Sunday, 21 June 2015

Me, myself, and my rock-proof perspex house.

Howdy kids, its that time of the week again - Sunday night, sofa, pyjamas, Graham Norton on iplayer. No hangover today though, excellent, and i've just ironed 9 shirts! You may judge me for getting excited over ironing 9 shirts, but if you have ever done it, and not fallen asleep during what is possibly the most boring process around, you'll know where I'm coming from.


Anyway, so back to business. Having had Sarah Hepola's article very much in mind since my last blog post (catch up here), I had the good fortune to be invited for coffee and cake in Brick Lane with a group called Rough As, who describe themselves as a  'platform for those who recognise that maybe they're going a bit hard with drinking alcohol and either have or trying to quit or moderate.' So I found myself, sat in the basement of The Canvas which proved to be just the right amount of Shoreditch cool  (too much Shoreditch cool has been scientifically proven to put you at risk of looking like a total twat)- you can write/draw on the walls with provided pens - mixed with good coffee, having a chat about anything, and everything - what having a drink meant to us, what it didn't, what we felt it meant to other people.

My #thuglifewallart
The theme of 'perspective' featured heavily - looking at the way that we come across to others, how we perceive them, what is fair and unfair behaviour - essentially what can we expect from each other considering that, in a conversation with another person, you are seeing the interaction of two independently functioning beings with their own thoughts, experiences, personalities blah blah blah - sounds dangerous right?

One thing that was discussed was what it meant to be the 'sober friend'. "Hi, this is Russell, he is my sober friend." "Hi this is Russell, he works in financial planning, has lived in London for 6 years after growing up in the middle of Cornwall (just listen to that accent).... oh and now that we've discussed in depth Russell's favourite teachers through primary school, I've nothing left to add, so may as well now mention that complete non-issue that Russell doesn't drink.

That's right, I absolutely want to have my cake and eat it too. I'm sitting here, in my neon orange vest (seriously)  writing about my drinking, but at the same time, I dare you to define me by it. I've been in smoking areas at clubs and had the following conversation happen to me plenty of times...

 'do you have a lighter?' 

'yes sure,' 
'great thanks, you're gay right?' 
'errrr what?'

Get paid, get laid, gatorade - brilliant.
In that instance I am left standing mouth open, because I have been given a label that I have not agreed to, and more importantly I haven't agreed to the terms behind it, or the connections and connotations the person makes to that label. A friend of mine who doesn't drink recently went to a party and was making the round of chit-chat as you do with total strangers, to meet a lady who straight away said 'ahhh yes, I hear you don't drink - do you have a problem? Why don't you drink?'

My friend happens to be a very attractive, very intelligent, high driven and motivated woman. Who gives a fuck why she doesn't drink? Surely you want to be asking about what marathon she is training for now, or that funny time she found herself at a dinner party with that famous actor and they bonded over a love of kale, and hatred for bacon. Also, who the fuck do you think you are?

You can't win, if you kick off as someone's so-unaware-its-even-more-obnoxious-as-a-result behaviour then you look like a dick, and if you don't then you find yourself either justifying the choices you have made in life to a total stranger or simply just melting into the background and feeling like your choices are less valid because others feel a right to take ownership of them through their questioning.

Well this is all very well and good for me - I who hate a stereotype but am aware of the fact that I am quick to apply them to others, but I found that the day got more interesting - on the train out of Shoreditch I got talking to my flatmate, who works around the corner from where I was having coffee so had come into town with me to pop into the office. I told her about what we had discussed at the session, and spoke to her about the article I had read the other day, and finding it on my phone, passed it over to her to read.

About 5 mins later, I heard a sentence that I never could have ancitipated in a million years. 

'I didn't realise that blackouts were a real thing.'

'Right... I don't understand, have you never had one?'

'No. I always just assumed that people invented memory loss to avoid taking ownership for whatever they did whilst being a total cunt under the influence of booze.'

Perceptions, perceptions, perceptions. I love my flatmate dearly - she has always given me support, no questions asked, judgements reserved until I want them - but this came out of the blue. I am someone who has been 'blacking out' since the age of 16, and it has in the past, got to the point where it would be happening probably once a week, at the very least once in 2 weeks. Like Sarah says in her article, the curtains close, and when they are drawn I found that if I was 'lucky' (part of the 'passive victimhood' bit that I'll talk about later) I would be in bed, and sometimes I would have even got undressed, and not have pissed myself. Excellent. 

Perspective. Geddit?
If I was 'not so fortunate' (I can't bring myself to write 'unlucky') I would be somewhere else doing a number of things. These have included

1) Coming to whilst being finger printed and swabbed for DNA at the police station, aged 18. Never ever ever ever again, wouldn't wish 'waking up' not knowing why you were there on anyone.

2) Waving traffic down on a busy road in London at 5am with the last thing I remember getting a drink with a date at 10pm.
2) Having sex
3) Sat in the front seat of an unlicensed cab with the driver refusing to take me any further and not knowing why. 15 mins later I was having the shit kicked out of me next to Clapham North tube station, and I'd honestly never wanted anything so much in my life as that beating.
4) Cam-crawling across some scrubland next to a main train line in Berlin in torrential rain, and my  travel-buddy nowhere in sight
5) Waking up on park benches, buses, in a covent garden venue of a well known gourmet burger restaurant @7.30am having left the bar at 3am, and with no idea of how I had entered the premises of said burger joint.

I could go on, but I'll stop, I think you get the idea. How could my flatmate, one of my best friends, and one of the few people that I felt I could be genuinely honest with about a number of personal matters, be saying that she hadn't believed in the authenticity of a blackout. I had had experiences where i was missing hours of memory, with only the hope that I had just fallen asleep somewhere on a street/park etc (this was best case scenario.... imagine your best case scenario being that you fall asleep on London Bridge High street, and you can get an insight into what can be a very low, desperate and lonely situation where actually sometimes it is just easier to have another drink), and suddenly this was all because I just wasn't able to face what I had done and take ownership?

Woah woah back up cowboy - and back up I did - my flatmate and I are very very similar in many ways but in our drinking we are not. She is quite happy to have 3/4 drinks over the space of the evening, whereas I've had that in my first hour. How could she possible understand a blackout if she has never experienced it? Why wouldn't she doubt the authenticity if she had never experienced memory loss? if you haven't experienced the terror of waking up at home in zone 3, not remembering leaving the bar in zone 1, and having no idea of how you got home, who you spoke to, hit on, hit out at, cried in front of etc then how could you, and why should you be able to, possible understand blackouts?

This is a two way thing. Trying to explain to someone what you think it means to have a drinking problem (when is it a problem etc, how do you define it?) or what it means to have a drink, have another, and then not be able to stop not because you consciously think you should but don't anyway, but because after drink number 3 you, my friend, are out *for the night* whether you have work tomorrow or not. It will not cross your mind to stop. Not once. 

This brings me back to my 'passive victim' paradigm. I found myself at Rough As, relating how a month or so ago I had been on the bus to central london for a night out, dreading what was going to happen to me this time.

What - was - going - to - happen - to - me - this - time. 

Are you kidding? Like, mega lols kidding?

I do it to myself, who am I making it sound like someone does it to me? Whilst I have issues with my drinking, I am the one who picks up the first drink, that is a decision I make. It may not be my decision to have the 15th because by that point we may be at the 'out of body experience stage' but certainly before the curtains close, I am the one in charge. It ain't passive. Ownership is mine.

Awww crap. 

I don't want to labour this point too hard
 but wind me up and watch me go.
This is the pinboard in my kitchen.
This is one of the central debates that we covered yesterday, and one that has so much space for people my age, in their twenties, meant to be having the 'best years of their life.' The debate is simple - I have an issue with my drinking, and at times I don't know when to stop, and at times I'm not sure I could stop - am I kidding myself that I can carry on drinking, and get better? That I can be 'normal?' That I can wake up on a Sunday, or Tuesday, or any day not only not hungover, but also not consumed with self-loathing, shame, anger, denial?

i don't like labels. Straight, gay, alcoholic etc. I genuinely believe that my unhealthy relationship with alcohol is a symptom of a wider problem that I have with myself, and that until I have dealt with the angry screaming desperate to be accepted child inside me who just wants to hurt people and be hurt, I will not be rid of it.

It's not about being all kind of shades of dark today - there is a light shining, just no end of the tunnel  that is quite visible at at the moment - but hell, great to have some company so thank you Rough As and Sarah Hepola (Sarah, I have a feeling I will be mentioning you a lot in my blog. I hope you like 'creepy').

Really  I just wanted to say consider what perceptions are, what perceptions you have, and how you can rationalise other's being different to your own. At the end of the day I'm a person, you are a person, they are a person. I am one unit - you are one unit, they are one unit - one unit can only be as valid as another unit, no more, no less so don't think I am less valid for the choices I have made, and I'll remember not to do the same to others, but more importantly (because you don't pay my bills, or pick me out of the gutter) I'll remember not to do the same to myself -  I am just as valid as you, just as valid as them.

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