are corpses wrapped in carpet and chains. It was the ideal place to dump bodies. You’ll need to call the police and the coroner’s office. The press are on their way. There are rotten and half eaten animal carcasses that need to be cleared up and disposed of. Environmental health need to be involved. You have never seen so many mangled shopping trolleys, broken children’s bikes and unwanted cars. The clearance job will be massive. There are burst canisters of toxic waste that have long since leached into the ground.
It will be years before you can do anything with this land. The water was merely the stuff that was making this area look picturesque. What you have left in its place is an area of outstanding natural horror. It probably feels like you should have left well enough alone.
But people who want to quit should take heart. It is necessary to be aware of what you’re getting into and that way you will be less disheartened when things take a while to sort themselves out. After kicking booze, I moved directly onto the next most pressing issue for me: depression, initially with the help of CBT therapy and medication and more recently with exercise, meditation and diet. And then I tackled other issues caused by mental illness, including anxiety, rage, and hypochondria. I’d built up a number of other ‘client’ habits over the decades, which ranged from the very serious (cocaine, amphetamines) to the aggravating (junk food, sweets) via all sorts of other issues (painkillers, caffeine). All of which needed to be unpicked and dealt with one by one.
Finally, as a middle-aged man, I learned that there are no quick fix solutions in life and the only successful model for implementing genuine change involves careful methodical work. The progress may have been slow at first but it soon became a joy to realise that I didn’t need to ‘stop’ this quest for self-improvement at any particular point. Not only have I achieved levels of contentment and happiness over the last few years that would always have remained elusive to me as a drinker, but I became a father four years ago and now, this month, I’ve become an author as well.
You know that person you know who never got over giving up smoking? The one who always wants to inhale passive smoke and to smell the clothes of people who smoke and who always cadges a fag at last orders? You can’t be like that with drink if you’re a chronic alcoholic. Give up. Assess the damage you’ve done over your lifetime and repair it. Deal with your problems. Make your peace with what you have done and move on to the next bit of your life. And most importantly: don’t look back.
His book about his recovery from alcoholism, Jolly Lad, is out now via Strange Attractor Press.
His initial writing had me somewhat melancholy. He brilliantly painted a picture of the kind of devastation that drinking can wreak and I wasn’t sure there was any way back from that. However his recovery story was much more uplifiting and mirrored my experience. The stuff that worked – CBT, exercise, meditation and diet. The aggravations – junk food and sweets. And his summary:
Give up. Assess the damage you’ve done over your lifetime and repair it. Deal with your problems. Make your peace with what you have done and move on to the next bit of your life. And most importantly: don’t look back.
Couldn’t have put it better myself 🙂