The comedian Frank Skinner once said that none of the many things he attempted to replace drink with were ever quite the same. Here’s a list of the things I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to use to plug the booze-shaped hole in my life.
No TV representation of an AA meeting would be complete without heavy smoking. I have no idea if this is true as I have never been, and presumably many are conducted in non-smoking venues these days. Nevertheless, when I decided to stop, nicotine suddenly became my best friend. When you’re out with people who are drinking, at least there is an activity you can do if you have cigarettes. It’s definitely compelling, but ultimately couldn’t last as I didn’t want to die for it.
Post-smoking and post-drinking, my appetite returned. This also coincided with my return to the UK, and a chance to be reunited with all my favourite comfort foods. Flapjacks, peanut butter, Galaxy bars… and everything in the queue for the tills of Marks & Spencer. Sugar is great because it does give you a hit immediately if taken in quantity, and affects your energy levels so it is definitely addictive. It does make you fat and lethargic however, so it had to go.
At last! A fixation which is good for you. After the booze and the fags but while still on the sugar, I started going to the gym and running. This revealed to me quite clearly that moderation is a somewhat foreign concept to me. After a humiliating half marathon in which a 24-year-old colleague beat my time by half an hour, I decided there was only one way to do exercise, and that is seriously. Physical pain or discomfort is probably not so much of an issue for someone who has dealt with Biblical hangovers every other day for many years, though sticking at something you don’t want to do is another matter. While getting drunk delivers the pleasure first, pain later, exercise is the opposite. Somewhere in there is an important lesson. Despite my tendency to throw myself right in and go hard at the gym on an almost daily basis, it still takes time to see any kind of improvement, which is another lesson. On the downside, the more energy you have, the more you need to burn. Still.
Interesting one, this. Having worked in the media all my life, I knew my fair share of functioning alcoholics. An ex-boyfriend of mine had many lurid tales about daily news meetings with his well-known tabloid editor during which he was struggling not to vomit up the previous evening’s bevvies. It never seemed to hold him back, at least not until Operation Elveden anyway.
For me, it was never like that, which is a blessing in disguise I think. I persevered during my working life, but it was in spite of the booze not because of it. It held me back, made me exhausted and paranoid, and caused me to make ill-advised alliances and indiscreet comments while drunk that I was then bound to while sober. There is a certain benefit to being a member of the pisshead club, which is not quite as formal as the Freemasons but nonetheless has its own ceremonies and rites of passage, and members will help each other out.
Yet suddenly after exiting this not-so-exclusive club, I found that Monday was the same as any other day, I no longer embarrassed myself at work dos, and instead of looking at this working life through a half-open, bloodshot eye as if it were happening to someone else, on a planet somewhere else, I could get fully involved in it.
Here’s the thing: work gives focus and purpose, and fills up all that time, but if all it is is earning money (for yourself but mostly for others) it just isn’t enough.
Well, I haven’t had sex since giving up booze, so we can leave that one off the list.