Monday, 30 November 2009

Two men and a baby

Never one to do things by half, I spent last night avoiding the perils of a drink-fuelled trip to Burnley by sitting in with a takeaway curry watching Match of the Day, babysitting. With another man.

Michael Palin's Pole to Pole could equally have passed as a program as a cursory insight into the minds of those who, like me, react to perceived wrongs in extremes. At one pole, hardcore ultra mega-drinking leading to marital ruin. At the other, discussing the fine blend of spices used in tonight's madras while a small child lays next to you, merrily booting you in the ribs now its stinking nappy has been changed.

Perhaps I exaggerate the extremes but I'd be lieing to say that the obvious contrast between what I could have been doing and what I was doing didn't cross my mind at any point. I wouldn't say I found it a problem - I was sad not to be out on my sister's birthday, of course, but the previous night was meant to cover that and she had plenty of other people there. I think the most difficult part of me not going along on things like this is that it confronts me with the role I've built up over time as quite a few people's "link man". I began thinking about this as I left the Rovers game yesterday, which I managed fine with a pop before and after and a tangy, £1.80 coffee at half-time.

Over all the years I've been out and about drinking I've probably cultivated an image as "the one who's always around" - the one who people can rely on to be up for doing something. And that's fair enough, because I always am up for something. This isn't to say I'd always be people's first choice, but that I'm someone they've come to know they can probably count on to come along to things and organise everyone else. I was reminded yesterday that when I stop going to things, it breaks a link that people expect to be there, and makes me feel tremendously guilty. An example: a friend had been invited on the trip yesterday, but upon finding that I wouldn't be going, it became a different proposition - that socially important link between him and another group of people was gone. This is a fairly straightforward situation you've all experienced: a friend invites you to a party, and it's fine if they're going as they're your link, but if they're not, then it's an entirely different scenario.

Even between familiar groups, such as close family and my friends, over time I've entrenched myself into a position where my absence rather than my presence is noted. If I turn up then all is well with the world, and if I don't then I must have some reason for not doing. What this boils down to in terms of the thought process I go through when I'm deciding whether to go along on something, I think, is back to my near-obsession with the group dynamic. My first thoughts are always: who will be there, how do these people get on together, will I fit in and will my presence make for a better time for all? I nearly always find that it would, but the thought's just occurred to me that it may just be me actively seeking out or imagining conflicts I could resolve or conversations and jokes I could help carry - if you like, me seeking out a role and purpose for myself in the group, carving out a niche which leaves me feeling useful and fulfilled.

A problem like the above sounds, in isolation, like a pretty trivial thing. So you think you're so important people are gonna miss you every time you're not there? - get over it! That answer doesn't really say much about the effects my stopping drinking has on how I feel about my usefulness in the world and how someone's night is changed in lord knows what ways because this person decided not to come, and maybe that person too. They're real effects on people other than me that are easy to dismiss but doing so doesn't really help anyone except the kind of person who would think to say in the first place, "just get over it". There was a fascinating study done that looked into the difficulties heroin users with families had getting off heroin. Rather than the family acting as a support for the user when they stopped using, in many cases it was seen that the family actively pushed the user back on to heroin to reinstate the sense of usefulness and purpose in their own lives. The children, for example, had found approval in stealing to fund their dad's habit, and the wife had grown accustomed to her life looking after the man. Confronted with the loss of this, they would rather stick with the heroin dad that gave them purpose than an unknown quantity. Saying "just get over it" is rarely as simple as it sounds.

I don't think I will ever actively choose to pull back from this position I've made for myself as someone people can rely on to be active and on the scene. I never want to be forgotten about and fall down that subconscious list in people's heads of who to call first, because I'm an active person and I've no plans to vegetate in a living room for the rest of my life in a sober dystopia. But at the same time, if I'm to succeed in controlling the crazy drinking that comes part and parcel of saying yes to every invite, I know I'm going to have to get used to disappointing people sometimes, as much as it makes me feel terrible for doing so. You know, maybe it's a case of over-empathy, but every time someone rings me up and asks me if I fancy going out, I just remember the times I've done the same and got a "no" back, and I can't do the same to them.

I think over the weekend I've made a couple of insights with regards to the above and the link between drinking and my view of the group, so it's been a good one. Myself and my friend had a couple of shandies in front of the football and I think that might be a way to go whenever I next end up in a pub situation, because it seems a very useful way for me to get over the embarrassment and fear in my head of standing in a pub with a soft drink, while having the physical effects of just drinking pop. It was a good suggestion on his part, and at two and a half cans over six hours there was no question of being drunk from it (indeed there was no time to be drunk inbetween all the trips to piss out that sodding lemonade), but for now I'm just going to think it over for a few days and weigh it up in a future post as one of many strategies I could adopt in future. As I think I've said before, rather than make a post here celebrating going x days without a drop of alcohol, this time I'm taking a long-term view of things and trying to find some answers that will help me be a normal person around drink for good.

Tomorrow, in a sizzling tome upon which early drafts of Caligula were based, I discuss the perils of throwing beer and sex into a blender and setting it to "Explode".

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