Wednesday, 21 December 2016

475 Reasons

I have started typing at least 12 blog posts this year (I know because they are saved in my 'drafts'... where they shall remain... you are welcome aha) and then stopped x amount of words in, for a number of reasons. Mainly, I stopped as I have felt that I couldn't speak about what was on my mind, and how this was effecting my relationship with drinking - a sensitive work issue that I didn't want to put out into the world, or a relationship quandary (I do those now - I just need 'food' and then I'm the complete blogger I feel?) that I didn't wish to go into. Shocking, I know, that this blog is still vaguely 'holds barred.'

This Pic is from an Ultra Marathon that I did just
so I could get this picture taken
I can't quite get my head around 2016. On one hand - fantastic year, done so much, progress, growth, blah blah. On the other, monumental head fuck. Mentally, I feel like the last 12 months has had more spikes in it than the Rio Olympics stadium (.... did that work?... did it?) and even when matters have calmed it has been with a stench of instability.

A while ago, I wrote that I wanted to 'feel what I feel, even if it isn't happiness' (thanks Toni Morrison - kudos to you for such word magic sorcery). By this, I meant that I wanted to remove the anaesthetising blanket that binge-drinking and blackouts had given me, to uncover what was really going on inside my head because quite frankly, beyond knowing the best pavements in Central London to have a nap on (*takes bow*), I didn't know much. Johann Hari argues in his book Chasing the Scream (a great read, whatever your views) that essentially addiction doesn't stem primarily from the drug, or alcohol, that you take, but from emotional trauma/distress.

I wanted to explore my 'emotional trauma' head on, no medication, so I could start to untangle whatever I was drinking to forget. Move over Sarah Hepola with your 'CSI: Hangover' - I'm here to crack the case!

I am 475 days sober today - I know this because for the first time in 110 days, I bothered to work it out (.... not manually.. I actually have got other shit to do, and you can find a terrific date calculator online). In those 475 days, I've run 2 ultra-marathons (6 marathons in 2 x 3 day blocks), raced 8 half marathons, changed jobs, been in a relationship for nearly a year (ongoing... with a real life human being) had a couple of family bereavements, nights out, nights in, gym sessions, takeaways (.... maybe more than gym?)

... Life, in short, has gone on, and all without touching alcohol. Not only has life 'gone on' but there has been incredible progress. I have achieved things I would not have achieved if I was still drinking, I have relationships now that I would not have if I was still drinking, I have a career that I would not have if I was still drinking.

So why, with all these statements that I do not for one second question, is a drink all that I want? Why do I see a pint, or a bottle, or even just a little shot (... or a million) as an answer to the way I am feeling now? Why, 475 days on, do I still have 'blackout dreams' and wake up, heart in my mouth, unable to remember what I did the night before and having to 'talk myself down' - "You finished work, went to the gym, ate a baked potato on your bed, and went to sleep without showering. You did, however, not drink."

... What happens if I can do it better now?

... What happens if I can't?

I was lucky enough to see two different friends during my working day today, with each having a profound impact on my current mindset. The first, gave me as a Christmas present a copy of '50 Races to Run Before You Die' cataloguing a bucket list of the toughest endurance challenges around the world.

The world of 'recovery blogging' is super competitive. Do
you know what those other blogs don't have? Selfies with goats.
I think my friend thought I may like  the book given my activities over the last year, but really for me it was so much more. It was a much needed reminder of what it felt like to achieve something incredible, without drinking. The 'this is what you can do when you don't drink, these are the natural highs you can create' - knowing what it is like to push your mind and body beyond what they should be capable of. Sometimes, you get given something which is exactly what you need, and this book was one of those things.

My second friend, whom I saw almost immediately after, and I discussed problems in each of our lives. For me, I found myself slightly shamed humbled - having yakked on (... uninterrupted..) for 15 minutes about my current difficulties, I found myself genuinely shocked and saddened to learn of theirs. What this conversation, between two 26 year olds (oh yes... I have unfortunately aged since we last spoke) brought up was that, to really break this shit down - life is tough, you have to work hard at it, it is what we make it, we pick ourselves up and go again because we have to and no-one will do it for us.

