Clean and Obscene: A Big Test

Well, there we go. I’ve done it. I’ve managed to do something that, twelve months ago, I could never have even contemplated. I performed on stage, in front of an audience, stone-cold sober. It’s the first time I’ve done something on stage without being chemically-altered in one way or another. And not just one night…for three nights in a row. I don’t pat myself on the back very much, so if you’ll just indulge me in this paragraph, then I can get on with the rest of my life.

I’m not saying it was easy, it wasn’t. It was incredibly tough. Even being in a theatre and seeing the bar lined up with booze was a test. I don’t know what it is about theatres, they just make me feel drinky. And, let me tell you, stood backstage in the darkness on that first night, listening to the audience file in and take their seats, I’d never wanted a drink more in my life. My heart was pounding, I was frantic. From behind the stage, I could hear the muffled opening lines of the play, and my anxiety ramped up tenfold. We were all nervous, the entire cast. We’d been working on this new piece of writing since December, locked away in the basement of a bar in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, and we knew that we found it funny, but then again we’d been confined to a room with it for the last three months. No-one apart from the cast had seen it, and so, we had no idea how the general public were going to react to it.

We all stood together, on that first night, backstage in complete silence, our ears straining for sounds of laughter. And sweet Jesus I wished I was drunk. Anything to take the edge of these nerves I was feeling, just please, some medicine to blunt the edge of the knife slicing into my brain. But it was too late now, even if I’d wanted to. Every titter from the audience made us look at each other and exchange relieved smiles. Maybe the play was good. Maybe it was all going to be OK. There were certainly more people here than I was expecting, I’d been having nightmares over the last few weeks of getting out on stage and being greeted by three people and a dog eating crisps off the floor.

All too soon it was my turn to take the stage. Jesus Christ, what a time to be sober. I’d been drunk when I auditioned for the part, actually. I’d nipped to a bar before my audition slot to “have a quick one” and calm the old nerves. I ended up having six double whiskeys and stumbling into the room. God alone knows why they cast me, but they did, and now here I was. Hidden at the side of the stage, wishing I was anywhere else, holding my breath for fear of mishearing my cue. Suddenly, it was time to go out there. I don’t remember too much about actually being on stage (I never do, it’s something to do with the adrenaline and how quickly everything moves) but people laughed in the right places and I felt right on top of my game. I came off after my first scene elated. This could actually be manageable. The months of rehearsal, hard work, line-learning, stress and sobriety have paid off. I knew where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be saying and what bit was coming next and I’ve been doing this job for ten years and in all honesty, I’ve never felt this confident on stage. I owe it all to my clear head.

After an hour and a half, the first night was over. I walked out with the rest of the cast and bowed, greeted by applause and cheers. I was absolutely over the moon. It had gone better than I could ever have expected, and, when I left the theatre that night, I’d never felt less like having a drink in my life.

The second night passed much the same as the first, and, at the end of the night, I was happy to go home and be asleep by 11pm, instead of going out to clubs and pubs with the rest of the cast. It sounded hellish to be honest, I mean, I’ve just spent 90 minutes prancing about on a boiling hot stage, do I then want to go and sip orange juice surrounded by the waste of Manchester’s social scene? I used to be paralysed by a fear of missing out. My thinking always used to be along the lines of “Well, if I go out now, who knows who I could meet or what will happen? It’s going to be brilliant!” These days, it’s more “You couldn’t pay me to freeze my arse off, waiting to get into a crowded club with shit music and an hour long wait for the bar.” My bed had never felt so good.

Then came the final night. The tension backstage was palpable. We had one more chance to get out there and give it to them. We’d had great numbers for the last two nights, we’d had a killer review posted online, and the play was looking like it was going to be a successful run. I was thrilled. The first act went supremely well. I was more nervous than I had been the previous night, this was the night my family were in. My mum, my father (despite me having done this for most of my adolescence and adulthood, this is only the third play he’s seen me in) my partner and her friend, and my best mate of twenty years had travelled up with his mum and step-dad to come and see it, and R from University (remember that dude?) So, the pressure was on, really. Like I said, the first act went incredibly well. Better than it ever has done, the laughs were so easy to get, the lines popped into my head as if I had written them, and every so often I could hear my mate’s laughter booming towards me from the darkness. Then came the interval.

I was outside the back of the theatre, having a cigarette with the leading man, when all of a sudden he announced he was nipping to the shop “for a bottle of wine”. I don’t have an issue with people drinking around me, especially not on a great night like this, and I was happy for him to go and get a celebratory drink to have a cheeky mouthful of in between his scenes. He raced off into the darkness, returning five minutes later with a medium-sized bottle of vodka.
“That’s not wine.” I said, dumbly.
“Well spotted” he said, as he unscrewed the red cap in one swift motion and up-ended the bottle into his mouth. “Ah well” I thought. “A cheeky shot of vodka isn’t going to kill anyone.” I left him to finish his cigarette, and walked back up to the dressing room. I finished putting on my costume, went for a piss, and by the time I’d come back out I was greeted by a frantic female member of the cast.
“He’s drunk half a bottle of vodka.” She told me, eyes wide in fear.
“Oh shiii-“ I began. Too late. The lights in the theatre had dimmed and it was time for Act 2. I watched on the monitors backstage as the leading man crashed onto the set as if fired from a cannon. I don’t know how much the audience picked up on, but I’ve seen him do that scene maybe fifty times, and I could tell he was hammered. He was dropping props (ironically, wine bottles) onto the floor, kicking them when they fell. He was stammering, tripping over his words the way my father used to do after a well spent afternoon in the pub. The scene was dragging on as he forgot where he was up to, didn’t take his cues, and generally made a pig’s ear of everything. Happily, the audience were lapping it up (like I’ve said in a previous post, the only job in the world where you can be obviously pissed off your face and be publicly lauded for it.)

I was stood watching the monitors with the stage manager and the writer. We couldn’t let the stage manager know he’d been drinking (something to do with insurance for the actors), but me and the writer just looked at each other. With each new fuck-up the leading man manufactured, we’d stare into the middle distance with fear. The writer looked at me, one eyebrow raised and simply said:
“He is?”
“Yeah.” I replied through gritted teeth. “He is.”

The leading man soon crashed his way backstage, and, spotting me, grabbed both my shoulders, pulled me towards him, and exhaled harshly into my face. My liver nearly shut down as I registered the fumes on his breath.
“You fucking stink of booze!” I told him, in no uncertain terms. Normally, I’m quite a happy go-lucky kind of a fella, but I was in no mood for this Richard Burton bullshit. He gave me, what I suppose, was meant to be a winning cheeky wink, before he grappled his way to the other end of the dressing room. I sat down and sighed with relief that this production would be done forever in about ten minutes. The writer shuffled past me nervously.
“I’ve never wanted to drink so much in my fucking life” I told him.
“Yeah” he replied calmly. “Me too.”

