Saturday, 1 June 2013

ONE FOR THE ROAD ~ and another for the pavement....


~~~~~

In the past year or so, five people I know have died because of drinking.  Yes, that's FIVE people.  All were under the age of sixty.  Three of them perished by way of a fall downstairs - bangs on the head from which they did not recover.  One of these was my dear friend John Sutton.  We'd lost touch over the past few years; I haven't actually seen him since about 2008, but we used to be very close.

This is him and me in 1997, the morning after his birthday barbecue; I've been thinking about him a bit this week, because he would have been fifty-eight last Wednesday, May 29th.....




..... which has led me to thinking about the whole alcohol thing, too.  

I've been someone who likes a glass of wine or five since I was sixteen. Drinking has made me do and say things I've regretted, spend whole days lying in bed going urrgh, but has also added to the fun of hundreds and hundreds of extremely jolly times with friends and loved ones.  I have 33 photograph albums dating from 1977 to 2007 - within these albums there are many, many pictures like this one, taken in 2000, I think (I'm the one in the red...!).  



Evenings like these were always so much a part of my life, and they wouldn't happen without drink being involved, would they?  Somehow, you just don't dance until 3 am on diet coke and peppermint tea. 

It's not just the partying, though, is it?  It's the long, hilarious chats with friends. The in-depth natters over far too much wine.  A good film or two with a bottle or three shared between you.  Jolly dinner parties lasting into the early hours. The after work cameraderie in the pub. When I lived in a small town in Norfolk, life centred very much around the few pubs, which were all in a moment's walking distance from each other.  So often I'd nip out to Budgen for a pint of milk, bump into my friend Kathryn, say, hmm, fancy a quick one? - and there we'd sit in The Kings Head, for the next couple of hours, texts sent to husbands to say we'd be home soon (though indeed 'soon' was but a relative term), more drinks bought by other friends who arrived.  Kat and I used to say, shall we go for a quick 'catch up?' - which became our mutually agreed euphemism for 'a bit of a sesh'.... 




Then there are the bad things about it.  Looking in your purse the next morning and realising you've spent thirty quid you can ill afford.  The puffy face.  The wasted day because you feel too rough to do much.  The conversation you can't quite remember.  Struggling through a day at work.  Worrying, sometimes, that you may have a bit of a problem....


About eighteen months ago I went off drinking.  I don't know why, it just happened, gradually, over a period of a few months.  Maybe my body just said, okay, enough.  I have become something I never thought possible: someone who hardly drinks.  Used to be that if I had two days running without a drink I felt pretty good; three days running and I was polishing my halo, considering myself well 'in credit' for the weekend....  now, I can go weeks (and even months) without a drink and don't even notice it. Occasionally I do still have a few, if I'm with old friends, and in the morning I see on my face what I used to see - the greyish hue, the blotchiness, the baggy eyes.  I feel tired and a bit depressed.  I remember how lovely it is not to feel like that anymore, and it stops me doing it again, for quite some time.  I can't write if I'm struggling with a hangover.  I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I have not become sanctimonious or disapproving of those who do still go on the piss, I hasten to add.  Sometimes I wish I still wanted to get through three quarters of a bottle of Hardy's whilst watching The Apprentice.  It was fun.  Sometimes, I still get a bit drunk.  Those times have become rarities, though.
 
In the dentist's waiting room the other day, I read an article about women who drink, in a socially acceptable but excessive way, pretty much how I used to.  The author said that she and her friends were original 'ladettes' who had moved on to drinking wine at home now that they had children.  Although I am far too old to have been a 'ladette' (thank goodness), reading the article reminded me of myself, back then (apart from the kids bit) - an evening without wine was a bit boring and flat.  When I hear about people like my friend John, though, I am glad my body gave up on it.  


