Discover more from The Reset by Sam Delaney
The Day I Stopped Drinking
Why and how I did it
On June 25th 2015 I drove up to The Priory rehab centre in London and turned myself in.
I was forty years old and realised enough was enough. I had been on the piss every day for months. I was sometimes drinking before midday (by ‘sometimes’ I mean ‘often.’ And by ‘midday’ I mean ‘ten in the morning’).
My wife had gone from tolerance to annoyance to anger to deep concern over the course of the past year. I had gone from delusion to defensiveness to rage to despair in the same period. Now I was just sick of myself and the endless cycle of sordid inebriation and lies I was trapped inside. Plus I was fat and skint and miserable and for the first time had started to contemplate the possibility that I might drop dead at any moment, leaving my two kids fatherless.
By the time you realise you have to stop drinking, it’s too late to do it alone.
The most important thing about ‘coming out’ as a full-blown piss-head is that you make yourself accountable. I’d kept the extent of my drinking a secret from everyone around me. Yes, my wife was worried about my drinking but if she’d known the truth she would have been (rightly) scared. By admitting to everything and telling everyone you’re stopping for good, you take away the secrecy. Everyone is watching you. People you love are rooting for you. There are less places to hide. Or to put it another way:
Once you’ve gone round loudly telling everyone you’ve stopped drinking then you’re gonna look like twice the dickhead if you fall off the wagon.
I had spent the best part of the previous two years trying and failing to get my drinking under control. I had done the odd dry fortnight here and there. But all that sort of sporadic abstinence does is falsely convince you that you have some control over the situation.
I didn’t have control.
I would reward myself for managing to stay sober all week by getting absolutely shit-faced on Friday night. Madness.
At The Priory they gave me a free assessment. I had booked the appointment online a few days earlier, in the dead of night, wide-awake and frantic with anxiety and self-loathing, my wife sleeping beside me. Why did I choose The Priory? Because it was near where I lived. And also I had heard of it - it’s the fancy showbiz rehab place that’s always mentioned in the papers. (Spoiler alert: it’s not fancy at all, it’s a bit of a shit hole to be honest. But quality of decor wasn’t a priority for me when I first clapped eyes on the place).
I met a therapist who asked me to describe my drinking and drug taking over the past couple of weeks. Obviously, my first instinct was to lie about that. But how mad would it be to go and seek help for drink and drugs then bullshit the person who was trying to help you? She made things much easier by explaining that she was a recovering addict herself. “Whatever you’ve done, however bad you think your behaviour has been, I’ve probably done stuff twice as bad. So don’t hold back,” she said. I liked her from the start. She is still my therapist today.
So I told her about every drink I’d had over the past two weeks and all the drugs and stupidity that had gone along with it. She nodded, non-judgmentally, but told me that I clearly had a problem.
She gave me a no-fucking-about choice: I could either resolve to stop drinking completely, in which case she could help me. Or I could decide to try and moderate my drinking, in which case she couldn’t. Because once you’ve become a problem drinker, the ability to moderate is just a barmy dream. One glass of wine with dinner on a Saturday night? Good luck with that, mate.
How do you know if you’re a problem drinker?
Where is the line between being a good-times drinker who likes a few pints and couple of cheeky lines a few times a week and a problematic drinker on a runaway train towards total oblivion?
Hard to say. But I increasingly think that if you think you might have a problem then you definitely do have a problem.
Just don’t wait for the so-called ‘rock bottom’ moment to arrive before you decide to do something about it. Because by then it might be too late to ever fix yourself. Plus it might never come. There are plenty of people who have managed to avoid death, incarceration, extreme violence or the collapse of their career while maintaining a horrible booze problem that has nevertheless made them and those around them completely miserable. Functioning alcoholics are everywhere. I bet you can immediately think of at least three you’re pretty close to.
You don’t need to have shat the bed in your sleep or slept on a park bench under a blanket made of whisky bottles to be a problem drinker. You just have to be someone who regularly decides they don’t want to drink but then finds themselves doing it anyway. And then feels shit about it afterwards.
Meeting my therapist and hearing her talk about her experiences of addiction and recovery, being able to share all the bad habits and terrible feelings that had started to define my life, made me understand that I had a problem that had to be nipped in the bud. I, like most other drinkers, had underestimated the extent of the problem for too long. She combined just the right amounts of understanding and brutality to shake me to my senses.
