“Wait… Am I an alcoholic?”

ALCOHOLIC

It’s a scary word right? But don’t let that scary word put you off here and make you run away with your tail between your legs. For what it’s worth I don’t like the word either. Not because it scares me but it is so black and white.

What, honestly, do you think of when you see or hear that word? Does this image come to mind?…

Or perhaps…

It’s always an extreme though isn’t it? Someone at their complete and utter rock bottom. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of alcoholic:

alcoholic

Adjective

1. Containing or relating to alcohol

2. Suffering from alcoholism

Noun

1. A person suffering from alcoholism

Any clearer? It actually becomes rather vague when you start looking into it. When one looks at the definition of alcoholism they will find that it is:

An addiction to the consumption of alcoholic drink; alcohol dependency.

So now we are talking about an addiction to alcohol…

addiction

Noun

The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity

So we still aren’t really any clearer are we? I think we can all agree that addiction really is the repeated use or involvement of a substance or activity, despite the substantial harm it causes, and not being able to stop. So does that mean that one becomes an alcoholic when they are addicted to alcohol? When we get pissed regularly we know that it is causing us harm, because we feel it. Yet we continue to do so, some more often than others. Does this mean that anyone that drinks to excess often, say every weekend, or every month is an alcoholic? Of course not. Or does it? Do you see what I mean? The whole thing is one big vague, confused soup of definitions and interpretations. A soup that doesn’t taste very nice and one that must be ignored. Don’t mention the “A” word! Of course I’m not an alcoholic!

The problem we have in our society is that it is a dirty word. You either don’t drink (weirdo!), drink normally or you are an alcoholic and must live the rest of your miserable existence as a failure and a social pariah (society’s portrayal and not mine)

“Have you heard? Ian’s an alcoholic! The poor sausage. He can never drink again or he will spontaneously combust. I mean, you know, I like a drink just like the next man but I’m not an alcoholic, goodness no!”

As a society we have even created terms that sit in the middle ground. ‘Problem drinker’, or ‘alcohol dependent’. Much softer terms than the life sentence of alcoholic aren’t they?

When one thinks about it though, alcoholic is a ridiculous word. A ridiculous notion completely. The truth of the matter is that alcohol is a drug. And alcohol, given the chance, is an addictive drug at that. So why do we, as a society, act surprised or express shock, horror or even sympathy when someone gets hooked? Especially when you consider how openly alcohol is pushed in our society. It is recognised to create massive social problems and unrest. It is recognised, scientifically, to cause cancer and other horrific ailments and diseases, and for there to be no safe amount to consume at all. In spite of all those memes and Facebook posts stating otherwise (which, incidentally, are all funded by the industry itself). There was a time not so long ago where smoking was actively encouraged. I don’t want a ban on alcohol, good grief no, but I do want it to be recognised for what it is, and has the potential to become. It is, after all, the only drug we have that you have to justify when giving up.

“Fancy a beer?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink”

“Eh?”

“I don’t drink. But I’ll have a lime and soda. It’s nice to see you, let’s catch up!”

“Wait? You don’t drink? The fuck? Why not? How much were you drinking? What happened? Hang on…

Thinks to oneself…Here it comes…

“Are you… Are you an…alcoholic?” (visibly baulks, then runs away)

I have been incredibly lucky, with those closest to me just accepting that I don’t drink and not questioning too far my reasons behind me stopping. I don’t mind talking about it, obviously, if somebody generally wants to understand it a bit more. But I know from a lot of sober friends that some are met with massive resistance, rudeness, demands to justify their reasons, endless questions, hilarity, bullying and even being disowned as a friend. Tossed aside like a reject. Friends or family would often say,

“Come on! Just have one! You’ll be alright! I’m sure you’ve got it under control now!”

But you wouldn’t say that to someone who was addicted to smoking once they’d given that up would you?

“Quick fag? I know you’ve stopped but one will be OK won’t it?

Or a heroin addict…

“Come on, just shoot up at weekends! You’ll be fine!”

The truth is, once you are addicted to something, that addiction sits inside you, like an evil dragon, sleeping inside your brain and waiting for you to slip up. No matter how long it is since you’ve taken whatever it is you are addicted to, it is there. Dormant but very much alive. You’ve managed to keep it at bay, rewired your brain to allow your grey matter to search for pleasure in other ways, away from the drug. But the addiction, the dragon, is just waiting. And once you go back to your drug of choice, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, whatever it is, the dragon wakes up, and sets off all of those short cuts in your brain you have been working so hard to avoid for so long. They light up like a firework display on New Year’s Eve and BANG. You’re addicted again. Just. Like. That.

So if a friend says they aren’t drinking anymore, don’t try and tempt them. Just say well done. You don’t have to then go on and justify your own drinking habit. When we become sober we aren’t instantly initiated into some kind of booze free police force, where we are given standard issue sticks to beat those that don’t drink sensibly. We are still just us. Just us, but we don’t drink anymore.

