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My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

How does one set about making new friends in a new city, when you reach an age where everybody has coupled off and settled into their cliques? This was the question which weighed heavily on my mind, acutely aware as I was that my Brighton colleagues' life priorities were completely different from most of those who I'd worked with in London. Maybe I was just getting older, but it seemed like everybody was married with at least a couple of children. Trying to arrange a night out required a lot of notice and pre-planning - childcare arrangements and what little remained of parents' social lives became a logistical nightmare, and the a well-attended social function could not be held on an ad-hoc basis.

There was a thriving sports and social club, which catered for 5-a-side football, squash and badminton, and a smattering of other sports. As part of my efforts to calm the hyper-competitive side of my personality, I decided to avoid sports, which left me with few other social opportunities which were workplace-related. There was a company Christmas party, a department Christmas party and a a team Christmas party, but for the other 11 months of the year, there was nothing. From 'getting to know you' casual conversations with my colleagues, I understood that their entire lives were spent ferrying their children from party to party: an endless procession of parties and social functions for kids, but an adult night out was something which parents only enjoyed a handful of times each year.

I gravitated towards a group of alcoholics, who had either been quietly relocated from London to Brighton, having spent a month drying out at The Priory rehab, paid for by the company, or some of those whose behaviour was slightly more disgraceful were now kept on a tight leash: short employment contracts and zero tolerance for their prior antics, which had often involved going AWOL for days or even a whole week, and returning to work in a very bedraggled state.

The tolerance of workplace alcoholism was ubiquitous in investment banking. At a certain level of management seniority and age, I couldn't think of a single individual who wasn't excessively partial to their particular drink of choice: red wine, whiskey or vodka. Physical features of these senior colleagues told the whole story: red noses, liver spots, bags under their eyes, beer guts and a haggard look which added ten or fifteen years onto their appearance. They were some of the most brilliant, entertaining and hyper-intelligent people I ever had the pleasure of working with. It was a crying shame that none of them seemed to live beyond their mid fifties, and many were dead by their mid-forties. Given that I had known so many of my former colleagues die from alcohol-related illness, I was certain that investment banking must have a problem far in excess of the national average - alcoholism was practically institutionalised.

During the summer, I had a brilliant time. My new group of friends knew lots of wonderful beer gardens and other sun-traps where we could enjoy several pints of beer or cider, before staggering back to the office. After work, there were delightful terraces to sit on, drinking, while the sun went down. Looking out at the holidaymakers enjoying the beach and the sea, we vicariously partook of their wholesome activities - we felt like we were part of their healthy lifestyle, when in fact we were drinking vast amounts and going home incredibly intoxicated every night.

I suppose that wearing the so-called "beer jacket" meant that when late September arrived and there was a chilly morning, I was a little shocked. I hadn't put a lot of thought into what life would be like aboard my yacht, during the winter.

With a fan heater on a timer switch, I was able to make the bathroom warm enough to make showering bearable. With thick quilts, blankets and warm clothes, I could keep myself cosy enough throughout October. However, as the temperature dropped lower and lower, it was clear that I needed to make a drastic change - my ability to heat the yacht, and its insulation, were woefully inadequate for the UK winter.

One of the reasons for purchasing the yacht had been that I knew I would be able to live aboard it very comfortably in the Mediterranean, or other more southerly and pleasant climates, if my job didn't work out - I owned a truly mobile home. But, the voyage would now be unbearably unpleasant and quite dangerous, with winter almost upon us - gale-force winds regularly swept eastwards from the Atlantic, along with gigantic waves and an immense amount of rain.

Sailing during the late Spring to early Autumn period was amazing in the English Channel, which is one of the windiest places on the planet. Force 4 wind with gusts of force 5 can be very enjoyable for an experienced sailor - exciting - but wet-weather gear is still required even at the peak of summer, because the spray, rain and wind-chill can quickly turn life at sea into a very cold and hostile environment. With the autumn bringing monster waves and storm-force winds, along with biting cold wind and water which feels like ice, there is nothing at all enjoyable about sailing after the end of October.

The prospect of being hit by repeated storms as I battled my way south, attempting to reach the Gibraltar Straits and the warmth of the Med, or perhaps the Canary Islands, was nigh-on suicidal. If I didn't break my mast and have to be rescued, perhaps I would be seriously injured, killed, or at the very least spend a very long time freezing cold and regretting ever having left port. Any crew member who agreed to help with the passage would either be mad or inexperienced and incompetent - it wouldn't be responsible of me to even ask anybody to undertake such a dangerous trip with me.

Meanwhile, I had met a girl - Sian - using a dating app, and I had been spending an increasing amount of time at her house, motivated in no small part by the fact that she had central heating and double glazing. We were an odd couple, given that she was a Gender Studies lecturer at the University of Sussex, and everybody had assumed that she was gay, including her parents. She was also extremely left wing and a regular participant at protest marches: particularly anti-capitalist marches. I thought that my investment banking background would mean that we'd be entirely incompatible, but she was well read, well travelled and had some fascinating opinions which she expertly articulated, so she was incredibly entertaining company. She also enjoyed frequent sex, which was unusual for somebody who'd had so few partners that her nearest and dearest assumed she was deep in the closet.

I suppose the guilt I had carried my whole career, particularly around my direct involvement in investment banking during the financial crisis of 2007/8, meant that I had become more left-leaning and somewhat of a skeptic, regarding capitalism. I knew that people had lost their homes, businesses and vast numbers of people had become dependent on food banks, as a result of the irresponsible actions of people like me. I had suffered no hardship - ever - in my adult life, and I was never going to be forced into a zero hours contract job at McDonalds or to become part of the 'gig economy' delivering takeaway food on a bicycle. I had profited handsomely during the boom years, and I had continued to enjoy an exceptionally high standard of living, without interruption. Guilt had driven me to educate myself about the hardships faced by ordinary British people, and I now read The Guardian as well as The Financial Times; I read the New Statesman as well as The Economist magazine. Having been surrounded by Conservative voters throughout my life, I had lately become more open-minded about Labour policies. I had begun to read books which were harshly critical of the many failings attributable to Neoliberalism, and made a convincing case for socialism, social enterprises and sustainability; the green agenda.

Sian also really liked wine and movies, which was great. It was an ideal way to spend the winter: snuggled up watching challenging award-winning subtitled films which had achieved much critical acclaim in liberal arts circles, getting drunk, having a debate about how to fix the world's problems, and then having great sex.

While she was naturally reluctant to introduce her investment banker boyfriend to her friends, many of whom were right-on feminists, activists and viewed every act of coitus with a man as a victory for the patriarchy, and a terrible defeat for the oppressed minorities, we were - in a strange way - quite compatible. Perhaps it was a relationship of convenience, and it certainly allowed me to defer the problem of how to heat my yacht.

