It’s twelve years to the day I last woke up hungover. Twelve years since I stopped drinking.
I was tempted to write this later when I have more time, but as things are I’m not sure when that will be. I’ve never been busier – and business has never been as good – and if I don’t write now the moment will pass and it’ll be – God willing – 13 years. So forgive me if this is a bit rushed, I’ve had to write it quickly before another busy day begins so its very much top of my head thoughts.
Stopping drinking was a re-birth for me in many ways. I often like to think I was a ‘high functioning alcoholic’ – and compared with some people I was I guess – but it’s a fine line and a bit of a moot point.
As I’ve said before, I only ‘almost’ lost everything. If it wasn’t for the generosity, kindness and patience of those closest to me, I would have lost everything.
Not everyone is lucky to have such good and kind people in their lives. And, as always, my eternal thanks to those people who helped me.
It’s easy – for anyone, and possibly in particular for alcoholics – to fool yourself into thinking you are somehow superior to others. And the phrase ‘high functioning alcoholic’ is a good example of that.
It’s easy to think that just because you still have some semblance of a ‘decent’ life (a job, a business, a marriage, a mortgage etc) that you are ‘ok’ and not comparable to those who have ‘really fucked up’…
It’s all bullshit. We may function – we may still have a business or job or marriage – but ‘high functioning’? Unlikely in most cases I would imagine. Certainly in mine. Barely functioning would have been more accurate.
But to be fair, we have an amazing ability to fool ourselves about a lot of things, including the ultimate truth.
We all know we’re going to die someday and if we didn’t have the ability to pretend we weren’t, life would be at best depressing, and at worst barbaric. If we can fool our brains enough to mask mortality salience we can fool ourselves about anything. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
The myth of the high-functioning alcoholic is the ‘real-world’ equivalent of the myth of the romantic poet or musician. Yes, he or she died at 27 and left some great work… but they’re still fucking dead.
Even Prince – who managed to live 30 years longer than the mythical age of ’27’ – and produced an incredible amount of superb music has died far too young. That’s not romantic, it’s tragic. I’m still equally upset and pissed off with him for doing that to us (and to himself).
Yes, some of us may have managed to do more – for a while at least – as functioning alcoholics than some others do sober, but so what? Are we supposed to be happy with that?
Can you imagine Usain Bolt being pleased coming 10th in the 100m because he’d broken his leg with an act of self-inflicted stupidity?
But that’s what high-functioning alcoholics do. We hobble ourselves and then congratulate ourselves for still being in the race. So what if we came 10th when we could have come 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. We’re still in the race when most people aren’t… we’re still ‘special’. We could have won but, hey, we’ll win next year…
For allegedly intelligent people, we’re really fucking stupid.
But alcohol is a powerful drug. And we’re pretty stupid creatures. Once we accept both those facts, it makes it easier to retake control and start rebuilding.
The two biggest things to happen to me in the last year are meeting my fiancée Bea – who has given me happiness, confidence and a renewed enthusiasm for life – and finding out why I’ve been so tired for the last few years.
I presumed it was just old age (I’m only 44…) but it turned out to be sleep apnea. I was stopping breathing during the night – for 10 seconds or more – 30 times an hour on average, which is classed as severe apnea. Apart from the obvious problem of lack of sleep that it causes, it also has huge consequences on overall health and leads to early heart disease, brain damage and a whole host of other health problems.
But I’ve now been sleeping with a CPAP machine and mask for around 6 months and I can’t remember the last time I had so much energy. I’ve done more this year than I have for many years.
I don’t know if there is a limit on being ‘reborn’ but if stopping drinking was a re-birth of sorts, then tackling my apnea has been another.
I suspect that’s probably about it now though. No more excuses. No more waiting for something else to change.
This is who I am. A sober, semi-intelligent, semi-successful person who now sleeps well. The rest is up to me. If I come 10th in the race, it’s because that’s where I deserve to be. If I come 3rd, 2nd, or – unlikely – 1st, it’s because I’ve worked well enough – and was lucky enough – to deserve it.
And if I’m not even on the race track, then that’s what I deserve too.
As always, no preaching. If you can drink moderately and lead a full and happy life, that’s fantastic. If I could drink one or two and stop, I’d possibly do it.
But if you are beginning to wonder if you have a problem – please, I’m begging you – please seek help. Life without alcohol is not boring. It is not dull. It’s just different.
And if you have a drinking problem – if you are entering the race with a broken leg – you’re doing yourself, your friends, your colleagues and most of all your loved ones a disservice. In those cases, life without alcohol is not just different, it’s immeasurably better.
As always I suggest AA in the first instance. I don’t use AA myself now but it saved my life in my first year of sobriety. Give it a fair go. But if it’s not for you – and I get that it’s not for everyone – there are lots of alternative ways to stop. If you have a problem, just do it please. As soon as possible. Today, if you can.
The hardest part is admitting it to yourself and seeking help. Once you do that, the rest will follow. And you know what, once you admit it, you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t admit it to yourself sooner. You are not alone. There are millions of us.
I’m always happy to talk if you want to (DM me on twitter, email me, call me at work – whatever you are comfortable with) but I’m not a guru or an expert. I’m just someone who’s been there, done that, thrown up on the t-shirt, bought a new clean one and done my best to keep it as clean as possible. If I can help I’ll happily try, but no promises.
And if you don’t have a problem with alcohol that’s truly fantastic. Enjoy a drink tonight or this weekend, and if you want to raise a glass to another year of my sobriety, that’s fine with me!