Hi my name’s Paul and I’m an Alcoholic.
I never thought I’d hear myself say these words and I guess I’ve always associated them with weirdos who sit around in a circle in some dirty, cold parish hall that smells of damp, holding each other’s hands and uttering some strange, almost cultish chant in unison, but it’s actually true. My name is Paul and I am an alcoholic.
The definition of alcoholism is not being able to stop when you start. That’s me. I have no ‘off switch’. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. That’s how I’m hardwired. If you put a packet of crisps in front of me, I will finish them. If I have one alcoholic drink, I will want another. Then another. Then another. In the words of Depeche Mode, I just can’t get enough. I would often go out for a civilised dinner en famille, have a few beers with my meal and then end up roaming the streets of Dublin at 4am, asking complete strangers where the after party is.
From a young age, my impression of an alcoholic was someone you’d see begging on the Ha’ppeny Bridge with a naggin of Powers hidden in their left lapel pocket, or someone who’d go to bed with a bottle of vodka on their beside locker, ready for their first sip in the morning. That is not the case. The fact is there are alcoholics in all walks of life. The cash register attendant in Lidl, the taxi man, the Board Level Executive, the Barrister, the hairdresser. Alcoholism can affect all these people. You don’t have to drink morning noon and night to be an alcoholic. I could go several weeks without a drink. You just have to fulfil the criterion that you’re unable to stop when you start. If you can go to Coppers with your mates on a Saturday night and stop after 3 drinks, you’re very lucky. I could not.
Some weeks ago I took to Snapchat to explain to people why I didn’t drink. The reaction to the story was overwhelming. Followers were messaging me in their droves thanking me for sharing my story. I was receiving hundreds of messages of support from people in similar situations to mine. I decided to write this blog post in case I can help even one more person who is struggling with alcohol.
We have a very serious problem with drink in Ireland. We like to brush it off because ‘we’re Irish’. It’s what we do. The French drink wine. The Germans drink beer. The Italians drink coffee. The Irish just drink. We are sometimes even proud of how much we drink. It’s a mark of distinction for us Irish. The reality is that drink is ruining (some of) our lives.
I gave up alcohol on 31st July 2016. This is my story.
My Many Stages of Drunkenness
Pint 1: With every sip I’d get a buzz. My eyes would start to glisten. My smile would start to grow. Conversation was still slow, but it was warming up. I knew that the evening (day) ahead would bring joy.
Pint 2: The buzz would get more ecstatic. I’d find myself so much more relaxed. More able to converse. I’d now have less fear of judgement.
Pint 3: I’m happy now. Chatting away like mad. In actual fact what I am saying would appear (to me) to be very intelligent. I am great craic.
Pint 4: I’m nearly at the point where I’d have a cigarette, but not quite there yet. You can’t stop me talking. I’m feeling great. I matter to the world. I have an opinion. I have a strong opinion. I need people to hear it. I’m making people laugh. I’m cracking jokes. I am the business.
Pint 5: My feelings of increased intelligence would now manifest as feelings of increased superiority. I was right. No matter what words I said, I was right. I now enjoyed engaging in conversations of the intellectual kind. Conversations that would push boundaries. I needed to talk to people, as many people as possible, and show them how amazing I was. I am so proud.
Pint 6: I need a cigarette. I also need to get out to the smoking area to smoke it, but more importantly, to talk to others. I would appear to be the most confident, extroverted gob shite in the world. I need to be seen. I would be speaking to many people, but listening to hardly any. My mother always told me that when she saw me smoking “I was anybody’s”. This is probably the stage where most people would stop.
Pint 7: I am completely at ease. Maybe too much. Dancing like a twat is now on the agenda. I am on such a buzz that I don’t want to stop. I am coming across as an arrogant prick to many people, but I don’t see this. How could I? Shots anyone?
Drink 8: I am probably not drinking pints anymore, but it really depends on the circumstances. I want this buzz to intensify. The venue is getting busier. I am going to be surrounded by more and more people. I need more courage. I need more confidence. In college I was known to order double vodkas in a pint glass with Smirnoff Ice or some other form of alco-pops as a mixer. The mad man was emerging.
After drink 8, I’d want the buzz to intensify so much (I’d want to get so out of it) that I’d look outside of the boundaries of drink to assist me. I’d be looking for weed, cocaine or pills. If I had a good meal that evening, the food might have soaked up too much of the alcohol for my liking. As my inhibitions would be gone, I’d have no problem asking strangers for additional help. In fact, I’d probably come across as a bit of a lunatic asking every Tom, Dick and Harry in my vicinity to help me get a better buzz. I was relentless in my quest to find oblivion. Even though I was already well on, I can still remember nights when I’d keep asking (pestering) people for drugs. That memory would make it through my alcoholic amnesia. That’s how desperate I used to be.
I can’t really write too much about the ensuing stages of a night out, but I do have memories of standing outside nightclubs asking strangers where the after parties were. I wouldn’t want my high to end. I would want my escape to continue for as long as possible. My friends would have gone home long ago. I’d be on my own. I’d come across as a complete weirdo. Unable to stand. Sometimes unable to speak. On the many occasions where I’d end up going home with total strangers, it was probably because they felt sorry for me, they wanted to take the piss out of me, they wanted to take advantage of me, or all of the above. I have memories of waking up in houses all over Dublin, most of the time not recognising the people in the house as I’d have no memory of the night before, how I got there or what I had done.
I remember one morning waking up in a house in Dublin 8, naked on the bed, with an older man helping himself to me. This is one incident I remember, countless other similar events could have happened, I just don’t remember them.
The Paul who drank between 1- 5 pints was such a great guy. Such a laugh. So sociable. If only Paul could have stopped after 5.
The Morning After the Night Before
After a heavy session, I would not be able to leave my bed, never mind my room and certainly not my house. There would be no point. Indeed, there’d be no point to life anymore. I would hide in my bed for up to 3 days. I wouldn’t be able to answer my phone. I’d ignore my nearest and dearest. I’d be very ill. I’d hoover up takeaways but would not be able to hold them down. My work would suffer. My family would suffer. My life would suffer.
If drugs were involved, the hangover would be so much worse. My head would be in a complete mess. I can vividly remember two separate occasions where I didn’t see the need to carry on. On one occasion, when I was sitting at the table of my parent’s penthouse apartment in Terenure, waiting for my French grinds student to arrive, I questioned how exactly I would die if I were to throw myself off the balcony. Would it be quick? Was there a chance I would survive and live on in a wheelchair? Who is to say that if it weren’t for my propensity to vacillate, that the deed would not have been done. On another occasion, after a Gala ball on a Saturday night, at which I took herbal ecstasy, I was driving on the Rathgar road and didn’t think I could go on. I was feeling worthless. I called a close friend of mine and explained the situation. She calmed me down and I was okay. This event took place the Wednesday after the Saturday night session. Four days later. Such was the insidiousness of herbal drugs from hemp shops.
This is the shit drugs did for me, ladies and gentlemen. Drink was bad enough. Combining them was extremely dangerous. I am 37 now and I have no doubt that if I continued along the treacherous road of drink and drugs, I might have followed through on my instincts by now.
Part Two of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow.