Beer was my drink of choice for over 30 years, I started drinking at an early age from a can or two at the family barbeque and a free pint working in the pub kitchen to drinking every day until it became normal.
In this article I talk about my own slow burn of destruction and making the decision to quit alcohol 175,000+ beers later.
Drinking too much beer actually creeps up on you without you noticing, it is not until we get older that we realise that something might be unhealthy about our alcohol consumption, as youngsters we think we are indestructible, have all the time in the world and perhaps think we will get our lives together properly when we are ‘older’. This was certainly my case, going out drinking every weekend, smoking marijuana and taking LSD in the early 1990’s all formed part of a good weekend with the lads, during the week there was work so evenings were fairly subdued but the weekends… that’s when it all happened.
Funnily enough I usually didn’t drink that much as living rural meant I had to drive and my license was top of the list of most important things, when I didn’t go out however I would get a few beers in and drink them at home, this was perhaps the very beginning of what was going to become a problem many years later.
Beer Becomes Normal
Turn 18 years old and you become an adult, do what you want, when you want and spend your money on what you like, that’s not to say that parental guidance suddenly stops but you can essentially act on your own decisions and reap the repercussions of the bad ones, all one big learning curve. Alcohol however is a stealthy drug and it quickly became part of my life at a relatively early stage.
Popping down to the off licence became the norm pretty much on a daily basis and alcohol in the fridge was just accepted as normal, in fact if there wasn’t any beer in the fridge someone would comment ‘Hey there’s no beer!’ Nobody noticed if there was no cheese, orange juice or butter…
Later on when life grabs you by the balls and says goodbye to drug filled weekends and says now is the time to be a proper adult a house and kids might fill you with responsibility, there are bills to pay, food to buy and work to go to every day. Does this mean alcohol falls by the wayside? For me the answer was no, buying beer had become pretty much essential by the time I entered my mid twenties, a few months working away from home in Scotland saw evenings spent in the bar contemplating my next move from a job I hated over several pints – every night. Move on a couple of years and it was time to move to Spain where the beer was infinitely less expensive, it’s fair to say that by then I was a well seasoned drinker.
Functioning with Beer
Drinking too much beer on a daily basis became normal but there was always that window that I thought made me more creative in writing articles for business, painting for some reason always required getting the beers in and it got to the stage where unless there was beer in the house I felt I couldn’t do anything or at least didn’t have the motivation to. It was around this time that I began thinking that maybe things were getting too much so decided to take Sundays off the beer – I ended up hating Sundays.
For some reason I had conditioned myself into thinking that any type of work whether it be writing or plastering a wall in our Spanish home was going to be such a laborious task without beer it would be like running through water to even try and attempt it. Does this sound like you?
Triggers come in many forms, they can be pretty much anything but for me it was more about situations or events that were up and coming or about to happen, I mention painting above and that was certainly one of them, painting without beer was unthinkable! Having a barbeque? Get the beers in, have a lot of writing to do? Get the beers in, Website update? Get the beers in, you get the picture. Stress also played its role as a significant trigger, even 15 years on there are still aspects of living in Spain that drive me around the twist, red tape, backwards thinking, financial issues, hypocrisy and incompetence all get me ‘on a roll’ and I thought at the time that beer chilled me out, helped me cope with these situations when they arose but in truth it was the exact opposite.
Rugby was another one, I am a big rugby fan so when the Internationals came around or it was world cup year then beer was essential, picture a bunch of lads huddled around the tv shouting at the ref and that was not me – I would do it alone, just me on a Saturday afternoon. As a photographer I spend quite a bit of time behind the computer in the depths of Lightroom and Photoshop, this was another trigger for me, I would never drink in front of a client but afterwards accompanied with the buzz of seeing the photo shoot results alcohol was always there. What are your triggers?
Checking the Fridge
The amount of beer I would drink at the weekend spilled over to weekdays, Friday and Saturday nights were no longer the big beer days, in fact any day was a beer day and the first thing to do after a shop was to pile all the beer into the fridge. Buying a full crate of beer felt good, the beers were in and there were plenty of them – good. As the afternoon turned into evening the cans or bottles would get less and less and I found myself counting how many remained – would there be enough? Is there any wine in case I run out?
As the afternoon turned into evening the cans or bottles would get less and less and I found myself counting how many remained
As well as checking the fridge while the crushed empties went into the recycling the counting was also done the following morning, awaking in the morning I would know immediately (judging by how hungover I felt) whether there would be any left but how many? If there were more than expected I’d feel quite pleased – not because there beers left but because I hadn’t drank as much as expected, what was I telling myself?
