Turning 40… Sober…

I honestly didn’t think I would make 30 years old. I didn’t want to, or so I thought. I hated who I was. I hated everything about my life. I was going to drink myself to death. That is what I was going to do. Like the misunderstood, dark brooding characters I romanticised so much. Yet, at 29 years old I was diagnosed as a chronic alcoholic. It scared me. It scared me to death. The nihilist became afraid of annihilation. The skulking laisse-faire rebel without a clue became a child in an adult body reaching out for any assistance available. The gig was up. I had been exposed for the piss artist shyster I was. An ego built on the false promise of alcohol. A husk searching for acceptance by mirroring the behaviour of others. A charlatan. 

I turned 30 years old not drinking. I had replaced alcohol with an obsession for wellness. I pursued wellness to the point of exhaustion. I had no plan for a sober life. I just thought if I got a six-pack everything would be magically okay. I got in great shape physically but mentally I was unhinged. My yearning for escape hadn’t been dealt with it had been replaced. My obsessive nature around alcohol hadn’t been resolved, I just counts calories instead of ABV percentages. I hadn’t dealt with the underlying issue. I am scared, often. Of life, of my thoughts and other people. Alcohol took that away. It took away concerns. It took away the inner yammering. It made me feel normal so I could exist in social situations and appear like one of the crowd. Without that magical elixir, I was like a raw nerve exposed to the world. At the whim of the universe and its treachours plans. I clung to exercise as a child clings to its favourite blanket. I needed something to replace what I had lost. It was a terrible approach. Seven months of insanity, erm sobriety, was filled with activities trying to get t eh deadening euphoria of alcohol. Snowboarding, sky diving, constant exercise. But nothing was the drug I wanted. I knew my drug and I missed it so. I’d done well. Seven months is a long time without a drink. I deserve a drink to celebrate. I would control it this time. It would be different this time. the delusion was to me what the snake was to eve. What preceded was two years of destruction. More alcohol fewer results. I swapped drinks. I chased highs but the magic was waning. I was scared. What would I do with my escape? I increased the amount but more seemed to do less. I couldn’t escape and my body couldn’t handle it. I had to quit. Or I would die. So I did.

Today 16th March 2022 I turn 40 years old. I don’t consider myself 40. I didn’t start living until I quit drinking. I didn’t have a clue who I was until I started daring to ask the questions, I had avoided for so long. I lived for in the last 8 years since quitting drinking than I ever did in the 32 years that preceded it. That much is true. I still get to some dark places mentally and my stock response to stress is still a desire to run away from the feeling. Currently, my inner monologue is “sell up and move to the woods!” if any unfavourable feelings arise. Not a plan is it. Sounds like a nice idea but in reality, it would be a nightmare. I know nothing about survival. I take one day at a time. I feel guilty sometimes about the yearning to escape. About the dark thoughts of suicide that turn up like ghosts to test my resolve during hardship. I feel bad because they are part of who I am and I feel the guilt because I realise how lucky I am to have the friends and family I do. I sometimes think I don’t deserve it. I am blessed. 

I am no longer chasing a high. Happy to have my feet on the ground. And despite the odd wobble and threat of worsening mental health, it is usually okay. Quitting drinking taught me that you and I are far more incredible than we would dare to admit. The things I used to drink about are now just moments of the day. I have faced far worse situations since quitting drinking than when I was still drinking. And despite the odd yearning to move to the woods and become sasquatch or the fleeting ominous thought, I got through them. Often alone, more often with the support of others. The shared belief that life without alcohol isn’t possible is nothing more than a fabrication from the drawing board of some Maddison avenue advertising campaign. Want to relax? Have a drink! What to fit in? have a drink! What to be cool? Have a drink? Want to get ill? Have a drink! Want to lose a job? Have a drink. I got carried away but the notion that life is a soulless existence without alcohol is bollocks. Life is sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. But by removing the rollercoaster of highs and lows it is possible to find something that resembles contentment. Of peace. See, alcohol solves nothing. It gives pleasure which is the absence of pain but it doesn’t cure the pain. And life can be a real pain sometimes. 

I like the romantic idea of sitting on a porch with a whiskey ruminating on the great imponderables of life. But that isn’t how the story ends for me. It starts with a whiskey and ends up on the floor of a hospital writhing in pain pleading for a solution. It ends with my bank account empty. It ends with shame and guilt. Lost teeth and black eyes. Yet it never really ends.

If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be forty and not drinking alcohol I would have thought it was the end of the world. I would have thought it must be a sad life. But if I would have had a single taste of the contentment that came with quitting drinking and doing the necessary work, I would hope I would have quit then. Because I was always seeking acceptance, I just didn’t realise it was my own. 

Much love,

Charlie

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