I wanted to write this post because today I was reminded to be empowered by what I have achieved, and how far I have come in the last 2 years. 475 days gives me 475 reasons to go forwards and not back. I wanted to write this post because I wanted others to be empowered by what they achieved, and by the aims that can be reached. We all start somewhere - I started 2 years ago today (literally) and wouldn't change a second of it, even the parts that still hurt, or cringe (oh god the cringe hurts so bad) to think about.

Finally, I was driven to write this to help continue and develop this conversation about youth, addiction, alcohol for those who feel a part of it, and for those who feel that they have no understanding of it.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2017 - look forward to seeing you then.


Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Label Game

Sitting on the train yesterday, pre-7am, to work, and leafing through the copy of the Metro that I had grabbed manically at the station on account of forgetting my headphones I found myself reading a 'note' in the letter's section on the subject of Kirsten Stewart, the actress of Twilight fame. The subject of the note centred on Kirsten's refusal to pigeon-hole herself as straight, bisexual or gay, with the author commenting that of course she must consider herself to be one of these things and her refusal to do so was just a shameless ploy for attention.
Day 1 of my 3 marathons in 3 days.. 

The night before, I had sat down on my long suffering sofa to watch Louis Theroux's Drinking to Oblivion , a documentary filmed at King's College Hospital, 3.5 miles up the road from me, and an imposing landmark on my run to or from work. The documentary, friends had told me, would be tough watching - they had cried, been confronted with their own flawed perceptions of what drinking to excess looked like, and they all commented (the 4 or 5 who brought it up with me) on just how 'normal' Joe, the 32 year old alcoholic seemed. In the documentary, we first meet Joe as he goes through detox - he had (.... as told to him by someone as he didn't know) collapsed on a street, having left his job after his girlfriend left him and then gone on a spiralling binge for weeks, using straight vodka to drive his self destruction. Joe, quite an attractive looking guy, still has the shakes and can't walk without a stick.

Later on, Louis goes to visit a sober Joe in his SE London flat-share. This is a man who doesn't have a support network close by - it is alluded to that his Brighton-based family and his friends have had to let go, with the assumption being that previously they have tried to help him in his problems with drink but that they could no longer do so. We see pictures of him skippering a boat somewhere tropical, all dressed up at the races last year with a good mate, a picture of him with his mum who died when he was young due to reasons stemming from her own relationship with alcohol.

We also see his cream bedroom curtains covered in blood spatters from when he cracked his head, under the influence. Joe, being the self-reflective, humorous, 'normal' young man that he seems to be comments how he knows he should throw these curtains away, but there is something 'perversely shocking' about it that 'makes it worth it' for the time being.

Having been abstinent for 4 and a half years in the past, and as someone who wouldn't claim to have a physical reliance on alcohol (unlike Aurelie, another of the subjects of the documentary with her 6 pack of 8.4% K-cider a day to just stop the shakes) Joe knows he can be sober, but he he says he is wary of the fact that the desire to drink can suddenly hit, without warning when least expected and can be overwhelming. There is a sense of resignedness and passivity, which sounds offensive when it isn't meant to be. 

We later see Joe, half naked and for all intents and purposes, wasted and back at King's College Hospital, wanting detox, again, but wanting that last drink too, the final 250ml bottle of vodka. He has reverted to a state of childlikeness, talking about the girlfriend who left him- and we see Mr Theroux torn between his desire to help him (i.e. stop him from walking out of the hospital to go and get vodka) and to capture an honest documentary from the sidelines.

Our perceptions of the world are based on our own experiences, and to an extent of the experiences of those closest to us who share these with us. The documentary showed me something that I knew already - alcoholism isn't limited to stereotypes, and it isn't limited to one form (physical, emotional) but from looking at the reactions of the internet to the show, this wasn't perhaps a widely shared view beforehand amongst main-stream audiences. Comments that I have read on twitter, and on comment sections on webpages feature phrases such as 'another side of alcoholism,' 'he just seemed so normal,' 'but he is only 32.'
Joe (left) with Louis (right) from Louis'
Documentary Drinking to Oblivion

We end rooting for Joe because he seems just like us, you and I - but what do we make of Aurelie who claims she needs a 'miracle' to ensure that she doesn't die? She doesn't see stopping drinking as an option - she can't, in her words she feels like 'a rat in a cage' until she has her first drink of the day. Her life as a dying alcoholic, at the age of 44, is better than her lie would be without alcohol, a life she can't bring herself to think about. She'll even tell you that with a laugh.

