The other week someone asked me if I missed alcohol. It’s been five and a half years now since I last had a drink, after somewhere in the region of a decade spent trying to drink the world’s supply of red wine, unfancy lager, and occasionally – although Christ knows why, given how little I liked it – vodka. (One Christmas there was an advocaat snowball incident, but that was my brother’s fault.) I didn’t miss drinking, I replied, but I miss the social element, even though most times I went out drinking I didn’t remember much.
Before heading to rehab I was scared of losing everything that my life circled around: the pub, football on Saturdays, poker on Sundays, after-work drinks, long, lazy pub lunches. Alcohol was safe: It was my “friend”, and it was my crutch. Of course, it was none of these things, not really, and having been open about my alcoholism since sobriety, I regularly get asked for advice about it. I’m not a doctor, I can’t give advice, but I can tell you what I know. Here are nine things I don’t miss about addiction.
1. Always being skint
You’ll be hard pushed to find a better way to spend all your money quickly and incredibly badly than through addiction – be it spending £40 every night getting unenjoyably drunk, sticking all your money on the horses, shopping, or jacking up. Addiction isn’t cheap. When your method of counting moves from base 10 to "base pint", and your priority for spending a tenner is how many pints you can get and where, and what dinner you can get with £1.49 change, you need help.
2. Never switching off
The exhaustion – my word, the exhaustion! – of always planning where your drink is going to come from, and when. Then comes making it through the day so you can sink it – especially if, as in my case, you manage to hold a job down while simultaneously being an addict. Don’t underestimate the cunning of addiction: You’ll always know where it’s coming from, or be fretting if not. My Saturday nights looked like this: pegging it to the offie from the pub around 10:50pm to get 12 cans to drop on my brother’s porch. Why? So when I got back to his after Match of the Day and a lock-in, I’d have drink to hand. There is no calm.
3. Not sleeping properly
I mean properly. Blacking out isn’t sleeping. Proper, restful sleep, not waking-up-bolt-upright-wondering-what-the-time-is-and-what-the fuck-happened-last-night-and-then-checking-your-mobile-to-see-oh-Christ-you-did-send-that-4am-text-message-and-no-she-hasn’t-replied sleep. After which it's time to hit the shower to try to freshen up and get to work. Speaking of which…
4. Trying to hide it
We’ve all stood next to someone on the tube who’s been on the sauce the night before, and it’s only in hindsight I realise I stank most mornings. I pity anyone who had a meeting with me before I had coffee or mints. I used to take Lockets or Strepsils into the office once I noticed my own breath: I was Captain Perma-Cold, with pungent blackcurrant breath rather than pinot noir. I don’t think it worked, but everyone was too polite to say.
5. Insane mental journeys
As you’d expect, addiction is intertwined with mental health – given the lack of sleep and exhaustion of an always-racing mind, the addict's ability to go flying off on tangents and down deep, dark alleyways is unparalleled.
I worked with a guy called Paul once, a bloody clever man. But when I joined the company, I didn’t like Paul’s bright trousers. They were so…pretentious. Naturally, I worried about having to tell my boss I didn’t want to work with Paul because of his trousers, and then him telling HR and then them firing me for being – clearly – a crackpot. I’d get a reputation around the industry; no one would give me a job, because people would know I was unhinged, and then I’d have to leave my lovely flat in Pimlico and move back home to live with my parents and get a dead end job and then I’d never get the girlfriend and lovely London life I wanted and I’d die alone, watching the racing, in my pants, unhappy. And all because of PAUL’S FUCKING TROUSERS. I told my psychiatrist that tailspin once, and I’m still proud to this day that I left a very expensive mental health professional lost for words.
6. Watching shit TV for the sake of it
You’ll find any excuse to have another glass of wine if a bottle is open. I watched so much ice hockey at 3am because “I couldn’t sleep” and there was still a glass of pinot left to finish, it’s unreal. I couldn't tell you the rules of ice hockey, despite watching literally hours of it every week, smashed. I also started countless films “to have a nice quiet drink in front of” at 11pm, only to wake four hours later in an undignified heap on the sofa, the DVD homescreen on an endless loop. To this day I’ve never watched the entirety of The Godfather Part III – although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
7. Being in pain (aka the NHS is bloody incredible)
You can try to ignore it, but liver and kidney pain hurts like fuck. It is also scary, because you know – oh, you know – exactly what it is: your body shouting at you to stop. I once had a hospital check-up after a seizure, and the doctor prodded my liver before he sucked his teeth and said how hard it felt – to which I replied that I was just nervous and was tensing it. The doctor pointed out that you can’t tense your liver, but I was adamant. I think he dropped the argument out of pity.
The NHS saved my life. Frequently. For "free". I’ll never hear a bad word said about it – yes, it’s not perfect, but show me something that is. It sometimes screws up, but it also saves hundreds of thousands of people's lives every year and treats minor ailments and drunken idiots week in, week out. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the NHS; I’d have died in my twenties.
8. Being an arsehole
Lying to everyone you know and care about is a terrible thing, but an addict has other priorities. I hated myself for the shit I put my family and friends through – and it still hurts today. It’ll take a long time for the shame and self-loathing to go, but it gets better every day. At least I don’t hate myself – the bedrock of my drinking – any more. Hiding wine everywhere at home when seeing my family; lying about where I was so I could go drink; “nipping out for a potter around the village" only to return six hours later, pissed and belligerent; asking to borrow money as I'd spunked mine away; not buying birthday presents because I'd spent the money on drink; missing weddings. Tick, tick, tick. I’ve lost touch with too many people because I put myself first for 10 years and never stayed in contact.
9. Thinking I was alone and stupid
A lot of my addiction was centred around self-esteem issues – I didn’t like the me I was, so I got drunk and became a different me. Turns out the different me wasn’t always a very nice drunk, and as things got worse, he became more miserable: grumpy, moody, sometimes aggressive, and unmanageable. I thought I was the only person who thought and suffered like this.
In rehab the first thing they tell you is that you’re not a bad person trying to be good, you’re an unwell person trying to get – and stay – better (it's refreshing that you’re in a room with 20 other people who are suffering the same as you). They tell you you’re not an idiot for being an alcoholic. And after more than a decade of your inner voice telling you otherwise (on the rare occasion it even deigns to admit you have a problem), I can’t tell you how much of a relief that is.