We think we grow. We think we grow and change. And in some ways we do and in others, not.
For example, I will never really have my paperwork under control. Yes, it’s a lot better than it used to be – mostly thanks to my husband who believes rightly that a freelancer’s career stands or falls based on whether he or she is able to send a fucking invoice.
Okay, quite a lot of my invoices come back with a note saying “Please check the amount and re-send” because I have added it all up wrong, but I sent the invoice at least. Eh? Eh?Anyone?
And my drinking will always follow a pattern of drinking far, far too much and then putting a stop to it. I will never, as I thought I might once do, learn how to drink in moderation, permanently, for ever. It will always – probably – build gently up to a terrible crescendo and then have to be stripped back.
Not because I have done something awful, but more because one day realise 3/4 of a bottle of wine doesn’t really touch the sides, I am necking whisky like it’s just been invented and in the morning I really kinda can’t remember what happened last night.
Like I said, it’s rarely because it means I do something bad. Well, not irreversibly bad. But it can’t possibly lead anywhere good and it makes me paunchy and forgetful.
I don’t want to have to not drink. I understand why a person might have to not, but isn’t it better just to try to cultivate an okay relationship with booze?
When I went back to see a shrink in around January I was drinking an absurd amount. I laughed about it back then. I told my therapist and sniggered as the colour drained from her face. “You drink all that… in one evening?” she said tentatively.
I laughed about it because everything was getting done. All the boxes ticked. The children fed and in clean pyjamas, never late to school, never miss a deadline, never drunk during the day, never drunk behind the wheel.
But, but, but, but it’s not how much you drink or what you drink, it’s why. And I don’t know the answer to the why. That’s where the shrink comes in, I suppose. And maybe there doesn’t have to be a why. Maybe I can afford delicious wine and drinking is pretty addictive, even if you are a zen master, and that’s just the way it is?
Anyway I’m not drinking so much now. A glass a night, rather than 7. And I’m enjoying it! It won’t last – of course.
Why am I telling you all this? Oh yes! Milk Thistle. It really does work. It’s a supplement that improves liver function and it 100% makes you feel less shit in the morning. A few weeks ago when I was off my face for about 6 evenings in a row I took one twice a day – once before drinking and once before bed, and felt really very okay in the morning.
Drink responsibly, obviously. But if that’s not an option, make sure you’ve had your Milk Thistle.
It’s a change! Of sorts…
On the drink thing, can I recommend a book- Mindful Drinking by Rosamund Dean. I found it really helpful in switching from being a glass-of-wine-while-making-dinner-bit-more-with-dinner-oops-where-did-the-bottle-go person, to drinking a couple of glasses a couple of times a week and enjoying it. I don’t think I’ll ever be someone to whom that way of drinking comes naturally- those people are born not made- but I’m definitely much more like that using the ideas in the book. Would really recommend.
I actually rather love you and your honesty. No one does it better.
I have the exact same cycle with drink and just got the the stage of thinking “I need to cut back a bit” when I found out I’m pregnant again, so yeah, guess that’s job done! Now I’m shitting myself at the idea of two under two and could do with a drink but hey ho….
Jo R says
Love your honesty! I was just like you, drinking, drinking, drinking to celebrate, commiserate, because it was Wednesday, because the kids were doing my head in AND I just love wine until I started thinking ‘do I have a bit of a problem? I couldn’t just have one glass or sometimes just one bottle !! So in January I just stopped, just to see if I could. I haven’t had a drink since. I’m too scared to start again in case I go completely mental and drink 5 bottles. I’ve lost a stone and feel very rightious but my God it’s so dull. Good luck with the moderation. I wish I could but I know I’d be straight back on it, large.
Is this *really* about the milk thistle? (Gary Lineker Italia 90 concerned face)
I drink very little now and can just have one beer or glass of wine though I used to drink like Hemingway on a fishing weekend.
It depends so much on habit, it’s easier not to when you don’t go out as much, and my husband is diabetic so we can’t egg each other on into oblivion like we used to. We used to drink a lot watching Mad Men but now not so much watching This is Us, because beautiful Rebecca would be disappointed, and I find myself dehydrated from all the crying as it is.