After the play had finished, I greeted my family. They had enjoyed it, and assured me they had no idea about the incident. Well, that was something. More importantly, I’ve achieved something this week I thought I’d never be able to do. Not only did I perform sober, I probably did the best performances I’ve ever done in my life over those three nights. Looking at my performance, and then looking at the drunken movements of this professional actor who I greatly admired, I am left in no doubt that alcohol does not make you a better actor, it merely makes you think you are. I am so grateful for my sobriety, and the opportunities it has presented. This is the way forward, and life is starting to deliver everything it had promised.
Until the next time,
Still Clean and Obscene,
J xxxxxxxxx

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Clean and Obscene: My Day Job (and why it scares the shit out of me)

Hello, people.
Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about my upcoming week, and why I might describe it as a bit of a “danger zone” when it comes to drinking. I hope some of this resonates with yourself, and if you have similar experiences do let us know, drop us a line, and tell me what you do to cope in high-stress situations.

As I may have described previously, I’m sort of an actor in my real life. This means, that occasionally, I have to stand up in front of a crowd and perform. I’ve been doing it for about ten years now, although for eight of those years, every time I’ve stood up there I’ve had one or two stiff drinks in my system.

A week from now, I hit a theatre in Manchester with a new play I’m in, and already my brain has gone into fight-or-flight mode. And that’s ok, I have to start the process now, otherwise when it comes to opening night I find I’ve not prepared myself to be in the alien situation I’m about to enter. The difference being, this time, I’m doing the whole thing stone-cold sober. My first ever sober-show with no help whatsoever. Maybe this is normal for most actors, but for me, the addict, it’s not. Remember we talked about that “feeling everything 100% of the time” thing? Well, that’s happening to me now. The nerves, the adrenaline, the worry. It’s not just before the show I have to worry about, either. It’s what happens after. Usually, I’d have a drink after a performance to quiet down the adrenaline, otherwise I’d be up all night, bouncing off the walls with it. Not this time. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for me, to see if I can manage all three nights sober and happy.

It’s not only the show that’s a worry, it’s the week leading up to it. Pre-show week is always stressful, and rehearsals tend to become a lot more sweary and shouty. First tech-run is on Sunday and I’m dreading it. Tech-runs are stressful enough as it is, I never could stand them. Going over the same scene again and again, topping and tailing, standing there for fifteen minutes while the techie gets just the right shade of orange to cast over your face. It’s all annoying. My ritual for a tech-run back in the day was to get as plastered as I could and just try to stumble through the whole affair, grabbing pieces of shut-eye as and when I could. Not this time. I need to be present. I need to be aware. I need to not give the nearest techie a tenner and get him to run to the offy for a bottle of Jack, on the promise that we’ll split it between us during the rehearsal (guilty).

This is a mountain that I feel I need to climb, whatever it takes. Once I’ve done it, the rest will follow, and it’ll just be another barrier I’ve broken down on my path of sobriety. But, fuck me, am I scared! I’m worrying about things I’ve never usually worried about in any other show before. My mind is constantly “Will it be funny?” “Have we sold enough tickets?” “Will thingy get his bit right?” “Does that bit make sense?” These are all worries that I should leave up to the director. I used to. I just used to get on stage, do the thing, applause, get off as quick as I could and head for the nearest bar. It doesn’t help that acting may be the most drinky job I’ve ever heard of in all my life. And why wouldn’t it be? If you look at the greats, Burton, O’toole, Hopkins, Harris…piss-heads, all of them. And they were venerated for it, glorified. Their drinking stories are as great (if not, better) than the films and plays they were in. In this industry, once you’ve been cast, you’ll meet someone for drinks. You move to the theatre, there’ll be drinks. The play ends and everyone loves it? Drinks for celebration! The play ends and everyone hates it? Drinks for commiseration! In this job, as long as you can deliver the goods, no one gives a shit how wasted or high or fucked up you are. As a result, a lot of actors are wasted, high and fucked up.

So what can I do? I’m trying to trick my brain. I’m trying to down-play it as much as possible. I’ve filed it under “Any Other Business” and just distracting myself.

I took a break from acting in the middle of 2016, during a particularly bad drinking binge. I was nervous the entire time in front of an audience, not like it had been when I was younger. Used to be, I’d get a bit of nerves on opening night, but as soon as I set foot on stage, the nerves would go. Doing that show, in mid-2016, the nerves stayed with me constantly. Which caused me to drink more and more. It was quite funny really, in that production I was playing a vicar, but I acted like an absolute demon after the curtain fell. Straight from the theatre to the pub, from the pub to the club, from the club to a party, then I’d get to sleep about 9 or 10 in the morning, up at 4 to get to the theatre for another performance. I was an absolute mess.

A story for you from that era (it’s not pretty, but then, none of this is, so here we go.) I’d arrived at the theatre after drinking all night before and most of that morning. I’d had a couple of hours sleep, but not much. I’d got changed into my costume, put my dog-collar on. As the announcement came over the tannoy: “Ladies and Gentlemen of the cast, this is your two-minute call. Two minutes, thank you”, I felt an apocalyptic rumbling in my guts. Oh Christ, not now. Turns out, the combined effects of drinking for twenty hours straight can take a toll on your bowels. Who knew? I broke out in a cold sweat. I had to find a toilet, or this vicar was gonna shit himself. The only toilet that was working in the theatre was out front, where the audience was sat. Once I was in costume, under no circumstances were the audience allowed to see me until I was on stage. So that was no good. The only other building on that road was the church across the way. I figured it was worth a shot, and if I didn’t do anything soon, I’d be in no fit state to get on stage at all.

I ripped open the side-door of the dressing room, and ran into the outside world. Fuuuck. I wondered what this must look like, a pissed vicar running towards a church. Thankfully, the gates were unlocked, as was the heavy wooden church door. I ran into a cubicle that looked as though it could have served the posterior of Oliver Twist, wrenched down my trousers and…well, I’ll leave what happened next to your imagination. The whole ordeal had taken about a minute and a half. All I had to do now was clean up, and leg it back across the way to the theatre. I reached out a hand to grab some toilet paper. Are you kidding me? None. Nada. I had to be on stage in about 50 seconds, and there was no loo roll. Whatever happened to the idea of sanctuary? Fuck this. I wrenched off my shoe, rolled the black sock off my foot, and, making apologetic eyes to the heavens, did what had to be done. I placed the sock carefully in the cistern to hide the evidence. If God had been watching half of the stuff I was up to at the time, I’m sure a dirty sock in his toilet wouldn’t have bothered him even slightly. I ran back to the theatre, and made my entrance just in time, but not before rolling my trouser leg down to hide my one barefoot. If a church in the North-West of England found an offensive sock in the cistern of their toilet circa May 2016, I’m terribly, terribly sorry. But how’s about investing in some bog-roll in future?

