I am not gluten free. Far from it. I’m watching a show about a cross-dressing family man, eating white fish, and breathing in Saturday air. I make no plans for the weekends because plans get in the way of doing nothing.
When I was a kid, I had very red cheeks. There’s a photograph on the lounge window sill of me sitting on my mother’s knee with an exceptionally red face.
Some people think I was born old and intolerant, a five year old with the disposition of a jaded London taxi driver. I wasn’t like that when I was a kid, I was an adventurer, the buccaneer of the River Ericht, crashing through rain covered cobwebs on my way to the gorge.
What happened to that spirit? When did I get bogged down in having a career and doing nothing at the weekend? Sometimes I’d like to resurrect that little fucker and get him to take me on an adventure somewhere, anywhere. We’d spend the weekend diving for pearls, create complicated games out of Lego, and finish up tired on Sunday, tunneling through the biggest Shepherd’s Pie ever baked.
“We can only eat fish fingers on dull days”, is what I said to my Grandfather, standing in a Swedish kitchen in 1977. Elvis died that day.
But now it’s windy in Brunswick and the Bloody Marys are cascading down the walls. My feet smell like funky corn chips and I wish I’d at least tried pearl diving as a career. However, regret is one of life’s greatest fallacies and I’m not a kid anymore but I’ve never wanted to be anyone else, and oblivion is sewn into the fabric of morality.
Exit, pursued by a bear.
I’m tunneling into the city without a hangover or a badger and Chekhov’s gun is locked and loaded, ready for ACT III and that gossipy fucking chorus. I need shirts, lots of them because I’m a worker now and workers need to look like they’re working hard, and white shirts are symbolic of modern labour.
But first I need to take a deep breath and try to explain myself the best I can.
I have been sober for exactly five weeks and I have so much excess energy that I go to sleep looking forward to getting up the next day. I also do yoga now. Ashtanga yoga, at 6am. I rise at 5:30am and walk through the dark backstreets of Brunswick to the yoga studio next to Jewel Station. Yoga relaxes me but I don’t like closing my eyes in a room full of strangers. It’s not that I feel vulnerable, it’s just that I’m worried people will read my mind and see what I really think of them.
Being sober means being more aware and, unfortunately, that heightened awareness can feel like paranoia. Alcohol is a wonderful buffer that keeps reality at bay and shields you from other people’s opinions of you. When I was in a constant state of drunkenness I was blissfully unaware of the thoughts of others. I’ve probably pissed off more people in one night than most people do in a lifetime, and I didn’t feel their penetrating gaze on my tarnished conscience. People had to tell me and, when they did, I’d politely ask them to, ‘Shut the fuck up’.
No drunk wants some loose-tongued lizard regaling them with their nocturnal sins, while they’re nursing the mother of all hangovers. Our motto is, ‘If you can’t remember, it didn’t happen’, and anyway, the friend who wants to interrupt your self-loathing with the embarrassing details of the previous night doesn’t really want to help you. All they’re doing is scrambling up to the moral high ground out of some misguided sense of entitlement.
Well, at least that’s what you think when you’re knee deep in a whisky Jacuzzi, with the devil dancing on your tonsils and a cactus crawling up your liver.
The drunk is a poor man’s Prometheus tied to the front bar, awaiting his fate every evening while the other drinkers stomp their feet on the carpet to the beat of the eagle’s giant wings.
Yes, people tried to help me but that help fell on deaf ears because I thought I had all the answers, even when I could see the dot of the eagle appear on the horizon, hungry for its nightly feast. I suppose Prometheus is the patron saint of alcoholics, and he knew all about regret.
Now there’s a word. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced regret and when you do experience it, you wish you could go back in time and sort the shit out. But even if you did go back in time and sort the shit out, you’d still be afflicted by regret. Just like a Jehovah’s Witness, once you invite regret into your life, you’re fucked…
… and the moment you sober up the regret rolls in. It starts with the dreams. Anxiety dreams and nightmares that have been queuing for months, waiting for a chance to tread the boards. I kept having dreams about friends being eaten by sharks but the worst one was about turning up to work wearing a sweater vest. Yes, the shame of wearing a sweater vest was worse than a shark attack. Plus, the sweater vest was covered in red wine stains. When I woke up from that dream I went for a 3am run around Princes Park just to warm up my cold sweat.
But the heightened energy of sobriety is the hardest part to control. The drive to do things, to take that image of the warm, dark pub out of my mind and toss it into that landfill of regret. That’s what fuels the paranoia. The mountain of regret that I’d swept under the carpet because another Bloody Mary beckoned. Sitting in a pub, bar, kitchen or bedroom, as long as I had a drink in one hand and a Peter Stuyvesant in the other. When I was in that state, regret backed off and the day started off right.
Now, the doors have opened and last orders have been called there’s no escaping the demons. The fuckers are out there, circling my wagon train but I’ve broken the chains and climbed off my craggy peak.
I’m tunneling into the city, a subterranean white collar worker looking for white shirts because white shirts mean hard work and hard work purifies the soul and chokes regret or that’s what I’m telling myself. I suspect this might be bullshit but what else can I do?
There are six bullets in this gun and I plan to be very selective in how I use them. The chorus is first and then…
“I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory; the spiritual side a little drowsed, promising subsequent penitence, but not yet moved to begin.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde