Today is Day 44.
My 44th day in a row of not drinking alcohol. My 83rd in total. 90th, if you count that week my mum couldn’t find the off licence when she was pregnant.
It’s been a traumatic decision. I set the date to quit booze months ago and I feared its arrival constantly. Four weeks before the big day, I was drinking like a man who was quitting booze in four weeks. But then, I always did. I loved getting drunk. It was magical and charming and I was really good at it. A natural, they said (at a “meeting”). I could get drunk anytime I wanted. Sometimes twice a day. That’s how good I am. And that’s what scared me about quitting. But I had no idea of the darkness ahead of me. I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn’t see any of this coming: Quitting booze was so easy. Like really easy. The easiest thing I’ve ever done. Which means… I’m not an alcoholic.
I'm Michael and I'm not an alcoholic.
So, what am I? I can’t sing, I’m not knowledgeable, I’m not good at sport and I can’t build anything. I was fucking relying on being a drunk. And I’m not even that. What am I? Tall? No. Short? No. Irish? Well, I’m not typical of being Irish in any way. In fact, apparently I’m not even one of the main stereotypes of being Irish now. I thought being drunk was who I was. That was my thing. It defined me. But I’m not an alcoholic. And knowing that has made me feel antisocial, bleak and lacking in self-belief. But with nice breath.
Of course, coming off booze will always bring some sort of problems and lack of identity isn’t the only one for me, whoever I am. There is always pressure from your peer group and being sober is one of the most pressured. Friends can be so unnaturally supportive, it's sickening. I would NEVER treat them like that. When I’m with friends, they’re all really cool and understanding and fucking supportive which stresses me out TOO MUCH. Great! Now I’ve got to prove that I’m totally OK with being sober even though I am, and they have in no way hinted that I might not be. Bastards.
So, in company, I sit with a drink in my hand just like them. Just to let them know I’m relaxed. I’m fine. Look: I have a drink in my hand too. It’s all good. Them with their beer and me with my glass of Diet Coke. But still I feel their concern. “That’s the third Diet Coke Michael’s had”, they seem to say without showing it or saying it. “Is he really OK with all this?”
And I am. I don't have to drink Diet Coke! I can drink anything I want. Nearly anything I want. That’s why I’ve recently started showing my friends how cool I am about sobriety by relaxing with them with a refreshing, revolting bottle of alcohol free beer. See? I’m relaxed and I’m drinking a drink that’s a bit like theirs so it’s all good. It’s fine. It’s great. Cheers!
And my friends cheers me back but with suspicion.
Disgust can’t be hidden when you take a mouthful of alcohol free beer. It’s impossible. It tastes like the ghost of fun. It’s like there’s a suicide pact in my mouth and only me and Mugabe’s favourite improv troupe are invited. It’s horrible and I don’t want to drink another drop but… but just look at my friends’ faces. I’ve told them I’m fine being sober, but they can tell I can’t hack this stuff. I can’t look like I want a proper drink in front of them. “Have another drink of your alcohol free beer”, my friends’ don’t in any way insinuate but I hear loudly. “No one likes the taste at first. You’ll get used to it”.
And I have.
Look, it wasn’t that bad at first. I thought I could handle it. Becks Blue has 0.5% alcohol in it so I’m sure I tasted something that wasn’t just the dust of ancient sick. Lots of alcohol free beer has 0.5% alcohol in it. Some have “Less than 0.5% alcohol” in it but that’s still a bit of booze, isn’t it?
But it wasn’t enough. Or it was too much, it’s hard to tell. My friends wanted me to be fine being sober, I assumed, so I had to go on the real stuff: The completely alcohol-free alcohol-free beer. It’s OK, my friend said. His cousin had a bottle of Cobra Zero at a Foo Fighters gig once. The whole band were doing them. That explained so much but I had a bottle anyway. Oh, god. What had I become? I drank an ENTIRE BOTTLE of Heineken 0.0 that weekend.
I’ve started drinking it at home. I’m up to two bottles a night every four or five nights now. And the shame of it. Oh, God in heaven, help me: the shame. I wake up so clear headed the next day and I walk into the kitchen and I see those two empty bottles lying in the recycling box, those two tiny 330ml alcohol free bastard bottles… and I think back to the night before and, oh God… I can remember every single second of it.