Teetotal: my summer of…fun?

IMG_0257It seems unfestive—malcontented even—to attempt to give up drinking during the summer time, the season being so synonymous with the smell of barbecues and the cheer of get-togethers where a drink in hand is ubiquitous, if not essential. But that is precisely what I intend to do.

There is a passage early in his book My Struggle, where the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard characterises his issues with drink and being social:

“Apart from some parents of the children at Vanja and Heidi’s nursery we do not know anyone here. This is not a loss, at any rate not for me, I don’t get anything out of socialising anyway. I never say what I really think, what I really mean, but always more or less agree with whomever I am talking to at the time, pretend that what they say is of interest to me, except when I am drinking, in which case more often than not I go too far the other way, and wake up to the fear of having overstepped the mark. This has become more pronounced over the years and can now last for weeks. When I drink I also have blackouts and completely lose control of my actions, which are generally desperate and stupid, but also on occasion desperate and dangerous. That is why I no longer drink.”

Knausgaard’s experiences here have a particular resonance for me, as I’m sure they do for many people. Very often I find myself donning a certain persona in social situations—overly smiley, scattered, possibly a bit furtive with my inability to sustain eye contact. Dippy even, as I have certainly been dubbed before. It’s not conscious, although I’m often conscious of its arrival and silently irritated with myself for behaving in such a way. Keeping it at bay though seems slightly out of my control; almost like a flight or fight response. I have an incredible knack for putting my foot in it and saying something mildly offensive, usually because I’m trying to be congenial instead of saying what I actually think, which somehow seems to garble the thought process, not to mention the words that escape my mouth. The truth is I’m actually incredibly serious and not really much of a people person at all. I find social situations stressful, even the most banal ones. The panic which it provokes (ranging from the very mild to quite extreme) causes my head to empty which in turn inhibits my ability to draw on information, conversation material, anything really. The scatty persona that kicks in is a sort of automatic veneer that disguises the mental stasis underneath. At the age of 17, a psychiatrist diagnosed this as a form of social phobia; my GP suggested I read the newspaper more often. Neither of these exchanges were particularly helpful.

At any rate, given this rather complicated neurotic disposition, I frequently grasp for any available crutch and drinking is usually the most salient. Plus, I enjoy drinking (not drinking to get fuckoed you, understand). But I’ve never been especially good at managing my intake and this often leads me into rather boorish, shouty terrain where, more often than not, I can’t remember things. And like Knausgaard, I often wake up feeling like I’ve overstepped the mark or I simply become plagued by an overwhelming uneasiness which can last for days, if not longer. Given the chemical precariousness of my brain at the best of times, the fallout of drinking can also pull me into some extremely dark places.

Physically speaking as well, I find grappling with the aftermath of drink problematic indeed. Even three glasses of wine can leave me feeling utterly wrecked the following day and with how fast my life seems to be passing before my eyes, I can’t afford to waste days to hangovers. There’s a health imperative there as well; I feel bloated, haggard and mildly poisoned after three drinks or more and all the good work done by vitamin supplements, copious water consumption, all the leafy greens imaginable, and exorbitantly priced face serums is completely undone.

With these thoughts in mind, yesterday I resolved to not drink alcohol for a while. We shall see how this eventuates. I’m not especially willful, nor do I have much discipline, so I’m not intending to be hard-and-fast about this resolution. But increasingly I’ve been meditating on the notion of teetotalism, with the prospect gaining more lustre these past couple of weeks. I’ve never done it before and I’m keen to see if there’s any merit for me in it.

So here’s to a crutchless summer….



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