Beyond the Bottle was intended to be an outlet to write about my week-by-week experience living life in recovery. However, due to ongoing current events my week is limited to the walls of my flat. So while I can’t write about going out, specific battles, challenges and trigger points, I can share what I’m experiencing during this time. Slightly different, but hopefully we’ll be back to normal soon.
Lockdown has brought many things upon us. Admittedly, many negative, but one thing I have loved is the increase in communication between friends in far away places.
This week I talked to one of my best friends, Mittal. I lived with Mittal for four years, and nearly half of those included living above the pub that I ran, so as you can imagine, we drank… quite a lot.
I haven’t spoken to him for a while, probably since starting this blog. This week we chatted, caught up, the usual, and then the conversation turned to my recovery.
However, it didn’t take the usual tone of ‘how’s it going?’ ‘how’s lockdown?’ ‘must be tough’ ‘you okay?’. Mittal is a philosophical man and asked me something I’d never come across before.
“I was just thinking, do you feel like your sobriety is getting in the way of you living your life? As in, focusing on being sober so much and taking away from other areas of your life now? As you spend so much time writing and thinking about it?”
Normally I respond to questions pretty quickly but this really made me think.
We live our days through the eyes of someone in recovery. So all the reading, writing, breathing, meditating, therapy and chats all come naturally to us. We developed this new way of life when we gave up booze.
I’ve never stopped to think how much time I spend on recovery, it just comes with the job. But for someone who isn’t an addict it may seem like it does take over our lives. After all, it’s what we post on Instagram, what we write about in our free time, who we talk to on weekends, the sober meetups, it goes on…
And the more me and Mittal talked about it, the recurring theme for everyday was what I did to stay sober.
The fact of the matter is whether I spend 10, 30, 45, 60 hours a week doing sober-related activities, it’s a lot less than the time I spent glugging booze down my neck.
More importantly, it’s opened my eyes. The only restriction I now have is whether I have the balls to do things. I’m not hindered by a hangover, the shakes, the incessant need to be near alcohol or have it in my bag the whole time.
I almost felt like I was justifying my sobriety to him as I rattled off all the things I have accomplished, which sounds like a bad thing. But actually, sometimes we need to step back and look at what we have achieved to keep on nailing this disease.
I’ve discovered who I am
“See that glassy eyed, sweating, dribbling fella over there knocking back Guinness like St. James’ Gate is running out?” “Ah yeah, Ben, he’s cool.”
No, that Ben was not cool. This Ben is cool. I was convinced alcohol made me who I am. But it didn’t, it actually took away all the good qualities I possessed and mangled them into a contorted, lying, careless, shell of a human.
Well now those good qualities have re-emerged and I’m less bothered about what people think. I am proud to be me. I am proud that I rant too much, have annoying OCD on occasions, worry about stupid things, love to cook and I’m fucking emotional. There I’ve said it.
I care without trying
I’ve always cared about the people I love, but arguably in the wrong way. I always did what I thought people wanted. I always tried to please with petit gestures because I thought it distracted from revealing who I really was. Because I didn’t really care, I just cared about the next drink.
Now I care with all my heart and I don’t even have to try.
I enjoy the little things
People always say “It’s the little things that matter”. Well it’s true. Getting drunk and buying expensive gifts doesn’t save relationships and bringing home expensive wine as a treat doesn’t hide the fact you’ve had eight pints on the way home either. Fuck the grand gestures, just be real.
It’s sending your best mate a birthday card even though you haven’t bothered for five years, the random call you make at lunch, cooking her favourite dinner when she’s not feeling so great, putting facemasks on and pulling all your beard hair out. I LOVE every one of them.
I’ve Realised your friends are everything
As I delve into my drinking habits with my closest friends, none of them seem overly surprised I ended up where I did. My personality says it all and that hasn’t changed – all or nothing Ben! Thankfully the one thing that hasn’t changed is their love and support.
