Discover more from The Reset by Sam Delaney
Fear made me drunk. Love got me sober.
Lessons learned from 6 years booze free
Today is the sixth anniversary of my sobriety. I started learning everything about myself and the world around me on 25th June 2015. Until then I had been, to a large degree, sleep-walking through life.
It might have looked as if I was doing alright. I had a career and a family. I seemed to be successful and happy. And I really was happy a lot of the time. I didn’t turn into a piss-head because I was constantly miserable. I turned into a piss-head because I was scared. I was scared of what people thought about me and scared of what might happen if all the good stuff in my life suddenly disappeared. I gave off the impression of being super-confident in myself. But deep down inside I was pretty convinced that the happy life I had built could collapse at any moment. And when it did I would not know how to cope.
Basically I didn’t know how to deal with the arbitrary nature of life. No-one really teaches you that stuff at school. At least they didn’t at mine. My parents tried their best - but how were they supposed to help me navigate my existential conundrums when they were yet to navigate their own?
If I was so consumed by self-doubt and terror, how had I managed to build a life that seemed so fortunate? Because I had a secret weapon called Anna.
Anna is my wife. She is really different to me: she is measured and calm; she is modest and un-showy; she quietly clever and dryly hilarious. Somehow (and sometimes I think I really have a lot to thank her parents for) she carries with her none of the doubts or fears or constant needs for reassurance and validation that I was always burdened by (still am a little bit, just a lot less so these days).
Anna loves me. And that is really what saved me from pissing my life away on booze, drugs and mayhem. She saw me at my worst but loved me anyway. She convinced me that there was something inside, hidden beneath the inebriated fuck-face I had become, worth saving. And because I loved and respected her more than anyone in the world I put my faith in her vision of me.
I literally grew up with Anna. We met at school when we were eleven but we didn’t get together until we were 20. Throughout our teens we were mates. I just thought she was the absolute best person I’d ever met. We spent incredible times together when we were just kids. On a school trip to Greece in 1991, when we were both sixteen, we snuck out of the hotel one night and went to a local disco. We got absolutely leathered on blue curacao cocktails and, when the DJ dug out Step On by the Happy Mondays, she climbed on my shoulders, we hit the dance floor and for a moment we were disco superstars. Then my weedy, drunken, teenage legs gave way, we collapsed in a mess and were asked to leave. Genuinely, I knew I loved her even back then.
She was just the best company, all the time. I only ever wanted to hang around with Anna. She was fun, yes. But she was sharp too: clever and occasionally brutal in a way I found somehow intoxicating. Spending time with anyone else was like being short changed by life.
We both did a lot of drinking when we were first together.
Then a moment came where she started tapering off all that stuff. There was no epiphany - it was like her drinking days naturally faded away as she matured and broadened her horizons. She became the sort of person who could easily have one glass of wine with dinner and leave it slightly unfinished.
I thought it was weird. In fact, I found it annoying at times. It even made me angry. I assumed she was judging me. But looking back, I don’t think Anna ever judged me for continuing to chuck back lagers or do weekend coke with the lads. She probably just thought, in her own quiet and accepting way, that I was maturing at a slightly slower pace than her and would catch up eventually.
Only I didn’t. I allowed my fun drinking to morph stealthily into sleazy, weirdo drinking. She tells me that one of the first warning signs was when I oversaw the kids’ bath time with a can of Stella on the go.
Fuck me, that wasn’t the half of it.
By this stage, the whole ‘I’m just a bit of a lad who likes a few beers at the weekend’ act was long gone. My tolerance threshold had been driven steadily up over decades of fun time drinking. I needed an ever increasing quantity of booze just to achieve the same buzz. This meant I had to drink amounts that would be considered socially unacceptable even in the most liberal of circles. Beers at bath-time was one thing but not nearly as scary as the drinking I had started to do in secret.
Miniature vodkas stashed in my office to top me up through the working day. Secret night time runs to the bins across the street to dispose of all my empties. Locking myself in the toilet at polite, afternoon family get-togethers in order to turbo-down the cans of beer I had taken from the fridge and smuggled up my jumper or down my trousers. More often than not chased down with lines of coke. I had to drink at a level of intensity that was just seedy and embarrassing. I at least had enough self-awareness to realise how fucking depressing my behaviour had become.
In the end, she called me on it.
We were having breakfast with the kids one morning when she started to weep. She’d found some empty bottles of spirits at the back of the cupboard that I had failed to hide with my usual professionalism (I was starting to get sloppy - maybe I wanted to be exposed at this stage, I don’t know).
She left the room so the kids didn’t have to see her cry. I followed her out and promised her it was over. I explained I had been too busy and stressed and that it was just a phase. But the phase had lasted two years and was only getting worse. She never gave me an ultimatum - she just told me she thought things had got out of hand and that I should stop. She knew that cutting down was no longer an option for me. Moderation is not really in my skillset. I told her she was right and that I was finished with booze for good. But even as I said it I knew I was lying. Booze had got hold of my brain and was whispering cruel things in my ear about Anna: “She’s being dramatic. She is boring. She is trying to control you. EVERYONE IS TRYING TO CONTROL YOU SAM! BUT YOU ARE A FREE MAN! YOUR GRANDFATHER FOUGHT A WAR TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHT TO GET SECRETLY DRUNK ON MINI VODKAS YOU HIDE IN YOUR FILING CABINET! DON’T LET THE NAZIS WIN!”
This was just one of the barmy, warped narratives that played out in my booze soaked- mind. It dovetailed with the other one about me being some sort of maverick whose creativity was fuelled by hedonism. Rather than a pathetic suburban dad who had to get pissed just to deal with the everyday challenges of adult life.
I came to realise, eventually, that I didn’t need to be pitiful.
And I didn’t need to be scared. I could be a good bloke who found happiness and fulfilment in the things that already surrounded me. My wife and my kids could bring me all the joy, all the fun, all the validation I needed. The future might hold a few surprises, yes. But if I was sober I could face anything with clear eyes, a full heart and faith in myself.
More than anything I just wanted my relationship with Anna back. Anna and I had grown up together and held hands through all of the formative events in our lives. We were in love but we were best mates too. I had soured our whole friendship by effectively having an affair with alcohol. It made me lie. It made me resentful. It made me boring. Why would she want to spend time with a cunt like that?
So in the end I went and got help. Because I knew what the reward was: my life, the one I had already built but had been too thick to appreciate.
Booze is a bastard.
It tries to tell you that any time you spend without it is wasted. That all the other things in your life are dreary by comparison. That you can only really be your true self when you are in its company. The reverse is true of all those things, of course. Love is the only thing any of us need. I was wasting my time when I wasn’t with the person who loved me most. I wasn’t my true self: I was bored and lonely and bitter and confused. When I am with Anna I am happy and confident and at my absolute best.
I am really grateful for my six years of sobriety. But not half as grateful as I am for Anna. Life gave me one last choice back in 2015 - and I chose love.
This week’s pod with Christian O’Connell
I have always loved Christian O’Connell on the radio. I was gutted when he left the UK to do a new show in Australia back in 2018. Now he’s written a book about why he did it. It is funny, honest and moving - a powerful story about a man at the top of his game who was riddled nonetheless by self-doubt and panic. I was delighted he joined me for this week’s pod and I am really proud of this episode.
Some services, links and phone numbers to help you through the tough times
https://www.samaritans.org/ Tel 116 123
@calm 0800 58 58 58
@YoungMindsUK 0800 018 2138
@ChairtySane 0300 304 7000