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Can't live with it, can't live without it....
A new book just popped up unbidden on my Kindle e-reader ("Other brands are available", as they say on UK non-commercial broadcaster the BBC): "The Unexpected Joy of Sobriety".
I refuse to read it. What is the point of wading through yet another saccharine-sweet tale of how the author gave up drinking alcohol, and then his/her booze-fractured life all slotted nicely back into place, he/she started a million-dollar business selling penis-sheaths for chihuahuas (or something), then became a champion ultra-marathon runner, and eventually ascended bodily into heaven?
Because that has not been my experience. At all.
I started drinking to excess at the age of 18 ( I am 51 now), for the time-honoured reasons that so many alcoholics do: despite being academically brilliant, fluent in several languages and a master of a number of musical instruments, I was literally paralysed with fear when it came to relating to other people.
And alcohol changed all that – it super-charged me into someone who found it very easy indeed to relate to other people. It enabled me to travel, write, play in some (fairly) successful bands, act, start businesses, have relationships – have sex.
I can put my hand on my heart and say that without the massive injections of Dutch Courage that alcohol provided for me over the years, I would never have achieved any of the things that I have done. Without booze, I was a frightened little thing hiding in my childhood bedroom in my parents' house.
And without booze, I AM that frightened little thing hiding in my childhood bedroom in my parents' house.
Again, like so many alcoholics, I have tried sporadically to stop drinking to please other people: my family, my first wife, my second wife. Left to my own devices, I would just have carried on boozing.
Sure, I made some poor decisions, spent too much money, failed to meet some commitments, and was inexorably ruining my health – but I also recorded music albums, helped several young people to realise their artistic dreams in the UK, and paid for the entire education of more young people in Kenya.
I made money from financial trading, I had – ahem – relations with exotic women around the world, I had transcendent religious experiences in beautiful pilgrimage centres.
All fuelled by drink.
But the relentless guilt-tripping eventually got to me, and I gave alcohol up "for good" three years ago – and they have been the most miserable three years of my life.
None of the benefits trumpeted in the sobriety success stories have accrued to me: my mind has not become clearer, I have not become healthier, I do not sleep better, I do not feel less anxious/depressed – quite the opposite – and I have not consummated my marriage of 12 years, because my wife refuses to countenance any kind of intimate contact if I have been drinking and I am too diffident to initiate it when I am sober.
And my life has shrunk back down to spending 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, translating (my main profession) on a computer in my parents' spare bedroom, and half-sleeping fitfully during the other 8 hours.
In fact, the COVID-19 lockdowns have been a blessing to me, as they have normalised my everyday existence: never going out, never interacting with other people, the prospect of permanent isolation and marking of time stretching out into the distance – my life is like this anyway, and the COVID pandemic is just coincidental to me.
What of the future? Well, I could drink and gain at least an illusion of a feeling that I am enjoying my life again. Or I could doggedly not drink and continue living as a hermit (which I cannot stress enough is NOT voluntary – I am too terrified to do anything else).
One thing I do know is that I will never metamorphose into one of the beautiful booze-free butterflies described in the books.
If anybody – my wife, my family, my doctor, my priest – perhaps influenced by those very same books, is expecting that to happen, all I can say is that they have got a long wait on their hands.