Confessions of a Hedonist: Dissecting a Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery on the One Year Anniversary of the Day I Finally Gave Up Alcohol, for Good

Friends who’ve known me for only a few years (since I started working in contemporary art and I started constantly harping on about the benefits of yoga, meditation and healthy eating) often don’t believe that I had a ‘party past;’ those who’ve known me longer, know better. This is written for anyone who, like me, has struggled— or maybe continues to struggle— in our society where substance indulgence (and more often than not, abuse) is accepted, and you might even say, sanctioned. This is for anyone who, like me, might call themselves a Hedonist: (O.E.D.: ‘A person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure seeker.’) This is written for someone who sometimes takes it that wee bit too far, and perhaps is at a loss as to how to stop themselves. I think this is an issue we tend to laugh off, but it needs to be grappled with.  I’ve chosen to use the word ‘Hedonist’ but I probably could have picked one of the scarier ‘A’ words: ‘Addict’ or ‘Alcoholic.’

This is split into two parts: the first ‘Part One: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – The Epic Hangover to End All Hangovers?’ is about how suffering from this illness has really opened my eyes to how I used to actually inflict many of the symptoms upon myself. ‘Part Two: A Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery’ is an unflinching and sobering (if you’ll forgive the pun) account of my own experience. I write about this not to be sensationalist (though at points it undoubtedly is); I am far from proud of it, but importantly, neither am I deeply ashamed of it anymore, as I was for years. Neither do I share my own shame stories towards the end to play a game of ‘shocking drunken misdemeanour anecdote’ Top Trumps. Far from it — and I’m sure many of you could beat me hands down, and I actively encourage you to replace my own trolleyed tales with your own— I honestly think it serves a purpose to share these, otherwise I would keep them securely locked away in the dark recesses of my memory. In many ways that is where they firmly belong.

This is not about getting a little but tipsy. No, this is a story of extremes. This is about getting out of it – pissed – wasted – shit-faced – gubbed- swallied – blazing – steaming – annihilated – nutted – utter guttered – swedgered – or into a total state.

This is not about a few quiet drinks down the pub or a nice bottle of wine over dinner. (Or it might be, if your nightly medicinal glass of wine is pure escapism from your reality). But on the whole, No, this is about nights of some of (or all of) the following: wine with dinner followed by pre-drinks in the flat, and the 9.45pm dash to the offy before it closes. Then more pre-drinks in a bar (perhaps dropping your first pill in the toilets) – drinks, double-dunting and constant tiny sips of water in the club, complete with the hourly dancing break in the smoking section (we all knew the best banter was out in the smoking area, right?) And after the post-club ‘find a party’ mission was complete, and we’d made a middle of the night pilgrimage for fags and mixer, lollipops and chewing gum: more drinking, smoking, snorting, dabbing, bombing, maybe even parties with rave rooms and k-holes. It’s about the 10am pilgrimage back to the off-license to re-stock and keep going (Glasgow dwellers- remember the one that is actually inside a CAGE?) Shudder. It is about all of these things; and it is about the infamous ‘walk of shame’- we’ve all been there.


Part One: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – The Epic Hangover to End All Hangovers?

Exactly a year ago today I had my last drink. My last alcoholic drink, ever. The date doesn’t really hold any special significance. I remember the date clearly though as my friends and I had put on an artists’ film screening event at the local arts centre and we had a few drinks afterwards. It was a big success; it was so full that people were sitting in the aisles. But I was completely exhausted and was suffering from crippling anxiety (not that anyone would have guessed, I even read aloud in front of the audience) and I tried to mask it by drinking. I couldn’t face talking to anyone apart from my closest friends. I’d been suffering, without a firm diagnosis, from Chronic Fatigue for 6 months at that point; I should not have been drinking at all. The next day I couldn’t get out of bed, that continued for the weekend, the next week, the week after that… At that point I decided to leave my job.

Let me explain.