Hemingway on a fishing weekend lol
My drinking cycle is exactly the same, go mental for a few days, stop for a few days then back on it. I don’t ever want to give up drink as I really like it but I wish I could do moderation, I wish I could train myself to only drink at weekends. I did try that once but found my ‘weekend’ was starting on a Thursday then on a Wednesday lol.
ha ha! yes we did that too for a bit.
Great article, and very familiar stuff! Two reading suggestions for anyone mulling the question of why we drink and why some people end up with problems while others seem ok.
First, William Leith’s Guardian article from the start of this year (dunno if you allow links in comments, but Google ‘William Leith drinking’ and it’s the first hit).
This is good because A) he’s a fantastic writer and B) his drinking had an annual pattern of abstinence for the first four months of every year, followed by increasing excess through to Christmas. Why, having experienced the relief of not drinking for months, did he always go back to it? And why did he ultimately quit? The interplay of psychology and chemistry is really well explained.
Second, Alcohol Explained by William Porter. Only read this if you are prepared to have your enjoyment of drinking pretty much ruined even if you don’t think you drink a lot.
The author has a website with the first few chapters of the book available free, but basically his view is that people think they are drinking in response to external problems, while in reality drinking even a small amount creates anxiety, which causes you to crave more drink. It also immediately ruins your sleep, which has a whole host of consequences.
Eventually drinkers come to learn alcohol’s open secret: it can relieve the symptoms it has caused. Take this to its logical conclusion and you’re necking whisky as soon as you wake up. A bit like with cancer, given enough time we’d all succumb.
The sober diaries by Clare Pooley is a brilliant book when you’re in this cycle. Good luck with the moderation.
I had a phase of cutting right back on drinking earlier this year. It turned out I had an diagnosed raging kidney infection at the time but that’s another story! Anyway, I read this book which is *fantastic* at explaining all things alcohol including the effect on sleep which I found to be the best bit.
Thanks Esther. As always your honesty is so welcome.
I’ve had phases of worrying about my drinking habits – the frequency, the volume, the (lack of) company, the why.
The thing I miss most about no longer having a proper job and being a work-from-home-wherever-there-is-wifi freelancer around school hours is no after work pints. Jeez I miss shooting the breeze with colleagues, pint in hand, standing on a sunny street corner or huddled in a skanky pub, likely to head to a kebab/ curry later to mop up the excess. All of us suddenly funnier, more insightful and feeling much closer. Good times.
I would like to note with affection that the UK (or maybe just London?!) does seem to be a nation of functioning alcoholics.
I no longer drink on a school night. In another piece of yours, you talk about not using food (or booze) as a reward. I realised I was using wine during teatime/ bathtime/bedtime as a reward for getting through it. Actually it made the usual level of tired mummy annoyance with tired, whiny kids worse.
Alcohol is bad for our sleep, liver, skin, mood, libido, waistline… There’s no good reason to drink to excess except it’s bloody fun. Humans have a real knack for inventing substances that will get them off their trolley. Probably because the human condition is in general so awful.
So why we drink? Because we are frail humans riddled with anxiety and in need of liquid courage and fun times.
Yes I totally agree that kids + wine seems like a good idea sometimes but actually they just end up ignored, covered in nettle stings and being eaten by wasps.
i had 10 drink free weeks at the beginning of the year, and it made me look great, physically. i mean: other people said that. actually, they asked: did you have botox? the thing with even 2 drinks is that your sleep is not as deep, and that affects mood and looks. re. invoices and admin: i am really bad at it, too, but i think the trick is to actually see it as work, not as a footnote or afterthought. pitching, researching, invoices, bla: all boring parts of job. writing: anxiety-inducing, marvellous part of job. ha! still, editorial offices eat at your soul much quicker, nom nom.
Why we drink, I think, is different for different people/different situations….to relax, to escape, to have fun, to feel different, to switch off, to fit into a situation, to lose control, the list goes on. Like drugs, it is why some people move to addiction and some manage not to?
Is it awful that all this chat is making me want a glass of wine??
That said, I’ve found my drinking has just tailed off after two sober pregnancies/ newborn hell-phases. Also, my husband doesn’t really drink much (he gets atrocious hangovers, unlike me) and drinking alone makes me feel a bit alkie. I still have a drink or two a week and a few more when out but I don’t actually miss it so much as I think I do if that makes sense. I think I more actually miss my old drinking days of drinking+dancing+kebabs at 3am on the way home. But even the thought of that now is exhausting.