Sian had sudden bursts of uncontrollable excitement. "You MUST take me out on your boat!" she would say. At other times, she remembered that my yacht and my luxury-brand car were emblematic symbols of everything that was wrong and unjust about the world. She asked me to park around the corner from her house, lest one of her friends notice that she was dating a wealthy man, and worse still, an investment banker.

I had the sense that our fundamentally different paths we had taken through life - her through academia and me through an investment banking career - meant that we were never destined to have a long-lasting relationship. I liked her a lot and I certainly never thought or acted as if what we had was casual but there wasn't the same pressure that I was used to, when I had been looking for the right woman to marry and have children with. We were content, snuggling under our blanket, sipping wine and watching subtitled movies; we weren't grasping and reaching... constantly struggling to achieve more and more. It felt nice. It felt healthy and normal.

Equally, I wondered how Sian would be received if I received an inevitable invite for dinner with my boss and his wife, once word got around that I had a girlfriend. My drinking buddies had been seeing less and less of me, until the point where they no longer bothered to ask me if I was going to join them for after-work drinks. They were sure to tip off our gossip-hungry colleagues, and I wouldn't be able to brush off their questions by saying "it's nothing serious" or "it's early days" for very much longer.

If Sian was appalled by my two obvious vulgar displays of wealth and status - my car and my yacht - then she was going to struggle when we went for dinner with my boss and his wife, at their home, which might as well have been wallpapered with £50 notes and built with gold bullion bars, because it screamed "I'M RICH!" at the top of its nouveau-riche voice. I dearly wanted to spare poor Sian an evening of biting her lip, while my boss' wife no doubt wanted to complain about the difficulties of selecting a good private school, and the expense of stabling their horses, with the tactlessness of a woman who's never encountered an ordinary person in their entire life.

I was content, however; content to see out the winter in this fashion. Life was good; life was treating me very well.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Twelve: Competition Provides Motivation

6 min read

This is a story about wanting to be number one...

Marathon

"I'll quit... tomorrow" is the old joke and oft-repeated mantra of many an addict and alcoholic. For those who wish to achieve something difficult, with limited reward, it seems obvious that they would be setting themselves up to fail if they were only doing something because they were being coerced by family, friends, co-workers, doctors and/or wider society, which pours scorn on our vices. Why should we give up our vices? Why should we live without the little things which "take the edge off" a rather miserable and painful mortal existence?

There is very little motivation, if the only achievement is to end up not doing something. What is anybody going to say to you if you're not smoking, for example? Nobody is going to congratulate you for not smoking, so what is the reward? If you don't drink, you're quite likely to be punished for your abstinence - social exclusion and peer pressure are commonplace for teetotallers.

It's hard to achieve anything if success is only measured by yourself - only you know how hard it was to achieve what you've achieved, and the fact that you aren't allowed to keep telling people how great it is that you don't drink and you don't smoke, unless you want to be hated for being horribly smug with yourself, means that you might as well not bother trying to do anything difficult, which doesn't bring praise and admiration.

We can watch with wonder as a young kid does 100 keepie-uppies with a football. We can all watch with wonder as a person wheelies their bicycle down the road. We can all marvel at the skill and fitness of sportsperson, but just looking at an average person who's not drinking, smoking or taking drugs, it's pretty hard to understand that it might be a massive achievement for them, to be avoiding those addictive substances on a daily basis.

Thus, the solution is to create artificial competition.

My first lengthy period of sobriety - 121 consecutive days - was achieved when I wanted to beat a friend's record of 100 consecutive days, and I wanted to beat it by a significant margin in order to make it harder for him to re-take the lead in our competition. Using competition in this way was extremely effective as a motivational tool.

My present episode of self-imposed abstinence from alcohol has been partly motivated by the public declaration that I would be doing this, and therefore there are friends who have been following my progress - they will feel happy that I've completed "Sober October" and they will congratulate me, which provides the necessary praise and reward to make it worthwhile.

My current sobriety began when I was chatting with a work colleague and we were discussing the damage that alcohol had wrought in the lives of people they knew, and I made a commitment to stop drinking for a period of time. The time period was unspecified, but I felt obliged to follow-through with a significant period of sobriety, because my colleague showed that they care about me, and they will be pleased that I have been taking a break from drinking.

Competition is something which I mostly hate, because it brings out the worst in people: cheating and bullying; the strong crushing the weak. I think that competition is a poor basis for a civilised society, because it's miserable for everybody except the person in first place. Competition leads to a race to the bottom. Competition quite naturally leads to an anxious state of affairs, where there is continual pressure to compete, which is toxic to any sense of safety and security, and destroys people's mental health. Competition is unhealthy.

I've used competition as I kind of "I bet you I can quit alcohol for a significant period of time" kind of thing, which has provided the motivation to allow me to give my body a break from drinking. I can tell my work colleague that I've been sober for 43 consecutive days, without being smug about it. I can tell my work colleagues that I spent the whole of October sober, without being too smug about it. I can tell you - my dear readers - that I'm doing what I set out to do, which is to maintain control over an addictive substance, which is insidious and had crept into my life too much, so I cut it out for a while.

I have friends who have decided to be teetotal for life. I'm sure they will live longer, healthier lives because of that decision, and I'm sure it will give them more money to spend and they will have more time and money. Those are fantastic benefits, but I'm quite content to remain a person who drinks alcohol, given that I cannot find adequate motivation to be a lifelong teetotaller. Wine and beer bring me more pleasure than the benefits of total abstinence, although I do need to take regular breaks - like this one - from my drinking habits.

I'm not sure when I'm going to drink again. Every day after today is a bonus: an extra day which benefits my health, but yet I feel no more obligation to remain totally sober, given that I've got another lengthy period of sobriety under my belt, which has improved my health, given my liver a chance to repair itself and helped me to lose a little weight (or at least not gain any).

I could continue not drinking, in order to achieve goals like getting fitter, losing weight and being more active, but it's cold and wet and wintery and I really can't be bothered. One step at a time. I'm struggling to get motivated about much at the moment, so I am content to celebrate this minor victory: 43 consecutive days without any alcohol and a fully Sober October.

 

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Step Eleven: Avoid The Supermarket

4 min read

This is a story about marketing...

Deals deals deals

I was on my way home and decided to nip into a large supermarket, as opposed to my small local shop, where I usually top up my groceries on a more regular basis. If I go to a large supermarket, I'm always tempted to fill a trolley with lots of nice things and purchase far more food than it's possible for me to consume before its expiry date, which is incredibly wasteful. I do enjoy shopping in supermarkets, but there are a multitude of temptations, which are better avoided. Less choice is better, because it means that I only purchase the specific items I need.