Imagine your worst ever hangover. This is what a really bad day with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome feels like. Not the nausea (at least not for me anyway). But you wake up (at some point in the morning, or the afternoon) and you have a blinding headache. There is a hollowness behind your eyes. You are dehydrated but you can’t face getting up for a glass of water so you just hope that licking your lips will do the trick. You have ‘the fear’ big time. You seem to have lost the inability to think, speak, and you swear, you once had this thing called a ‘memory’, but you draw an absolute blank when you try to remember what happened last night (extend that to yesterday/ the last week/ the last month, even months for CFS sufferers, depending on the severity of your illness). You can’t bring yourself to text any of your friends, you can barely make out the screen at all your vision is so hazy. Reading a book is out of the question. Even watching a film in bed turns out to be too sore on your head. Listening to the radio is no good either, they may as well be speaking a foreign language and it is too loud even at its lowest volume, and your ears won’t stop ringing. So you just lie there with your eyes closed. You don’t go back to sleep, you just lie still, trying your best not to move. If anyone came in to check on you they’d only know you were alive by the occasional groaning, or ever-so-slight shifting of position. You hope that that urge to pee doesn’t escalate any time soon. After a few hours like this you contemplate getting up to make food. You wish someone would bring food and water, even better, juice, to you in bed, mmmmmmm, juice, but there is no one else in. You can’t call for a pizza or a Chinese delivery as you’ve developed intolerances to so many foods that you have no choice but to prepare everything from scratch and for it all to be healthy. You can’t even drink juice anymore as it is pure sugar. Your choices are water or… water.

The fear

The similarities between the worst hangovers of my life and my CFS led me to concoct the following explanation for my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – I sometimes joke with family and friends that to redress my karma for all my years of devout hedonism I am being forced to re-live EVERY SINGLE hangover I’ve ever had and that once I’ve relived them all I will be miraculously cured – Hallelujah! I calculated that with roughly 3 nights (often heavy) drinking every week over the course of the last, say, 10 years (that’s 3 x 52 x 10) = 1,560 days. So, altogether, that would be roughly 4 years and 3 months. It sounds weird, I know, but I feel like it would make some kind of sense if this were the case as living with Chronic Fatigue is very much is like the ‘luck of the draw’ you get with hangovers. Some days are fine. I’ll be out and about doing shopping, laughing with friends, eating properly, only with that undercurrent of tiredness and that ‘hollow-eyed’ feeling; otherwise I’d feel more or less human. Other days were like those I mention above: utterly catatonic. Days where you can’t call yourself a human; you’re more like a human shell. Days where all you can do is pray that it will pass, that it will soon be over and that the next one will be better. Food is out of the question unless someone makes it for you— the sound of a knife on the chopping board is head-splitting. Even the rustle of opening a bag of celery is too excruciating to bear (yes, the turn of phrase would usually call for ‘bag of crisps’ there, but with all the food intolerances, the last time you ate crisps was YEARS ago). I remember when I was younger my worst food nightmare when hungover was the idea of a cherry tomato bursting in my mouth (the very thought alone was enough to make me wretch, eugh). Now, with CFS, I can’t even eat tomatoes any more, and these days it’s the thought of the food preparation that scares me more. The idea that I might need to stand to stir a pot on the hob, or God forbid pull open the heavy door of the fridge. I wish I was exaggerating, I really do, but that’s what it’s like on the absolute worst CFS ‘hangover’ days.

So you can probably see that now that as I have experienced feeling like this, day after day, often with no sign of it letting up, I never ever, ever, again want to do anything to induce these lows by my own volition. Luckily I have no choice whatsoever now, even if I wanted to drink alcohol I physically couldn’t. My body literally can’t break down sugar anymore, to the point that even if I were to eat a grape I’d immediately get so dizzy I’d likely lose my balance, my eyes would glaze over and the rest of the day would be spent with a crippling migraine. If I drank wine—fermented grapes— I would be in bed for a week, in something akin to a shallow coma. One glass of wine = one week in bed. Is it worth it? I don’t think I need to even answer that. Can you please pass the celery?

