Stop drinking before you HAVE to!

The hallmark of my life was running. Not as in the fast movement. Unless it was last orders at the bar or the off licence was closing. I used alcohol to run mentally and when that became a problem, I would move. Usually, I would change jobs but on many occasions, I would up sticks and move towns. With a car full of possessions and a head filled with bullshit promises of how it was all going to be different this time, I would hit the road. Usually looking for the thing that alcohol was taking away; peace of mind.

After seven months of wellness, it hadn’t taken long for the old ways of drinking to return. My whole existence revolved around drinking. I would go to work purely on the basis to earn money to drink and when not working, I would be drinking. Most of my friends settled down and started families. I was still slumped against a bar trying to figure out what was going wrong with my life. The answer to that question was masquerading as the solution the whole time. So now I was back to where I had been for most of my life and like all those other times I chose the same option I had done previously; time to move.

This was it, a fresh start, a new beginning, clean linen, this is where it all came true. The excitement I felt purely from the delusion that it was going to be different was what made moving all the time so appealing. The sense of wandering into the unknown like an explorer in search of a new life. So many possibilities, so much potential, new sights, new friends and new lovers. It is the thing that dreams are made of.

It wasn’t. In a new town with no friends, I would wander to the pub and drink excessively in the belief that I would meet a new friend Or even more delusionary, a beautiful partner by being in the pub. I would stand in an empty bar on a rainy Tuesday night convinced that I had to stay in there because I would soon meet the woman of my dreams. This brainwashing by washing my brain with alcohol became expensive, even if I had scouted out the cheapest bar in town. The wages I had left after paying my bills would all be spent on drinking. When I had spent my wages, I would use a credit card. When the credit card was at its limit I would get a loan and pay the credit card off. Vowing never to do it again… until the next time. I knew it wasn’t sustainable but I couldn’t stop. The alcohol would block out the reality which in turn made reality harder to face. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This continued for two years. Over that time; I destroyed friendships, relationships, I was on the verge of bankruptcy, I was physically broken, mentally ruined and emotionally stunted. My days followed a similar path; work, drink, blackout, repeat. In the pub, I would stand and talk about the wonderful, exotic places in the world I would love to visit. Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Nepal, plus many more. I could never make the connection between my drinking habits and my circumstance. I used to moan that I couldn’t visit those places because I was skint all the time. Any suggestion of stopping drinking was scoffed at. I was like a child clinging to his mums’ apron strings refusing to play with the other kids. But deep down I was miserable, isolated and lonely. Drinking was my only friend and felt like the only friend I needed.

The people I drank with were associates who were there to normalise my behaviour. I felt like a prisoner. I wanted a change but I had no idea how to go about it. I begrudgingly accepted that this life of working and drinking was my only option. It was getting to the point that people were commenting that I was wearing the same clothes as I had been doing the previous day. This was because I left work, got drunk, blacked out, woke up and drove back to work. At the end of the workday, I would walk around the car park looking for my car. When I eventually quit drinking, I heard a story of a woman who crashed her car into the wall of her workplace on the way to work in the morning. She had been drinking the night before and lost her license and her job. I was lucky.

On May 31st 2014, I was watching a boxing match with some friends. I was drinking whiskey as that is what we used to drink when we all started going out together when we were younger. The irony isn’t lost on me that I was trying to act like I had done when we were all sixteen. After the fight had finished, they did the sensible thing and went home to their wives, girlfriends and children. I went out with mine; alcohol. With no one to distract me with chatter, I was consumed whiskey at an unprecedented rate until it was time to go home. I can’t remember much of the night but I remember walking down the street after the club had closed and felt a paralysing pain just below my right rib-cage. I had never felt pain like it before. It was so severe that it created a memory even in a state of blackout. I slumped against a wall clutching my side and asked a group of people who were passing to get me a taxi, which they did thankfully and I made my way to the hospital. I always had a rule that if something hurt then I would have a few pints of lager. If it still hurt afterwards then it must be quite bad because alcohol is an anaesthetic. So now I was worried.

In the accident and emergency ward, I waited to be seen by a doctor clutching my side and rolling around the floor in agony. I genuinely thought something had ruptured. I prayed to Gods I didn’t believe in and made promises that I couldn’t keep, all out of desperation. After four painful embarrassing hours, I was seen by a Doctor and after a shit ton of tests, I was told that I had an enlarged liver due to the amount of whiskey I had drunk that night. He advised me to lay off alcohol for two weeks and it would return to its normal size. It was the second warning my liver had given me and I was only thirty-two years old. I knew something had to change but I had no idea where to begin.

Charlie.

I got sober then threw it away…

In 2011, under the recommendation of my Doctor, I started to attend drinks counselling. I was far too guarded to discuss any of the problems in my chaotic mind. I used to tell the counsellor what I thought she wanted to hear. I wasn’t ready for the truth. I would try and one-up her intellectually. I’d turn the session into a game. The aim of which was to get to the end of the session without actually talking about my drinking problems. I was the only loser. I was so ungrateful that this service had been offered at the time. Where I should have been trying to work through my problems I was wasting time. I naively assumed that just by attending and pretending, I would somehow magically cure all my problems.

I attended the sessions for twelve weeks and stayed away from alcohol but became obsessive about exercise and food. I made no attempt to find the reasons why I drank as much as I did. I did nothing to address the carnival constantly dancing through my mind. In the end, I drank again. I should have told her how I felt. I should have told her about how I viewed myself as worthless, good for nothing and that alcohol was the only thing that brought light into my miserable existence. Maybe I thought she’d make me stop drinking for good if I told her the truth. I was too scared to lose the only enjoyable thing in my life.

So during the sessions, I would talk about anything except my actual issues. This avoidance of reality had been my problem for years. After the twelve-week counselling had finished I left with a sense of having cheated the system by not telling the truth. I had only cheated myself. It was like I had managed to keep it hidden. I was like a schoolboy who had got away with smoking behind the bike shed. I eventually drank again four months after the counselling had finished. I implore anyone in the same position to dig deep and be honest. That slip up lasted two years and ended with me being broken.

One of the few things that did improve throughout the twelve-week counselling was my health. Not only due to stopping drinking and cutting out junk food but also down to my new obsession with exercise and healthy eating. It was quite clear that I had just swapped my obsession with drinking for an obsession with fitness. I was convinced that if I looked good then I would feel good. This was true for a short amount of time but eventually, once I got to a point that I thought I looked good then I got bored. With boredom comes drinking. Well, it did for me. The voice of temptation constantly whispering into my ear. “You’re bored? Alcohol would make it more exciting.” “Just one.” It was never just one.

Also, during the seven months of sobriety I managed to achieve a few things;

Skydiving; What an experience skydiving was. The sensation of free-falling offset by the serenity when the parachute opened combined to make a remarkable experience. 

Passed my driving test and bought a car; At twenty-nine years old I passed my driving test and bought a car. I had never needed a car before this point. I preferred getting the train everywhere so I could drink on the way.

Got a new job; Or should I say I started a career in a field that actually interested me.

Managed to pay off some debt; With the new job and not blasting my entire wages in the pub it seemed a lot easier to re-balance my finances and start to get on more stable ground.

Started training for the El Camino de Santiago; A work colleague told me about a pilgrimage in Spain/France called the El Camino de Santiago. It is a five hundred miles (769km) hike/walk from St Jean Pied De Port in southern France to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, North West Spain. I started looking into it and then I was convinced that is what I was going to do next.

Lost a lot of weight; When I was drinking I eat appallingly and paid the price as I was always ill. Either hungover or just rough. The swimming, yoga & meditation I started doing, combined with the change in diet made me feel great.

The changes had been great. I was feeling fantastic but I still hadn’t dealt with the reasons why I drank so much previously. Subconsciously I was looking for an excuse to drink again. A guy I was working with developed a tumour that the Doctors were sure had formed due to stress. He was thirty-four years old and his life would now be completely different forever. It scared the shit out of me as I wasn’t much younger myself. I can remember thinking what’s the point in not drinking? I might be dead soon! A week later I was watching a friends band on a nondescript Wednesday night. I’d had three cokes and thought if I keep drinking Coke then I won’t sleep and I’ve got work tomorrow. It seemed to make a lot of sense at the time that the only other option was to have a beer. I was convinced that it wouldn’t end up like last time. How could it? I was much wiser now. There was no alarm when I got the drink and there was no explosion of dopamine in my brain. I just sipped it and carried on watching the band. I finished the beer and ordered another. After that, I went home. Easy I thought as I made my way home convinced I had it under control.