Aurelie says that she has been abusing alcohol since she was 13, which means that for 31 of her 44 years she has either lived as she is now, or has been gearing up to it. I couldn't comment whether she is too far gone along the process to come back mostly because I'm not her, and also because i'm not a medical professional (shocking I know), but what I do firmly believe is that had conversations been available to her at an earlier point in her life, had the perceptions of society been different to her, that she would have had more options. Whether she would have taken another road at age 20 or 30 had she been given the choice is another question.

Aurelie also fits in with our perception of what an alcoholic should look like - she is overweight, her face is bloated and red. Does Joe deserve more of our attention than Aurelie? Why?

Last weekend I brunched (you can use brunch as a verb without being a wanker, right?) with the gang from Rough As at our usual hangout spot on Brick Lane. The sun shone, we sat outside, with all the coffee and avocado on toast etc. We spoke about our jobs, our personal lives, projects - Claire had just run the London Marathon and along with one of the girls with us was doing the Hackney Half on the Sunday, I'd done my three-marathons-in-three-days (been a busy boy) on the Jurassic Coast back in March. We spoke about our plans for next week, and for 6 months time, and from a group of indivuduals who used to roll from crisis to crisis and plan only to troubleshoot the next episode of chaos, we could acknowledge how great this was.

We also spoke about the importance of learning to love yourself, which I have a desire to find another, less Sunday-school term for, but struggle to do so. It is only now, looking back at my own relationship with alcohol, and my behaviour with it, that I can see how little I cared for myself over the years, and indeed I would go as far as saying I can see how much self-loathing I had. You may have picked this up from my blog, but I know that I have had times when I genuinely genuinely could not have cared where, and dare I say if, I had woken up the next day.

Louis with Aurelie - is this image easier to digest as Aurelie fits
more with what we perceive an alcoholic to look like?

This brings me round on to where I have been for the last few months, since my last blog post in January. I'm still not drinking - we are past 8 months now, and I've got no plans to pick up a drink but certainly I'm not saying never, and truth be told I've just been busy. Work, personal life, projects - so much to do, such little time. I'm happy, which is great, and I have been meaning to write a post saying 'all quiet on the western front' but then I saw Claire and the gang last week, and watched this documentary and I wanted to write to say that I can see the discourse around alcoholism and alcohol abuse evolving, and I want to be a part of it, I want desperately for the next Aurelie to have the self-worth to say no, for people to look at Joe and take on board how 'normal' he is, and how many other 'normal' people with huge problems are out there.

It's not a case of having to change our perceptions, but certainly I think we can make ourself more aware of how we form them, and keeping a more open mind. I say this as someone with no experience of drug taking, but who firmly and harshly judges, or has judged those who do including friends of mine, sorry guys - I'm working on that. Being labelled doesn't take away anyone's right to being able to craft their own identity outside of that label - wouldn't it all be much easier if we just could sit back, admire and applaud the fluidity?

Keep up to date with Rough As on facebook for details of our next meet-up, here

Find out more about me here

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Frying Pans and Fires

Me and 2 x 2 pint glasses of snakebite, on the go,
at the same time.
My idea of a threesome.
The other day, I found myself sat on the floor of my workplace office. Cross-legged, arms folded, a defiant ‘and what?’ smacked across my face. No, this wasn’t a new interpretation of office plan, where we were all encouraged to do the same, to promote an informality, a creativity or even a sense of mindfulness. It also wasn’t ‘bring a child to work’ day. I was sat on the floor of the office, because I could. Excuse me, one bucket full of attention please, yes - to have in, thanks, I’ll just be sat over here.

Approaching my five months-sober mark, I have found myself increasingly restless. It is not about getting attention, but this is how it often manifests itself. I am restless for change, for excitement, progression - to achieve everything I want for my future, and everything I missed in my past. All at once please, hit me, for now I am sober and not hungover and hiding under the duvet, I have so much to do, and such little time to do it.

I am not for a minute suggesting that sitting on my office floor was appropriate, I hope that this piece makes it clear that the case is in fact the opposite - just as a heads up to anyone I work with who reads this.

I had wanted to prove to myself and the world that I can do everything that I would have wanted to do before whilst drinking destructively, but I can now do it 10 times better, more efficiently, and I can still have fun whilst doing it. All the fun, all the time – now, who wants to come with me to a sober rave at 6am on Wednesday morning? I’ll be wearing hotpants, sunglasses, and my biggest pair of boots, along with my snarkiest gives-a-fuck attitude.

Safe to say, I am exhausted. I feel like a Sunday-brunch frying pan that someone has been taken a brillo-pad, and half a bottle of fairy liquid, to before leaving to dry in the sun – for hours. Sometimes, I feel like I have as much charisma as this pan, spotless yet scratched, as much energy as a drained bath tub.

Frying pans and fires - it is a game of extremes – is anything sounding familiar yet?

I am struggling at the moment, actually. The difficulty isn’t staying sober, but to channel the sobriety to ends that don’t involve me sitting on the floor of my office because I can, toddleresque, or making a flippant remark I know could, and probably will, hurt someone’s feelings because I want to see how they react as a form of human-behaviour research. My emerging God-complex, I can see, is no longer just tiring for me, but for others too. More than that, it can also be destructive.

How about now?

I looked back at the past 2 months – I have achieved a lot, and I have been more socially active then I have for a long time with dinners, nights out, social groups, nights out, coffee catch ups. I look back to a year or two years ago – I achieved a lot, was very socially active with nights out, nights out and nights out, but I just happened to be drinking at this time. Drinking rather a substantial amount, quite often, have I ever mentioned?

“No paramedics in 2015” – I remember this clearly from the new years eve party I attended in 2014.

Work Xmas Party - at the centre, on the floor,
clearly my default position
Beyond the removal of the drink, I find myself wondering if much has changed between now and then in how I present and conduct myself? My bedroom is as messy today as it would be at the end of a 4 day binge, my laundry gets washed as often, I can do ‘off the wall’ just as well but without the slurred words or glazed eyes, I still don’t shave every day. I am no better at constructively voicing my frustrations, or anger – in the last 10 days, I’ve punched a wall three times, and I’m still using sex destructively, of validating myself through the interaction with another.

The term ‘dry drunk’ is one that comes out of traditional 12 step recovery groups, like AA, and is used to describe someone who, whilst sober, behaves as they did when they were drinking. It can be seen as someone who hasn’t made the emotional changes, developed an alternative mental construction, to move forward in their life. Web-sites tell me that ‘superiority complexes’ are often symptomatic of this condition, representing a fixation on the self as the centre of the universe. When manifesting itself it at most extreme, this state of being can become ‘terminal uniqueness’ – the belief that the self is so unique, that no-one else could possibly understand one’s situation, or emotional complexities.

Just as an aside, someone should really introduce Shoreditch kids to the idea of ‘terminal uniqueness’ – it may help them put a term to what they all feel.
Hot pants, boots, sunglasses.
Gives. A. Fuck.

Actually I really do.

Am I a ‘dry drunk?’ Certainly I do identify with elements associated with the term – I live by the ‘I do what I want, when I want’ mantra, but I do this because I feel that I want to be selfish at this point in my life, surely that is acceptable. Note the lack of question mark please.

At the same time, I am not isolating myself within my problems, not knowingly anyway. This blog itself is testament to wanting to connect, share, listen and collaborate.

I am not trying to justify, myself but I wanted to exhibit the stream of consciousness that I am going through, because you may be going through the same. Maybe your boyfriend, girlfriend, mum, dad, child, best mate has their issues, and this may help you understand.

It also also helps me to understand.

