My story (or my journey) with alcohol has been a long one. A fairly unremarkable story that started when I was about 15 years old.
I’m in my 50’s now and I grew up in the 70’s when heavy drinking and smoking was a very macho thing to do. It was almost expected that you drank until you slid under the table.
Drinking games and competitions were the norm, and drinking a yard of ale down at the Rugby club on a Saturday night was expected just to get the night started on the right foot.
It was rowdy, it was fun and that’s how life was during that dreary decade of Glam Rock music, platform shoes, skinny tank top pullovers, huge round shirt collars and some of the worst hairstyles in living memory.
Come Monday it would be back to school, college or work and wait for Friday night to come round again.
The 80’s ushered in a new era of Thatcherism confidence, increased wages, home ownership, a much needed change in music (Wham sang “Club Tropicana, Drinks Are Free”), and a new experience on the high street which was a cross between the sophistication of a restaurant and the welcome of a pub. It was called a Wine Bar!
All of a sudden wine was introduced to the masses. It was cool and in vogue, wheras previously drinking wine was the preserve of the elite, the upper class and the wealthy. (And to be honest it mostly tasted like battery acid)
Now a new generation was discovering the delights of mass wine imports into the UK from France, Germany and Portugal. All of a sudden we could purchase wine at a very affordable price along with our grocery shopping and drink it at home feeling very continental and pleased with ourselves.
The days of swilling down pints of ale at the rugby club and spluttering under plumes of smoke from the endless lighting up of John Player Special, Embassy and Rothmans cigarettes were fast disappearing.
Now we had our first homes, first mortgages, wobbly 3-legged pan shaped BBQ’s from B&Q, and friends round to share Coq au Vin made in the slow cooker on a Saturday night. All of course washed down by litres of German Liebfraumilch, French Sauvignon, Italian Pinot, and of course some really bad Chardonnay.
Popular wines such as Blue Nun, Lambrusco, Mateus Rose and of course Le Piat Dor dominated the supermarket shelves
Le Piat Dor wine was an advertisers dream. We consumed it by the bucket. The advert hook line was “The French adore Le Piat Dor”. In reality nobody in France had ever heard of it, let alone taste it, but the young aspiring British loved it.
And if we didn’t want to entertain at home then every high street and side street had Wine Bars opening up where we could don our wide shouldered power suits and melt our newly obtained Access or Visa Card.
Life was good, we thought the Boom would go on forever and we could live this lifestyle indefinitely.
However, despite the impending roller coaster of boom and bust that was about to change the landscape for many people, one thing was here to stay, and that was our newly found obsession for buying wine, beer and spirits from the supermarket and drinking at home.
In a few short years the old gloomy grey relationship with alcohol was gone.
Pre-1980’s Britain had viewed alcohol consumption as something that happened in the pubs and working men’s clubs. Men drank pints of bitter or mild and women drank sweet alcohol concoctions such as CherryB, Babycham and Cinzano.
Very rarely was alcohol consumed in the house, and if it was it took place either in secret or a tipple at Christmas.
Now drinking at home was accepted as the norm and it was accessible and acceptable any night of the week.
For me at that time it wasn’t a particular problem. I had a young family and the demands of working long hours so drinking during the week was a take it or leave it affair. Mostly I didn’t bother, I was too caught up in the DIY boom and fixing up our new home, but if I did it was a couple of cans of lager or the odd bottle of wine.
The weekend of course was a totally different story. Staggering home and falling up the stairs were the norm. Of course I wasn’t the only one. A friend of mine (an ex neighbour who played the guitar) staggered up the stairs one night and tripped over the top step where the staircase turned onto the landing. This was also where he proudly displayed his guitar on a stand in the corner.
Unfortunately, as he tripped up the step he fell face forward into the guitar where the strings cleanly sliced off the tip of his nose!
OOPS!… Quick trip to Saturday night A&E to stitch it back on again followed by a bout of plastic surgery.
As I progressed into my late 30’s and early 40’s and the children were growing up doing there own thing then things started to change.
I’d always enjoyed cooking and gradually transgressed from weekend wannabe chef to every night of the week chef.
Watching cookery programs was a good source of entertainment as a new type of presenter had appeared on the scene known as a Celebrity Chef.
Looking back, one chef who I found very influential at the time was Keith Floyd.
Keith Floyd was a charming and energetic restaurateur. Clearly a very skilled chef, a very flamboyant personality and very alcoholic.
He would always start his show with a large glass of wine, and before preparing any meal he would pop open a fresh bottle.
No screw tops back then, always a cork pulled with an expensive looking corkscrew and the whole image was fresh, exciting, continental and seductive.
Well that was me hooked. Within a few short cookery shows Keith Floyd had somehow managed to reach through the TV screen, grab me by the eyeballs and drag me into a world of creative cookery fueled by crisp cold Sauvignon Blanc.
From then on every evening would commence with a stop off at the supermarket to collect fresh ingredients and top up the wine rack. Back then no self respecting kitchen was without the wooden oak coloured wine rack on top of the fridge and a cold Sauvignon Blanc or New World Chardonnay inside.
The lifestyle was one of coming home from work, a quick shower swiftly followed by a bottle of wine while mingling with the family and catching up on the day’s events. Then in true Keith Floyd style crack open another bottle and get cooking.
Of course by the time the meal was ready it wouldn’t have mattered whether I’d prepared a nice fillet steak or beans on toast, it was about the buzz of the wine and the association of a nice lifestyle. Dinner was secondary.