Two days after those first two drinks, I was back to drinking how I had done before. Recklessly. Almost as if my addiction had been dormant just waiting to seize control. Within weeks, people started to comment on how I looked ill. They would also mention how I smelt of drink. I would make up some lie about a party the night before when really I had been home alone. Soon my financial situation would again become precarious as I was now drinking away my wages and I started borrowing money to feed my habit.

The dream of walking the El Camino de Santiago began to slip further away from reach. Every week of drinking made it more and more unachievable due to the damage to my body. My mental health began to suffer as I shelved problems again and I could no longer afford the plane ticket to France. 

The positive changes I had made over the seven months were destroyed within a few weeks.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

Quitting Drinking – A Diary

When I first stopped drinking I kept a journal of how I felt. My girlfriend had left because of my drinking. I went to the doctors to prove her wrong. The doctor gave me a blood test and told me I had a serious drink problem. I only wrote for the first 19 days but I would like to share it in case it is helpful. Everything below was written at the time.   

Day 1 – Got back from the dam (Amsterdam) in a state but knew it was time to change and become more responsible. Spent the day feeling sorry for myself, laid on the sofa eating crap food to try and cheer myself up. A usual occurrence. 

Day 2 – Rough nights sleep. Sweating, twitching, restless. Lethargic all day. Brain pre-occupied by the task at hand and the thought of becoming a boring old man. Better than becoming an alcoholic old man though I guess. Train journey home, no music, no reading. Just staring out of the window thinking. Long time since I’ve made a train journey without a beer . Evening in bed crying & trying to hold it together. For the first time I was aware of the little voice that said “Have a drink”. I refused. 

Day 3 – Got up early to phone the doctors. “Am I really going to do this? I’m fine” I tell myself, my defence mechanism has kicked in. Dr’s appointment – walking there holding back the tears of the realisation I may have been wasting my life. Doctor confirms I have been wasting my life. Held my head up high but was crashing down inside. Spent the rest of the day trying not to fall apart. Anxiously waiting the results of my blood test. It’ll be fine.

SIDE NOTE: You can’t run forever. Eventually you have to stop and that’s when it hits you. Deal with your problems as they happen don’t dismiss them or drown them in alcohol. 

Day 4 – A blur of awful realisation and remorse. Overwhelming urge to go to the pub but decided to take a walk into town to get out of the house. The pub is still calling my name like an evil temptress. Shall I go in for a coffee?! Looking at the people mosying around town I realise that I’m not missing much and venture home with a paper. Try to pre-occupy my mind as it’s waking from a chemically induced slumber and it’s hungry again. Exhaustion and anxiety get the better of me and I spend the day on the sofa rattling. 

Day 5 – My mother called round in the morning and helped me realise that drink had control over me. Also, how it’s influence on me changed my personality for the worse whilst drunk. I’ve tried to figure out why I drank like I did. Embarrassment? Depression? Social Anxiety? Just a chemical imbalance? No idea.The sinking feeling of loss, guilt, remorse, shame of love, life, friendships and careers lost to drink. My cocky blasé attitude showed a lack of interest when really I was dying inside but too scared to reach out for help. Get up, smile, take the piss out of people, die a little more inside. Why did I pass myself off as the joker? Life was passing me by. Call the doctors for my test results. She wants to see me. My anxiety hits the roof. Now it’s real. Now all the years of foolishness, juvenility and recklessness have made an impact. All I can think is “I’m fucked”. 

Day 6 – Doctors tomorrow. Spend the day pacing. 