At the end of the day, progress is progress – I’ve had 149 days with no hangovers, no black outs, no regrettable sexual encounters, no lost phones – and whilst that should be celebrated, I wanted to stand here and say that actually, sometimes **all this** fucking sucks. I look at my friends in the bars when I’m with them, sipping on my soda and fresh lime, and they seem so at ease with themselves, so confident in their approach with others – I’ll have what they’re having please. Oh, wait…

A friend sent me this picture in a message
not knowing I had been on a date the night before.
It's almost as if they were there.
“Bullshit” I hear the drinkers out there cry – “we suffer from our own insecurities, we are people too, you just see what you want to see!” Yes, you are absolutely right, perception is everything, and the grass may be always greener, but my perceived ideas are still indicative of what I want to be able to achieve – an easy, care-less, floaty kind of ‘gives a fuck’ incredible.

I don’t have a yardstick, I don’t know what to measure anything against. I don’t know if the previous sentence is reflective of reliving an adolescence that I drank through the first time around and missed, or if actually, hey, this is what it is to be an adult and have to work it all out by yourself. More than this, and far from ‘terminal uniqueness,’ this is something we all have to do, so actually, my struggle should be far from individual.

This post isn’t about grabbing your attention, your pity or pathos, and nothing I have written about the positive elements of not drinking in past posts has been a lie, or embellishment. This is me sitting in a cafĂ©, listening to Fleetwood Mac and waiting for my tinder account to reactivate (too many likes, too little time) saying that for all the positives, for all the places I feel I can now go, it is still difficult, every day poses riddles that I can’t always solve, and so I look for these answers elsewhere – from you reading this, the internet, Rough As, books, podcasts. Sometimes, I just have to accept that this knowing may only come in time, if it does at all, and that will have to be enough.

I feel like this is also part of the grieving process that I felt I was finished with. I need to let go of what has been, and all I felt I was and had, both the good and bad, and quite simply move on. Grief may sound like a strong word, but I challenge anyone to find something to encapsulate better what it feels like to mourn for something that now feels completely unobtainable – a ticket to play in the same way as I see others being able to, or perceive them to.

It is a process that hinges on an ability to learn how to be alone, before learning to be with others, to form organic human connections. I thought I was done with smoke and mirrors, but it is a complicated, twisting game where you can often be as much your own enemy as friend.

Hit me up, or find out more about me here....


Sunday, 17 January 2016

Feeling Rough As

This time last year, I was busy hitting the yoga mat in a drive to finish 'Dry January' and keep off the booze for 31 days - I documented that time quite well on this blog (some may say, over zealously....) but then I went silent for a couple of months.

Sober Rave 2: Return of the Hotpants.
Whilst on a cyber level I wasn't bothering anyone, unfortunately the same cannot be said for my interactions on a face to face level with London's publicans, bar owners and taxi drivers. I had quickly slipped back into old routines - my new year's resolution of 'no paramedics in 2015' looking increasingly likely to slip in the first quarter - but having had a month off drinking, I now had some perspective that made the self-analysis of what had happened the night before all the more painful. 

There was nothing normal about my drinking, the scrapes I was getting myself into were harder to laugh off and pick myself up from, the blackouts were getting longer and more finite in their 'blackness' and emotionally I was feeling more unstable as a result. I was wearing this instability like a badge - at work, with my friends, at the bar - I rarely knew what I was going to do next, but I could almost guarantee it would be at one end of the spectrum or the other, never in between.

Looking back at old blog posts like BackslideBreaking Hearts not Bottles and Cheers I cannot help but wince. I'm not embarrassed by my words, or by the sentiments that I am expressing, but I am startled at the lack of direction, the amount of unknowing and what I can only see as a grasping loneliness - I am lacking direction because I have no guidance, I don't know what to do because I don't have any one to help me, and I have no one to show me because I don't know anyone who will understand and won't judge.

The straw that broke the camels back so to speak was a Saturday in May last year. I had been invited by my old flatmate to join her and some friends for a 'bottomless brunch' for her birthday - unlimited Bloody Marys / processco over a 2 hour period in a restaurant, with food I believe featuring at some point. I behaved myself and held my own in a group of people I didn't know, who were a little older than me, who I could at any other time gone to pieces in front of. By 8pm, having been at a pub for a few hours, I was now in my 'restless drunk' stage - I'd been drinking for 8 hours, and now was ready to have all the fun, and make all the friends with all the strangers, and so instead of carrying on with the group back at my friend's house, I went to join another friend's birthday in Soho.