Of course, supermarkets are aware of the human psychological fallibility, when it comes to being presented with greater choice. If one set of test subjects are offered a bowl full of multicoloured sweets, and another set of test subjects are offered a bowl of sweets of a single colour, more of the multicoloured sweets will be consumed, even though the only difference between them is the variety of colours - the flavours are identical. We are programmed to consume the greatest possible variety, because this would have conveyed an evolutionary advantage, given that our bodies need trace amounts of micronutrients, which we wouldn't get if we only ate our favourite thing, exclusively.

As I lingered by the checkout, waiting to pay for my groceries, I could see two aisles full of alcohol, in very close proximity to where I was forced to wait. In fact, I had been forced to walk past two alcohol aisles twice, due to the layout of the supermarket. At the end of each aisle were various alcohol deals, along with other aisles which also had alcohol deals at the end, and alcohol deals which were part of meal deals, and other displays of bottles of wine which were dotted around the store. As a conservative estimate, I must have been presented with the opportunity to purchase alcohol - within grabbing distance - perhaps 20 times in one supermarket visit, despite the fact that I didn't walk down either of the alcohol aisles.

Given that I have completed 30 of the 31 days of "Sober October" it was highly tempting to buy some alcohol in preparation for November 1st, when my self-imposed period of sobriety ends (perhaps). I tried to remember that I promised myself I would endure with my alcohol-free existence until I had achieved some tangible goals, such as weight loss and generally feeling healthier and happier, but the combination of payday and November 1st being a Friday, plus my flawless completion of 42 consecutive days of sobriety, was leading me to feel as though I 'deserved' to get drunk at the end of the working week.

It's virtually impossible to avoid supermarkets, corner shops and indeed, to travel anywhere without passing an off-license or some other premises that sells alcohol. Alcohol is ubiquitous. I pity alcoholics, and I pity recovering alcoholics, who must continually endure marketing attempts to push them into relapse. While my 42 consecutive days of sobriety have passed with relative ease, it must be a nightmare for somebody with a serious alcohol addiction, or somebody who has conquered alcoholism but is always at risk of relapse.

"Avoid the supermarket" is terrible advice, because it's nearly impossible, but I thought I should write about it anyway. We need to acknowledge that the most dangerous and damaging drug - alcohol - which costs our society by far and away the most amount of money due to antisocial behaviour, health damage, loss of productivity and a whole raft of other problems, is something which is sold anywhere and everywhere, and heavily marketed and promoted. It's virtually impossible to avoid alcohol being "pushed" by a "drug pedaler".

My present period of sobriety has brought me no particular weight loss, health improvements or otherwise discernable benefits, but I'm glad I've done it. I'm glad to have demonstrated that I can stop drinking whenever I need or want to, because alcohol is insidious and can easily creep into your daily routine, and slowly destroy your health. It's been useful to be acutely aware of how regularly I am drawn to the alcohol which is on sale in so many locations, as to make it all-but unavoidable.

 

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Step Ten: Don't Suffer Fools

10 min read

This is a story about the hard-of-thinking...

Doorway

I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. It's worth letting that sink in for a second, and then repeating. I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. How can this be possible? How could I be friends with a racist anti-feminist?

At first, this friend began to announce his anti-feminist views publicly on social media, which was a shock to me, because I had presumed he was an educated left-wing metropolitan liberal elitist, like myself: a product of the university system, and therefore his political viewpoint and stance on such matters as racism and sexual equality could be presumed to be correct. My presumption was wrong. He began by strongly asserting his anti-feminist stance, suddenly and shockingly, in a very public manner. I did not know how to react, except through a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend began to indicate a right-wing viewpoint very publicly, on social media. This was perhaps less of a shock, given that he had shown himself to hold views which I despised, on the subject of sexual equality, but it was still nevertheless, shocking to see somebody who I considered to a be well educated, erudite and thoughtful individual, sharing content which was so right wing that it was bordering on outright racism. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend became openly racist, in public, on social media. This was again, shocking, because I never imagined that I would ever encounter a racist amongst my small group of hand-picked friends, almost all of whom have enjoyed privileged socioeconomic advantages, university educations, professions and share a similar set of politics and values. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

After my friend had spent some considerable length of time espousing views which I found vile and abhorrent, I was faced with a choice: should I cut all ties with this friend? It seemed to me that I was duty-bound to do so. My upbringing had provided no explicit guidance on how to handle this precise situation, but it seemed as though the right thing to do would be to pretend as though I had never been friends with my friend, and to distance myself from them as much as possible; to cover up the fact that we were ever friends and to sever all ties. It seemed like I was supposed to eject that person from my bubble.

I realised that if I did eject that person from my bubble, then I would never have any insight into the mind of an anti-feminist right-wing racist, and I felt that it would be detrimental to me, given the homogeny of the views of my other friends. The views of all my other friends are all so broadly similar, that I had never encountered a viewpoint which I felt compelled to condemn, much less acknowledge existed: in my liberal metropolitan elite world, I thought that racism had been defeated, along with sexism and anti-feminism. I thought that there were only small pockets of knuckle-dragging racists to be found in the poorest and most deprived communities, where the poor brutes knew no better so I was perturbed that a person who had enjoyed such socioeconomic advantage might turn out to be such a racist and anti-feminist.

I invested a substantial amount of energy in condemnation of my friend's views, attempting to persuade him to change his ways, but I made little progress.

I considered again, whether the wise course of action was to abandon the friendship and to block him on social media; to distance myself from him and to pretend that we had never been friends. Again, I felt as though I was committing some kind of immoral act, by not tossing our friendship into the dustbin - something I felt a weight of expectation to do without hesitation, the moment that any friend said anything which was remotely incorrect according to liberal dogma. Racism, certainly, is the ultimate taboo and I knew that it must carry the harshest penalty - immediate ostracisation, and denial that we were ever friends; immediate castigation and abandonment.

Yet, I did not abandon the friendship.

Does this make me a racist sympathiser? Do I endorse my friends anti-feminist views? Of course not. Do not be so ridiculous.

Recently I've had the opportunity to probe the origins of my friend's views, and quite quickly discovered where he had erred. He enthusiastically cited the extremely strong link between race and crime, in the United States - particularly that black men are disproportionately incarcerated versus the overall number of black U.S. citizens in the general population. This, for him, was concrete proof that "the races are different" and therefore his racism was justified. Naturally, I pointed out that correlation does not equate to causation, and by far the biggest cause of criminality is poverty - the race argument is null and void: the statistical link disappears when we control the wealth variable.

My friend persists with arguments, born in the time of the eugenics movement, and pseudoscience which is regrettably ubiquitous, which appears to provide legitimate research proving a link between race and IQ. Of particular fascination to my friend was any data which showed that black people had significantly lower IQ than white caucasians. Naturally, I pointed him in the direction of how these dreadfully low-quality academic papers were published in fringe journals, bankrolled by racists, and received little or no peer review; their findings utterly discredited and the quality of the work found to be nothing better than abysmal.