So anyway, after that production was over and done with, I decided to take a sabbatical from on-stage work. I couldn’t cope. I was tired and sick and nervous and scared of everything. I kept my head down. Until now. Now I finally feel like I’m ready. In fact, just thinking about back then fills me with confidence. I’m a better person, I’m a better performer. I was in no shape whatsoever to be presenting myself to the public at that time. I feel like I am now. The new and improved me is about to be unleashed on the Manchester stage, and I’m ready for it. I just need to keep calm and remember that it’s all going to be ok. No-one’s going to die, and I’ll be fine, whatever happens. I will say this: that the entire rehearsal process, doing the whole thing sober, landing the job in the first place, has been one of the best experiences of my life. Maybe I just need to get on stage and enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Thanks for reading,
Still Clean and Obscene,
J
xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Clean and Obscene: Why do we put ourselves through it?

Clean and Obscene: Why do we put ourselves through it?

Confession time: I feel like, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been a bit down on this whole sobriety deal. The challenges, the hardships, the work you have to put in. And that’s ok, it’s supposed to be hard. But I feel as though I’ve neglected to examine the good that comes with it. There is so many positive aspects of a sober life, sometimes I forget to notice them all. I’m at a certain point now where I can take these things for granted, instead of failing to realise how lucky I am that these aspects now are part of my life. So, in this post, I’m going to go through things about the sober lifestyle that I’m grateful for. If anyone out there reading this is also on the sobriety journey, feel free to leave a comment adding your own…what’s surprised you about being sober? What quality from your new life would you not trade for anything? What brings you joy, now that you’ve swapped downing booze for an afternoon snooze?

Well, here’s my own personal gratitude list. In no particular order, here we go:

 

I have way more energy

 

I can kid myself all I want that my life would be easier if I had a nice refreshing glass of JD on the rocks to accompany the end of my day. It’s bullshit, frankly. I know, in my heart, that I would not be able to get through half the stuff I do now if I was constantly plastered, and I wouldn’t be taking pride in my work like I do.

Today is the first day in about two weeks where I don’t have to go anywhere, or do anything. Most of the time these days, i’m rushing around on trains, trying to get somewhere so I can wop out a bit of Shakespeare, or write some poetry, then perform in front of people, then leave that place to get another train to get to rehearsal for a new show that opens in two weeks, then leave there, to take the hour train ride back home. It’s all a bit hectic. But I wake up in the morning, and, after that first cup of coffee and hot shower, I feel ready to take on the world. I dress in my best clothes, make sure I look good, then go and do the best damn work that I can. Every time I write, or perform, or speak to people, I do it as if it’s last piece of work I’ll ever do. I plough everything into whatever it is I’m working on at the moment, half-measures will not do. This is a new aspect of my personality that is only just emerging, and I have to say, as exhausting as it sounds, I now have the energy reserves to deal with the high demands I put on myself, and I know I’ll get the best results that way.
If we were to backtrack to about six months ago, I wasn’t doing this. I was skipping rehearsals and assignments, leaving everything to the last minute. I’d go into the studio with my lines not learnt, having not showered, with a massive headache and feeling like I wanted to throw up. Some days I just wouldn’t turn up at all. Others, I’d get up in front of an audience and just dial it in. My results were dropping. My marks started to slip dangerously, I wasn’t getting roles in anything. If I’d secured an audition, I’d get wasted the night before I had to go in. When I woke up on the day, I’d rise full of guilt, shame, and just feeling generally disgusting. I’d make a half-arsed attempt to get my shit together, before realising it was just too much effort and I couldn’t be bothered.

I can’t even imagine approaching my work this way today. I get a natural thrill from working my arse off, and the results that follow. If I was still drinking, there’s no way I’d even be able to wake up at a decent hour, let alone carry out these demanding 12-hour days.

 

Bedtime Has Become My Favourite Time Of Day

 

Oh yes. 10pm. 10:30pm. The golden hour. Let me ask you something, do you ever remember being in a pub or a party, and there was always that one person who just never wanted the evening to end? Barstools would be upturned on the tables, the lights would be dimmed, the rattling of a heavy iron bolt through an old door would echo throughout the establishment, and the venue would begin winding down for the evening. And then, in amongst it all, there was always one dickhead starting another game of pool, or putting another twenty tracks on the jukebox, or ordering five more drinks all for himself? Well that was me. On weekends, I used to stay out so late that, as I went home, in the cold grey morning light I’d see the Costa Coffee van making deliveries to the local outlet. I’d get a taxi home, sleep for 4 hours, then I’d get ready for my midday shift behind the bar. I look back and I wonder how I could have survived, tired, drunk, hungover, and skint.

These days, however, one of my greatest joys in life is curling up in bed before 11pm. Oh god yes, fluffy dressing gown, a cat, my woman and a book. Give me that full eight hours any day of the week. The last time I saw 1am was New Year’s Eve, and you can bet your ass I was asleep ten minutes later. I think I’ll always remember the feeling of collapsing upon my bed, fully clothed (boots and all) and having to prop myself on my side with pillows and a duvet to prevent myself throwing up then choking to death on my own vomit. I remember closing my eyes and trying to sleep, but it felt like the room was on a merry-go round programmed to rotate at 150rpm. I remember waking up at least seven times because my bladder was so full it felt like it was on fire. For three months straight I slept with a washing-up basin by the side of my bed, because I never knew if I’d ever need to roll over and puke in it.

Thankfully, those days are now behind me, and I love snuggling in at a decent hour, having a read for thirty minutes, then closing my eyes with some relaxing music on.

 

 

Everything is in HD

 

I notice everything. It’s a funny thing, but when you’re so hammered that you’re struggling to walk in a straight line, you miss little things like birds singing, radio playing through an open window, the sunshine. It’s all just stuff that’s going on. There’s so much beauty in this world, and it’s so easy to overlook if you’re wrapped up in your own problems. Sobriety brings everything into focus. Not just the physical stuff, either. Ideas arrive in your head that you are able to make sense of, you can follow conversations, your memories are sharp and easy to recall.

I can’t remember certain things from back when I was drinking. If I scrunch up my eyes and concentrate really hard I can make out flashes of places, names, faces, music. But there’s never any context. I can’t say to myself “Oh, this happened because of this, and then we went and did that”. There’s none of that. It’s like a photo album that’s gone through a shredder. I remember doing certain things, but I can’t for the life of me explain why I did them. Huge, life-defining moments occurred, yet if you were to ask me when they happened, I can narrow it down to “Summer…ish”.  I was once drinking so much that I forgot I was supposed to be doing a play in front of 250 people. Seriously. Someone came up to me that morning and said “So, are you all set, then?” and I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. They told me and I damn near had a heart-attack.

I love my new pristine world. I love the memories I can make now, in razor-sharp focus. My head is full of new information that I look forward to being able to call upon at a later date. My mind has opened, and it’s an amazing piece of equipment.

 

Mo’ Money

 

Do an experiment. Let’s call one alcoholic beverage £3.50, right? Now, if you’re in a position where you’re drinking every day, let’s take it as read that you’re having more than one drink. Me, personally? I was having up to ten drinks a day. Do you know what that works out at on a daily rate? £35. Multiply that by 7? £245. £245 a week! I think I’ll stop multiplying now, because I might have a stroke if I carry on trying to work out how much money I poured directly into my liver. But per month, it was a lot. A hell of a lot. Safe to assume, pretty quickly I ran out of money. So, what did I do? I broke into my savings. I spent roughly half of the savings that I was supposed to keep to be able to afford things like my first house, my first car, a wedding etc. I’m not going to say here how much it was, but it was quite a hefty amount.

