Ah, alcohol. It's the mainstay of hundreds and thousands of years of culture. The discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs has established the fact that purposely fermented beverages existed at least as early as 10,000 BC. It's a liquid that is used not just for celebration, but to mark religious holidays and also to mourn the passing of our aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers and even pets. Today, we generally use any excuse to have a drink - be it a tough day at work or simply because the sun's decided to come out. Yet, in Britain, nobody ever gives sobriety a chance.
Well, I can inform you all that as fun as getting pissed has been for me - it's no longer part of my agenda. This isn't the first time I've tried to give up alcohol. In fact, the odds are stacked against me, and the level of confidence from those around me has been somewhat unsupportive. Perhaps it's because I let off a massive rant a few days before this last New Year's Eve where I announced I'd never touch another drop of alcohol again then ended up going to a few too many music award ceremonies not long after and was unable to resist the lure of the devil drink.
It's been something that's been on my mind for a while now. As somebody who's made a living out of throwing club nights and DJing at parties, it's widely been acceptable to find myself drinking into oblivion due to a few notable factors. The most obvious being the 'free booze factor', which I'm afraid has nothing to do with Simon Cowell but is in fact one of the few perks of working in the entertainment industry and also one of it's massive pitfalls. See also: late nights and egos. Both are lots of fun until the morning after. The second is that you start early, you're there 'til the end, then "after the party there's the after party".
So it's not the easiest decision in the world to make. In fact, given that I generally have a reputation to "know where the party is" or indeed, constantly find myself at the center of it, I am setting myself the biggest personal challenge since when I was eleven and my mum bought me a second-hand Raleigh BMX to try to learn to ride a bike on. For your information, it wasn't one of those cool BMX bikes. It was a lump of metal and steel that caused serious pain to my genitals every time the brakes failed and I found myself crashing into various walls and railings.
"But everybody drinks! It's fun!", I hear you say. Correct. Except, not correct. At Christmas, when the original idea of abstinence was at the forefront of my mind, I had written a twenty-page manifesto detailing my love affair with alcohol and how I'd realised I didn't find it very fun at all anymore. My boozing began much later in life than most teenagers my age and unfortunately I've seen that kids are drinking younger and younger than even the age my mates started at. Listen as our society echos the words "what a waster" around recreational parks and shopping malls whilst in middle England, you can hear the faint rattling of parent's booze cabinets as they're secretly raided on a Friday night.
My family always had a very negative outlook on alcohol. My mother made it a forbidden thing so my father had to drink in secret. Growing up as a teenager in West Sussex was cosy, I had friends whose parents had massive booze cabinets and a relaxed attitude to their kids experimenting with alcohol. However, through my own will-power (and a pretentious teenage attitude of wanting to be 'different' in every possible way), I stayed strong and stubborn throughout my secondary school years. Instead of "going along with the crowd", I was a vegetarian oddball who refused to try even a drop of booze until I was seventeen. I watched my friends get leathered on stolen wine and spirits and in turn, make complete titsof themselves. That for me was entertaining enough - I didn't need help having a laugh with (at) my pals.
The turning point was when I started a my new college, with a new group of friends to indulge in. I eventually buckled into peer pressure through a genuine curiosity/need to fit in. I wanted to know what was so great about alcohol, and why people made such a fuss about it. There were two brothers who were lucky enough to have had their father build them a playhouse in their back garden, equipped with every boy's technical wet dream - a huge TV, hooked up to Sky with XBoxes and Playstations and computer screens.. oh, and a fridge constantly stocked full with a massive selection of beers and spirits.
Having already noticed my taste buds were an acquired taste, and always the one with the sweetest tooth, I fondly (just about) remember the first time I tried alcohol. The brothers were having a house party, and everybody was making their way to the supermarket to buy their rations of booze. I decided I would buy some Smirnoff Ice, it seemed like the right thing to try first.. beer had always had a stench to it, and ever-so-cleverly-marketed were alcopops. They looked appealing, and in turn would taste the opposite.