My friend and I have regular conversations, and each one is at least interesting which is far more than can be said for any discussion I might have with fools who hold viewpoints, simply because of anecdotal evidence, or because the liberal media finds the narrative to be particularly popular with its readership. If I was the editor of a left-wing newspaper, read by wealthy metropolitan intelligentsia, of course I would publish news stories about black lesbian disabled homeless women being raped and murdered by the patriarchy, because outrage sells newspapers. However, the anecdotal evidence gathered by those of us who wander around with a bleeding heart - myself included - does not have any validity, beyond our own confirmation bias: we seek out so-called evidence to reassure ourselves that our values and beliefs are correct.

My patience has run out for idiots who waste my time, parroting media narratives instead of using their so-called intellect to direct their energies towards the truly important issues. Racism, domestic violence and sexual discrimination are very real and they cause terrible suffering, but to mistakenly believe - as so many do - that women, for example, are at greater risk than men, is demonstrably absurd and grossly incorrect. Men are 85% more likely to be violently assaulted. 79% of all murder victims are male. Again and again, the exhaustive research has overwhelmingly and incontrovertibly demonstrated the truth all around us, yet there are wilfully ignorant idiots on both the left wing and the right wing, who continue to perpetuate myths and lies. My friend the racist is just as bad as the former friend who chose to block me, because she preferred to live in her bubble, believing that women are the victims of the majority of violent crime and murder, when in fact the polar opposite is true.

My friend the anti-feminist racist is wrong to hold the views that he does, and I hope that one day he might be persuaded by the overwhelming evidence and convincing research, but at least he is still talking to me and I am still able to challenge his erroneous thinking. The woman who I thought of as a friend, who would characterise herself as a feminist, has actually proven herself to be sexist: to deny that male victims of violence and murder far outnumber female victims, is pure delusion, driven by sexism. To block me on social media and to pretend our friendship never existed is quite typical of a sexist or other person who holds abhorrent views which they do not wish to be challenged. Only by remaining in our isolated bubbles can our wilful ignorance persist. I have lost any further opportunity to persuade - with great ease - my former friend, the sexist, of the overwhelming body of evidence which shows the appalling situation suffered by male victims of violence and murder. This is a predictable characteristic of weak-minded fools who rely too heavily upon the media to instruct them on how they should think, in place of an intellect which they sadly lack.

My energies are presently consumed with work, health and of course, having a brief period of sobriety, which these steps partly document.

My point this evening is simple: the world is full of idiots, and one should rely upon high quality evidence and research, not popular opinion within your social media bubble. Of course, one must be careful not to fall afoul of pseudoscience and the temptation to draw incorrect conclusions from raw statistics, but provided you keep a group of intelligent friends around you, then you will at least have a better chance that any mistaken beliefs you hold might be corrected. The ignorant idiots who wish to surround themselves with likeminded fools, are no loss, and no effort should be expended upon them. I am glad that I am friends with somebody who holds detestable views, and I feel no regret for losing the friendship of somebody who holds no views at all other than the media narratives which are pedalled by the limited sources upon which they rely on, in the absence of their own intellect.

In closing, we should be reminded once more: men suffer dreadfully. The life of a man is virtually worthless. That suicide should have been allowed to become the biggest killer of men in the prime of their life, with few tears shed, is an awful state of affairs, and it is accompanied by other terrible things: 97% of workplace deaths, 78% of all murders, 75% of all suicides, 65% of all violent assaults... the list is virtually endless. Men are overwhelmingly the victims, yet this is not the impression which a person would gain, if they keep themselves inside their bubble.

It's vitally important that I maintain perspective, given that my life is at stake. This sounds hyperbolic of course, because we have been brought up to believe that men are strong, when demonstrably a man's life is extremely precarious - the evidence is overwhelming.

During the last couple of days of my "Sober October" I'm particularly mindful of the precarity of my existence, combined with a great deal of stress regarding my work and a matter which hangs over me, threatening to end my career. I feel unwell. I am in need of some winter sunshine. I need to take a break, having worked very hard for a lengthy sustained period. My future hangs in the balance and my health is fragile; my efforts and energies invested to reach this point presently count for nothing - no safety or security has been achieved, and things are as uncertain as they ever were.

With this in mind, it is with very little regret that I refuse to suffer fools gladly and lose so-called friendships, to whomsoever proves to be immovable in the face of overwhelming facts, preferring instead to treat me with sexist contempt and hold little regard for the danger my life is in.

Survival is paramount.

 

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Step Nine: Prioritise

8 min read

This is a story about the critical path...

Backpacks

Having attended 8 different schools and basically had my sense of stability and security snatched away from me at every opportunity, by my selfish parents, during an upbringing where they prioritised their own antisocial desire to take drugs in isolation above everything else, I've learned the hard way what's important and what's not.

I place a very high value on loyalty, but I know from bitter and disappointing experience that there are extremely few people who are at all loyal in the world. I very rarely encounter anybody who I would describe as loyal, let alone trust. Because my parents forcibly removed me from anywhere I was becoming settled and secure, on so many occasions, it was necessary to find a coping mechanism for the destruction wrought upon any relationships; any attachments which I had formed. Through no fault of my own, and indeed through the wickedness of my parents, I was forced to become able to remain emotionally detached from people, such that I could disentangle myself without the heartbreak, repeatedly perpetrated against me, while my parents pursued their antisocial selfish drug-taking lifestyle.

Repeatedly moving house also destroys a child's sense of security in their home and their bedroom. What's the point in getting attached to a place if your parents are going to wrench you from it, the moment you begin to feel at home? Again, I was forced to develop coping mechanisms for the selfish antisocial drug-taking lifestyle, which perpetrated such an unsettled home life upon me, leaving me with no sense of 'home' or 'belonging' - these things are meaningless terms to me.

"Where are you from?" people often ask me. How on earth do I answer that question? I have had a childhood which no child should've had to suffer. Children need stability and security; consistency. Children need their friends; children need their house and their school and they need a place which they can call home - be it town or village. If you rob your child of this, you are an evil and wicked person.

Where I currently sit, on my sofa with my cat snuggled next to me, there are approximately ten books which I haven't read, six board games which I haven't played, a few other items of furniture and some fake plants, all of which I would consider entirely disposable. If my house burned down and I lost every single possession, it would be a mere inconvenience to process the insurance claim - there is nothing in my life which I'm emotionally attached to. Even my cat, who I adore, could be re-homed and live a very happy life. It would, I admit, be hard for me to return to cat-free existence and I would soon seek to get another cat at the earliest practicable opportunity, but while I do love my beautiful kitten, I know that her loyalties lie with whoever is feeding her; cats are not loyal and they do not truly reciprocate love, because they are simple creatures, although incredibly beautiful and loveable.

