The vast majority of people my age have some sort of relationship with it, or have had at some point in the past I imagine. This may not always be negative, after all relationships are positive things too. However, it often seems to be a subject which is difficult to talk about with any negativity. You only have to look in the greeting card section of any high street store to discover that the consumption of alcohol is something that we should have a joke about.
It is weird because already, after writing just one paragraph, I am getting a really strong urge to add in all sorts of caveats into this piece. I do not want to appear to be judging people (well I don’t), I do not want to come over as being self-righteous or a killjoy (I don’t want to do those things either), and I definitely do not want to tell people how they should enjoy themselves (seriously it is up to you). Maybe I am being too sensitive about this but I guess I will just have to risk causing offence.
This certainly seems to be the approach of BBC presenter Adrian Chiles who, in a recent TV programme called ‘Drinkers Like Me‘, reflects on his ongoing relationship with alcohol very much from a personal point of view. Indeed, he seems very careful to suggest that the programme is all about him reassessing his attitude to drink, and no one else’s. I was intrigued by this, not only because of the content of the programme but because he cites the beginning of that relationship as drinking under age in the same pub where I started; he used to go up there with the brother of one of my friends. This somehow made the broadcast more pertinent to me, and convinced me to write this piece; which I have wanted to do for quite a while.
I recognised a lot of what Chiles brought up in the programme and without going into my whole drinking biography I do recognise myself in his ‘drinking diary’. I am absolutely sure that I was regularly putting away in excess of a hundred units of alcohol a week… living the same sort of lifestyle that he outlined. I remember struggling (well that may not be the right word in hindsight but it felt like that at the time) to fit in a couple of alcohol free days a week, mainly because my whole work and social life revolved around either trips to the pub, or nights in with wine and pizza. I was in my late thirties/ early forties… but in my head I was still in my twenties. I clearly was not an alcoholic, as I thought, but there was a certain need to have it otherwise I felt I could not enjoy myself.
Things seem to have changed gradually since then, probably beginning with the birth of our first child in 2007. I took the decision then not to drink before the children’s bedtime… I am really not sure why, but early on this was around 7pm anyway so there was still time for a few before bedtime. At the same time, though, the number of nights out were severely curtailed and I did not really miss them.
Even at this time though I imagine I was well over the weekly limit and my consumption of beer, wine, pizza and curry was still sufficient to have got me up to 23 stone/ 143 kg. It was at this point that I decided that I needed to lose weight. I realised that to do this I had to cut down… no actually cut out those four things, amongst others. Quitting alcohol at that time seemed strangely natural and I am to this day still amazed that I went over two years without wine and beer. I thought that I would miss it terribly, but I did not.
This was the first of two revelations for me. The first that I actually could enjoy myself without boozing at gigs and parties, and the compensation of not waking up with a sweaty body and sore head seemed like a good payoff. The second revelation was that when I reached my target weight after just over two years I tried a really nice bottle of wine by way of celebration… and I hated it… found it revolting… what before was something I savoured was now something I found disgusting… it only tasted of tannins and alcohol to me. The relief I felt at this moment was palpable because I knew that I would never be going back to the ‘well that’s the bottle gone’ moment of drinking wine… the stuff of greetings cards that I no longer saw the funny side of.
But this blog is about balance, and this is something that is implicit in Chiles’ documentary. He questions whether he needs to give up alcohol totally or to dramatically cut down. He talks to people along this scale from heavy drinkers to tee totalers, and there seems no easy answer to this question. For my part it is about trying to find my personal balance, and I have seen the odd beer or two drift back into my lifestyle over the last couple of years… although nothing like before. Furthermore I am sure that this was a contributing factor towards the fatty liver diagnosis that I wrote about last time, although the doctor was clear that it was more related to wider lifestyle issues. As a result I am back off the beer again, and really have not noticed the absence so far.
For me, then, cutting down on alcohol has been a gradual thing over time, and it has not been a linear downwards line. It has been about recognising that I often drank out of habit, and socially it was often easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’; although saying ‘no’ was not half as bad as I thought it would be. It was about me recognising that I was in some form of denial about how much I drank, and buying in to that greeting card humour. Ultimately it is about me recognising that my body is mostly better off without a lot of alcohol than it is with, and it is noticeable that the one thing that raises my background heart rate more than anything else is the consumption of booze.
I cannot say what the future will bring because I really do like the taste of a nice citrus-like real ale, and still have the odd malt whisky. At the moment though I have found my balance at around three to five units a week and feel happy there. Do not feel as if you have to follow me there, but by the same token do not assume that your current balance is right either. See I am still being very careful not to offend… what does that say?
A few more questions:
Is cutting down on drinking a taboo issue?
How do you feel about your own level of consumption?
Do we hide behind humour when it comes to drinking?
Are my worries about coming across as being self-righteous or killjoy well founded?