herald

Monday 23 October 2017

In which I become po-faced about the demon drink ...

What Katie did next with Katie Byrne

George Bernard Shaw said "alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life". I used to agree with him until alcohol became more the operation for me... and sobriety the anaesthesia.

But I still accept some of his thinking: life is tough – even at the best of times – and anything or anyone that eases the burden should be readily employed.

Alcohol seems the perfect crutch. It makes generic pop songs sound like tribal anthems. It makes 3am kebabs taste like three Michelin star fare.

Slurred platitudes become deeply profound epiphanies. Casual acquaintances become new best friends. And the average-looking fella from accounts becomes a demigod.

All very well and good until you wake up beside the average looking fella from accounts – and a kebab wrapper – and you realise that, once again, you were under alcohol's seductive spell.

People ask me if I couldn't take the hangovers. In truth, I rather enjoyed hangovers. They were a sort of enforced relaxation. Hangovers offered me a rare opportunity to render myself incapable and incommunicado. It was like putting an 'out of service' sign over my existence.

What I couldn't cope with was the mornings when I woke up with no hangover and a suspicious joie de vivre. "Who wants breakfast?!" "I think I'll buy a new coat today!" "Will we go for a swim?!"

I'd crash at about 2pm, at which point I'd realise that I was still hammered upon waking. And I felt like s*** – not because I was nauseous or headachy but because I was a fake. Even if only in front of myself.

SENSES

At face value, it's the ultimate anaesthesia. But anaesthesia ultimately dulls the senses. Alcohol is an insidious drug. It chips away at the hole in the soul until it takes more and more to fill it.

Most fill it with more booze, some with food, some with sex (I know a fella who accidentally booty-texted his mother, but that's another story for another day.)

It breeds compulsion. You have to get a kebab. Your ex-boyfriend has to answer his phone. I'm pretty sure that this phenomenon also explains the psychological impetus for stealing traffic cones.

Psychoanalyst Jan Bauer, author of Alcoholism and Women: The Background and the Psychology coined the term 'oblivion drinkers' to describe high-powered women who rely on alcohol to unwind. "Alcohol offers time out from doing it all – 'Take me out of my perfectionism' – and it is extremely dangerous," she wrote.

"I've seen such a perversion of feminism, where everything becomes work: raising children, reading all the books, not listening to their instincts."

Seeing as she brought up feminism, she should perhaps visit any pub after 6pm where she'll find countless men collapsed over a pint and a crossword.

Oblivion drinking isn't a female-centric phenomenon. That women are being targeted suggests latent sexism from a soi-disant feminist.

Neither is there a class distinction – a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape after a day of tough meetings is no different to a naggin of vodka upon leaving the factory floor.

Oblivion drinking is a human condition. We drink to relax, unwind and, ultimately, forget. We drink to, quite literally, get out of our heads. Sometimes any altered state is better than the state you're in. It makes you wonder how much of a 'black-out' is physiological and how much psychological.

Most of us would rather make a cup of coffee/stroke our iPhone screen like the comfort blankets they have become/ smoke a cigarette than be alone with our thoughts. We punctuate our journey with little pit-stops.

To just 'be' is a challenging proposition. To just 'be' in a social situation without a glass in one hand and a fag in the other is near impossible.

DANGEROUS

It's been over a year since I took a drink. Sober social situations are no longer difficult, but I still punctuate them with endless cups of coffee and the promise of dessert. I'm still relying on a crutch, albeit a less dangerous one.

The longer I've been sober, the more perspective I've gained, and the more smug and po-faced I seem when writing articles of this nature. I've discovered that I drank to absolve myself of all responsibility; that I used alcohol to put the brakes on and try to stop the momentum. Hence a crash was almost always inevitable. Momentum is a force of nature, but some of us are terrified of our own potential.

Better to self-sabotage than really consider the realms of possibility. That we become closer to monkey than man when we drink suggests we are scared of our evolution.

Alcohol was used to control our ancestors. It was at the pump that preserved the slave trade. Sometimes I wonder if these ancestral memories are stored in our DNA. Are we both slave and slave driver when it comes to alcohol?

As the Japanese proverb goes: "First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes the man."

I did warn you that I had become smug and po-faced.

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