Anxiety is something that happens when drinking too much beer, the habit becomes such a large part of your life that when an event occurs that knocks you off course you begin to feel anxious. Having to drive somewhere can do this, picking someone up, especially late at night will royally fuck up your drinking time. Here in Spain we have the ‘siesta’, all shops are closed from 2.00pm – 6.00pm in our village so if I missed (or was going to miss) the local shop that would put me right on edge. I’d also feel anxious as the beer ran out – that’s right anxious while there still beer in the house but not being entirely sure if there going to be enough… Ridiculous.
I mentioned above that stress is a trigger, what I found was that drinking too much beer amplified my stress to the point where I would be getting incredibly irritable when I thought people didn’t understand. Now I am quite vocal in putting the world to rights on occasion and when incompetence raises its head (particularly if it costs me financially) I go off like a rocket. One such instance was instructing our Spanish bank to organise monthly payments on an insurance policy only to have the lump sum taken out because they had ‘forgotten’ – goodbye new camera funds. Situations like this are unfortunately far too common in rural Andalucia and while you learn to expect them, when they happen it drives you cock the hoop – beer used to be a stress reliever until it took over and actually made the situation worse, alcohol opens us up, the whole ‘Dutch Courage’ thing can also work in other ways making you more vocal about negatives and issues, especially if they are left to fester. A cool, clear and sober head deals with problems far more effectively.
The Rule of 24
First it was a six pack, then twelve, then a full pack of 24 beers. If it was less than a full pack then that was an issue for me, I would never drink all 24 beers but I needed a buffer to feel comfortable. During the latter stages of my drinking an odd thing happened, on the odd occasion when there was perhaps only three or four beers left I found myself preferring not have anything to drink at all so I would have a sober day. If the beers were in I would drink them, half the time simply because they were there but if only a handful were left I would go without perhaps because I felt it was not worth it, as a seasoned drinker three beers was not anywhere near what I needed to get that ‘hit’, once I started I didn’t stop so only a few would be like staring a drinking session that would be rapidly cut short.
Hangovers Get Worse (and Last Longer)
The simple fact of the matter is the older we get the worse the hangovers become. As you age your ability to metabolise alcohol drops making hangovers feel worse and last longer. Gone are the days when you could be right as rain come mid afternoon go out drinking with your mates again. I never got particularly bad hangovers (or so I thought) maybe it was because I felt like that almost permanently so by definition it became ‘normal’, give me the feeling I used to have in the mornings now I am sober and it would probably be the hangover from hell…
“Do you not remember saying that last night” I used to get asked, sometimes I would wing it, trying to coax clues to jog my memory but most of the time I would just own up and say ‘no’. Memory loss became more of an issue in the latter stages of my drinking, not blackouts from a heavy night before but in general, day to day stuff that I began to struggle with, learning new information and skills became more challenging, coupled with getting older this formed part of my reason to quit drinking altogether.
If you are reading this then you probably have, or have had ‘the niggle’, that voice in the back of your mind telling you that you are drinking too much, it’s there every time you wake up the morning after a heavy night, every time you check the fridge the next day, every time you make an idiot of yourself, upset someone or have trouble remembering what you said or did. The thing is ‘the niggle’ is your own self trying to tell you something important and the more you drink the stronger the niggle gets until ‘you’ decide to do something about it.
Heavy drinkers know that they drink too much, I did yet did nothing about it for years, why? Because another few months won’t do any harm, I’ll quit for new year or I’ll just cut down (which never works). It does get to the stage where it is hard to imagine life without alcohol and for some there is the fear factor.
As a passionate photographer this is akin to someone saying that I have to sell all my camera gear and never take another photograph again, the thought of this would fill me with dread, if I lost my camera what would I do? I’d feel like I lost my right arm and would sorely miss creating images. In reality would I be able to cope? Of course, the challenge would be managing the change, the withdrawal but life would go on, the biggest difference here of course is that photography isn’t killing me – alcohol was.
When the Time Comes to Stop
Recognising that the slow burn of destruction has to stop is crucial in the decision making process, everyone stops drinking for different reasons but the common denominator is excess, dragging your mind from the pit of denial will eventually come (it always does) and realising that procrastination has no place in your journey to sobriety is the beginning. Why do we drink? Because we have been exposed to it in our early childhood years? Peer pressure? Culture?
Making the decision to quit altogether is a large part of the battle, actually doing it is something else and each individual will embark on their own personal journey, the ability to recognise excess is the first step, if you are worried about your alcohol consumption then you are probably drinking too much, why not make a decision today to change your life? Nobody deserves to be held in the vice like grip of a drug that turns you into a person you are not and ultimately destroys aspects of your life that should be valued, cherished and used to make you the real you.