I was going to start by saying how surprised I am that I made it to a year without drinking, but I think I knew from the moment I stepped out of the rehab clinic that me and the drinkies were done for good.
If alcohol had been a person, I’d have unfriended them on Facebook. Drinking had officially pissed me off and I think this resentment is what has helped me get through the past 12 months without coming close to any kind of relapse. I would never deny that I had countless awesome times drinking, but in the end alcohol had made me weak, and dependent entirely on others. I’ve always been quite an independent person, so this feeling is something I’ve always resented.
(If you haven’t read the story of why I gave up drinking, check out How I Lost My Vodka but remember to come back when you’re done)
As the months progressed, I began to forget what it was like to be tipsy, drunk or shit-face-wankered. Of course it could be argued I never remembered what the last one felt like. This helped, it’s harder to miss something that has begun to feel like a distant memory, something that’s now alien to you. And it’s helped that over the past year I’ve conquered the many milestones in proving to myself I could get through various situations without drinking.
The bar at work, where I was generally the first to arrive and the last to leave for many years, was a crucial one for me. The Friday night drinks with my team were such an institution (we’ve got our own table for fuck’s sake!) I knew that getting through that would be a big deal for me. The first time I went down there with the usual gang, and not only survived, but had a great time – in fact the same great time that I always have with those guys – this was a major step for me. It showed me I didn’t need alcohol to have fun, to be funny.
Best of all, is no-one treated me any differently. With the exception of the small inconvenience of having to order something other than the usual bottle(s) of wine we’d share as a group. No-one held back. No-one tried to be “nice but not helpful”-oversensitive to my problem, by ordering orange juices all round, or going easy on the wine. It was just the same. For me, one of the most important things in recovering from this problem has been people just treating me like normal. By all means, invite me to the piss-ups and the parties, don’t hold back, feel comfortable getting shit-faced in my presence. make jokes about it. Sometimes I even get offered beers, out of habit – even that I find quite cool; it shows people have forgotten that I’m “different”.
I get a lot of questions from those who know my story with alcohol, and it’s interesting sometimes to hear people’s assumptions or preconceptions about what being an alcoholic means. When I was in rehab, I was walking to Tesco with a fellow patient – I had been told I couldn’t go unless someone accompanied me as I had recently made a gag over dinner which had caused the nurses some concern over my resolution – I’ll get onto that later. On the walk to Tesco, where I intended to stock up on Jelly Tots (something I was using as currency with the other inmates) and fags, he asked me about my drinking and when I said I never drank in the morning before going to work, he said “So are you sure you’re an alcoholic?” I’ve since heard this assumption many times, that drinking first thing in the morning is what ‘makes you an alcoholic’.
In fact most recently was on Friday evening, walking with a colleague out of the building; I mentioned to her about my “anniversary”, and she asked if I used to drink before work. I said no, never, but I was drinking every night. And she said “Yeah but so do I.” I probably know lots of people who drink as much, almost as much, or more than I did, and they wouldn’t consider it to be a problem. But maybe it isn’t. Sure, it’s not healthy, but does drinking heavily or drinking every day make you an alcoholic. I don’t think so.
For me, alcoholism is when drinking works its way much higher up your hierarchy of needs than it deserves. It’s when alcohol becomes more important than other much more valuable things in your life, when alcohol begins to replace things in your life, degrade things in your life, ruin things in your life. And when you become powerless to stop it. Alcoholism is about powerlessness and the gradual removal of choice.
I met people in rehab who were alcoholics who only drank at the weekends. Now, like me, I’m sure most of you would be surprised that someone who drinks once or twice a week can be an alcoholic. “Alcoholic” is about drinking in the morning and lunchtime and drinking every day, right? Wrong. These people caused utter carnage in their lives in those one or two day binges, and their whole week would be geared up towards the weekend. The “problem” in “drinking problem” manifests itself in different ways for different people.
Something that has surprised me is many colleagues have since told me how they had no idea I drank so much, and that I never appeared hungover. This sends a shiver down my spine, because it makes me realise how long I potentially could have carried on like this if I hadn’t (luckily) gotten so sick that action had to be taken. There is a great danger in being a functioning alcoholic.
In fact, this came as so much of a surprise to colleagues their minds began to wander once they found out about my fondness for vodka. I had a bunch of half-drunk water bottles under my desk. Built up over time if I didn’t finish the bottle, or wanted a cold one, and didn’t get round to emptying them in the kitchen. When I got back to work my colleagues told me they’d actually thought I was keeping vodka in them, and that they even opened some of them up to check. In truth, I never drank at work, I have always hated the feeling of being tipsy when everyone around you is sober, it used to make me very paranoid, so it was something I almost always completely avoided, even in situations where a celebratory lunchtime drink with my colleagues was completely acceptable.