Why have I led this essay with such a bitterness-filled tirade? Well, it sets the scene for the important point I'm about to make.

If you need to achieve something very, very hard, you have to know what you can afford to lose.

To go on the journey from penniless and homeless, abandoned by friends and family - or at least given a temporary wide berth because they mistakenly and misguidedly believed they needed to protect their families from "that homeless guy" who they used to call their friend or relative - then you need to know what is on the critical path, and what is not.

We live in a capitalist society (unless you are reading this in North Korea, which I very much doubt) and as such, the cultural indoctrination has been so successful that nobody will piss on you if you're on fire, because they believe that there is some cash value for their urine, or at least expect to be paid in advance for emptying their bladder in order to extinguish the flames. Thus, while it's laudable to do acts of random kindness, most people will cut off your head and shit down your throat, if they think it'll contribute 0.000001% towards getting their kid an "A" grade in their exam.

Money is at the root of everything. Concentrate on getting money and everything else falls into place. This might sound shallow. This might sound like terrible advice. Indeed, it would be terrible advice for any person who had a brilliant childhood where they were raised by normal parents, in a normal house and went to school like a normal kid. Unfortunately, for those of us who were denied that by our wicked selfish parents, we have to buy our way through life; we have to prostitute ourselves. We have no place to call home which will welcome us with open arms - we have been forced into nomadic exile; belonging nowhere and to nobody.

People have been kind to me, but people have been disproportionately unkind to me, such that the net balance means that I have suffered far more than I have benefitted. I am immensely grateful for those few loyal, generous and kind people who have treated me well. My sanity, dignity and self-esteem is only preserved by that tiny group who have chosen not to shun, marginalise, exclude, ostracise and spurn me; to eject me from society and reject me from anywhere I might gain a sense of belonging.

A man's life is worth very little, and I use the word "man" quite deliberately, because it is men who freeze to death on the streets, only to be cremated, with no mourners. There are some women, but they attract a disproportionate amount of sympathy, given that they suffer less violence, and have far better prospects than men do. You might immediately feel that I'm wandering into the territory of a misogynistic rant, but I merely present the simple facts. "Hate" facts you might call them, if there was any malice in my words, but there is not. It's simply a bleak appraisal of a life, as a man, which sees me far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, killed at work, jailed, homeless or suffer any number of horrible outcomes, than if I had been born without a willy in-between my legs.

So, what about the priorities?

Earn money. It's a practical necessity in capitalist society, and without it you will be trampled, spat on and kicked to death. There are no other priorities. Making friends is not important. Having a place to call home is not important. Having a family is not important. Everything can wait until you've got some money. That is the priority: get some money, then everything else will fall into place.

Once you have money, you will find that everything can be bought. You can attempt to persuade yourself that everything you have was not bought, but I can reassure you from bitter experience, that nobody wants to come and visit you in the gutter, if you're penniless; nobody wants to be in a relationship with you; nobody wants to help you... nobody even wants to see you. That's right, if you're poor, people would much prefer it if you were totally invisible.

How does this relate to my own personal version of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps abstinence-based program to achieving sobriety? Well, it's pretty simple really: step nine says get rich, and don't worry about anything else. The world is full of wealthy drunks, and nobody cares about their alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease of the poor. If you're not poor then you're not an alcoholic anymore... you're just somebody who enjoys a drink; you're a party animal; you're suddenly a great guy or gal who's surrounded by heaps of friends.

Of course, don't be so stupid as to lose your money, which can very easily be done when gregariously and generously buying drinks for all your friends, because of course without money you're nothing but a worthless alcoholic scumbag. That's the secret, you see: stay rich and you'll be fine; concentrate on the money and everything else falls into place.

You might think that this sounds like terrible advice, and it probably is. If I screw up and lose all my money, you will laugh at me and tell me that I am a fool, and in all probability I am more likely to fail than I am to succeed, so you are making a cowardly bet, to bet against me. If I succeed, then I don't give a shit who you are or what you used to think about me, because I can do whatever the hell I want; I can have whatever I want.

In this hell-hole of a capitalist society, prioritise one thing and one thing alone: money.

 

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Step Eight: Be Selfish

10 min read

This is a story about looking after number one...

Safety card

I just spent about half an hour searching for a specific picture which I know I took, because I have a photographic memory. I quite clearly remember the harrowing scene depicted, of the person crawling out of a burning aircraft. Perhaps I have muddled up some parody/meme image with my constant snapping of everything vaguely interesting, but I am certain that it was a photograph which I took and have uncharacteristically misplaced.

Why the hell is this important?

Well, every day I have to think of a title, introductory line, a rough outline of what I plan to write, and I choose what I think is an appropriate photo to accompany my piece. It might often seem like the pictures are unrelated, but very often a photograph is the thing which prompts what I'm going to write.

In today's instance, I knew what I was going to write, and I knew which photo I wanted to accompany the piece, but I couldn't find it despite a thorough search.

I imagine that many people are quite thorough and meticulous about organising their lives, and I am too, but in my own unique way. I can quickly lay my hands on on what I need, given that I have taken the various essential tasks of my life and turned them into efficient processes, despite not spending an inordinate amount of time on systematically organising stuff.

I deal with a substantial amount of stuff. I run my own business, which requires me to do monthly payroll submissions to HMRC, quarterly VAT submissions, annual accounts, self-assessment tax return, corporation tax, dividend tax, income tax, national insurance, annual shareholder statements, board meeting minutes, dividend certificates, professional indemnity insurance, 3rd party liability insurance. I live an ordinary life, which brings rental contracts, house inspections, gas and electric meter readings, tenant insurance, home contents insurance, pet insurance, car insurance, car tax, car roadworthiness testing, car servicing, car maintenance, cleaning the house, feeding the cat, scooping my cat's poops and replacing her kitty litter, recycling, bin day, mowing the lawn, composting, buying food, preparing meals. None of this is unusual, but it's not insignificant.

With the continuous unrelenting pressure to do a good job at work, and impress my colleagues, combined with the constant threat of ending up bankrupt, homeless, penniless and destitute, it's an intolerable amount of stress and anxiety, heaped upon me. Although I'm not drowning in ever-growing debt - my income far exceeds my expenditure - I don't have any job security, housing security or financial security. The position I find myself in is immutable: there are no alternative choices I could take.

"Why don't you take some time off?" or "why don't you do some unpaid voluntary work" or "why don't you switch careers?" or "why don't you study something interesting?" are all as utterly ridiculous as asking me why I don't just wave my magic wand and turn a pile of house-bricks into a pile of gold bullion. My situation is completely, rigidly, unalterably dictated by my circumstances. There is no other way to structure my life, other than the way I have done it - my life is like a prison.