Now? Well, now, I’m saving £245 a week simply by not drinking. I’ve got more money for cool stuff like posh coffee and pastry, pizza and bracelets and tattoos and all sorts of nice gear. It turned into a never-ending cycle, really…I’d drink and then worry about money. I’d get stressed because I was worried about money, and so I’d drink some more (the alcoholic mind functions in a very different and unique kind of a way). There’s not an awful lot I can say about this, here. More money is a good thing. I’m not tipping hundreds of pounds down the toilet…I don’t know how else to explain to you that this is generally positive.

 

The bad-ass feeling that comes after knowing you’ve done something difficult.

 

I once worked behind a bar. This, in itself, is enough to drive anyone to alcoholism. But that’s not the point of the story. One day, a regular came in. I was about to draw off his usual when he stopped me.
“No thanks” He says. “I’m not drinking, I’m doing a month sober.”
Well. I nearly dropped the bloody glass. A month?! Sober?! Completely?! It was beyond comprehensible. I was already nearly twelve hours away from my last drink and the fantasies were starting in my head of getting my mitts around an ice cold glass of ethanol. But this bloke, here in front of me, calmly sipping on his lime and soda, was completely fine at the prospect of facing FOUR WEEKS totally dry, with only drinks that come with a Happy-meal for company. I gazed at him for a while as if Bigfoot had just walked into my bar and asked for a lemonade. I knew it was something I could never do. What kind of life was that for someone? Seriously? Where would the fun come from? How would he unwind? How would he ever set foot in a British pub ever again? I live in a town where announcing casually to the bar that you’re sober is tantamount to declaring from the town-hall rooftop that you’ve recently been diagnosed with leprosy. This man in the bar in front of me seemed as alien as the concept of abstinence.

From that, to this. I fucking did it. I didn’t only do a month sober, but I’m halfway through my second. One day at a time. And every day I don’t drink, I go to bed with a smile on my face. For the first time in my life, I’m proud of something I’ve achieved. Nobody else did it for me (although many people helped) but ultimately, it’s me that stops my brain reaching for alcohol and throwing it at my head. I’ve found reserves of strength I had no idea I possessed. A resilience that I never thought I could muster.

I love my new sober life, I love the fact that I don’t need alcohol to get from one end of the day to the other. I’ve almost fully reinvented myself. I’m unrecognisable from the person I was three months ago. And no-one can ever take that away from me.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this. If you enjoyed it, then leave a comment or give us a follow. I hope it helps in some small way. Come give us a follow on Instagram, if you like. You’ll find me under CleanandObscene! 🙂

Take care,
Still Clean and Obscene
J xxxxx

Clean and Obscene: Guess who’s back? Back again? Addiction’s back. Tell a friend.

So, it’s been two months since I quit drinking. Hoorah for me! How does it feel? Honestly, on days like today, it feels like shit. My skin is crawling, my toes are tapping and, at the time of writing, I’m riding a white-knuckle craving so powerful it’s parting fucking mountains.
It’s basically because I’ve had a shitty day. I’m feeling angry and frustrated and booze was my go-to soothing balm for all wounds, physical and spiritual. But not this time. I made it safely back, eschewing the bars and pubs that littered the route home. It’s been a hell of a day, but if that’s the positive to come out of it, then I guess it’s served its purpose. It doesn’t mean I have to be fucking happy about it, though. The day started off so positively, as well. I woke up in a good mood! This rare occasion is so elusive, I’m surprised NASA didn’t send scientists around to take readings. But anyway, there I was, happy, feeling positive (and dare I say it, sexy).

I had to travel to Manchester (20 miles away from my neck of the woods) for a rehearsal starting at 1pm. I got to Manchester at 12:50 only to find out the rehearsal was at 4pm. Bollocks. I couldn’t really be arsed going home, only to come back again, so I whittled the time away in the city centre drinking coffee and window shopping, I was like that bloody woman in Sex and the City. By the time 4 o clock came around, I was knackered. I probably shouldn’t have been wandering around aimlessly for three hours, but there we go. Anyway, I’m sat in the rehearsal space, waiting. 4:05… 4:10… 4:15… 4:20. No one’s turned up, and I’m starting to feel well and truly pissed off. How fucking rude.

I text the director, and try and sound as calm and nonchalant as possible. Two minutes later, he replies. Turns out, the elusive rehearsal has been rescheduled to a later date. He sent an email yesterday. To the email account that I don’t fucking check on a daily basis. It’s not his fault, I know it’s not his fault. It’s MY responsibility to check MY emails, and that fact makes it all the worse, really. I’ve fucked up, and there’s no one to blame. So, I turn the hatred inward (as is my usual habit) and begin shouting at myself in a tone of voice that I wouldn’t use on anyone else. Oh well, better head home. Now, just a disclaimer: I know that this isn’t the worst day imaginable. I understand that no one died, nothing exploded, and I still had all my limbs. But, as I was saying in a previous post, when you put the bottle down you remove all your armour. You go from being in a world that is, basically, anaesthetised and non-coherent, to a world where reality hits you head on. So, tolerance to everything is low. The slightest inconvenience can feel like a major catastrophe. As a result, when something genuinely shit happens, it feels like the world has ended (sorta).

Seething, I began the trek back through the city’s Northern Quarter. But now, I was in a different mind-set. When I was arriving, I was feeling quite positive and upbeat. Now, I hated everyone: “Look at his stupid glasses. Her hair looks a right fucking state. Oh my God, why is everyone asking me for fucking money? Job Centre’s that way, doofus!” I know, these thoughts make me sound like a selfish, self-centered arse hole. But, please, I beg of you, stay with me. There’s a piece of received wisdom I subscribe to these days that runs along the lines of: “You are not your thoughts.” In a nutshell, this means that if you have a negative thought, one that makes you anxious or sad or angry or depressed, here’s what you do…you observe it. You just watch it enter your mind, patiently, as you would a bird flying past your window and settling in your garden. You say to yourself “I am seeing this thought.” Then, you watch it simply fly off. It’s a great way of keeping your chittering, snapping, biting brain-box in check. Now, I know that when I experience those thoughts, it’s not me thinking them. I think they’re my addiction trying to get to me.

It’s like the baddie in Terminator 2, just when you think he’s perished in the flame, his pieces reform and he comes after you once more, using your various emotions as weapons. At first, he used my depression to try and get me to drown him. Then, he came at me wielding my own anxiety and stage-fright, and I fought him back. Then he lumbered at me through the fog of boredom and restlessness, but I evaded him. Now he was back, and he was packing. Dual-wielding anger and frustration, he came charging straight towards the defences that I’ve cobbled together over the last two months. While I was sat in Piccadilly station, waiting for a train that I’d discovered would take an hour to arrive, I could feel him wittering away in my ear.