I remember walking into the bar at around 10pm and ordering a cider. I remember saying hello to my friends - hugs and kisses. We stayed in that venue for 30 minutes, and then left for the club that an ex-colleague of mine now ran. In the cab, out of the cab, through the doors, at the bar and then... lights out.

I woke up, literally and figuratively, outside the bar, on the pavement with the bar manager, my ex colleague, telling me through a mixed tone of pity and disgust, to take myself home. I was on a busy Soho street, it was roughly 2am on a heaving saturday night, new lows for anyone and everyone to see.

I got up, and stumbled off, the heavy stage-curtain of a blackout descending again.

On way to bin-lid beating in May last year
This time, almost as if to mix things up and keep them fresh, I came to in the front seat of a moving car, somewhere in London, to find myself being told by my unlicensed cab driver that he was not willing to take my any further on my journey, and that I had to get out of the car. Of course, as per, I had no idea what he was on about and insisted that I had been the model passenger, even though I had no recollection at all either way.

I had no debit card on me (see previous drinking misdemeanors), and had already paid for my journey up front (I don't know how I know this, but I did) and so refused to move. He pulled over in a quiet residential street, which proved later on to be next to Clapham North tube station, and asked me to get out. I refused on the basis that I had no money to get home, and wanted my fare back.

In the ensuring 10 minutes, for want of a better term, I got the shit kicked out of me. I had thrown the first punch, (first and only time I hope to find myself throwing punches) and then sat back in order to take a beating, something that I remember wanting like I haven't wanted anything for a while. And so, with this little exercise culminating in me being hit over the head with a bin lid, I decided to call it a night, and find a way to get home.

It was on the back of this successful and breezy night-time jaunt that I went to my first meet up with Rough As in June. Set-up and run by Claire, Rough As is described as looking to 'open up a conversation at points of need, rather than crisis points,' to 'normalise our discourse on sobriety' and to provide an 'informal space to talk honestly openly and candidly about the difficulties but also the more light-hearted moments connected to changing a relationship with alcohol.' 

I felt that the meet-up could offer me some perspective, give me some space to untangle all of the wires and allow me to breathe and think a bit more clearly. A little bit of humour may also not go amiss, thanks. To be honest, more than anything I just wanted to talk and say everything that I felt I couldn't say to my friends.

Another sober rave on a Saturday morning with
Morning Gloryville in Notting Hill. Hands-down the best
way to start a weekend, and they host events all around
the world.

Having Rough As to go to, having Claire to speak to - someone who had her own stories and experiences to share with me, and in return never judging for one second what I had to say - along with anyone else who attended, allowed me to come to terms with the situation that I found myself in, a situation which I had to take ownership and accountability of. As Claire was now trying a moderation approach to drinking - one or two beers at the pub if she wanted - after she had been sober for a year and a half,  I never felt pressured to sign up for abstinence and sobriety, to make a pledge that I didn't understand the consequences and implications of as was the case 5 years prior.
Non-alcoholic Gin and Tonic at
Bread Street Kitchen, Barbican.
Very clovey, very refreshing,
and very trendy! So great to see
a bar keeping it interesting.
As far as my story goes, or has gone so far, maybe moderation didn't work for me because I didn't try very hard, or maybe I failed because I am chemically programmed to not be able to stop after 2 drinks, but either way, at the beginning of September last year I found myself content and confident in signing up for indefinite sobriety - to see how it goes, have a drink if I wanted one, but in the knowledge that at the end of the day I only had to answer to myself.

Having used drinking as the corner-stone of my social, and to a point (read: quite a large extent) professional, lives over the last 10 years, taking alcohol out of the equation was like removing the glue, or the nails from a structure, and watching it wobble as a result. I have had to learn how to interact on a basic human level without alcohol - how to hold a conversation at a networking event, how to be interested and interesting in the pub with mates at 10pm on a friday, to be fun and have a sense of humour on the dancefloor at 2am when everyone else is shitfaced. I've had to learn how to take my trigger points, and direct them elsewhere - the gym, running, writing, listening to music. I've had to learn to date sober, and considering I never dated when I was drinking but had the occasional one-night stand I find that it is for me like reliving the side of adolescence I chose to drink through.
Pub quizzing on a Tuesday night with friends - respectable
 mid-table finish for the Periodic Table Dancers.
I cannot emphasise the scale of the role that Rough As has played in helping get me to where I am now - it is the space that I go to when I want to talk about dating apps and sobriety (do I need to acknowledge my sobriety on my Tinder profile? ), it is the place I go to when I want to talk about the fog that sometimes descends (how do I work through when I can't stop feeling sorry for myself, and angry?), and it is where I go to reach out to others when I want to talk about being in my mid twenties and living a life without alcohol.

