I scoured the house, looking for tonic water. A few cigarette butts floating in two-thirds empty glasses of golden or dark liquids scattered tables as music buzzed through the air. Empty bottles sat in corners of rooms and dark footprints overlapped throughout the house, tacky with the sugars of the alcoholic drinks that created them.
Half a bottle of gin sat on the kitchen worktop, the last piece of alcohol left in the house. It was 2009, when mother’s ruin was definitely not cool. Gin was my weapon of choice because it was guaranteed to be left untouched when other party-goers ran low on booze and started minesweeping for more.
Sadly, neat gin is not a pleasure. It requires mixing and mixers were nowhere to be found.
Like a shining apparition of a holy deity, she appeared. My friend holding with a bottle of sparkling wine, procured form the local 24 hour shop, even though their license didn’t include alcohol sales at this ungodly hour of the weekend.
Pouring a large glug of gin into a wineglass, I topped it with a new mixer — sparkling wine — to make what might be a cocktail in another world, but in my universe, it was simply a super-charged gin and tonic.
Moderation was never my thing.
Two years later, sitting on a train, a single realisation laid the foundations for quitting alcohol completely.
South West Trains service from London Waterloo to Twickenham on a sunny Tuesday morning. My very first mindfullness meditation class had been amazing and I was on my way to work.
Train windows make perfect vignettes to stare at the world passing by outside. Today, I wasn’t looking outside, I was looking inside. Deep inside my mind.
Consciousness is a slippery concept, even scientists struggle to define what it actually is. For the sake of this story, it is our experience of the world, the way we see, hear, taste, smell and touch everything around us, along with the thought processes and emotional behaviours that happen inside, the way we connect the dots of reality.
People drink alcohol for many reasons, we don’t all have the same motivations. One common reason is to relax, wind down, let go of yourself, or even get out of your head. Alcohol changes your consciousness, it’s one of the main reasons people drink it, from gentle relaxation to full blown oblivion. An indefinable requirement seek this altered state had been fuelling my drinking for many years, things simply felt better after a few beers.
On that train, I was facing a dilemma. I was confused. If alcohol alters my consciousness and changes my perception of the world, it suggests there is something that I don’t like about my consciousness when sober. When I find a pair of jeans that I like, I don’t want to alter them, I just want to keep wearing them, like a pair of warm and perfect leg-gloves.
If I had a positive and squeaky clean consciousness, then surely I would no longer feel the need to change it by drinking alcohol? A happy and content consciousness wouldn’t desire an altered state, it would be peaceful just bumbling along, exactly as it is.
Therefore, I began to wonder what is wrong with my consciousness? Why do I feel the need to alter it, every week, without fail, just to enjoy myself?
This conclusion of this logic is that if I was perfectly happy with my consciousness, then by default, I would no longer feel the desire to drink alcohol. Also, if I stopped drinking alcohol, I would be forced to inspect my consciousness, to see exactly what exists in my mind that encourages me to drink. What are the though processes that happen, which drive the need for an altered state?
That was just the beginning of many years personal development that went from therapist’s couches, through spiritual practices, to support groups via the odd clown workshop and eye-gazing class.
Giving up alcohol was easy with this realisation. Whatever feelings were underneath my desire to drink could only be tackled when I stopped, so I immediately began to moderate my drinking. A couple of pints, or a few glasses of wine, but moderation never sat easy.
The desire to drink a bit more always crawled around underneath, negotiating with myself, is it just two today? Or can we have three? Is there a limit? No there’s not. But take it easy. One is silly when it’s a free bar, but it’s not nice wine, so there’s no point drinking it for the taste, which means the only reason for drinking is alcohol, and if that’s the case, lets get drunk. It was tiresome.
Eventually, pragmatism kicked the ceaseless negotiating into touch. It would be far easier if I didn’t constantly feel the need to negotiate with myself, and stopping completely fulfilled that. Quitting alcohol entirely meant no debate over how many drinks tonight, allowing me to drive my car to any social occasion without worry.
After that, quitting was simple. I stopped saying ‘yes’ to alcohol and felt a warm, calm wave of peace wash over me. ‘No’ is far easier to understand than ‘maybe’, for both myself and other people. Saying ‘no’ to alcohol simplified my life in untold ways. Taxi fares became a rarity, weekly shops dropped in cost, sleep improved, bed time became more regular and social events were more easily navigated.
Certain parts of alcohol consumption will always be missed, the easy camaraderie and bonding with alochol is a unique experience, along with the ability to laugh at poor jokes. Alcohol consumption is not infinitely precluded from my life, however, it would only be re-introcued on a taste-first principle. I will only be drinking for the taste experience. If someone serves up cheap plonk at a reception then I’ll turn the other way. Offer me a unique flavour experience and I might just be tempted to try it out.
Today, I am happy with my consciousness, I have a beautiful life with many amazing people in it. Work fulfills and excites me. Life is an oppurtunity to find greater happiness every day. Joy, fear, anxiety, love, anger and happiness appear, but there is no longer a desire to change my consciousness or run away from them, only a desire to experience them as authentically as possible.
Alcohol might fit into that picture, or it might not. Having that choice, along with the power to say ‘no’, puts me in a very powerful position. Life is a satisfying place with zero pressure, either from society or from my own mind to drink.
And that, my friend, is exactly what freedom feels like.