The last song
For years I'd woken up hungover, every cell in my body pickled, thinking it must be doing some damage. I'd push it to the back of my mind as paranoia.
Around spring 2018 I developed a faint dull pain in my liver. I'd also noticed some swelling in the past after a particularly heavy night. I hoped both might be me over reacting. Yes I drank heavily but not particularly more than most people I knew both friends and colleagues.
After a few months of not drinking and proving to myself I could, the pain had gone away. But I missed drinking and nothing was obviously wrong with me so I started again. But the faint ache came back. When I was moaning to someone about this they told me either you're fine and should stop worrying or you need to go to the Doctor.
I went to the Doctor, hoping for a clean bill of health. I got some blood tests done and also an ultrasound to rule out tropical parasites. I'd had malaria in the summer of 2012. In short I'd developed a fatty liver it wasn't clear whether it was the booze or weight but regardless the solution was the same stop drinking, lose weight. The upside was I didn't have diabetes or high blood pressure yet.
From what I can tell from reading the literature the blood tests are basically picking up your liver cells breaking down releasing their contents into your blood 😬.
My last blood test was in the normal range but my liver can't handle the strain I used to put it under anymore.
London's drinking culture
Drinking culture is a big part of a lot of offices. To the extent that I know someone getting briefed on cultural differences coming to London being told that "They drink an astonishing amount in London". It's pretty common for someone to finish work, go for a quick pint with colleagues and knock back four pints in the hour before getting on their train. Also no food before drinking.
Why this is the case is due to the numbing boost and bonding aspects of drinking, which intertwine with the mercantile history of London and a work-hard play-hard culture.
The UK's culture is tied into the pub. It was the second social and community hub beyond the church. This has been true for a long time One 12th century Latin manuscript refers to Potatrix Anglia, or "England the drunken".
For a work-hard play-hard culture to work you have to be able to summon energy. When you're tired and stressed alcohol is both energising and de-stressing. Without this energy boost the temptation is to just go home and chillout. After a few beers you want to stay out and have fun, without this it's another chore. My theory is the desire to go out because you've earned it but not really having the energy is also why cocaine is so prevalent in demanding jobs. It steals energy from the next day so people who want to stay out and party can enjoy the night. The alternative is working all the time and spending all down time recovering which is a bleak deal.
My experience now is other than proving a point that I can stay out without drinking, I don't enjoy it anymore so why bother. Yes, I can obviously stay out, but it's stressful and tiring and I'd prefer to be at home. I miss out on japes and getting to know people because of this, but what can you do. When going out feels like another chore, that you're shit at.
There are also historically boozy business sectors. I think it's so common because the sense of being part of the same group and building relationships which is crucial to being able to do business is fast tracked by drinking and eating together. Bunnie Huang has spoken about it's importance to doing business in China too.
Then there's the numbing aspect which I think is more subtle but it's about making a city which can feel; too busy, too crowded, too much. Manageable. It makes travel home on the tube ok, It makes it easier to ignore the inequality and for the career driven, silences the voice that they'll never be good enough.
When the nights over
With some of the money saved, I've learnt to ride a motorcycle. It seems like a good non-drinking activity. It's an attempt to stave off the sense I've become old and boring, and a convenient way for me to go out and see people in London.
Skydiving is next on the list but I need to lose more weight.
But sadly so far nothing comes close in terms of excitement, fun and adventure. No highs, no lows, just ok and nice and boring. The parties over.
When I explain that I had to stop drinking.
You must feel great?
No not really, I don't have hangovers, but I didn't really mind them. I still sleep badly and wake up with headaches from lack of sleep. I think people underestimate how much a hangover is just sleep deprivation.
I don't have anything to take the edge off my thoughts. I miss tremendously the group bonding aspect, blowing off steam, and letting loose. I do wonder if a sober bender exists and what it looks like. But have a horrible feeling it looks like a triathlon. Sober Hans stag do didn't give a great blueprint either.
On a night out I've now replaced a sense of growing comeraderie with a growing sense of isolation. There was also a feeling that everything was going to be ok, maybe it's not so bad, which is gone. I realise now I also liked the numbing aspect and cutting myself some slack in the afterglow from a big night.
What I think of as my internal water table is a lot more stable. There's none of this peeing loads, drinking loads of water overnight because I'm dehydrated while my body swells up with fluid trying to dilute the toxins coarsing through me.
There's a lot of blog posts from people quitting drinking about how great they feel, and they've met the love of their life and it was the best thing they've done. Which is great for them. But also makes me want to tell the sanctimonious cunts to fuck off. I found Romesh Ranganathan's article about stopping drinking the most honest and relatable.
Also I have to remind myself that things weren't always great when drinking, and not to look at things through rose tinted glasses. I've embarrassed myself and others, put myself in dangerous situations, missed flights, gone off the deepend emotionally and lost and broken a lot of phones. But for me that was an acceptable risk and collateral for the benefits of drinking.
Yes, I've saved an absolute fortune. It's not just the booze it's the Taxi home, the food out, the takeaway the next day. It all adds up.
But it was an expensive past time which I enjoyed, and sadly sitting on money like a dragon doesn't bring me any comfort or happiness.
I also go out less than I used to because I feel tired and don't get the boost from having a pint. I've become more parsimonious since the booze loosened the purse strings too.
Not especially, it's hard to lose weight and it comes down to eating less calories than you use up through exercise and just existing. I'd generally factor in the booze to my calorie intake.
I'm intending to write another post about this going into a bit more detail about losing weight
You'll be able to drink again?
While I can have an occasional glass of wine on special occasions I can never drink in the way I used to.
I suspect much like you have to have an addiction to nicotine to enjoy smoking. To really enjoy drinking you have to have a certain level of dependance too. So I won't ever get the same buzz.
What I miss most is the citrousy, hipster, hop monster, pale ales. I'm looking at you Neck Oil. Even typing that makes me feel parched. So it'll more than likely be the very occasional pale ale.
Are you an alcoholic?
This is a question that no-one has actually asked me. But suspect that's more a result of politeness. Ultimately it's a moot point I drank at a level that was harmful to my health. I had a pretty typical relationship with alcohol which is to say not very healthy but with none of the hallmarks of an alcoholic.
Haranguing someone for not drinking is completely unacceptable, and I no longer hang out with people who do this. Thinking that you have to be an alcoholic to be drinking at harmful levels certainly gave me a false sense of security, and I suspect many others too.
Booze is corrosive over the long term. It's like firing a gun, some people will fire that gun and it won't be loaded for others it will. I'm lucky I found out before it was too late to fix.
What would you like to drink?
Generally soda water, it's usually cheap or free from the gun. The sugar from soft drinks is a bit much. Having some non-alcoholic drinks at events, like some decent alcohol-free beers, sparkling elderflower, adult soft drinks.
It's already othering enough not drinking in most UK offices for health, religious or other reasons. But then standing around with nothing or a glass of water. I feel like a massive fucking twat. It shouldn't be the default to drink, but it is for now, so at least make it easier for people not to drink.