Life without drink is better, and I never, ever thought I'd hear myself say that. It makes you feel better, look better, sleep better, be happier, do more - and it's a hell of a lot cheaper, too.  In that article in the dentist's waiting room I learned about a website called Soberistas, for people who don't want to go into a room full of people and say "Hi, I'm Lavinia and I'm an alcoholic" but are concerned about their drinking and want to cut down.  Here's the link, if anyone wants to know about it: http://soberistas.com/  They're also on Twitter - @Soberistas

When drinking escalates, there comes a point when it stops being just fun and funny and starts being detrimental to every aspect of your life.  It creeps up, slowly, often without you realising it, affecting your health, your friendships, your finances, moods, love relationships, job.  Now I am Mrs Sparkling Water it's hard to remember why drink was ever so important to me, but I suppose I am one of the lucky ones ~ it gave me up before it ruined my life.

And finally... here's another picture of John, taken in 1999.  




The woman he's with was a very good friend of both of ours, Yvonne, or Yuvvy, as everyone called her.  She was bright, attractive, kind, funny, wore great clothes, had a gorgeous flat, a very good job, a teenage son - and a terrible drink problem.  Shortly before this photograph was taken (it was at my wedding reception) she'd sold her flat, given up her job and gone to live on a houseboat in Dublin with the love of her life, a hard drinking musician of the Irish kind.  On November 22nd 2000 she left the pub, completely slaughtered, and, on negotiating the space between land and boat, fell over.  Her body was found floating in the canal the next morning. 



RIP, John and Yuvvy

(and Pete, Bruno, Billy and Kate)




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29 comments:

  1. Congratulations on giving up ! My DD married into a family with 2 alcoholics ( OH's mum and step-dad) It is a nightmare. She didn't realise, before marrying, how much of a drain they were. Drunken calls at all hours..demands that OH goes down to Brighton to sort them out.....etc.
    I have had her in tears on the phone about their drinking, and her inability to deal with it. There is NOTHING funny about getting drunk --as your poignant blog very vividly says!

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  2. Muchas gracias for reading and commenting, CH! Oh yes, I know all that well - when I was the partner of an alcoholic I went through so much CRAP, but I didn't see it at the time - I was too busy being worn out and dealing with it! And of course, being with an alcoholic meant we were always in the pub....

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  3. I liked how objective you are here - most personal accounts of drink often leave out the unfortunately truthful details of how much fun it can be. I've been sober for ten months now and just reading similar accounts to mine can be a help to keep this going. Thanks for this piece and thanks for the soberistas link.

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  4. RIP indeed. My ex, Johnny Cooke, died after a fall because he was a drunk. He was 36, talented, very funny, generous, and looked so like Tom Selleck that everyone used to remark upon it. He has now been dead 25 years.

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  5. Oh, and in the pic where Terry's wearing red, I'm the one next to her with the blue nail varnish. I'm not saying never drink alcohol, you get that, right!?!

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  6. Thanks for reading and commenting, Gary! Yes, that's the thing, isn't it - it's fun, it's jolly, it makes an evening go with a swing - which is why I added the pictures both of the totally slaughtered rockin' night, and the much more sedate jolly dinner party! I don't want to sit in a pub drinking diet coke - I'd rather stay at home. Which is why if I am out or with friends I DO drink, though not as much as I used to, simply because I can't manage it and don't want it. What's so nice is that it's no longer an issue. Good luck x

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  7. I remember being at my ex sister in law's wedding reception and refusing champagne when the waitress brought it round. I explained I don't drink (haven't done since I was pregnant with my daughter and she's 26 this year!) She looked at me horrified and said, "But it's to toast the bride and groom!" I was shocked that she expected me to drink. I'd never experienced being expected to drink before! I just never went back to it and can't say I miss it.

    So sad that something people enjoy doing can be so problematic though. x

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    1. Indeed, Andrea - the problem with things that make us feel good is that they tend to be physically addictive, though, innit!! I wondered if you would read this, because I know you don't drink - thanks for doing so. I think that reaction at the wedding reception is dreadful - they wouldn't expect you to eat meat if you said you were a vegetarian, would they? It's all that, go on, everyone's got to get pissed thing.... but not doing so doesn't make you a party pooper, does it; it just makes you someone who doesn't want a drink...!