I remember turning round to one of my best friends and telling him I was going to try alcohol. It was a massive deal, almost a social event in itself. I was always the one who stayed awake the longest at house parties. I had previously found college house parties to be a daunting experience, most notably because I had previously been sober at them - so sleeping was not an option. They had been frightening at times, when the aggro of youth caused fights and disturbances (coupled with my love of practical jokes). Trying alcohol seemed a good way to get over that. I would be seen to 'fit in' and bloody hell, it might even help me eventually find someone who I could at least try and have sex with.
The silliness of adolescence mixed with the naivety of youth meant that deciding to try a Smirnoff Ice for the first time was never discouraged. It was a sweet tasting drink that left me wondering what all the fuss was about. Until of course, I was finally drunk and in a world of my own, swirling around, dancing on tables and shouting along to songs from the rooftops. I was one of the guys. And I was a drunk. Drinking was fun. Aged seventeen, drinking was fun. You could go out and get drunk, and before you knew it, you'd be up the next day feeling like shit, ready to go again. We were all skint, none of us had jobs but we had our youth and I replaced the Smirnoff Ices with bottles of cheap cider which we'd down in an attempt to get charged-up for wherever we were going that evening.
My baby face were enough to deter me from trying to get into nightclubs, that was to wait for another year, but by the time I was 18, I was a regular at gigs in London, and in doing so, I was also constantly on the hunt to find the 'after party' to lay my little head to rest before getting the train home in the morning. This started innocently, until I found myself experimenting with drugs, and suddenly night-times became day-times and what-have-you. We're all young, and only once, so I understand why I did it. Hangovers were non-existent, and responsibilities hadn't even heard of the 'diminished' before.
Let's paint a pretty picture. It's Friday evening, and at the beginning of the night, you have a few drinks. It's usually at that point that you know if you're gonna get fucked or not. The answer always being 'yes' because you can't not drink and not get smashed. They are so severely linked that it is impossible not to do one without the other. But, you have lost lost the thrill and buzz of being smashed. In fact, at times you've actually become a bit of a mute. Instead, you now find myself in your own little world, which is like putting your mind into the smallest glass box, and just sitting there.
It's the keeping-the-drunk-feeling that causes the late nights. Because once you're there, you don't want to go back. You don't want to lose the buzz, and then you start to drop off, your body and mind begin getting tired, so you push your body to the max hoping that that next drink will keep you going. And nine times out of ten, it will. But it will fuck you hard. If not then, the morning after. There's no fun involved, you've just basically signed up for a long-distance race against your body, mind and tolerance. Oh, and at the same time, spunking all your money down the fucking drain.
Ultimately, I tried alcohol on my own terms. It came as a shock for everyone when I finally did it, and even though I became just like the rest of thousands of teenagers in the country, I had hoped that my earlier abstinence was a token sign of my own self-respect. This is why I feel the need to publicly announce my intention to pursue sobriety. Intoxicants are generally there to add to the fun or help cope with the intensiveness of a situation. However, they get dangerous when they are no longer on your terms. When they call the shots. Quite, literally.
Once I had a taste for it, I bloody had a taste for it. I was gifted with living out of town, with neither parents able to drive, meaning that I would spend weekends staying at friends' houses, and once my mother got over the horror that her first born was going to house parties (she gate-crashed the first one, sending me home) and spurred on by the taboo of alcohol in my household, I capitalised on the freedom of going out big time. I felt I had been given a licence to party. And boy, I have partied fucking hard than Andrew WK and his entire entourage put together at times.
Fast-forward seven years later, and when you've been drinking like a fish for so long, your body can't take the severe battering that shots and vodka and beer and cider give you. Especially when you've run music venues and night-clubs. You're the bloody host, it's your job to have a drink. If you're an idiot, that is. Whilst I have found myself diving into the deep-end of a bottle of spirits more times than Tom Daley has practiced for this year's Olympic games, over time, you realise something. Now I'm not going to lump anybody or everybody into the same category, because as human beings we all have different tolerances and behaivours, but in the quarter of a decade I've been alive, I have consistently found more and more people who don't drink to be fantastically ambitious and well-driven.