In the car on the way home I decided I was going to never drink again.
And I haven’t had a single drop of alcohol since then. I didn’t become an inpatient at The Priory but started seeing her once a week to keep myself on track. I don’t want to make it sound easy. It isn’t and there was all sorts of other challenges to combat over the weeks and months that followed. I still face them today. And I will detail all of them in this newsletter over the coming weeks and months.
I will tell you more about how and why I accidentally slipped from being an enthusiastic weekend piss-head between the ages of 14 and 37 to a pretty depressing all day drinker between the ages of 37 and 40. And I will dig a bit deeper into all the ugly issues that lie beneath the drinking. Because drink, drugs and all the other destructive habits (for you it might be sex or shopping or food) are usually symptoms of a deeper pain that you’ve failed to deal with in more constructive ways.
Until recent years, we couldn’t really admit to anyone that we felt that sort of pain because we feared it would make us sound weird or weak or whingey. So we had to bury it deep inside and, whenever it tried to rear its head and start causing trouble, silence it with drink, drugs or whatever.
More of all that to come on future letters. For now, my advice for anyone wondering about how to give up is: make yourself accountable. Admit the full extent of your habits to someone. If not someone close to you then someone who has been there and done that. That’s why Alcoholics Anonymous works for so many people. You won’t get judged and there are people who have already fought the battles that you are fighting now.
Don’t get all worried if they start talking about God at AA.
They don’t mean God out of the Bible. They mean the invisible forces that make life so terrifyingly arbitrary. Getting your head around the inherent unpredictability of human existence - and just sort of learning to accept it without resorting to boshing four pints of Kronenbourg every lunchtime - is really at the heart of all this.
Sounds tough, right? But once you start thinking about this stuff, just a little bit every day, then I promise you life gets easier, happier and more peaceful. I sleep like a baby every night and have done consistently since June 28th 2015. In the immortal words of Joe Fagin, that’s living alright.
Here’s a great book about all this stuff
No Good Can Come From This by Kristi Coulter - I bloody love this book. She is an American woman with a good job, a decent childhood and a seemingly stable life. Hers, like mine and many others, is a pretty unremarkable story of problem boozing. But that makes it all the more relatable for the generic, day-to-day, accidental booze-hound. It’s dead funny, really warm and very smart.
I’d love to hear from you
About your own struggles and experiences - and most of all about what sort of stuff you would like to read about in this letter. The Reset won’t just be about addiction every week. It’s about re-setting your demons and coping with the shit in your life without going bananas. Or going bananas and then working out how to fix things. You know, that sort of bollocks. Leave a comment below or tweet me @delaneyman and I will be 90% certain to respond.
Love you, bye. x
Finally, here are some helpful links that I will share every week
They are copy and pasted from the last letter. Sue me.
Obviously, I am not a mental health professional and I can’t cure you. I can tell you what has worked for me. I always advise people to go and seek help from brilliant groups like these ones…
No-one has ever invented a way of successfully moderating their drinking. If they had, they would be richer than Bezos (and I would probably still be able to have a glass of sherry at Christmas). But AA remain the only mob who have a proven method of quitting the booze altogether. I can highly recommend it. I mean, no-one ever woke up regretting having not drank the night before, right?
This lot use the same 12 step programme as AA but to get you off the gak. Again, have you ever woken up on a clear headed morning thinking to yourself: ‘Fuck me, I wish I’d shovelled a load of bugle up my hooter last night. I’m gutted now?’ Of course you fucking haven’t. Let’s be honest, every single time you have ever taken gak you have regretted it to some extent. You always regret it. It’s fine for the first half hour. Then it all gets creepy fast. Ultimately, it’s horrible stuff. LOL.
This lot meet all over the country every Monday evening at 7pm. I wrote about them here. I’ve been to their meetings and can confirm they are not weird or spiritual or bullshitty. Just normal blokes sitting around, talking shit, getting stuff off their chest. No judgments. Free tea and biscuits. Bloody brilliant mate. What else are you gonna do on a Monday night? Sit home watching The Crown? Grow up.
If you’re really struggling, don’t keep it all secret inside. Pick up the phone to this lot. They will help. Talking always helps. It’s like doing a shit but out of your mouth. Actually, that’s not selling this really is it? But you know what I mean.