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    2. If I'm honest, I can't get my head round going to the pub and *having* to get slaughtered as opposed to going to the pub and having a couple of drinks. I always remember my husband asking me what was the point in going to the pub if you're not going to get p*ssed? Don't get me wrong, in my younger days I've been drunk to the point where I can't stand up but that wasn't my sole purpose for going out.

      Maybe growing up in a pub has had some subliminal effect on me.

      (I always read your blogs, I'm your blog stalker.)

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    3. Thank you for always reading my blogs, A! I agree - when I used to go to the pub it was because I wanted a drink, yes, but more because I wanted to see friends and have a laugh. Getting pissed was always a bi-product because I would always 'get my head on' but it wasn't the purpose of going out.

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  8. The line between social drinking and alcoholism is so fine - and so sad when booze become the end in itself and not simply the context for a fun time.

    Most of us (of a 'certain age') have had our share of hangovers - but I'm not sure we went out to get slaughtered, simply to have a good time in the context of a glass or four.

    But I worry about the young people who go out every Friday and Saturday with the sole purpose of being drunk. Some will grow up (as we have) and get homes and jobs and have to be up on Mondays; but others will have wrecked their livers long before maturity kicks in. Wish I had a magic wand for them.

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    1. Jo, I agree totally. When we were young, we just went out to have fun, and if that involved getting fairly drunk, so it did, but it wasn't the purpose - whereas now you see stuff on telly about groups of young girls buying bottles of spirits in order to get slaughtered even before they go out... that's all because of the easy availability and price of drink, of course. I remember about 30 years ago, going to buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday afternoon, from a corner shop. He couldn't sell it to me because it was outside licencing hours! Can you imagine that now?!!

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  9. Excellent post Terry. My grandfather and great grandfather were both alcoholics and both abandoned their families, causing misery and ruin down the years. But how can I know what their lives were like? Very sorry to hear about your friends who died so young. Had no idea so many younger people must have died because of drink

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  10. Thanks for reading, GW! It's odd - in some ways you can think, oh it's always more complicated than people think, but in other ways you can say - no, it's just the drink, that's all it is. It's a subject that fascinates me...

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  11. Really thought provoking post Terry. It's so sad that so many people have had their lives cut short by drinking. I have to confess I like a drink but don't miss it if I go without. The hangovers definitely get worse with age which I think is why most people slow down or give up.

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  12. Cheers for reading, EL! Yes, it's that picture of John and Yuvvy up there that really got to me - such a waste of life :(

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  13. Terry, my mother was an alcoholic. She ruined herself and alienated her family, me included. It started as that evening G&T with my dad. He never varied from having that evening G&T, but my mum ended up on a bottle a day slurped in secret, except of course the results were no secret. It was dreadful. I also like my red wine, but I am so conscious of what can happen, I am a deliberate non alcoholic. Like you, though, I can go weeks without a drink and barely notice, but I enjoy the sharing of a nice bottle of wine as much as anyone. However, living on a boat also makes you very very aware of the dangers. I have lost friends the same way as you lost Yuvvy. Thanks for this. Poignant and thought provoking.

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  14. Val, thanks so much for reading and commenting - oddly enough, the summer before Yuvvy died, she wanted me to go and stay with her for the weekend on the boat. I had this really dark feeling, and didn't want to go, so I made up some excuse. I didn't tell anyone because I thought it sounded stupid, but I thought that if I went, knowing how raucous things could get around Yuvvy and her chap, that I would die. Always wonder if it was a sort of premonition of her death. That's another subject entirely, though!

    I think people either have the need to drink one more, and one more, and one more, and some don't - that's all it is. Luckily, the physiological state of my body seems to have made me become the latter, of late - thank goodness! I am so sorry about your mother. Have you written about it anywhere?

    I love your blog, btw! x

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  15. No, Terry, I haven't, not that anyway. My newest book (not yet out) was writing as a sort of catharsis. My way of dealing with her eccentricity is to invent a character that is partly her and partly the kind of mother she could have been but wasn't! It's fiction but rooted in a whole heap of fact. I've deliberately made it humorous too. Laughing about it all is better for me by far than brooding :-)

    Re: your feelings of darkness about staying on the boat, I can well imagine you felt very uneasy about that sort of situation. Premonition or no, drinking and boats don't go although there seems to be a lot of it about! Most narrowboaters go from one pub to the next. I'm surprised more of them don't end up in the canal.