“Ooooh, look, it’s the bar you used to go to…”
“NO!”
“…nah, go on. We’ve got an hour. You could just nip in, sink a double, then buy some mints to cover the smell. No one would know.”
“I would know.”
“Yeah, but you want it.”
“No, I fucking well don’t.”
“Go on. Go on. It’d be so easy. Just tootle on up there, fix on your best winning smile, and drink the fucking drink. All this bad stuff will go away, wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Who the fuck are you, the Mafia? I’m not bloody doing it. Besides, I don’t have my ID.”
“You don’t need ID, you look about 25. You used to be cool, man.”
“No, I used to be a piss-head. It’s different…I do fancy a coffee, though.”
“Oh, look at him. A Coffee. This isn’t fucking “Friends”, you used to hate all that clean-living shite.”
“I’m going for a coffee.”
“NO! Not Coffee! Pub! Pub! Pub! Pub!”
“Fuck off. I want one of those little biscuits.”
“You’ll get fat.”
“Rather fat than dead.”
“Pffft, you said it, not me.”

And so on. The blathering internal dialogue my addiction brings with him to any occasion is enough to drive anyone insane. Anyway, cut to an hour and twenty minutes later, legs aching, bladder full (from coffee) and stood up in a packed vestibule on a train hurtling home, i’ve decided I can’t stand any of these fucking people I’m stuck in this compartment with. They’re having a very loud and annoying conversation about their favourite gins. I was never one for gin, but the conversation is enough to kick-start my hatred. They’re laughing, smug, chortling away at stories of getting wrecked on Hendricks, Bombay, Gordon’s, Hunter’s…you name it, they’ve made a tit of themselves while drinking it. I’m praying for the train to tilt clean off the rails and fall into the abyss, putting an end to the inane chat. My phones dead, so I can’t block out these morons with music. My God, why have you forsaken me? Oh, yeah that’s right…I don’t believe in you. Well, now would be the time for a miracle, if you’ve got one going spare.

A miracle happened. For whatever reason, divine intervention, or the thought of a fresh tomorrow, or some inner reserve of strength, I didn’t drink. I came home, fired up the computer, and began writing this immediately. Exorcising my demons through the clickety-clack of words. Is there a moral here? Let’s find one. I guess the take-home message is that, if you resist just a second, or an hour, or a day longer, you’ll eventually come out the other side. I’m happy that I didn’t drink, although it was a fucking close call. I was sat in that train station, mouth salivating, eyes twitching at the thought of a cold one going straight to the centre of my brain and turning all the bad-stuff off. But it doesn’t turn it off, it just delays it until tomorrow, when you finally have to deal with it. With added interest for late payment. Stay strong, if I can do it (and I’ve got the least willpower of anyone I’ve ever met. I once had McDonald’s for every single meal one day, but that’s another story) then you can do it to. And you’ll thank yourself a million times over, when you do.

Still (thank Christ) Clean and Obscene,
J xxxx

 

Clean and Obscene: Chip off the Old Block

I hadn’t intended to write a blog post today. But then divine intervention struck in the shape of the lovely dark-haired lady I live with these days.
“Why don’t you do a blog post about your dad?” She said, as I was brewing a coffee to blow away the cobwebs formed over the course of a spectacular 10 hour sleep.
I’ve not talked about my father that much in these blogs. I seem to have an open nerve where he’s concerned. I’m not saying we don’t get along, and I’m not here to tell you that I don’t love him, because he is my father and I will always love him. What I can tell you, with certainty, is that he is a flawed human being. I love him for his flaws, and no one’s perfect. God knows I’m not. But mine and my father’s history has been rocky in previous years, to say the least.
So, to paint a picture of my dad for you… it’s difficult. He’s a conflicted character. He’s 50ish years of age (even that sentence, he’d balk at. He’s still seventeen in his head) and what you might call a “proper northern bloke”. That is, the stereotype of sullen silences, heavy drinking, an aversion to “high art”, and a dislike bordering on contempt for anything new. However, with all this in mind, please know that he can be amazingly witty, observant, deep, insecure, and kind. He’s a man who is capable of great love, but also of great contempt. Like I said, his character is a juxtaposition. So, to give you a brief background, he was raised by his mother (my grandmother) in a small terraced house in the north western English town of Macclesfield, his dad having fucked off and left the two of them to it when my dad was still in nappies. He took an apprenticeship to become a mechanic at the age of 16, and did that job till the age of 50, when he decided he’d had enough of, in his own words: “Fucking about with bits of metal in minus 10 degrees Celsius”. Now he delivers those bits of metal to other garages in a big white van. That should give you some kind of measure of the bloke.

I never saw my dad as an alcoholic when I was growing up. I don’t think he was, by late 90’s early noughties standards. He worked his arse off during the day, then he’d go to the pubs in the evenings. Even as a child, I remember being sat in a pub from a young age, once a week, clutching a bag of crisps and a bottle of Coke, while tidal waves of cigarette smoke engulfed me, watching all these local guys from the village drink themselves stupid. It was a showcase of addiction, every Friday night I’d watch the men gambling away in the corner, the old woman who’d spend all night mashing buttons on the fruit machine, the constant boozing, the constant smoking. One of my favourite things to do in the pub was ask my father to write my name in the foam on his pint of Guiness.

I’m not saying any of this is bad, or the wrong way to bring up a child, but it does give you some insight into what kind of culture I was around from the age of five onwards. I figured drinking was just something people did. When I was very small, I remember Dad taking me to one side in the pub and saying to me very slowly and clearly:
“We’re in a pub now, son. It’s like an adult playground. These men come here to relax, and they don’t want to listen to you going on with yourself.”
I liked that. “An adult playground.” Cool. That description stayed with me well into my early 20’s. It was probably the birthplace of the idea that I carried around with me of “I’m not drinking, I’m relaxing!” The two activities were as one and the same in my head. Because of this early introduction to the British drinking culture, I’d developed some kind of bizarre instruction manual for life. Feeling bored? Have a drink. Got a day off? Get drunk. Feeling sad? Have a drink. Stressed? Have a drink. It’s Friday? Get smashed. It’s sunny? Let’s go the pub. And so on.
But anyway, back to my Dad. The thing that I’m still having difficulty with adding up in my own brain, even now, is that when I was a child he was a fantastic Dad. He was home. We went on trips to places (not regular, just enough so they’d be an amazing surprise.) From the age of 8, he used to take me into the country side on the back of his motorbike after school on balmy Spring afternoons. On Sunday mornings, he’d make a fry-up or (my favourite) cheese on toast. My dads’ cheese on toast rocked. On the rare occasions when he could get the time off work, he’d pick me up from school. I’ll always love the memory I have of being sat in the classroom five minutes before home-time, and looking out of the window to see all these mums dressed in M&S business suits, or the dads dressed in shit polo shirts and cardigans, and then seeing my Father, cigarette nestled between his lips, wearing ripped denim and cowboy boots, shiny gold earring dangling from one ear, attracting wary looks from all the prim and proper parents.