Rough As is the bridge between being 25 and working through a drinking problem - it grounds me, and makes me feel like I can be part of both discourses and don't have to choose between 2 non-mutually exclusive entities. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.

Sitting here on day 136 sober, I do not see myself as a finished project, in fact I strongly argue that I am just getting started. I feel a sense of investment in myself, and am excited for what my future holds - over the last few years I'm not sure I would have often said that.

Rough As is for anyone, and everyone, who may need it - it is informal, its not 12 steps, you don't have to be sober, it is a continuing and evolving conversation. It is the kind of inclusive structure of which Johann Hari would I hope be proud - facilitating the connection to be made within a non-prohibition environment, and thus the addiction weakens organically. I wrote earlier in this piece of how I found myself with a lack of knowlegde of my options, lack of guidance as to where I could go next - I want Rough As to be that place for anyone in a similar position.

I'll be at the next Rough As on Saturday, 23rd Jan at the Canvas Cafe in Brick Lane so anyone fancying a chat come along - bring change for coffee and some cake (I always make a point of trying all the cake. all of it.) - and if you behave yourself, you may even be given a pen to draw on the walls with. For anyone who can't make the 23rd,  or who loves us so much they want to come twice (more likely) we're also there on the 30th.

If you want some more info about Rough As, and where it has come from then find it by clicking here.

Feel free to find me, or get in touch with me at any of the below

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gabrielle: From Kitchen Floor to Sobriety Counter

I started writing this blog in December 2014 because I believed that there must be another 24 year old out there experiencing the same trauma, confusion, resentment, and vicious cycles that were increasingly taking their toll on my life as a result of my relationship with alcohol.

The last year has made me wonder if I had ever really looked properly in the first place to find people I could connect to. My school friend, Rebecca, reached out and subsequently shared elements of her story with alcoholism and sobriety on this blog back in October. She celebrates her 1 year booze-free on the 10th of January, 2 days time – mad props to her on a fantastic achievement.

Harry and Gabs: Christmas Dinner 2015.
Last April, I met Gabrielle, or Gabs – a good friend of a good friend. A couple of years older than me, I found we had a lot in common – both with a love for a good time, both of us working in London, a similar sense of humour, and also both dealing with our booze-related demons.

Today, I am honoured to host Gabs’ post on this blog – I never knew her when she was drinking, but I’m sure that drinking-her and drinking-me would have been best drinking friends, perfectly positioned to validate the other’s behaviour whilst the next round was being ordered. As it is, I’d like to thank her for the connection we share now instead, as from a selfish point of view it really does mean something to me, to be able to have those conversations built on pure understanding and acceptance.

Anyway, quite enough from me (enjoy the break while you can people) – and without further ado, and plenty of applause, its over to Gabs.


I wake up, cold, shivering and with the all too familiar feeling of knowing that last night was not good. It is 6am, I am on the sofa fully clothed, an empty bottle of red wine next to me. A quick scan of my phone shows that I tried to FaceTime about 7 different people at 3am… had any of them connected?

I creep upstairs to bed, and all I want to do is curl around Paulo and sleep - not the drunken stupor I had been in the night before but a proper sleep. This isn’t going to happen, I am going to have to power through and make out that I am ‘fine’. Paulo doesn’t want to hear the usual excuses and we have plans - we need to get our fancy dress outfits for the 80s party we were heading to this evening. With my mouth dry tasting like an ashtray I plaster a smile across my face and go out.

I try to broach the subject of my drunken antics the previous night but he has heard it before, he has picked me up, dried my tears and listened to my excuses a million times about why this was the last time.

