The Local

Day 240: I’ve spoken to many people over the telephone / Skype in my role as a Mental Health First Aider for the company I work for. In the last week alone I’ve answered the call to two people. Talking and listening to anything and everything about mental health comes naturally to me these days and a lot of that will come back to the struggles I’ve experienced myself but also the road to recovery I’ve been on. I reluctantly stepped back from the role earlier this year when I was mentally unwell but it’s been another step forward being able to support work colleagues with their own struggles.

I’m enjoying a pretty positive spell on a personal front with my anxiety under control and both my family and work life comfortable. I’ve returned from a family holiday for the first time without a bout of depression and I suspect the fact it was my first family holiday sober is not a coincidence. My mind isn’t racing as much and I’m appreciating the fact I can sometimes lie down, go for a walk / run or read a book without the voices in my head telling me what needs doing, what I should be focusing on and why I can’t do this or that.

I went to my local village pub for the first time since February 2020 a few evenings back. I was a regular there before the pandemic and alongside my mate had ran the Quiz Night every week since 2013. Obviously pubs were not high on my agenda when restrictions eased and I continued to recover from my drinking and mental illness but I did have a growing anxiety about the first time I’d pop in the longer my absence grew.

‘Every emotion hitting you at once’
Painting by George Martin

My association with the village pub in particular is one of drinking heavily (often with work the next day!) and on occasions, doing something daft as a result. This pub was the setting of a fight between me and my brother in 2014 where we ended up falling through the fire escape as we grappled. It was also the place I spent many ‘lock ins’ much to the annoyance of my wife. My ability to go in and have one pint and leave was left at the door. I’d never just have one. I remember one Sunday in 2016/17 my football team were playing and the match was live on TV. I went up the pub at midday knowing fine well I had plans to go to a local fairground with my wife and 1 year old daughter later that day. In the 2 hours I was up there watching the match I drank two bottles of red wine to my self and then drank another half bottle of wine when I stumbled back home. I don’t remember much from the fairground visit but my wife advised I was out of it. My body was there but my head wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a pub that I’ve celebrated birthdays in, family gatherings such as both my daughter’s Christian blessings and also my Grandad’s wake. It’s a local pub I’ve facilitated nearly 250 Quiz Nights in including many memorable Christmas Quizzes. I’ve watched big Boxing matches like Joshua v Klitschko and memorable England football matches in World Cups and European Championships. One year me, my wife and friends celebrating New Year in that pub and on another afternoon me and two friends decided to drink a pint of every draught they had on tap from left to right along the bar. I’m pretty certain it was around 13 pints ranging from lager to cider to stout to ale.

The reality though, is that this central part of my old life is not going to be part of my new life. I doubt I’d return to facilitate regular quizzes because a big part of Pub Quizzes is the fact everybody is having a drink and I’m not massively comfortable with that still. I’ll no longer be popping in for a pint or three when walking back from the park with my daughters (the promise of a bag of crisps always got them on board) and I certainly have no plans to fight my brother in there again!

I’m pleased I went on Tuesday night with two of my close friends. The pub was quiet and it was nice to see the landlord again, have a chat and show my face. There were a few regulars in who I know but haven’t seen for well over a year so that was nice. I drank Coca Cola and nothing was said about my recent struggles or sobriety. I suspect most people in the pub will know about it to an extent. The landlord certainly does. It’s another milestone reached and another anxiety I’ve managed to put to bed.

As for the immediate future. I’ll continue to do all of the things I’m currently doing that seem to be working for me. Writing, reading, walking, running and yoga. The not drinking alcohol part doesn’t even feel like an effort anymore!

Long may it continue.

200 Days

Day 200: Today is my 200th day sober. It hasn’t been easy at times but I have no regrets and the good days have massively outweighed the bad ones. My life is 100% better now I’ve removed alcohol from it. I’m in the minority in society now but feel like I’m also the luckiest. My Mind, Body, Relationships and Bank Balance are all evidence of that.

It takes a lot to remove alcohol completely from your life. You have to be all or nothing. It’s an addictive substance in the same way smoking and drugs are but it’s seen as an acceptable thing to do in society because of the sexed up way the industry, media and advertisers portray it.

A medical report published in 2015 showed that in England alone the total annual cost of alcohol use (to the NHS, police, welfare, etc) amounted to £3.9 billion. Taxation on alcohol brought in £10.4 billion. It’s in the best interest of our Government for us to be a nation of drinkers. It is therefore no surprise we are sold this pretty picture of alcohol.

Let’s make things clear, I’m not planning on a one man crusade to stop folk drinking. I have no issue with those around me drinking. It’s ingrained in our culture and binge drinking is very much a big part of my generation. What I will do is continue to share my own experience of abusing myself and others when I drank. My subsequent breakdown, hospitalisation and detox. My sobriety and the benefits I’ve experienced since going alcohol free have given me so much more than a pint of beer or tumbler of whisky ever did.

Anonymous

One of my best mates gets married next Friday. I’m one of the groomsmen. Earlier in the year when I was in the infancy of my recovery I had anxious feelings towards going to the wedding. Not drinking. Not toasting the bride and groom with the obligatory glass of fizz. Not being the first on the dance floor and getting the party started! In hindsight I needn’t have worried. Nobody will batter an eyelid if I don’t drink the free wine. In fact I’m now at a comfortable point in my recovery where I’d proudly exclaim my sobriety. I shouldn’t be ashamed of saving my life! I might not be the last to leave the party, I won’t be getting the shots in and I may choose to go outside for a walk whilst everybody is drinking between the ceremony and wedding breakfast. What works for me is what I need to focus on. I want to enjoy the day. My mate wants me to enjoy the day. We are on the same wavelength as we were on his Stag in Liverpool. That’s all that matters. He is going to have the best day and I’m going to be there for him.

I’ve said in the past that each day is the most important day in recovery. Day 199 and Day 201 are as important as the big 2-0-0. All that said, it’s nice to celebrate milestones. I’ll see you again at 250! 🙂