It all changed in 2008. Or, rather, it all became blindingly obvious in 2008. I don’t want to go in to loads of detail, and a lot of it I still don’t understand myself. I was 14 years old, and several things happened in quite quick succession. From what I gather, Dad had a disagreement with someone he worked with, and ended up in loads of debt. The courts got involved, and it was heavy. He started buying bottles of wine, and knocking them back by himself every night after work. He had a routine of going straight to the pub after he’d finished, then coming home a few hours later, cracking a bottle of red, and drinking it by himself in the dark while listening to old Marillion records (That’s another thing about him, I inherited a really cool and diverse taste in music.)

He barely spoke, except to argue with mum. Our utility room became full of empty wine bottles, covering an entire shelf and several blue boxes. It was embarrassing, if I’d invite one of my friends over after school, and by the fridge we had enough empty bottles of wine to make a stain-glass window. Things became tense. Me and my Mum just kind of never really talked about it much. The arguments were increasing, both in frequency and intensity. A few times me and Dad came to blows. In 2010, he walked out for the first time, after a biblical argument between the three of us. Sometimes, I felt guilty about me and Mum ganging up on him, but having a family is hard enough without one third of the unit self-destructing, and he needed to get his act together. He just seemed to sink deeper and deeper into an alcoholic depression.  I wasn’t the easiest person to live with, understand, I was hurtling through puberty at a rate of knots. I thought I knew everything. I was always angry or doing things I shouldn’t, Mum was always in a state of tension severe enough that I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d tried to claw her own eyeballs out, and Dad was just…well, whenever I saw him he was drunk. He’d get come home from the pub absolutely trollied, then at 10pm at night, he’d put blaring rock music on the telly while me and Mum were trying to get some sleep. The arguments would start.

After he left, we had a brief state of grace. Things were calm, and me and Mum carried on as if nothing had happened. We didn’t hear from him, but we knew where he was. I wasn’t sad about it at all, I was harbouring a lot of contempt for him. I look back now and think “Why didn’t I cut him some slack? He was my Father, and he was struggling” but at the time I was a selfish fifteen year old. One afternoon I came home from school to find his car in the driveway and the front door wide open. I was just about to burst in and demand to know what the fuck was going on, when I saw Mum and Dad salvaging paperwork from the under-stairs cupboard. Basically, the bathroom had exploded, showering water over all the rooms below. Mum, in a panic, had rang Dad, and Dad had come round to do what he could. After this, it was decided he should return to the family, on the condition that he could go to the pub once a week, and be home by 7 o clock each night. Maybe we were wrong, trying to put restrictions on him like that, but we didn’t know what the hell to do. Anyway, he lasted a week. The first Friday came around, and he went to the pub and just didn’t come back.
“You’re not gonna turn me into some kind of fucking monk!” I think is what he had to say about the matter. I think I responded by sending him a three page text messages in which I hinted quite forwardly that he should pitch himself off a roof. Relationships broke down once more, and I didn’t speak to him for a whole year.

I’m telling a lie, actually. He rang me up about 10 months into what I term “The Great Silence” to ask if I wanted to go with him to see our favourite singer in Sheffield. Of course, at the time, I really didn’t want to go with him anywhere. I can see now that he was trying to reach out in the only way he knew how, to build bridges with a son he hadn’t spoken to in nearly a year, but at the time I didn’t want to hear it. It was a further two months before we spoke to each other again.

It was summer holidays, and I was at home on my own. I’d started smoking secretly, that is, without Mum knowing. I’d run clean out of cigarettes the night before, and anyway, I had no money. Bollocks. The mind of a 16 year old addicted to nicotine is the most manipulative organism in nature. “I know!” I thought. I texted my Father for the first time in a year.
He rode the half an hour bus journey from his mum’s to my house, bringing with him the requested 10 B and H gold. We sat together in the back garden, smoking. Eventually, we spoke. Then we carried on speaking. We cleared a lot of the air between us, and we arrived at a place where we could begin to form a relationship. After that, I’d go round to my Gran’s every Tuesday after college and meet him in the pub. We’d have a few drinks, then go back to Gran’s where she’d cook us our tea. It was a nice way of doing things. Since then (that was 2010) he’s quit smoking, moved back in with Mum, and got a steady job. He still drinks, but not wine. I’d call him a functioning alcoholic, but then, as he says, I’m “modern”. It’s funny, but I remember having conversations with him about certain people he didn’t like. After we’d assaulted every aspect of their character, Dad would swill his pint around the glass, sniff, then say “Yeah. And he doesn’t even fucking drink” in a tone of voice that would be better suited to describing someone as a neo-Nazi.

The point of this article, I guess, is to examine the link to my Dad’s behaviour and my mind. He drank daily, and I grew up thinking that was normal. His attitude to drink was “Well, something’s got to kill you”. I can’t remember the last day he didn’t have at least one beer. Maybe that’s just him. I love him, however much he drinks, but I’d want him to know the effect it has on him as a person. Without the booze, he really is one of the most down to Earth, funny, charming and observant people you could meet. The drink changes him, as it does me. It turns us into this sneering, people-hating, selfish creature.  A question I’ve been plagued with for some time is “Is addiction genetic?”
Looking at my Father, I guess, yes. It could very well be.
Thanks for assuming the role of my therapist through this blog post, it’s been therapeutic.

Still Clean and Obscene

J xxx

Clean and Obscene: I’ve changed, man.

Clean and Obscene: I’ve changed, man 

 

I recently went for coffee with a friend of mine I’ve not seen properly since last year. We’ve not had a proper face-to-face conversation since I got sober. Meeting in Piccadilly Gardens one murky, cold February evening, we walked around the shops (I’d been ordered by the Girlfriend to find a suitable scarf and pair of gloves, and to not come home until I’d secured these items) chatting, and generally shooting the proverbial shit. This friend, who shall herein be known as R for the sake of anonymity, knew me when my drinking was quite possibly at its worst. I’ve told him things I’ve not even told my own Mother, and he’s seen me as fucked up as I’ve ever been.

Two things started to become abundantly clear as we reminisced about nights out, drinking sessions, and the previous year’s adventures

1) I couldn’t remember half the shit he says I’ve done

And

2) It felt like he was talking about a completely different person.

Now, I’ve only been sober for a relatively short amount of time (54 days and counting, whoop!), I’m certainly no Russell Brand-esque monument to abstinence (I still have my vices, but now they’re more like Pringles and Sprite rather than, say, cocaine) but even that fairly short space of time is enough to gift me the clarity I needed to look back at who I was and think “what a douche”.