There was one other time I drank at lunchtime. I had become fond of one of the waitresses working in a café opposite local pub The White Horse; she was Polish and this was towards the end of my long-running Polish girl phase. I devised a fiendish plan and dragged two colleagues, one of whom is Polish, to the pub the next day at lunchtime. The plan was to get my Polish friend to make some inroads with her and introduce us. I would take it from there.
We arrived at the pub. Bear in mind this was the first and only time I had ever gone to the pub at lunchtime during work. I went to the bar, having promised to buy all the drinks in exchange for their help. As I walked in I ran into a familiar face carrying two pints. Not just a random colleague but the CEO of the company. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he said.
I could only think of one thing to say. “Um, what are YOU doing here?”
“I’m having a drink with some senior execs from EA. You?”
“Trying to chat up the Polish in the café opposite.” To be honest, that was an incredibly likely story as he knows me well.
“OK, well I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.”
Of course when I got back to work (the Polish girl was a no-show) I found him in my boss’ office laughing “And who do I bump into as I’m coming back from the bar. McCann!” HEY WHAT ABOUT OUR DEAL!
And this brings me onto the one big milestone I’ve overcome since I wrote my 6-month post. Sobriety and girls.
This wasn’t a huge priority for me when I first thought about the challenges of being sober. To be honest, I was in such a mess I was focussed on getting myself sorted out before even thinking about involving anyone else or getting back on the dating wagon (which for me is usually a wagon that drives across empty stretches of desert in the middle of nowhere with the occasional brief stop).
But in the summer I started taking my online dating a bit more seriously, as you’ve probably read from my posts. And seen in my YouTube videos. I didn’t realise this was to be the biggest challenge of all. My brief romance with Claire (the one from the videos) will maybe one day be the subject of a post of its own (or three), but the fact she was the first girl I was serious about since quitting drinking brought many surprises, including probably the highlight and the lowlight of my first year.
It was our first date, we were in a lovely bar off Regent Street, everything was going great, even the checklist I brought with me that listed all her body parts and was to be filled in by me on the night based on how everything matched my expectations. She was quite disgusted by the fact I was drinking Red Bull but I didn’t have a huge amount of choice. She hated Red Bull, but she seemed to like me.
As the night went on she started making some moves (because I am so lame at these things I was not picking up on any of her hints that she’d like me to advance things). We were sat side by side, and she leaned forward, picked up my glass of Red Bull and had a big drink.
Then she started kissing me.
All kinds of thoughts rushed through my head. OMG she’s actually kissing me, she’s so cute and she’s actually kissing me, of her own free will, it’s not even for a dare, she’s choosing to do this, I’d forgotten what this was even like, hang on am I imagining this, right let me try to remember what I’m supposed to do need to make sure I don’t mess it up, maybe I should take a picture of this in case my friends don’t believe me, or maybe get some signed eyewitness accounts from other people in the bar, why did she drink my Red Bull I thought she hated R… OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE MCCANN STOP THINKING ABOUT IT AND ENJOY IT!
When we finished, well I hadn’t felt that dizzy since the last time I was completely shit-faced. And my heart hadn’t raced that fast since the time I got the DTs and had to go to hospital. But it definitely actually happened. And I would remember it because I was completely sober.
But one thing was bugging me. “Why did you drink some of my Red Bull first?”
She said “So that you wouldn’t be able to taste the beer I’m drinking.”
Aw! How sweet is that. I hadn’t even considered that – probably should have as she’d been drinking all evening, but it never crossed my mind. That was the kind of girl she was, and I guess that’s why I liked her so much.
Some time later though, I was to experience one of the hardest things I’ve come across since going sober. Some baggage from her last relationship bubbled to the surface as she drank a bit more, and she started to get emotional. She started crying at one point, not how dates with me usually go I swear. She was drunk and crying. And I had absolutely no idea what to say to her. I was stone-cold sober and we were suddenly on completely different wavelengths. I’d been fine in the past being sober around drunk people, but someone who was drunk and emotional, it came out of nowhere and I really struggled with how to handle the situation.
If I was drunk too, I think it would have gone a lot better. Don’t know what I’d have said but I’m sure it’s happened before and things have worked out. This time, we were just on totally different planets. I would have thought that being sober I’d be able to think of things to say and do, but with the other person drunk, everything I did or said was just wrong. It was a horrible powerless feeling.
But it wasn’t the end of the world. That moment passed and we saw each other again. And there was one more unexpected sobriety milestone I was to face. The bedroom.
Again, on paper, being sober everything should have gone better, right? Being drunk is supposed to be the thing that causes problems in that department, right? I hadn’t thought it through. I realised that, other than (I think) when I lost my virginity, I’d probably never slept with a new girl *for the first time* without having something to drink. I’m not saying I was always really drunk, but generally such things will happen after dinner, or drinks or clubbing, etc. First time I’d go home with someone, or invite them back to mine, would always be after an evening involving some drinking. And what does drinking do, it takes the edge off things.