Day 7 – Doctors first thing. The results weren’t as bad as I thought but the doctor wasn’t as impressed. I have to cut down and see a drink counsellor. My mind is calmed by the fact I don’t have cirrhosis of the liver. Liver gamma 96 recommended 48. I’ve had a warning. Spend the rest of the day reading, practicing guitar and waiting to see the counsellor. That’s only problem the amount of time to kill. Seems strange admitting I have a drink problem but also liberating and life changing. First Friday night in a long time without a beer. Went to bed early. 

Day 8 – Tried to keep busy today. Visited family and then went out for a birthday party. Had a panic attack in the taxi on the way there. Twitching, paranoia. When I got there I just had a coke and sat down. Any offer of beer I just refused and said I’m on medication. After to the party we went to another pub. I had a J20 and had a surprisingly good time. Realised that it is possible to socialise without alcohol. 

Day 9 – Last day of my holiday time. Relaxed and went to the pub, quickly got bored. Pubs alone and sober aren’t the most fun of places.   

Day 10 – First day back at work and people have been surprisingly supportive. They also say I should be proud of what I have done. Good day at work it took my mind off things a lot. Got home from work and felt terrible. Didn’t want to do anything other than sit on the sofa and wallow in self pity. Forced myself to visit my Nanna. It was a good decision. Just the walk there helped.  On the walk back I passed my regular pub. I imagined myself at the bar, alone, drinking and I looked unhappy. It made me feel good. 

Day 11 – Work again today. Good day. Went to watch football in the pub. Took £20 and only bought one pint of coke. 

Day 12 – Spent the day doing chores 

Day 13 – Work again. People are very forthcoming when you admit you have a problem. 

Day 14 – Work until 2 and then counselling. Was very helpful and makes me analyse my problems. Went to a football match and had a very good time plus a great laugh. Shame about the match. Went out after the game with some friends and felt uptight but after a while became relaxed. Felt at ease and could crack jokes. No paranoia, anxiety or anti social behaviour. Drank too much coke and couldn’t sleep.  

Day 15 – Whole day tired at work due to the lack of sleep. Went to a leaving party and people commented how much better I look already. No longer grey faced and miserable. Laid back and relaxed. 

Day 16 – Night shift at work tonight on my own. Worried about being on my own. 

Day 17 – Work wasn’t as bad as I expected. Slept a lot today but feel really happy. Starting to enjoy my own company and discover who I am. Enjoying relaxed time just watching TV, reading, playing guitar, experiencing freedom of choice. No longer seeing time as something that has to be maximised more as something to be enjoyed. Depression is lifting and I’m starting to feel more confident. Breaking a self destructive habit that has lasted 15 years is empowering. I exercised today for the first time in a long time. If I can carry on like today it is going to be a good future. 

Day 18 – Another good day today  No longer think “I wish I would have done this years ago” because now is the time. Negativity is drifting away to be replaced by light and positivity. I feel good. Time alone is enjoyable. Writing, reading, watching TV, all seem like better options than standing in a bar and drinking to misery. I can’t really face bars now. One question that keeps arising “Did I drink because I was depressed or depressed because I drank?” 

Day 19 – Every morning now seems like a seemless amount of time to be enjoyed. No longer have to rush through the day to get everything done in order to get to the pub. Went swimming today with a non drinking work colleague. Felt good to be out trying different things and starting to build a life. Have to find new things to do to otherwise I will end up sitting in the pub again. Spent the remainder of the day relaxing with a book, played some playstation, writing. From not enough time to an abundance of time to be enjoyed. Experiencing life without drink is a challenge but overcoming challenges is what makes us stronger. “Abstinence makes the mind grow stronger.”

Day 1725 – today
Found an old diary…

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.

How it all began

“Just admit you have a drinking problem,” she said, with her hand holding the door open, primed like a sprinter on the starting block.

“Problem? What problem? I pay my bills, my mortgage, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a car. How can I have a problem?” I said.

“Because once you pay for those things every single penny goes on drinking. The fact you don’t see that as a problem… forget it I’m wasting my time trying to tell you that,” she said, stepping through the door and slamming so hard that it vibrated in its hinges along with her words reverberating around my head. Why does this keep happening? I thought to myself as I stood in the hallway perplexed. I shrugged my shoulders and went to the pub to have a couple of pints to mull it over.

