It's been months since I had a proper drink. Or, at any rate, more than two proper drinks at any one time. Last Xmas I decided to cut it out until I was forty, and I'm just about halfway there.
I've never had a drink problem, except insofar as I've had plenty of problems exacerbated by drink. During my last term at my first university I was putting them away at the rate of thirty pints a week, and I imagine I'd have had a problem keeping that up for another eighteen years, but the question never arose. What I did find, rather too slowly and too late, was that if you suffer excessively from anger, and excessively from grief, then alcohol magnifies them both, lets them loose, puts them in control or whatever other figure of speech bests suits your taste or the occasion. I had had enough of shouting at other people, enough of screaming at myself and enough of Incidents (and Episodes) that grew out of either.
So, last Xmas, after the last of these incidents, I decided to pack it in. But while I was breaking one habit of a lifetime I decided to break another, that of never doing anything in moderation. So instead of giving up alcohol like a true believer I decided to cut myself down to two pints a session, and instead of giving up for life, to cut down my period of moderate abstinence to the year and a half it would take me to reach the age of forty.
I used to have a friend who used to call the third pint the "danger pint", the one which stops you going home and keeps you in the pub all evening having seven or eight. The third pint seems to be the one where the drink takes over, and so the third pint is the one I cannot have. I can have two pints, or two glasses, or two measures, in a session, and then I have to wait another four hours before I can have another go, or only two hours if I only have a pint. So if I stop at 6.30, I can have some more before closing time, or if I have a pint at 2.45 I can have another couple after the match. And I stick to that. I don't cheat, except by allowing myself to ignore the strength of the beer. I don't make exceptions for special occasions or "only one". And it's been good, actually. It's helped keep me together. And I can stop in nine months' time.
But I would rather I didn't have to keep chipping away at myself into order to remain whole. I seem to be permanently in retreat, permanently avoiding things that I think will stress me or disturb me or cause me hurt, and the list of those things never shortens but only gets longer. A few excerpts from the list of Things I Avoid (which incorporates Things I Used To Be Able To Do But Can't Any More):
- reading novels
- active political involvement
- watching Friends
- David Aaronovitch
- doing anything that's difficult
- having any real contact with people who I do not absolutely trust
- (coming shortly) playing chess by email. I keep losing.
Next up will probably be
- having long complaint sagas with bureaucracies and their call centres.
Some of these things are trivial. Some are funny. But some of them are serious. It's not really healthy to keep away from things, even things that it's healthy to keep away from. I once had an unhappy email from somebody who didn't want to meet up with me because she considered herself a recluse. I emailed back that I was a recluse myself. What I was actually thinking of was Dylan:
Ophelia, she's 'neath the windowBut I didn't know whether I was thinking of her, or me.
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into
When I was in Scarborough I kept thinking of how much I would like to live there, not necessarily because it was so great in itself (though it has the seas, and the sea air) but because compared to London, there were so few people there that I seemed, practically, to be on my own. And the people who were there, didn't bother me. That was all I wanted of them. They were neither loud nor pretentious and they didn't get on my nerves. Neither, nor, didn't. So I found myself asking - is that what you want from people, then, that they do not bother you? Is that what you want from life, then, that it does not bother you?
Most people get through life by going down the line of least resistance. I have mostly spent my life following the path of most resistance, and that is the most effective way to break yourself on rocks. I don't believe that I should do it any more, even if I could. Personally, politically, I feel drained. Or everything seems to have drained away. I'm listening to Gill Scott-Heron's B-Movie while I write this, and it has that exact mood, at the end, a fading away (as opposed to a fading out) which seems to say, I am resigned to this. I am angry about it, but I am resigned to it. Peace, peace, peace of mind. Perhaps you can attain it only by divesting yourself of everything that disturbs you.
I am not sure what to do when I am forty. Perhaps I shall increase my quota by a pint a year. Perhaps I shall take up meditation once again. Perhaps I shall go and look at the sea. Look at the sea for hours and hours.