I was to find myself with a new girl, who was not only out-of-my-league in her clothes but looked fucking amazing naked, whilst I was fatter than I’ve ever been and stone cold fucking sober. It was absolutely nerve-racking.
Thankfully it didn’t completely ruin things, but I will admit, there were some unexpected severe delays. This is not something they teach you in rehab. “Oh by the way, you’re going to be a LOT more nervous in certain scenarios when you haven’t had a little Dutch courage.” Even Claire drank beforehand and said it was to help her relax; I was the one who needed it, I had stuff to do, body parts to orient in certain directions, stuff to maintain, things to find, techniques to deploy, standards of quality to upkeep; it was frightening!
Dating and girls is a minefield when you don’t drink (as if I needed any other handicaps in this department!) You tell girls you don’t drink, some of them assume either you are boring or an alcoholic and run a mile. Or you’re going to get rapey and you’re keeping your wits about you. But there are plenty who are understanding about it, although this too can be a drawback, as I’ve been in one situation where I think one girl avoided kissing me because she thought the wine she’d been guzzling would send me into a relapse. You just can’t win sometimes.
Another thing people often ask me, girls, friends and colleagues alike, is “what would happen if you had one drink?”
Well, who knows for sure, but I’m pretty confident I would be fine. Because I was never a “passed-out-in-the-gutter-at-4am” kind of drinker (unlike, for example, someone like Paul Gascoigne), I think I could easily have one without instantly relapsing. In fact I probably could have a night out drinking and leave it at that. My problem would be in the longer-term. I think I could decide Friday-night drinking was “allowed” and stick to that for a little while. Not long after I’d probably figure that Saturday was OK too as there’s no work the next day and it’s the weekend. And that set-up, with those rules, I really think I could stick to for about a year. Then I think ad-hoc nights would creep in. And it wouldn’t be long before I’d have a hard day at work and relax with maybe a glass of wine in the evening as long it was in moderation. I’d keep that up for a while longer, then I think I’d be descending back into the place I was in a year ago.
It would be very gradual but it would “get” me again. Which is why I’m never going to risk it. It’s just not worth it. And although that one first drink is not going to instantly cause me any problems, its effect in the long-term could be brutal. Much as I loved meeting some of the people in rehab, I’m never going back. I’d be letting myself down, and even more letting down the people who supported me in my recovery last year.
Speaking of rehab, I’ll close with a short anecdote.
When I think of memorable moments from rehab I instantly think of the time I went swimming with the hottest girl in the clinic and the sight of her getting out of the pool – it was like the scene in Dr No with Ursula Andress coming out of the water, but with a better arse.
But that’s not very amusing so I’ll move on to the second most memorable, which was the time (and I believe the only time) I got into trouble with the “screws”.
It had been, by all accounts, an uneventful dinner time. We were all sat in the large dining room area working our way through three courses of hit-and-miss food. As I finished off my fruit cocktail dessert, I noticed something strange. Well, firstly, they had served it in a wine glass, which might be seen as insensitive when half the people in the room were recovering alcoholics, but then they quite regularly served desserts in tall-necked glasses so it was nothing new.
This time however, because it was fruit cocktail, there was juice left in the glass from all the fruit – which looked to the casual observer (and me) like wine. So I was sat there with what appeared to be half a glass of white wine in front of me. This was too perfect I had to say something. I called over one of the nurses – coincidentally the one with the least sense of humour. Actually, it was probably deliberately the one with the least sense of humour.
“Judy, I just wanted to thank you for serving such lovely wine with dinner,” I raised the glass up, “And to toast you and all the wonderful staff for helping us so much with our recovery.” Judy flicked a switch on the back of her neck that activated her pretend robot smile, and she darted off to speak with some other nurses.
I passed on the message to the rest of the table as to the hilarious significance of their dessert leftovers, and we raised a few glasses to each other. A few moments later, Judy returned to chastise me “Right, just stop that this instant. Not everyone here finds this as funny as you do.” Now if anything I know my audience, and all of the recovering alcoholics in the room were perfectly fine with such jokes, we made gags about drinking all the time. And the one patient at the clinic who would have found this joke uncomfortable wasn’t there. I know, because I CHECKED before making the joke. I always know my audience and I didn’t like Judy’s accusation that the other patients weren’t finding this funny – they were pissing themselves.
“Well,” I said, “If you think sensitivity on this issue is such a problem then can you tell me why you are serving wine-like fruit juice in wine glasses to recovering alcoholics as part of dinner? What’s next, a bottle of water and a shot glass?”
Next thing I knew I was barred from going to going out on my own as according to Judy I had demonstrated “worrying thoughts” about drinking again. I did not appreciate having to be accompanied when going to Tesco on my Jelly Tots and fags run, so I gave a long and powerful speech about “the damage mistrust can do” in our next group session, and shortly after I got an apology from Judy.
After all if there’s one thing that helps you get over problems in life, whatever they are, it’s the ability to laugh about them.