This wasn’t the first time a relationship had ended like this and she wasn’t the first person to tell me I needed to quit drinking but for some reason, she made the biggest impact… although not in a nice way. “I’ll fucking show her she was wrong,” I said to myself after that evenings drinking session.

The day after this all too regular occurrence, I decided to phone my doctor and make an appointment. I was still hell-bent on proving the world wrong about my drinking habits. If I could just get proof from the doctor that everything was okay then at least they would let me enjoy my life in peace. I say “enjoy” but in all honesty, the enjoyment of drinking had ended many years ago and it was now the only thing left as all the other activities had been pushed aside but I digress.

Sitting in the doctors waiting room, my knee bouncing up and down, waiting to be called, convinced that I would soon have the letter of proof that would show the world it was overreacting to my drinking habits. How could I have a problem? Everyone I drink with, drinks the same amount as me? It’s normal, isn’t it? Relationships break down all the time? That’s what people do isn’t it? Work all day then drink their woes away at night?

“Charlie Lofus?” shouted the Doctor, snapping me out of my usual chaotic thinking.

“Here,” I said, standing and following her through to her office not so cock sure as when I arrived.

“So how can I help you?” said the Doctor, closing the door behind me and then taking her seat.

“Everybody keeps telling me I drink too much,” I said, fidgeting on my seat.

“How much do you drink?” said the Doctor.

“Twelve pints a day and then spirits on the weekend,” I said, playing it down.

“Is this true?” said the Doctor.

“Of course,” I said, as perspiration began to run down my face.

“I want you to have a blood test,” said the Doctor.

“Cool, shall I make an appointment on my way out?”

“No! You will have a blood test now, today. If you drink as much as you say you do then you may have damaged your liver. Wait outside and the nurse will call you,” said the Doctor.

“Okay,” is all I could manage to say as I stood and made my way out of the Doctors office, the sterile smell of the office adding to the lightheaded sensation to make me feel nauseous. I slumped into a chair in the waiting room and began to bite my finger nails. All the possible outcomes began to illuminate my mind like a firework show created to spell out liver conditions, as my confidence collapsed and the situation became very real.

I heard the words that sounded like Charlie Lofus. It was difficult to make them out as my mind was now awash with negativity but I stood and followed the nurse through corridors until I was told to sit. I did as instructed and rolled up my sleeve as she explained what was going to happen. The slight sting in my right arm as the needle slipped in, wasn’t enough to shake me from my thinking. Afterwards, I was told to call back next week for my results and also, to cut down on my alcohol consumption. I vowed to the nurse that I would… “Tomorrow” I vowed to myself. It had been a stressful day and the cigarette I was smoking outside was doing nothing to silence the chaos tearing through my mind like a tornado so I needed a drink.

I phoned the Doctors four days later. I made the call with a hangover. The Doctors advice had done nothing to curb my unquenchable thirst for alcohol and had done nothing to demonstrate that I had a problem.

“Hello, I’m calling for my blood test results. My name is Charlie Lofus,” I said to the receptionist over the phone.

“Yes Charlie the Doctor would like to talk to you about your results. Can you come in today?” said the receptionist.

“Yeah, sure,” I said, agreeing to the time she suggested that afternoon. Reality was banging so hard on the wall of deception I had created for myself that I for the first time in years I saw what I had done to myself and all I could think was; I’m fucked. How could this have happened? I only went to the Doctors to prove everybody wrong and now I had been called into the doctors to discuss, I was convinced, my imminent demise. No matter what I did, the word cirrhosis bounced around my mind from that point until I was speaking to the Doctor.

“Ninety six is twice what we consider healthy. Do you know what this means?” said the Doctor, holding a piece of paper.

“I can guess,” I said,

“I will tell you. At 29 years old your liver gamma is twice the maximum level Charlie. This is a clear warning from your body that the way you are living is not sustainable. I strongly suggest that you listen to it. If you can’t cut down then you have to stop drinking completely,” said the Doctor.

“I don’t see the point in cutting down. I never did. I only ever saw the point in getting hammered,” I said.

“We have a counselor here that could help?” said the Doctor.

“I can give it a try,” I said.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie.