20 September 2015

So, you think you don't drink too much?

I started this post in September 2015, but at the time some events in Paris took over and I didn’t think that the world needed more noise on the internet, so I didn’t hit publish. I’m doing that now.

Alcoholism, the dirty secret I don’t want to talk about, how I discovered it and what I did next…

I once asked myself the question “does anyone else think you drink too much”. The date was 16th November 2013. Some dates become important — I can remember my birthday, I can remember my sister’s birthday, but I have trouble remembering what year my nephews were born. We’ll come back to that 16/11/2013 date later.

The answer to the question was “yes” — I’d been drinking far more than I should, and for quite a long period of time, but this highlights one of the problems I had with alcohol — my medium term memory is appalling. I can certainly tell you about most of my pre-college years and definitely tell you about last week or last month, but ask me to recall anything about the last 15 years or so and my mind is a blank.

To give you an example, ten years ago (when I last had a Blog), I wrote:

This leads me to question what has changed in the last 7 years that has made my short term memory so bad. I can remember A-Level maths (both of them) GCSE French, Voice Procedure, Foot Drill and Skill-at-Arms, but I can’t remember most of my Electronic Engineering Degree. After much deliberation, soul-searching and mental lubrication (more on this in a second) I’ve figured out that Alcohol is the key.

At University, I drank. Some might say I drank a lot and some might say too much, but to them I might point out I have only lost my coat once and slept on a park bench twice - quite a sober career for a student. But in general I do worry that excessive consumption has affected my little grey cells. Of course it might be because I wasn’t paying attention (the Felix Crossword has a lot to answer for) but I think I’ll never know for sure.

So, kids - Alcohol isn’t big, it isn’t clever and you might forget some stuff - but it is fun. Enjoy it in moderation, because like things good in moderation, it is bad in excess.

It’s funny, but it’s taken me a while to remember writing that and now I’ll tell you why.

For most of 2009 - 2013 I was drinking double the recommended weekly intake of alcohol for a man and in some weeks, doubling that again. Alcohol has been a feature of my life since I was about 17 years old and I think I might have a problem.

Unlike most people, I’m what’s called a “high functioning alcoholic” - I drink, I drink a bit more and I drink a bit more and I don’t really get “drunk” until I reach a high limit (approx 10 units of whiskey) at which point I start slurring a bit, but I can still talk, think and type. Shortly after that, I reach a second limit where I fall asleep. That’s a problem, because without the self-limiting effects of alcohol, there’s really no reason to slow down and stop. You drink, you relax, you fall asleep, you wake up, you go to work, you come home, you start the cycle again.

However there are side effects, quite apart from the physical damage this pattern of behaviour does to your body. Firstly, unless you are stupendously active, you’re going to gain weight. The calories in alcohol are quite high and they are compounded by the late-night munchies and the feeding of the hangover the next day. Secondly, despite what people will tell you it can have effects on things like short and medium term memory.

So back in November 2013, I took a look at myself and realised I was fat, getting fatter, unhappy and forgetful and I finally realised why that was.

So I stopped drinking.

Let’s not underestimate that step - some people can turn on the drinking like a tap, some people struggle for years to quit and even when you have quit, you struggle every day. It’s also important to understand that for some people, there’s no such thing as one drink. I don’t think I’ve ever had one drink in my life and if I have, I certainly wanted another one right after. Alcohol might not be addictive in the same way that heroin is, but your mind gets used to the effects and some people cannot escape the desire. I’m one of those people and on the 16th November 2013, I finally realised that.

So for a year I mostly didn’t drink at all, except for one brief experiment on holiday in Iceland. I actually made it more than a full year after that holiday before I drank again. I drank a little at our wedding and occasionally at the pub every now and again.

But each one of these times is dangerous. Every time I have a drink, I want another one and I have to fight my brain to give up and go home. So if I’m with you in the pub and I disappear home suddenly, now you know why - I don’t trust myself to stay sober and the easiest way to stop is to go home. Disappearing home isn’t easy, nor polite, but for me it’s better than the alternative.

Managing alcoholism is hard kids, so try your best not to start.

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