Ok, I’m being harsh. But this is just tapping into the Jekyll/Hyde analogy I mentioned in a previous post, when you chemically unbalance yourself as an addict, you do become a totally different person. “Remember when you woke up in my bathroom?” He says to me.
“Erm…” I’m fumbling for the appropriate memory in the folder of my brain labelled “Misc. drunken fuck-ups” I do have a kind of tribal memory of my alarmed face staring back at me out of a grimy bathroom mirror. “Oh yeah!” I chuckle, with uncertainty. There are more that I remember. A particular low-point was throwing up in McDonald’s at one in the morning, then carrying on drinking long after R had gone to bed. Or the time I downed neat Vodka straight out of the University accommodation’s kettle. Or the time I drank twelve whiskey and cokes then went to see a performance poet in Manchester, who I then heckled the bejesus out of, while sat next to my lecturer from uni.  Or falling asleep in the flat’s corridor wearing nothing but a huge black coat (this, I am reliably informed, happened more than once.)

It’s not even like I was drinking to have a good time. I was well past that. I was drinking because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, then to get over crippling anxiety, then loneliness, then the pressure of the work, then, finally, because I had to drink to survive. No two ways about it. But, when me and R sat down to have that coffee, he told me that my short spell in sobriety was incredible. Had I really been that bad? I guess that, yeah, I had. He told me he’d read some of the blog and he liked it, and it felt fantastic. I really do feel like a new person. I raised my medium latte, the head of foam wobbling on the top, the only kind of froth I’d be blowing off anything for the foreseeable. “Cheers!” I said. R just chuckled.

But, all this got me thinking. If I feel like a new man, am I acting like one? What’s actually changed? Well, below, I’ve attempted to compile a list of mental and physical changes I’ve noticed:

 

  • I know my own self-worth

There was a song I was quite fond of in my drinking days. It’s called Ugly Love by the immortal Robbie Williams (remember those vices we talked about? RW forever) and the first verse goes something like this:

“You were always tripping,

I was always stoned.

You knew I was a piss-head

That’s why I never phoned.

So why d’you act surprised?

I was drunk on the day we met.”

 

The last lines of that passage became like my mantra. It was imprinted on the banner I waved as I rode into the battle of life. It was my armour. With that phrase rattling around my skull, I could fuck up as gloriously as I wanted, and if other people were disappointed with me, well, then it was their fault for having such high expectations of me. They knew I was a drunk mess, why were they expecting me to behave? It was the shield I used to get away with lacking in all kinds of areas of my life; professionally, socially, familial. I’m an alcoholic! Don’t expect too much! I’m trying my hardest!

It’s different now. I don’t have to hide behind some song lyric from eighteen years ago (killer lyric though it is). With the lack of excuses, I try and put 100% (I was going to write “110%” but that’s just posturing) into all areas of my life. I’ve lain my shield down, and without it’s deflection, I receive all of life straight to the face. Yes, the bad, but also the good. The brilliant. The fantastic. I go into meetings, rehearsals, performances, lectures, and social occasions knowing exactly what it is that I have to offer. Taking off the armour has set me free. I might be more vulnerable, but I can run faster than anyone who’s chemically addled.

 

  • I like being at home.

Oh yes. Home is where the heart is. More importantly, home is where the people who love me are. Home is full of nice comfy chairs, telly, and the kettle for brews, the oven for snacks, hob-nobs and blankets. It’s bloody incredible. I can’t believe I used to want to go out there, into the loud cold place.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not become a recluse or anything. But I used to go out even when I didn’t want to go out. I can’t tell you how relaxing it is not being jostled, sworn at, having drinks spilled on you, having nowhere to sit, spending all your money, being too cold, being too hot, sweating, shivering, throwing up in public, walking to the next bar, the noise, the people, the crowds, then waking up the next day with a drill going off in your head and doing everything except buying shares in Neurofen and Immodium.

This is the place I like to be. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, I don’t feel like I’m socially deprived. I see the people I want to see, and I don’t bump into people I’d rather avoid. Let me tell you something, if you think drugs and booze is the happiest you’ll ever be, you’ve clearly never curled up in bed next to the person you love with a good book and a hot drink at 10pm. You’re missing out.

  • I’ve become REALLY fucking picky

Ok, whether this is a good thing or not, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide. By “picky”, I mean I don’t spend time with people who I think will be damaging to my sobriety. I don’t go to places I think will be damaging to my sobriety. My dick-head detector is now razor-sharp and I can pretty much tell at a glance whether a person has my best interests at heart or not. Before now, it was my addiction in charge of the navigation.

“They might try and separate ussss!” it would hiss in my ear, when someone voiced concern over my drinking. “Yeah!” I’d agree. “Where do they get off, trying to save my life?” The word dick-head has now taken on a new meaning. I’m not talking about people who like to get drunk, I’ve got many a friend who still enjoys a tipple and it doesn’t bother me one jot. It’s like someone who’s allergic to peanuts, you don’t then go and associate with people who only have peanut-allergies. They can safely imbibe, I cannot, and that’s fine. But I’m talking about the people who won’t have anything to do with you because you can’t have peanuts. Or try and belittle how big of a problem peanuts are for you. Or, even worse than all of them, the people who realllly make you want a peanut. By peanut, I mean booze. I don’t associate with these people any more. Yes, some of the people I’ve cut out I have a long and colourful history with, but they don’t want what’s best for me. They want what’s best for them, so they can go eat all the peanuts they want with the fucking monkey people as far as I’m concerned. I’m happy.

 

  • Arguments are no longer Eastenders-style dramas

Right, I want to make this completely, and abundantly clear from the off: I am fully aware that I am spending my life with the woman of my dreams. I love her completely, totally, and as fully as I think it’s possible to love another human being. She has given me chances time and time again, and has a belief in me that I can only equate to religious fanaticism. She’s just the coolest.

Having said all that, we love a row. Oooooh we bicker. Not a week goes by where we don’t disagree about something. So what’s the difference? The situation is two-fold. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, just because I’m sober, it doesn’t mean I shit sunbeams. I have my faults. I’m a bloody difficult person to live with, actually, and that’s before you even factor in the drinking. I sometimes have a thought that life with me must be like some kind of obstacle course, twisting and turning and upping and downing and stuff. Luckily, I’ve found someone who can go the distance with all the grace of a ballerina on Total Wipeout.

When I was drinking, however, an argument would be fucking biblical. Oh my Jesus, I knew how to escalate a thing. I’d got it down to a fine art-form. Some nights, voices would be raised, things would be punched or launched clear across the room, threats would be made, phones would be broke, tears would be shed, doors would be slammed, drinks would be drunk, break-ups would ensue. It was insane, seriously. I’m not saying that I don’t lose my temper, it’s one of my major faults. And I’m not saying that I don’t regress into an 8 year old when I feel attacked, because I do. But we’ve had a couple of disagreements now with me being sober, and more often than not, I’ve kept a cool head, and a peaceful, swift negotiation comes around. I feel more in control of my emotions than I ever have. I control them, instead of them controlling me. Which is the way it should always have been, really.

  • Money is no longer a constant worry

This one kind of speaks for itself really. You’re not going to be worrying about money when you stop putting £100+ into your liver on a weekly basis. It’s really cool.