I titled this blog with a question. A question I used to ask myself time and time again. But my image of an alcoholic was so extreme I told myself I wasn’t, because I wasn’t on a park bench drinking out of a paper bag. I wasn’t putting vodka on my cornflakes every morning. So I wasn’t an alcoholic. And I carried on drinking, even though I was addicted. Even though drinking had become a big problem for me and I was consuming much more than your average man. The truth is there is an enormous grey area of drinking, where millions of people sit. The questions we should be asking ourselves are:

“Is my drinking harming me, physically or mentally, or those around me?”

“Do I wish I could control my drinking more?”

“Could I stop if I wanted to?”

There are lots of questions actually, too many to list. But one we shouldn’t be asking ourselves is, “Am I an alcoholic?”

Thank you for reading and if you would like to see more please have a look at my previous blogs and sign up for email alerts below. And feel free to share!

Oh and to those have have read previous blogs you’ll be delighted to know that me and my hamster are best buddies now! Nothing like a bit of hamster bondage to get close! Bonding! Bonding! Fuck sake!

My hamster shit in my shower.

A list (love lists!) of things I never thought I would say:

– Another beautiful sunrise this Saturday morning!

– I haven’t had a drink for 179 days

– My hamster shit in my shower

Life huh?!

Life really is incredibly unpredictable. How often have you heard yourself say,

“Well if you’d have told me this is where I’d be a few years ago I’d never have believed you!”?

None of us honestly know what is around the corner. One can plan all they like but it’s often things that haven’t been planned or prepared for that side-swipe us. Like a stealthy ninja, coming from nowhere, they sweep our legs from under our feet and we end up on our arses with no idea how we got there. But we get up and we brush ourselves down and we carry on. Shit happens! We weren’t worrying about that ninja but we still got past the sneaky bastard. And, more often than not all of those other things we had been worrying ourselves silly over turn out to be a piece of cake to deal with. All of that wasted energy, worrying about the future. That fear. It’s pointless right? That fear is the same fear that also holds us back. The fear of the unknown, because change is scary. When life isn’t fulfilling you and you know that you need to do something about it, to change, you get fearful. You start thinking things like,

“Ah it’s not so bad really. I’m relatively happy. I don’t need to do anything about it after all. It’s a bit fucking scary making any kind of change so I’ll just roll with the status quo for a while longer.”

But that feeling of ‘Is this really IT?’ keeps coming back at you. Slowly to start with. So you carry on. But it becomes louder and more frequent. It starts frustrating you. It comes along every day in the end. And it gets tiresome. And this is where it can become problematic because you start looking outside for the answers. Or you look to other things to break the monotony of it all. For me this was alcohol, and the problem with alcohol, like any drug, is that it can become addictive and that’s where you start swimming in dangerous, deep, and scary waters. Until it’s got it’s grip on you and makes you believe that IT is what you’re looking for. What you need. IT can make your evenings more enjoyable. IT can make you a better person. IT is the answer. To everything.

Feeling happy? Have a drink! Feeling sad? Have a drink! Feeling stressed? Have a drink! Feeling tired? Have a drink! The sun’s out! Have a drink! The weather is shit. Stay in and have a drink!

And it becomes a bit of a problem (no shit!). It blinds you to the point where all you can think about, whatever is happening, is alcohol. It takes up all of your energy and even when you’re not drinking you’re thinking about it. Either because you’ve got a steaming hangover or you are thinking of when you can have your next one. So you are effectively blind. You’re living your life and to everyone else around you, you may appear to be perfectly happy. But really you’re not. Shit, you may have even convinced yourself that you ARE happy but there is still something inside, getting smaller all the time mind you, that knows that you aren’t happy.

Nothing changes if nothing changes

At this point it’s up to you. It might finally be time to put your big boy pants on and change something. I tried this while I was still drinking. I still did things, things that I was proud of. But that feeling of contentment was short lived and I kept finding myself going back to that point of feeling unfulfilled. It wasn’t until I stopped drinking that I realised it was alcohol that was the thing obstructing my path to true feelings of contentment. Who knew right?!

I realised that once I’d cut free from the shackles of alcoholism, that my mind, body and soul had been yearning for this freedom without me even realising it. I had space in my head to really listen, now that it wasn’t crowded out and filled close to bursting with negativity. Alcohol is a depressant after all. I stopped looking outside of myself for that fulfillment and looked inwards. I rediscovered my love for nature, for sunrises (see number 1 on the list!), for reading, for learning, for music, for writing! Yeah I guess I could still do all of those things before but I was never truly invested in those moments. I rediscovered pride in myself, in my job, in my friendships and in my family. I truly realised how incredibly lucky I am.

I was fucking scared to stop drinking, to make that much of a change in my life. That fear, like I’ve said, held me back. But I faced that fear. I made the change. And it was quite simply the best thing I’ve ever done.

SIDENOTE:

Oh and my hamster was in my shower because, according to people that know more about hamsters than I do, you need to be with your hamster in a safe space and allow it to crawl over you to let it bond with you, and become tame. A bath is most recommended but if you haven’t room to swing a cat in your flat, like me, and only have a shower cubicle then that is fine. It was an odd experience. Maybe I should make sure the shower isn’t on next time. She had a shit in there because hamsters shit everywhere it seems.

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