We dress up, rocking out the 80s look and pick our friends up to go out. The anxiety, it’s building. I am going to have the one drink to settle my nerves and then go onto water. I mean the stony silence all day hasn’t helped and I need something. I’m not going to go overboard after last night.

We arrive and there were so many people that I don’t know. I am dressed up, I feel stupid and completely out of my comfort zone. A cold pint of Magners would do me nicely.

I nurse the first half because really I am still dying but as the others are now nearing the end of their drinks, I neck the last half down and gratefully accept second. Two is my limit.
I am beginning to loosen up and Paulo is smiling. We head to the dance floor and the drinks flow. 

We head home about midnight after a mighty 6 pints, and with the boys now wanting feeding - the kebab shop it is for them. Me…. Well the night is only early… does nobody else want another drink? I open another cider and swallow it straight down. I go for another but alas we are right out. I will open a bottle of red. Nobody else?? Ok well, I will just have the one.

When you wake up with a cracking headache..
I wake up, it’s freezing. Where am I? I peel my eyes open and survey my surroundings. The kitchen, ok so I’m at home. What time is it? Where is Paulo? Has everybody else gone home? I feel sick… hungover…. I try to get up and fall over…. No, I’m definitely still drunk. Did I finish that bottle of wine? Yes there is the empty bottle, oh wait that’s not the one I opened. So that was 2 bottles gone. What happened to just the one?

I gingerly hobble up the stairs to bed…. I’m actually in physical pain… did I fall last night? Damn I can’t remember. Paulo isn’t there. He’s in the spare room. What happened? I rack my brains to try and remember…. But nope, just another black out moment. I stumble into the spare room ready for a fight… he doesn’t understand what I go through. I’m not taking his criticism again. I try to act nonchalant as I realise he is up, washed and dressed. It can’t be that bad can it…………… can it? The look in his eye tells me it can be……... He walks passed me.

His words bite - “look at the state of you.” I glance in the mirror and do a double take… yep ok 1-0 to Paulo.

‘Do you remember passing out last night on the kitchen floor? I had to step over you to go to bed’

I expect him to be angry, instead I’m met with something worse than anger. Resignation. I’ve pushed him to his limit. I snap back that he doesn’t understand and sink into bed.

Sober and tattooed - Gabs' favourite 'sobriety treat'
Midday and I wake up with the sinking feeling that actually this can’t be fixed. I’ve hit rock bottom. I’ve lost all sense of rationale when it comes to drinking. I cry for the rest of day. Paulo stays, he listens, he tells me this can’t go on, he tells me he does understand but I have to help myself.

It is then that I remember a couple of months before…. I had a fleeting idea to just cut back when I emailed Belle. Belle and her 100 days sober blog. I wasn’t an alcoholic - 100 days sober, how hard could that be?  I log on, I’m still waiting for my place to be a sober pen pal. I realise I can’t wait any longer. I vow to not drink for 100 days with or without a sober pen pal.

I sit here now 557 days sober.

When I wanted to ‘cut back’ on my drinking I googled and came up with the usual AA links. For reason I won’t go into, it just didn’t sit right with me. It was then that I stumble across Belle and her blog 

I liked the honesty of her blog and for the first time I had a ‘yes she gets it’ moment. What I appreciated about Belle was her humour and her understanding. She doesn’t claim to know it all, she just offers an alternative. An alternative that worked for me. . I read the challenge and pledged the 100 days…. For me I hated the thought of quitting forever – such a ridiculously long time.

What I realised along the way was that yes it’s ok to reward yourself, look after yourself, allow yourself to be frustrated and shout ‘fuck you wolfie’ (read blog to understand the phrase!). It was a relief to read that it was going to be a struggle and therefore treat yourself to that cuppa, that piece of cake… hell you deserve it right? Each month I  remained sober I rewarded myself with a manicure/jewellery etc etc and at 14 months I treated myself to my favourite treat of all. My soberity tattoo….. a bit clichĂ© some might say but to me… a reminder of my achievement and a constant reminder to stay sober.

Go check out Belle's 100 day challenge if you fancy this for yourself…. I can honestly say it was the best thing I’ve ever.

To read more about Gabs, or get in touch with her head on over to her blog 'Gstarstarting'.

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