Of course, I could always drop out of society, live in a tent under a road bridge, beg for money, eat at soup kitchens. Of course I have the option of becoming totally feral, and foraging for food in the forest, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Yes, I suppose those are options which are available to me, but we must be aware that society operates a strict one-way street. Once I left society, I would never be permitted to return.

"So Mr Grant, what have you been doing for the past 6 months?" asks the interviewer. "Living in a cave" comes my reply. "Where should we write to you if your application for the job is successful?" the interviewer asks. "I have no postal address" comes my reply. Thus endeth any attempts to re-enter society, once a person has dropped out. I suppose I could get a cash-in-hand job washing cars for illegal immigrants, and sleep rough on the streets, but I think I would rather go back to my cave than suffer such a fate.

The point of this rant is that my life is finely balanced: it doesn't take much extra demand placed upon me, to push me beyond what I can cope with, given that I've already endured such incredible hardship to get here.

My journey has already included rough sleeping, hospitalisations and being locked up in secure psychiatric institutions. My journey has already included recent periods where I had no money and I had no income which is a pretty difficult place to come back from. My journey already took me to the limit of human survival, where I was in an intensive care ward of a hospital on life support in a coma, suffering from multiple organ failure.

I'm feeling pretty fit and healthy, relative to how I was before. I'm feeling pretty financially prosperous, versus the time when I had no money and no income. I'm feeling as thought I have a realistic prospect of re-entering civilised society, as opposed to crushed beneath its heel, like a bug. However, it really wasn't very long ago that I was in dire trouble, relatively speaking.

So, I have to be careful about being too competent and capable, taking on the world's problems; boiling the ocean. Only a few months ago I shunned anything and everything which would add more complexity and stress to my life, cutting things back to the bare essentials, so that I could cope. I'm little more capable of dealing with extra stuff now, but it's easy for me to get carried away. Vast amounts of my precious time can be eaten up when I try to help with some "simple" task, which is always anything but.

It's hard to say "no" as an engineer. We are, by our nature, problem solvers who like fixing stuff. We have dogged unshakeable determination to follow a complex set of tasks through to completion. What use is a half-finished engineering project which doesn't work? What use is half an aeroplane? What use is half a bridge?

I don't really know what my wants and needs are, but I know that it's very important that I fend off things of no value: things that drain my time and energy, disproportionately versus any reward I receive. My blog is an engineering solution to a problem I had, where lots of people wanted to be kept updated about my woeful life, but nobody was offering any useful practical help, so it was a massive waste of time speaking to the rubberneckers who wanted to know every gory detail, despite being completely useless, and indeed counterproductive because it was valuable time wasted which could otherwise have been put to good use, earning money or securing a place to live. If you want a soap opera - human drama - then you can read the pages of this blog, but don't bug me for your own personal show, because I don't have the time.

Of course, I love my online friends and they are very supportive, but only one or two have ever stepped forward to ever offer any real tangible thing of any use. Only one or two have ever made effort and taken risk, in order to help and support me. This is not to say that all the messages of support I receive aren't lovely, and the concern that's felt for me does lift my spirits, but I have to balance that proportionately against the effort involved. Lots of "sorry to hear you're having a hard time" messages won't pay my rent, if I'm in a financially precarious situation, so I have to prioritise work and other practical matters ahead of maintaining online friendships.

As a group of supportive individuals, of course my Twitter followers - and one in particular - were instrumental in getting the emergency services to me and saving my life, so it would be churlish and mean-spirited to complain about the 'burden' of having people who are interested and concerned my welfare. Of course I want more friends, not fewer. Of course I want to maintain a good relationship with as many people as practicably possible, but I have to offset that with the effort involved and the probability of useful, practical payoff. I could never have predicted that Twitter followers would be so swift in delivering the emergency services to me in the nick of time - although I still nearly died - and I could never have predicted that I would receive vital practical things that I needed, exactly when I needed them, due to people who've read my blog. I could never have predicted that my blog would bring me new friends, who make the effort to come and visit me. All of these things are positive, but I also need to be careful, because social media is mostly a black hole, swallowing vast amounts of time and energy, and giving very little back in return.

So, I say this as a reminder to myself: my blog is the way that anybody who's interested in my life can stay up to date, without excessively burdening me. It seems unfair to ask for your own personal update, when I spend so much time and effort crafting these written updates, for the express purpose of keeping anybody who's interested informed.

Of course 1.3 million words are far too many for anybody to read in order to "get to know me" but also somehow too few... either way, I'm struggling to survive day to day through my essential tasks of: work, sleep, eat, write.

It might sound selfish or antisocial, but this massive piece of writing contains everything you might ever want to know, if only you can be bothered to look. Don't ask for me to look for you, because that undermines the very point of having gone to such a great deal of effort in documenting years of my life. There's a search box at the top and I tag every post. Knock yourself out. Go digging. Explore - there's plenty there.

Meanwhile, I just need a simple, basic, undemanding life at the moment, because things are demanding and overwhelming and stressful enough. I don't need any extra work, especially if it's unrewarding versus the effort expended.

This lengthy blog post has taken me all day to finish, because of various interruptions, some of which were very welcome - like a phonecall from a close friend - and others were questionably useful, when I might otherwise have been spending my time doing something more beneficial for myself. Spare time feels very scarce at the moment, so it should be used wisely and efficiently. I went to a great deal of effort to provide a vast trove of information, so it irks me if that effort is not delivering what I want it to, which is to avoid having to repeat myself.

Anyway, I need as many friends as I can get looking out for me, but I have very little "spare capacity" to offer at the moment, and it's wrong to ask too much of me - the resources are out there; you just have to look.

I need to protect myself. I'm no good at saying "no!" and "enough!".

 

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Step Seven: Every Time Is Different

5 min read

This is a story about learning through doing...

Supermarket basket

The difference between an artist and a craftsman, is that a craftsman is honing their skills towards the most perfect and repeatable incarnation of a repetitive task, whereas an artist is honing their skills in general, in order to be able to express whatever they want with an intuitive fluidity. If you or I were "bad at drawing" as so many of us characterise ourselves, then we would spend most of our time grappling with the pencil and paper, instead of drawing the desired thing. The craftsman would be content to produce ever improving facsimiles or the same image, faster and faster, and with less pencil lead used. The artist would not even be aware of the pencil or paper, but instead would be free to express themselves increasingly exactly as they intended.

A reader challenged me to write about what I'm learning, as opposed to writing in my lecturing tone which features quite regularly. Unfortunately they deleted their reply, so I only have my hazy memory as a guide to what their original suggestion was, but my guess would be that they wanted me to write about my experience of learning as a way of teaching.

Every day, I am learning.

Every time I write, I am learning.

This entire exercise, of writing down my stream-of-consciousness, is a learning exercise. I write because it helps me therapeutically, but it also helps me to learn to be a better writer; to express myself in a [hopefully] ever-improving manner. Slowly, the keyboard, the screen, the website - all of this melts away and I'm able to express myself in exactly the way I intended; I put my point across as well as I could ever hope to, although I continually strive to do better.