The problem is that drinking and alcohol is so integral to life, it seems. Birthday cards, celebrations, being miserable, being happy, being fun, being interesting – have a drink. Not drinking? You’re no fun.
It’s a struggle.
Thank you for talking about it.
Thanks for your honesty Esther. It really is a interesting subject for woman kind in today’s world. I live in NYC and can honestly say that New Yorkers do not drink half as much as myself and friends back home drink. I think it really is a big part of English culture ingrained in us from a very early age. I was 14 yrs old when we all started going down the local pub. Here it is a strict aged 21 and older. I think this makes a big difference to how our minds are molded.
I stopped drinking for six months coz of my gallbladder and the risk of pancreatitis (which I hear is MORE PAINFUL than cholecystitis, so fuck that). And I don’t miss it and I don’t plan to start drinking now I’m finally rid of the noxious organ. It was hearing my liver was fatty at the tender age of 32 that did it. I’m not a fucking goose, I don’t need a fat liver.
not least because you are at risk of a restaurateur hunting you down and putting you on toast
Christa Lamb says
Love your honesty. I’m like that too. I’ve had to give it up completely because of the awful menopause. It makes my hot flushes much much worse. I thought I might be imagining that it did. But a couple of ‘experiments’ proves that it does. Ho hum.
Katrina Trotter Travel says
This is too good. It’s like you are writing about me!
Sharon from Scotland says
If it’s in the house, then I will drink it…………if it’s not in the house I don’t miss it. One bottle of wine for the weekend is fine. Not being righteous, I really wish I could have a decent bottle of malt/gin/rum in the house for occasional tipples, but I would drink and wouldn’t stop until it was gone and that’s a bit scary.
Esther this is so on point it is so complicated as to the reasons why we drink but also it’s a massive part of our culture and let’s face it life with kids is pretty dull much as we adore them. I’m currently on my happy holidays in Greece with my three teenagers who I’m now drinking with it’s both fun and making me feel guilty. I picked up Russel brands new book recovery at the airport and it’s brilliant all about the 12 steps but written well. Apparently we all drink because we are in pain. My husband and me are approaching 50 and been functioning alcoholics for too long. I’m going to try and give up when I get home but for now the aperol spritz and Greek sunsets are too alluring – good luck everyone xxx
How reassuring to see how many other people are apparently Just Like Me! I’m *exactly* the same – I build up and up until I’m really drinking more than I’d happily admit to anyone, then bring it back down for a bit.
The thing that always prompts a relative detox (i.e. down to 2 or 3 nights off a week) is the idea that if you can’t keep in control of your drinking, you have to stop it altogether, and I always want to be able to do it therefore I always need to be able to scale back every now and then. Terrible reason, but there you are.
For now, I’m going to buy some milk thistle or whatever it is. Anyone else have any experience of it?
Rebecca West says
I love the Spike and your brilliant posts. As well as a knackered mum I’m also a liver nurse. I would urge you to be super careful if you’re considering milk thistle or any complementary therapy or medicine.
Lots of these products do not have to be regulated so you can’t be sure of what’s in them or amounts\potency. Some can interact with prescribed medicines and can in some cases, cause more problems to the liver.
I’d recommend talking to your GP about milk thistle and all complementary medicines and get their advice.
There endeth the sermon! Have a look at The British Liver Trust website and put complementary and alternative medicines in the search bar-
Thanks Rebecca! This is sound advice. I got mine from a pharmacist and use it only in a drinking emergency, but I take your point
Angela Murrills says
Esther, thanks for your honesty. Broke my patella almost six weeks ago, which meant a week in hospital and four weeks in a (knee) rehab place. No wine. Not. One. Single. Drop. It’s a myth that French hospitals pour vin rouge with meals. Completely forbidden where I was (which was sad when a friend smuggled in a bottle of blanquette). Odd thing is that I’ve been home for four days and I really don’t fancy it. This from a glass (or two) while I cooked and finish the bottle later person. More when friends came over. Often, much, much more. Once I’m off the drugs and the knee doesn’t hurt any more, i do suspect that I’ll slowly go back to my old bad habits.
That’s circles for you… glad you’re better xx