As Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’, and that’s how I feel about my years of drinking. Yes, I had some monumentally great nights but equally, I had some nights that I’ll regret for the rest of my life.
I was fourteen the first time I got drunk on Merrydown cider in my home town of Blairgowrie, Scotland. The carnival, or ‘the shows’ as we called them, were in town for Braemar Night; an eclectic festival of Scottish culture but for teenagers…
… a night to get very, very drunk and puke up on your brand new trainers.
We bought our cider from a dodgy florist on the high street and went down the river to get pissed and smoke Embassy Blue cigarettes.
The riverbank was teaming with Thatcher’s disaffected youth and the cider flowed as free and deep as the River Ericht. A lad, who will remain nameless, shocked us all by pulling out a tub of Bostik adhesive, depositing a large dollop in a plastic bag and pumping said bag until he passed out in a ditch. He went on to become a successful welfare cheat and moved to Spain.
Four hours later, I was puking my guts up all over my bed while my mate, Sqweak (this is not a typo, it was the 8Os) drunkenly explained to my mum and dad that I’d eaten a dodgy hot dog bought from a ‘mink’ (derogatory term for a gypsy). Of course, my parents didn’t buy Sqweak’s bullshit and imposed various embargoes on my life.
But that first night of drunkenness made its mark. Since the age of fourteen I have always drunk alcohol like this. Never in moderation but until I keel over, blackout or end up on somebody’s couch, disgraced, guilty and dehydrated.
I can go without a drink indefinitely but one sniff of the barmaid’s apron and I need to drink myself into a stupor. Alcoholism has no single definition. The Hollywood version is all about drinkers getting up and pouring a sneaky dram of whisky into their coffee or downing a beer before breakfast. The reality is far from this.
Alcoholism has a sliding scale and there are many forms of alcohol abuse, down to the person who only drinks on Friday’s after work but really craves that drink from noon to 5 pm, and knocks back that first pint like the elixir of life. Habitual drinking is, by definition, a problem with alcohol but a more socially acceptable form of alcoholism.
So why have I decided to give it all up and jump on the wagon of righteousness that’ll take me to the land of milk and honey where I’m likely to become diabetic?
Well, apart from a recent health scare at a gym, you just know when it’s over.
Think about that time you woke up, rolled over, saw your partner sleeping like a baby and thought, ‘fuck me, I don’t love you anymore’. I’ve done the same thing. Rolled over, saw the drool cascade out of the bottle’s mouth, smelt its acrid morning breath and thought, ‘fuck me, I don’t love you anymore’.
I used to think that death, destruction and tragedy were sexy and, don’t get me wrong, they are, but they come at a price. I think about all the times I was drunk and threw caution to the wind, walking blindly into oblivion and potential incarceration and they were real moments of cinematic invigoration. But imbibed delusion began to get in the way of actual progress and, instead of writing my books, plays and poems; I was simply living the undocumented version of them.
Yes, living life to the fullest is, or should be, incredibly important to a writer but as long has he/she writes it down. Just living a writer’s life does not make you a writer. Adoring Charles Bukowski does not make you a writer. Writing inspired sentences on a page makes you a writer. Hard work and perseverance makes you a writer. I stopped being a writer and became a drinker living like a writer, and that is not enough.
I’m miserable when I’m not writing and drink to medicate this disappointment. I drink in my flat and watch shows like Bored to Death. I meet people down the pub and, in the words of Beirut, ‘we drink to die’ in that romantic but delusional way. But, as I said, this is no longer enough.
I had this epiphany on the Sandringham train on the fourth of July and, irony aside, it’s time to act upon it or I’ll hit fifty and find myself living in a room above a pub with a broken laptop, burst capillaries and a head full of mixed memories, garnished with disappointment and a loose bowel. This frightens me. Scares me half to death. And…
… I think about Braemar Night, 1984 and the river and the drunk teenagers and walking through the streets of Blairgowrie like the idiot prince, wearing a new pair of Puma trainers I bought with my paper round money. And I feel nostalgic, I really do. But what’s important about nostalgia is that it belongs in the past and now it’s time to move onto the next stage of my life, the stage where I don’t wake up and fear the consequences of my actions. So…
On this day, the 16th of July 2014, I get up and just get on with making it better.