I'm also learning to be a craftsman. There is a craftsman's psychology, which a person should possess - there are habits to develop, and you must strive towards perfecting repetitive tasks. The tiny details matter. You should attempt to iron out the imperfections and master your tools.

I promise you I am not giving a lecture, again. I'm merely telling you the things that I'm realising - learning - as I'm going along. Right now, as I pen these very words, I am having a learning experience, which I am simultaneously sharing with you.

Of course, the big piece of learning that's happening right now, is that I'm going though yet another period of sobriety. Each time I stop drinking my experiences are different. I am not writing to tell you that I have perfected the art of sobriety. I am writing to share with you my experiences of being an on/off drinker, who has spent relatively lengthy periods as a teetotaller. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous might scoff at my 121 consecutive days of sobriety, but of all my friends and work colleagues, I would be hard-pressed to find another who had equalled that record in their adult life. We might dismiss my present objective of "approximately 6 to 8 weeks of sobriety" as something insignificant and easy, but because you will probably never try to do it and if you do, you will find - as I have - that it's not as easy as it looks, it's important that I document these periods of time.

Of course I am not writing a prescriptive guide on how to stop drinking. Only charlatans and con-men promise that they have a magic cure for alcoholism. The entire rehab and detox industry thrives on its spectacular lack of success, and of course, if there was an easy way out then there wouldn't be such an insatiable appetite for addictive substances, and the corresponding so-called 'cures' for these afflictions.

I note that vast numbers of people stumble upon my website while searching desperately to see if they can quite literally "drink [themselves] sober". I kid you not.

What can I report today, of interest? I've had the perfect storm of a heavy workload at the office, combined with my car breaking down, some horrible administrative tasks which have been very time consuming, and then there is the usual ongoing financial difficulties that I face, and the prospect that my troubled relationship is likely to be dealt a fatal blow, due to the difficulty of two people finding well paid work anywhere except London... and I don't think it would be a good idea for me to move back to London, when my life in Cardiff is going quite well, and is certainly easier and less stressful than it ever was in the capital.

None of what I've written has much to do with [not] drinking alcohol. It's Friday night and I've had a very hard working week, but perhaps my instinct to reach for the bottle to celebrate the commencement of the weekend, has been slightly de-habituated. I have found myself binging on cakes, crisps, biscuits and other salty, fatty and sweet foods, by way of compensation for my otherwise bleak existence. What human being does not reward themselves, either with sex, chocolate, shopping, or something less tolerated by civilised society, and probably more health-damaging?

It feels as though the season to be merry is fast approaching, plus I have social occasions soon where I will absolutely be partaking of an alcoholic beverage or two. I'm quite looking forward to having a cold beer with friends and/or colleagues, and there's nothing wrong about that at all. I'm quite looking forward to rewarding myself with a glass of wine after a hard day at the office, and again, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

What have I learned on my journey today? Nothing really. Except that every day is completely different, and my coping skills are constantly improving.

 

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Step Six Is Not Halfway

3 min read

This is a story about setting expectations...

Counting                              The way that I've ever achieved anything is by setting my expectations, such that I'm aiming higher than I need to. Isn't there an idiom which says that if you want to reach the moon then you should aim for the stars? I hate stupid trite contrived quotations, but I've always found that pessimistic estimates are the best ones, although somewhat depressing at first.

Rather than setting myself a goal of 28 days sobriety, and celebrating at day 14, instead I started at some point in September and I'm planning on continuing into November. By setting myself a goal which is far harder than a simple month of sobriety, I have assured myself at least four weeks to give my liver a chance to recover, and to lose some weight. By over-achieving, this is a much more desirable outcome than an agonising crawl to the finish line, with the final part of the journey almost unbearable.

To celebrate so-called milestones like 'halfway' is setting yourself up for failure, because progress is nonlinear, and the difficulty of any given day is not comparable to any other day. Some days will be hard and some days will be easy. It is highly likely that the closer you get to one of your milestones, the harder you will find the task in hand.

In fact, having a time-based objective is probably of little or no use. My present objective is to improve my health, lose some weight and re-assert control over a substance - alcohol - which had crept its way far too habitually into my daily routine. If it takes me 6 weeks to achieve that goal, 6 months or 6 years, it doesn't matter, because the end result remains as desirable as ever. There's never going to be a problem trying to be healthier and keep the waistline under control, as well as not allowing the demon drink to become an addiction.

While I applaud anybody who has "Go[ne] Sober for October" my own personal objective was to aim higher than a simple month of abstinence from alcohol. I have less than a week to go before the October 31 "end" of the sponsored charity event, but I'm acutely aware that this is the period when many of those participating in the sponsored sobriety might decide that "one little drink won't hurt" and thus undermine any achievement they hoped to gain. Nobody really cares whether you cheated or not. As is often said: the only person you're cheating is yourself.

So, although by conventional linear milestone measurement, I'm easily way past halfway, I prefer to think pessimistically: I'm nowhere near the end yet. I find it easier that way, and I find that I am more likely to achieve success.

There will be more steps. Six more, to be precise, but do not assume that all steps are equal, and remember that you might have to repeat steps - progress is non-linear.

 

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Step Five: Plan & Strategise

3 min read

This is a story about being cunning...

Panorama

Where I'm currently working, there are very few occasions where it would become apparent that I'm presently teetotal. However, in the financial services districts of London - The Square Mile and Canary Wharf - a teetotaller is automatically suspected of being a recovering alcoholic, which is not a label which anybody wishes to have attached to them, let alone if it's untrue.

One dreadful mistake I made in 2015 was to agree to go to a colleague's birthday party in a cocktail bar, at the top of a skyscraper, with panoramic views over London. It was pretty obvious that alcohol consumption was very much part and parcel of the social engagement, but I agreed to go anyway. Of course, there was a great deal of arm-twisting and attempts to persuade me that "one drink won't hurt", which of course it wouldn't have done, but I pride myself on taking my commitment to challenges seriously, and not taking any short-cuts or cheating. Of course it's totally possible to have a period of so-called abstinence, but break the rules whenever you like, but what have you really achieved? You might as well not have bothered. Anyway, I had a cast-iron excuse, so I managed to swerve having to drink just to prove that I'm not a recovering alcoholic.

The watertight excuse for a period of being teetotal, which I have used before and again now, is to say that I am taking part in the "Go Sober for October" sponsored abstinence from alcohol. Thus, if I face any questions about why I'm not drinking, or pressure to drink, I can easily address that by saying that my sobriety is part of a sponsored charity event.