    Thank you for liking my blog! I have really only just discovered yours and I love your humour X

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  16. Ahhh, thank you! Yes, I do that too - write about situations that are less than amusing in a 'light' way, and invent characters who are amalgams of people I've known and products of my imagination.

    I wonder if the drinking/narrowboat thing goes together because the people who opt out of more conventional lifestyles tend to be those who are more inclined towards indulging in the pleasures of the flesh, I dunno! Or maybe it's just that sitting outside canalside pubs is just such a nice thing to do!!! :)

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  17. A lot of the last, I think Terry. Canalside pubs seem to be lovely, especially in the summer. I follow a number of narrowboating blogs (so different from boating over here), and the ones I like often focus on the food as well as the beer at these pubs - a bit like in France where boaters go from one restaurant or vineyard to the next :-) But I guess one drink can lead to the next, and the next, and the next if you have that kind of compulsive character. It's similar with drugs. When we were young, most of us smoked pot/wee/dope whatever you choose to call it, popped a few tabs and tried a few other things, but most of us also left it behind. Only a few got stuck into the heavy stuff and became addicts, but I think they'd have become addicted to either drugs or drink in any event. It might just have been in their nature. I know I'm at risk of armchair philosophising here without any real knowledge, but it seems that way :0)

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  18. I agree (again!) - I think that the amount you are likely to become involved in drink and mind altering substances is just something that is IN you, and most people have a cut off point where they think, yeah, that's as far as I want to go down this road... but some people's cut off point takes longer to reach, if it's reached at all. The people I knew in my youth range from those who did a little bit of partying in their twenties and then went 'straight', to those who became addicts of some sort or other and/or are now dead. I think it's the same with children; you can educate them, but the amount they experiment with drink/drugs is probably going to depend on their personality, in the long run. I'm not a parent, but I'm an aunt and I've been a step-parent, and my instincts about how far a particular child would travel down that route has usually been proved right - so far! No, I don't think you're armchair philosophising at all :) Have you come across Charles Dougherty on Twitter, or have I asked you that before? Lovely chap, he and his wife live on their boat. @clrdougherty - you'd like his blog, too!

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  19. Hey, thanks Terry! And thanks for the chat too! I also agree - again :-) I think you can tell quite early on which way a kid is going to. I am a parent (two lovely, very level headed daughters, both in their thirties now, and more sensible than I ever was..haha!), and I've been a step mum too, as well as being an aunt to hordes of fabulous girls. The only one I've ever been worried about is my stepson. He got into some nasty stuff at one time, but thank goodness, he's pulled through and pulled out of it now. He's almost forty now (sheesh, I feel old when I think of that!), but the signs were there when he was about six! Anyhow, thanks again, Terry, I'll look up Charles Dougherty. The name sounds familiar, so I might have seen him in your twittersphere :-)

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    1. Thanks for the chat, too! I've read a couple of Charles' books about his experiences on the waterways (I shall look into yours too, but at the moment my to-read list is too long!), I think you'd like them! x

      I know what you mean about the signs being there from an early age.... alas...!!

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  20. Very honest and thought provoking.Here in the USA, I think we thing of alcohol related deaths involving motor vehicles. You make a lot of good points.

    I'm so very sorry for your losses. I also applaud you for making your losses matter by addressing such a subject in their honor.

    Laura Hedgecock
    http://www.TreasureChestofMemories.com
    http://www.Twitter.com/LauraLHedgecock

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    2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Laura. Ahh, they're not my losses, but those of the families, really - friends just deal with it, but families' grief is something else altogether, isn't it! x

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  21. Goodness, what a heartful and honest post Terry. Recent events have made me re-evaluate a little, although I've never been a huge drinker. (Well, not since my eighties party girl days!)Life is such a precious gift. Thanks for sharing and I'm sorry for all your losses.

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  22. Thanks for reading and commenting, Jane - as for the losses, it's just part of life, and any sadness I feel is nothing compared to the families - but thank you, anyway! xx

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