Under The Influence: How I Beat the Booze

Blood Red Tears

I can’t believe I’ve been under the evil influence for 35 years.

That’s taking my first sips at around the age of 15 and having just turned 50, when I’m planning on definitively giving up for ever, probably, for sure, absolutely, I’m certain of it, maybe.

35 years. That’s quite a chunk. A fair stretch of road. I live in France, and I have done for over twenty years now. In fact, I’ll soon be approaching the time when more than half my life will have been lived ‘abroad’, here on the ‘continent’, originally hailing from Britain as I do.

It would be nice to have spent at least half of my life sober too, but that’s asking for a few more years than may be realistic. I’ll need to live to at least 70 to be able to claim that achievement. I guess it’s possible, as my health isn’t too bad, on the outside anyway.

Moving On

As for my liver and mental stability, that’s anyone’s guess.

So I’ll try not to drag this out. Although, knowing me, I probably will.

I’ve just given up. My first gulp was probably as I was getting into the rock scene in my early teens. I had long long hair. The longest in the whole school and then uni.

Bradford Uni. A city of rockers and curry houses. Easy lassies and leery lads. We used to say on the course that if you got a 1st you’d had no social life whatsoever. A swat, in other words. A 2.1 meant you did go out occasionally, were maybe naturally gifted but did a fair amount of graft to achieve what’s considered a pretty good grade. A 3rd, on the other hand, meant you had a hell of a good time and just scraped though. I got a 2.2. Little did I know how little that would count for in the long run.

Bye Bye Booze

So uni was basically where I learnt how to drink. In those days it really was for the company, the camaraderie, the going out on a Friday and Saturday night until the early wee hours. That was well before the rot and the isolation set in.

I cut my hair to get a ‘good job’, and was genuinely quite excited about it.

Booze was still present once out there in the ‘real world’ of course. Different context, same stupidity. Not that I had a problem with it though in those days. Oh yes, sorry, I’ve just remembered some occasions when I certainly did have a problem with it, I’d forgotten about that. But anyway, life went on, I quit my cushy city job and went to train as a water-sports instructor.

Pubs were present.

Whose Knees?

Then came some wavering and wandering. After various aborted attempts at setting up as a writer and a photographer, I thought it would be quite fun to travel the world. My savings allowed me to make it all the way across the channel to France, and there I stopped. Cool world tour.

Getting off the coach in Val d’Isère in September with the vague idea of being a ski bum in the winter and a beach bum in the hotter months, I discovered that there wasn’t much of either in a remote French mountain resort in the autumn. As I watched my tent sail off down the flooded camp site when the snow melted and the river rose, I saved my last belongings and headed off to the French capital.

Long story short, I spent a year working in an American theme restaurant where I had to ‘shake my tail feather’ twice nightly between clearing up other people’s slops and scoffing half-finished pizza in the kitchen.

Amorous Episodes Ensued

Amorous episodes ensued. It was never a problem getting girls. The problem was keeping them.

An old girlfriend from Britain came over after a while and we had a baby on a barge. Ahh, those were the days. They didn’t last. I’d discovered a brutal brown brew called Pelforth, and I blame it all on that.

A few years later I’d got into teaching English, and of course the one thing you do after lessons is go and tell tall stories of scary students and excruciating explanations. Down the pub.

Paris is ‘blessed’ with many an attempt to produce an authentic English, Scottish and especially Irish watering hole. Only a genuine Yorkshire pint of bitter was lacking, but by that time I’d evolved and adapted my tastes and wasn’t nearly so fussy. Hell, I was even drinking lager (a pint of the woman’s), can you believe that?

Leaky Life

Time went on. Oh yes, I was running some sort of course abroad in the summer and I met another English teacher, a Greek one. Ok, a gorgeous Greek one. One of my last true loves.
She came over and lived in Paris for a while. Then I went over there and we got married, of all things. We set up an English school together, and it still exists, and bears my name to this day.

Oh, did I brush over the break-ups, the angst, the crazy frantic flights and fights, the Seine suicide scenes, the epic, endless poems, the protective brotherly death threats, the rest? Oops.

Back to Paris. The only place that would harbour my battered heart. She became my surrogate lover. I photographed her endlessly, like some obsessive voyeur, camera or smart phone in one hand, can of crap cradled in the other and a sweet supply for the next few hours sitting snug on my back.

Nebulous nocturnal wanderings like those have cost me more than one cherished multi-thousand pound Nikon and a couple of lost laptops, to give you a little taste of the fun I was having. I probably know every Arab corner store open all hours and every free toilet in the city. And if it’s too late then I know where I can pee in relative seclusion.

Waiting For Inspiration

Not that I haven’t been caught disgusting watering doorsteps and gardens. In hospital for a dislocated shoulder – that was in Paris, another time was in the Greek language school I told you about earlier. Getting home without my jeans having… oh well, some things are definitely best left to the annals of history.

I did give up once. I was getting a bit sick of messing up every relationship and starting to worry a bit about my health and my sanity.

Negativity isn’t really my thing; I’m not particularly depressive. I’m a gentle drunk. Most of the time. Not that that means much in the grand scheme of things. You still wreck you life.

So yes, for a year, thanks to a book I discovered which struck the right chords, I stop dead. And then, after 1 year teetotal, do you know what I did? To celebrate my success and determination? Well of course. I had a drink. After all, I’d proved I could control it now. No more worries as far as that was concerned. Just a little one. Well. OK, maybe a couple. I mean, who only has one drink, come on, right?!

Leaf Me Alone

Guess the rest.

That was a while ago now. I’m one for symbolism. You know, giving things up, or starting them, for new year, for my birthday, for any good reason. Preferably some point a reassuring distance into the future. It’s funny, there is always a Really Significant Date coming up soon (but not tooo soon) which will be Just Perfect for giving up.

If you miss that one, don’t worry, there’ll be another one coming along just after. Only thing, your entire life can pass you by like that, as you wait for the right moment to actually start living it.

Now I haven’t drunk since my 50th birthday, which was a month ago. I don’t miss it. But then I can go for quite a while without drinking. Then spend days and days drinking 24/7 as soon as I have a window of opportunity. Each drinker has their own modus operandi, and that’s one of mine. Because I have several, you know.

Surrogate Lover

Right now, you might be interested to know, or you might not, I’m doing ok. I’ve finally surrounded myself with an entire support
system, having suddenly and irresponsibly given up my umpteenth job due to… you know what.

I saw my doc. He told me to go and see a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst or something, I can never quite work out exactly what all these people are supposed to be good for. He extends my sick leave each month but that’s going to stop very soon. My problem is that I can put a very intelligent, sober face on my fucked up life, just until the next delirium sets in.

There’s also this woman at a local addictions centre who I first met when I was seeing a couples counsellor a while back. She’s good. Then I started going to the local branch of a group where you talk about your alcohol problems. That’s also good. Worthy, wonderful people. There are even some who, when it’s their turn, just say – everything’s ok, nothing more to add this time – and they’re done. But they still come back, week after week, year after year. It’s like a drug, if you’ll forgive the allusion. A harmless one this time, that helps them feel that they are not alone.

Reflecting On The Future

And I’m starting another thing suggested by my shrink. At first he sent me off to some guy who just sat there and ummed and ahhed and arched his fingers and didn’t give me anything at all. One of those traditional-approach guys I suppose. But I like people with a bit of their own personality, a bit of bite who tell you when you’re being a dickhead, in the most professional way, of course. I don’t like to give a monologue, I need a bit of a real exchange. I found the potted plant next to him more inspiring than this guy.
So this other thing seems interesting. It’s called art therapy. Now, I’m not into weird pseudo-science or downright nonsensical approaches, which is why I couldn’t take Alcoholics Anonymous, with their ‘Givin’ it all up for God’, any more seriously than I could someone waving a crystal pendulum around telling me to take two squirts of Bach’s Flower ‘Rescue Spray’ every full moon. I do like colours though, having dabbled in abstract art myself a bit in some previous existence.

The Long Road To Freedom

There has to be truth in the idea that our mood can be positively or negatively affected by colours as much as we can be brought to tears by sound waves from a favourite song or a film where the people on the screen – ssshh! – aren’t really real!

We’ll be exploring how different hues and combinations and swooshes and swirls can reveal the inner workings of my pscrewed up psyche, and I’m fine with that, it should be fun.

Ahh, yes, there is one other way in which I’m trying to heal myself. The idea that the best way to learn something is to teach it has always resonated with me. So I created my very own anti-booze web site to share everything I’ve been learning. I’m currently creating a give-up drinking programme and I’ve also started writing a hopefully inspirational diary called ‘The Daily Dose’, which you can sign up for here. If any of this helps anyone then I’ll be more than happy. But first and foremost, I’ll be honest, I’m helping myself.

Searching For Honey

They say that you have to love yourself before you can love others. My approach with this is that I have to be sorted out, at least partially, before I can even pretend to tell others how to beat the booze beast. It’s also a kind of accountability. How on earth could I be so presumptuous as to offer up advice to others on how to control their drinking if I myself am still under the influence. That wouldn’t do at all at all.

So there it is. Check out my Drunken Dodo site if you have the time and the inclination. It might just be the right approach for you. I’ve tried to create a comforting and cleansing cocktail of information, inspiration and fun in roughly equal measure.

If it isn’t what you’re looking for, that’s fine. Most of what’s out there for people like us wasn’t right for me either. It took a particular combination of resources and circumstances to find my own personal answer and I doubt that you’re any different. I talk about that at length on the site.

Beauty In Bloom

Darn it! I forgot one of the most important parts of my getting out of the alcohol trap. It was that book I mentioned earlier, with its cool approach that was pitcher-perfect for me. I read it again, just recently and it was an integral part of my get-out-of-jail-free masterplan. The reason I cracked after a year wasn’t the book or its method’s fault – it was mine. I won’t mention the title here, because I want you to discover what I’ve done on
my site first.

I’ve taken a lot of ideas and inspiration from the text and then mixed them with a lifetime – ok, 35 years – worth of my own experience and other influences to produce my very own approach wot woz writ by me. I don’t care if it’s just another attempt to help people with a drink problem out, because as far as I’m concerned there can never be too many.

Need A Hand?

This is such a profoundly evil and elaborately cunning drug that we need an army of ways of dealing with it in the hope that each victim can find one that works for them.

Now I’m looking to the future, with or without my current career, home and family – including a 5-year-old – it’s too early to say just yet. But I’m looking forward positively. There’s no point doing otherwise or you might as well just give up today.

My favourite way of managing a situation where I’ve given something powerful up is to submerge any pangs of regret in a tidal wave of new creativity. When my brain is totally occupied with exciting new projects it just doesn’t have time to worry about past perversions. That’s the theory anyway. So far, so good.

Flying High

If anyone wants to get in touch for advice or support – which can be offered in both directions – that would be nice. This is one thing it’s almost impossible to beat alone, and it usually takes many years to realise and accept that. I hope I’ve arrived at that point; only time will tell.

Paris, September 2015

P.S. By the way, I’ve always enjoyed creating stuff, mainly through words and images. I’ve included some of my Paris iPhone street photography here to liven up the text a bit. As you can see, they’re as randomly ramshackle as my prose! Keep calm and click for bigger versions. Wherever we are in life, we all deserve the bigger version…

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