Here's my big 'fuck you' to booze. I suppose this is why I've decided to do it in such a public fashion. Apart from the fact I will immediately grow tired of people asking why I've stopped drinking, I also know that there's no way of retaining my dignity if I go back on my word. Not at least until I think that when I drink, things are on my terms. There is such a fine line between becoming an alcoholic and a casual social drinker, and I have seen the perils of both - but ultimately, I've pissed away so much fucking money on booze, cabs and kebabs over time, that I've decided that I need to see another side of life.
It was a recent stag do to Edinburgh that was the turning point. I'd actually made this decision to give up booze before it, but it was the drinking culture that I was subjected to up there that put me off forever. Now, forever is a long time, and it's an hugely ambitious commitment to say I'll never drink another drop of alcohol again in my life, I mean, even Dot Cotton on Eastenders has a glass of sherry every now and again, yet watching herds of stag and hen parties mindlessly and mind-numbingly gurgle down drink after drink made me realise that if I'm gonna deliberately put myself in a situation where I encounter idiots, then I'm probably one too.
It's a crippling thought, that you can possessed by a liquid - alcohol is such a powerful vice that tricks you into thinking everything is gonna be okay and then multiplies and magnitudes your problems: times a million each time. I would have avoided so many break-ups and bad situations had I not allowed alcohol to call the shots. I expect I will be opening myself up for ridicule with this post. Even though I am convinced I have made the right decision, the way this country works means that if you don't drink, "there's either something severely wrong with you", you're "hiding something" or you're just "fucking boring".
Not true. And it's across the pond in LA that I reference next. As I previously explained, an unsuccessful attempt to give up booze at the beginning of the year resulted in a series of unfortunate events and near-catastrophes that would have all been avoided had I been sober. Whilst I am partially attracted to the danger of not knowing what's going to happen (I find spontaneity sexy), there is only so long you can pretend you're Ronnie Wood before you look at your cash card and realise you're not in the Rolling Stones and don't bank with Coutts.
I found a kindred spirit who I felt I let down once I fell off the wagon (not to mention a loved one), a guy from LA who had told me that he'd spiraled out of control and decided to give up alcohol. Now comes the interesting part: instead of the reaction that I got when I originally posted on my Facebook wall about giving up booze at the end of 2011: "yeah right", "coming down the pub?", "are you drunk/hungover/feeling OK?" etc... No. This guy told me the reaction of his fellow Americans. I sat inspired as I was told that in the US, if you decide that something has gotten the better of you, and decide to tell everyone that you're going to pack it in, they cheer you. They actually pat you on the back and tell you "well done". Bloody hell - sounds like an alien concept to me.
Madness, isn't it? Someone tries to make an active and positive change in their life, and you're applauded for it... In fact, you're actually cheered on. People are rooting for you. Your loved ones stick by you, and you ride 'the road of recovery' together. Out of all the casualties I know, they were also the ones who had no 'off switch' because there was always someone, always someone out there who would turn a blind eye to breaking their abstinence. Whilst giving up booze for anybody is near-on difficult thanks the fact human beings are creatures of habit (and alcohol is the centerpiece for a lot of 'great memories') if there's no support network, no matter how thick in the shit you are, you're never gonna get through those check-points to properly giving sobriety a chance.
The bottom line is, I've missed out on more life-affirming daytime moments by being too hungover and can't remember half the cool shit I've done because of booze. And it's with that I announce my retirement from partying. It's not going to be easy, but if I can go through twenty-five years with only a few cuts and bruises, I think I can do this and try get out before it's too late. No more alientating my loved ones through hundreds of bad drunken/hungover decisions, no instead I want to put a lid on the erosion of respect from my peers and spend the time I usually do drinking instead improving my circumstances and fixing problems with my loved ones. This isn't a "month off". This is my own personal London 2012. I'm running the bloody marathon and I want you all to sponsor me with your love and understanding. So, friends, readers, and general curiositers, let's give sobriety a chance. And let's not have to do it alone.
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