You might believe that simply saying "no thanks" or "I'm not drinking at the moment" would suffice, but in fact British culture, and especially London banking culture, tends to lend itself towards peer pressure and/or a grilling on your justification for abstinence. I remember one JPMorgan colleague was known throughout the organisation as "that guy who went to The Priory and is a recovering alcoholic" because he didn't drink. As I said before, those kinds of labels and reputation are extremely unhelpful, and indeed detrimental to the impression that your colleagues have of you, such that it might present an [unfair and unjustified] impediment to career progression.

My plan and my strategy is fairly simple: don't have any alcohol in the house, avoid social occasions where drinking is part and parcel of the event and have a cast-iron excuse for being [temporarily] teetotal.

What I noticed in 2015 was how determined people are to get you to drink. I had to fend off an AirBnB host's repeated offers of a drink, despite me making crystal clear that I would not imbibe a single drop of alcohol, because of the aforementioned "Go Sober for October" event. Friends and colleagues went to great lengths to persuade me that I could 'cheat' and it wouldn't matter. I withstood all that arm-twisting, but it wasn't easy, even with my well-laid plans and excellent preparations.

I suppose I'm not the best person to write comprehensively on the topic of being teetotal, because my episodes of abstinence are infrequent. Speak to somebody who's spent any great length of time - years, not days or months - and they will have much better strategies and techniques than I do, for politely declining to drink.

Anyway, it's hard, but it's possible and made easier with some careful preparation.

 

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Step Four: Compensate

6 min read

This is a story about harm reduction...

Supplements

I've been sober for 33 consecutive days now. It's not a particularly important number that demonstrates anything of much interest, but I thought I should remind readers of how I'm getting along without alcohol. The plan, which I will easily achieve, is to be teetotal until at least the end of October, under the guise of the "Go Sober for October" sponsored charity event, if anybody asks.

The truth about my sobriety is much more straightforward: alcohol was a source of a great many calories, which were causing me to gain weight, and my liver needed a break from the constant onslaught. My decision to take a break from drinking was motivated by vanity and sensible health considerations, not more interesting and lurid reasons such as a so-called "battle with the demon drink" which I find patently absurd, as a person who's been lucky enough not to be cursed with the misfortune of not being able to control their drinking.

We should, of course, spare a moment for all the alcoholics in the world who are somewhat powerless in the face of their addiction to ethanol. We should be sympathetic and understanding towards those who genuinely have very limited control over their so-called 'free will' to choose between drinking and not drinking. Alcoholics, by definition, have had their decision-making powers almost 100% impaired by the addictive qualities of alcohol, and as such, they would not be able to choose to take a lengthy break from drinking at will.

For those wishing to quit or reduce their drinking, I was in the process of writing my own version of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Twelve Steps. I find abstinence-based so-called 'treatment' of addiction to be a barbaric ritual with very strong evidence to show that not only is it ineffectual, but it's actively unhelpful, unkind and needlessly unpleasant. AA is a cult, with its rituals and other cult qualities, such as the vicious ostricisation of any member who strays too far from the pack, or dares to question its efficacy. While I applaud and and am glad for those who credit AA with their sobriety, I would also remind you that many people credit their good fortune to some form of sky monster (i.e. god or whatever) - human beings are superstitious idiots, and I urge everyone to seek evidence-based treatments, not cult mumbo-jumbo.

So, what is my solution for those who drink too much?

Simple answer: compensation.

We wouldn't say to a person who complains that their diet is too bland, consisting only of gruel and dry bread, that they should instead go without food altogether, would we? The abstinence approach is not only cruel and unkind, it also creates unnecessary and intolerable suffering, which is why so few people are able to use abstinence-based approaches to achieving their goals.

Whether it's dieting to lose weight, quitting gambling, quitting drugs, quitting alcohol, or indeed altering any of our behaviours which are causing us problems, the most important thing to consider is how we are going to compensate for the thing we are giving up or reducing. Without compensation, change is impossible; only suffering will ensue.

When I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days in 2015, I compensated with dietary supplements and other health-conscious changes, which included cutting out gluten and dairy from my diet. In retrospect, that was a really dumb decision. While there was a high placebo value in the changes that I made, there was no other value. I might as well have banged a gong and worshipped a made-up monkey god, asking him to cleanse me of the demon drink - it would have had the same effect. I am neither gluten nor dairy intolerant, so all I did was waste a bunch of money on expensive food products.

This time, I have compensated by using sleeping pills and tranquillisers which mimic the positive effects of alcohol, without the negative ones. I don't get hangovers. I don't have weight gain. I don't have liver damage. However, my anxiety is reduced, my insomnia is cured and my sleep quality is improved. What's not to like?

Of course, I have swapped a nightly glass or two of wine for a tablet or two, which some might see as 'failure' but those people are idiots. I've lost weight, my kidney has had the opportunity to repair itself, plus I have avoided endless amounts of hangxiety and hangovers. Also, the tablets are a damnsight cheaper than alcohol, costing me no more than a couple of pounds every day, which is a fraction of the cost of the alcohol required to achieve the same reduction in anxiety and ability to fall asleep.

We shouldn't underestimate the danger of addictive medications, and I've certainly put off today's problems until tomorrow by using tablets to allow me to achieve a period of sobriety, but I really don't give a shit - I've lost weight and my life has been manageable; my health has improved. I see no downsides. It will be a bit of a bumpy ride when I quit the tablets again, but I have only taken them sporadically during recent weeks, so quitting will be easy enough - I will gently taper the dosage and then I will be free from all mind-altering substances, once again.

I'm one of the most substance-free people you're ever likely to meet. I don't drink (at the moment), don't smoke and I don't drink caffeinated beverages. I'm highly unusual in this regard: you and almost everybody you know, indulges in some kind of mind-altering substance use, even if it's just tea or coffee.

If my life had permitted it, of course I would have been climbing mountains or surfing, or doing some other wholesome outdoor activity, but I've had to work really really hard the past few months, and it's entirely unrealistic to imagine that I would be out in the wilderness charging around like a healthy happy person, when I'm actually incredibly stressed, depressed and anxious, under enormous pressure to deliver a very large complicated project, for a tight deadline. It's a fucking miracle that I'm as healthy as I am, given the pressure I'm under, and the demands placed upon me.

So, shove your yoga, jogging and kale smoothies up your arse. Do whatever it takes to compensate, if you need to stop a particularly unhealthy habit - find something that's less harmful. Harm reduction is better than trying and failing to achieve the impossible. Abstinence is torture and should never be inflicted upon anybody, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever.

Steps Five through Twelve might be a bit rushed, given that there are only 9 days between now and October 31, but I will finish this series, because I think it's important that people who are suffering are given realistic and evidence-based humane alternatives, which will allow them to achieve a better life... not be expected to suffer torture and be doomed to failure, because some twat of a moralising idiot tells them that the only way to get better is through abstinence. Fuck those guys. Do what works.

 

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