As best mates do, we used to get battered and if I’m honest some of those times were the best we’ve had… but that doesn’t define our friendship.
My birthday used to be ‘an occasion’ at the pub from morning ‘till night. For my first birthday sober, I walked around Cambridge with Mittal and Bakewell playing Scrabble and finding “spooky doors”. We had the most intelligent discussion we’ve had in years. I found it baffling that they weren’t having a beer, but I realised 1) they didn’t need a beer to have fun 2) they were supporting me. At that moment, six months into my sobriety, that day made me realise I don’t need booze to have fun.
I used to get asked, you’re 28 and you don’t have a driving licence, why? Well, if I’m honest I just never needed one. I lived in cities, didn’t have the money and couldn’t be arsed. When I was 26 I thought it’d be a good idea, so I put in for my theory. I turned up to the test centre six pints deep, and before you ask, nope I didn’t get kicked out, I actually missed passing by one point. And looking back, thank fuck I did. I probably would have killed someone down the line.
Throwback to eight months into my sober life, I got my licence – passed first time, just saying. That day, for the first time in a long time I felt my age. A month later I bought a car, saw the monthly payments, and then I really felt my age! It was a huge marker in my new life and one I cherish every time I drive. I still often think to myself “fuck, I own this car” because 16 months ago, I could hardly get into one.
I’ve Rediscovered my love of food
Anyone who knows me well will say I eat like a horse. But before rehab I wasn’t eating – if I ate I was sick, if I was sick, I wasted booze. So it didn’t happen. I used to be a podgy kid and always loved eating and happily that kid returned when I discovered my hunger again about two weeks into rehab. It was heaven.
Now it’s my chosen social activity. We can laugh over a stupidly sickly sundae, cry over a sourdough pizza or feel like a buddha in Dip & Flip. Food has always been a time to come together and that’s what I truly love most (except if they have wings then it’s a close second).
I love tasting, smelling, cooking and everything that comes with it. I draw the line at ‘All You Can Eats’ – they can get messy.
Spending my money before I’ve ‘earned it’
I drank myself into serious debt. When I walked to the store I used to check which card had the least negative number on it and prayed it would work. I’d rejoice when Capital One sent me a text which read “We’re increasing your balance”, so I’d celebrate on a bench slurping the £8 white, instead of the usual £5. Why? Because it hurt my stomach less.
It’s hard looking back now to know I was 28, no job, in over £10k of debt. The reality is without my family I’d have been on the streets.
Fast forward to now. I’m in no way ‘well off’ but I’ve cleared my debts, I have a job and I can treat myself once in a while. About five months into recovery I went to Denmark St. in Soho, browsed the guitars, played a couple, but then felt guilty. I couldn’t buy one, it felt wrong. I felt I didn’t deserve it after everything I’d done, it wasn’t time to reward myself yet.
Don’t worry, a few months later I did. I welcomed Amy to the guitar family. For all you guitar folk, she’s a Gibson Firebird, jet black.
I’ll stop there because this list could go on, ending with describing how I love my new shower products.
I think Mittal’s overall point looked to explore the balance between recovery and life, which relates to a discussion I have had many times, leading with the question ‘Can you become addicted to recovery?’
However you live your life, and I’m very guilty of this, it’s important not to have a pinhole vision around recovery. While things like milestones, meetings, check-ins, steps and therapy might be important to you, recovery is about the life you live, what you achieve and the freedom it brings.
I like to relate it to when I first learned guitar; lay the foundations, take lessons, then branch off to your creative world.
Work a program, stick to a structure but make your recovery your own. Find what works for you and reap the benefits of a sober life.
While this post may seem to be all about me blowing my own trumpet, and that’s exactly what it is, I want you to celebrate your achievements, look at your journey and how far you have come.
If you are yet to start your journey, you can do it and bring a multitude of joys back into your life.
In fear of becoming too preachy, I’ll leave it there.
Love, Ben xx