In fact thinking back, I don’t think I learned a damn thing about cookery from Keith Floyd, only to love the seductive swirl of the wine filling his oversize sparkling glass.
Cheers Keith (F’king Piss Head)…
That said, I still miss him on the TV. He lived by the wine, he cooked by the wine, but regrettably in 2009 he also died by the wine bringing to the close an era of TV entertainment and exhuberance.
Even back then I knew I was drinking too much, but it was controllable, or at least I felt it was.
I could leave it from Monday until Thursday, but for some reason Thursday was becoming the start of the weekend. We’d have a special Thursday night dinner simply because the next day was Friday, and yes that involved the super chilled wine bottle in the fridge that tantalisingly dripped condensation as its pale crisp content swirled seductively into the oversized thin stemmed sparkling glass.
Boy, how I looked forward to that moment, and I’m damn sure the first glass never touched the side of my throat.
Friday night was no better, but it was Saturday when the real action took place.
We’d moved house into a new area and discovered a small local Italian restaurant that had recently opened.
We became good friends with the owner and his wife, and of course on a Saturday night they welcomed us with open arms. (On reflection, it was probably the open wallet they embraced more, but business is business and I’m probably being a bit flippant).
So the evening would start with wine before we went out, quickly followed by a never ending copious supply of wine during the evening and finally finishing the night in the next door neighbours house drinking more wine until who knows what time. (The neighbour liked entertaining but had some issues with going out, but that was ok with them, they were good friends who welcomed us round after we’d been out and they enjoyed the evening as much as we did)
However, by this point the association with wine and good times was building stronger and stronger. The idea that we could have it all, the Mediterranean lifestyle of dining out at the local Trattoria and celebrating with friends was a powerful force. Not only that, it was socially encouraged by TV and driven hard by the advertising companies.
Media companies such as MTV had discovered the power of video to sell music, and they used it to its full advantage by connecting it with wealth, consumerism and lifestyle. It was a very, very powerful force.
Lifestyle sells and people buy into it big time, including me.
I appreciate this story might sound like it’s going to end in some sort of squalid mess.
Thankfully life has been good. I’ve had my up times, and I’ve had my down times, mostly job and career related, but overall I consider myself to be very fortunate and I’d like it to stay that way.
As regards drinking wine, I’m pleased to say the excessive Saturday nights have calmed down, the Trattoria is still in business (although we rarely visit now) and the good neighbour friends separated, divorced and moved away.
The only constant in all this is that the drinking of wine has now crept up to 7 days a week!
To be clear on this, I don’t drink during the day – not even lunch time. I’ve never felt the need to. I only drink white wine once I get home and my trigger point is preparing the evening meal.
Further, I don’t drink until I’m falling over even though the amount I drink would put most “ordinary drinkers” into some sort of alcoholic coma, and that’s probably because my body has adjusted to tolerate the amount of wine I can comfortably consume. However, it has increased my weight significantly along with my blood pressure.
Also, it’s never stopped me from meeting my obligations in life or prevented me from going to work. I’m neither abusive, violent or bad tempered. In fact the only person it affects is me and my health!
This has troubled me for some time, in fact many years. Not only is the constant fluctuation in weight a nuisance, I also genuinely worry about the effect on my liver.
As part of my medication routine for controlling the blood pressure I have annual blood test, which some months ago revealed that I was pre-diabetic. My GP advised me to cut back on consumption of white bread, pasta, potatoes etc, but I knew what the real culprit was….
I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a man in the local pub beer garden last summer that made me decide I needed to take things more seriously.
This man was in a wheelchair. He had no legs below the knees. I didn’t previously know this man but learned through conversation that he had been in the fire service but had been pensioned off at the age of 50 because he lost his legs.
My immediate thoughts were that he’d had some sort of tragic accident while at work, but the reality was that he’d had them amputated due to ignoring the Doctor’s warnings of impending diabetes.
And of course this had been brought on by continual heavy drinking!
I suppose in reality I’ve been concerned about my past binge drinking and then continual evening drinking for about 15 years. However, it’s easy to ignore and you foolishly think you’re in control, when in reality this addiction or however you want to label it is really the driving force. It controls your thoughts and often leads you away from things you know you should be taking care of.
The evidence of the potential damage it was doing to my health was stacking up and it was now impossible to ignore, and if I did continue to ignore it then I’d be stupid and responsible for inviting the 7 Horsemen of the Apocalypse into my life.
The blood tests and conversation with my GP eventually led me to self refer to an organisation that offered non-judgemental help for people who needed to change things that were destructive in their lives.
I feel I’m very fortunate to have found them as they helped me to understand what my course of action needed to be.
I wasn’t pushed or told that I had to take one path or another, it was professional guidance so that I could decide for myself.
After all, this was my journey and only I could take it. In the end I decided that my pathway for now could only be an alcoholic detox followed by a period of abstinence. Others may choose a different path.
I’m grateful for the support and guidance they offered me and I’d like in some small way to repay their dedication by sharing my story so that others can decide if it’s for them.
Even if it encourages just one person to take action and take control then it will be worth it.
You can follow my week long detox program by visiting the GETTING STARTED page. It was written day to day as it happened and has a smattering of my personality in it which I hope you don’t find offensive or flippant. I tend to deal with adversity or difficulties with a certain amount of wry humour and sarcasm, which I appreciate isn’t everybody’s thing.
However, it’s an honest account and I hope you gain some inspiration from it to take action and start your journey.
Good luck and best wishes.