  •  I feel sharper all-round

Aside from the initial withdrawal period (the first 1-3 weeks, for me) where I shuffled around feeling confused, tired, grumpy, lethargic, restless, anxious and foggy, my sobriety has tightened me right up. I sometimes look at myself and think “Bloody hell, look at me go!” I’m the man I always wanted to be. I turn up, I work my ass off, then I go home for a brew and an early night. My creative output has increased tenfold. At the moment, I’m involved in a play in Manchester, my degree, a poetry project, the blog, and the Clean and Obscene Instagram page. It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t spend 5 hours a night in the pub. I’ve got hands in all different pies and I feel like I can manage. Yes, I have shit days. Yes I’m tired after a long day, but it’s a nice kind of tired. The kind that comes with the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done the best you can today, that you’ve taken advantage of every second. I thoroughly recommend this feeling. If they could bottle it and sell it, no-one would ever buy alcohol again.

That’s it from me for now. If you enjoyed this, do give us a like and a follow. I’m also on Instagram under “Clean and Obscene”, so if pictorial motivational images tickle your fancy, tootle on over and come follow me in the journey of sobriety.

Thanks for reading,

Still Clean and Obscene!!!

J xxxxxx

Clean And Obscene: Sober, but not Saintly.

I’m over fourty days sober. Not comparing myself to Christ at all, but that’s the amount of time he spent wandering the sands, while his horned nemesis tempted him with false promises. And, like the world’s most famous hippie, I too feel a bit lost in the wilderness, with temptation lurking round every corner. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit. Not EVERY corner. Most days, it’s kind of ok. I can, for instance, go to the shop without throwing a mountain of cash at the befuddled elderly woman behind the till and skipping merrily out with my pockets jangling with enough hard spirit to take down a medium sized rhino.

So, as mentioned in one of my previous entries, I’ve had an absolutely horrendous time trying to sleep. It’s not as bad now as it was, but I still don’t know, when I lay my head down on the pillow of an evening, whether sleep will arrive quickly and painlessly. Last week, for instance, I’d had very little, and I was beset with a sort of malaise that confined me to my dressing gown for, as my beloved phrased it (pretty accurately): “70% of the week!” I don’t know what sort of bizarre pie-chart she employed to reach this conclusion, but it did feel like I was at one with both gown and blanket. I didn’t want to do anything. Maybe this is normal, and maybe it’s always been a part of me, but normally when I didn’t want to do anything, I’d have a bit of a grumble then get up and do stuff anyway. Last week I didn’t do anything for about five consecutive days. This, in turn, led to a feeling of being confined (duh, obviously). I was grumpy, snappy, sarcastic. An achievement for me was to convey my answers using no more than one sentence, because I simply couldn’t be arsed talking more. It was a strange combination of feeling trapped and fed up, and not being able to summon the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve always struggled with depressive episodes. It’s fine, I’ve more or less got them under some kind of control. Or I thought I did. Hands up, who thinks they know what I used to do when I was depressed? That’s right. I’d take a big, long refreshing glug of Jack Daniel’s and get on with it. Albeit in a very drunk and wrong-headed sort of way. But this time, I was sober. Just me and my feelings. This brain ain’t big enough for the two of us. Man on man (steady, now).

It was a wake-up call, because some small naïve part of me kind of thought that because I’ve laid off the sauce, then my moods would also regulate, and everything would be happy forever and ever fade to black. It doesn’t work like that. The more I delve into my history, the more I’m working out that I probably started drinking because I was depressed. I tried all sorts, CBT, counselling, anti-depressants, but the only thing that I kept up with was the constant slew of self-prescribed booze. I don’t consider myself a “depressed person”. But I am aware that every couple of months, something in my head goes and I’m a bit fucked for the next week or so. This is my first week of dealing with it sober.

Holy fuck, I wanted a drink. Just one. Just to take the edge off. Tie one on and hit the battle cruiser, sink a few, blow the froth off, have a nightcap, partake, one more for the road…My God, it’s pretty outstanding how many metaphors there are for having a drink, isn’t it? Not only was it the actual emotional state I was in that kicked the cravings into over-drive, but also when I was having an argument. It’s been years since I’ve argued sober, and, when I’m feeling low, I can be the meanest, most argumentative, stubborn bastard. During one such row, I wanted to drink so badly I could feel my legs tingle, as if they were shouting “Fuck this! We want to get going, come on we’ll take you out! The pub’s this way, right?!”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that when you kick a habit that’s been slowly killing you, it’s as if a beam of light radiates from the sky above. Angels sing, and everything goes from black and white into whopping great Technicolour. FALSE. You still have all the problems you normally do, except this time…you’re sober. You have to learn to deal with emotions you’d normally just drown in a biblical flood of substances. You have to learn how to deal with situations and people who, in the old days, you’d put yourself in a coma to avoid. I’ve mentioned this in a previous entry, but it is like becoming a new person all over again. And yes, this is a good thing. Especially if the old you was an addict kind of chap, who’d piss off all whom he met and blow off important interviews and lectures for a well-earned afternoon of brain damage. But, something that isn’t mentioned is the negatives.

D’you remember learning to be a person? How long d’you reckon it took? Ten years? I doubt it. More likely you were between the ages of 19-21 when you suddenly started getting a handle on all this “I’m my own person” deal. Getting sober is more or less like doing that all over again. Not the walking and talking so much, but if your only experience of attending (say) a wedding is necking all the free champagne, tripping over and destroying the cake, and attempting to sleep with all the bride’s maids, the bride’s mother and the bride, then you may need to recalibrate slightly. So, sticking with the example, if you go to a wedding SOBER, then you’ll be at a loss of what to do. You were so busy with drunken shenanigans (technical term) the last few times, then you’ll have missed out on certain key skills pivotal to the success of social occasions. Things like:

  • Small talk
  • Table manners
  • Complimenting people (even when you don’t think they deserve it)
  • Holding in nasty thoughts (“It should have been me she married, bastard!”)

Just simple things like that. You are, essentially, a toddler. Sober and scared and befuddled, you need to go and shake hands with that man you don’t particularly like, and ask him how his kids are, instead of polishing off a bottle of neat Stoli and flipping him V’s. This is called human interaction and is particularly vital if you are to stand any chance in your new, sober life.

The point I’m making, in a very long, roundabout sort of way, is that, now you’ve got rid of your crutch, you need to learn to walk again. You will. Of course you will, but it won’t be perfect. You’ll get angry still, emotional, you’ll shout and grumble and things will still piss you off. Possibly even more stuff. But this is all part of the process of growing and learning, much like a toddler will throw a temper tantrum when they don’t understand why something isn’t working, so too will you. But the bad bits are outweighed, I’d say, tenfold by the amazing. One thing I haven’t mentioned, throughout all of this, is that lately, I feel like I’m becoming the man other people always said I could be. It’s taken me nearly a quarter of a century but I finally feel (more or less) content with my life. Sobriety is the key to unlocking your true potential. I’ve only just started discovering mine and, I promise you, if you stay on this path, you will too.

Still Clean and Obscene (yay!)
J xxx