Part Two: A Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery

In honesty this issue is much bigger than my illness. It extends WAY beyond my issues with Chronic Fatigue. It was about time that this decision was made for me; the decision to stop drinking alcohol altogether, and for me to stick to it this time.

Alcohol and I never really got on. Well, that’s a lie, we got on GREAT, when I was drunk and having an awesome time. For a good few years my body coped with the weekly abuse fine. Sure, I had dreadful hangovers, but what was losing one day? (Or 120 odd a year?) I was young. In truth, on a psychological level, my mind was never able to handle alcohol— The regrets of things you’d said the next day, the drunken revelation of secrets you wish you’d kept, the promises you’d made that in the cold light of day you had no intention of keeping, the mortification of having sent that text, or made that middle of the night phone-call, or worse, of having showed up on that doorstep— Who was that person? It certainly wasn’t the person I associated with the word ‘me’. How many times have you sent an ‘I’m so sorry for what I said/did/for what happened last night’ text? I’ve lost count.

I couldn’t hack it, not when I was 15, not when I was 25. I had been trying, and failing miserably to stop drinking, knowing that, as much as everyone else might not be as adversely affected by our drinking culture: I was. We all were. We all are. But I never did manage to stay on that wagon. Despite my best efforts to stay sober, our society geared me up to fail.

From about the age of 15 I did what every ‘normal’ teenager did. On the weekends my friends and I would go up to the local village where a friend (one that looked 18 and got ‘served’) would buy us quarter or half bottles of vodka, or whisky (we’d been able to get sold fags since we were 13, so we could get our own) We’d go to someone’s house, preferably whose parents happened to be away for the weekend. If that option wasn’t available to us then we’d go down to the Old Railway Station (the immaculately preserved end of the line from Victorian times) smoke resin filled joints (remember that awful crumbling smell?) and spin around on the platforms, drinking 3 litre bottles of ‘Frosty Jacks’ cider. Or we’d go and hang around up to the ‘Eagle Stone’ (A Neolithic standing stone which is legendary for being the subject of a prophecy of the infamous Brahan Seer, who said that if the stone fell three times, the village— which is situated in a deep valley— would be flooded to the point that you could attach a sailing ship to the church steeple. It had fallen twice and the village had experienced dreadful flooding each time. Now it is cemented into the ground, there’s not a chance of it moving an inch!) Strangely quaint places for teenage drinking sessions you might say? Yes, it was on the whole quite a ‘well-to-do’ village, many of my friends lived in big fancy mansions, not me though; I lived in a tiny cottage nearby the village, so needless to say there were never any parties there. My mum told me recently that sometimes I’d come home so drunk that she’d sleep on the floor beside my bed just to make sure I didn’t choke on my own vomit or something in the night. I had no idea. I never did though— in fact, for years, I prided myself on never being sick no matter how much I drank— I had a liver of steel, I proclaimed, I’d inherited it from my alcoholic grandmother.

I was at university from the age of 17 to 21. I can only speak from my own experience so I don’t know if my university drinking days would be classed as ‘normal.’ I gravitated from a drink and a smoke to an array of substances, and I took them as regularly as I take my vitamins now. I had a timetable at university of course, I can’t remember it. I’ll tell you the timetable I do remember though, for my first couple of years there, once I had my I.D. it was:

Monday — Hungover/come down from Optimo (eclectic club night at Sub Club). Night in.

Tuesday — Not hungover. Killer Kitsch (Electro night at the Buff Club).

Wednesday — Hungover/come down. Night in.

Thursday — Not hungover. Record Playerz (Electro night at the Art School). Parties until the morning. Biggest night out of the week.

Friday — Hungover/comedown. Night in. Once a month: Pressure (city’s biggest Techno night at the Arches). Usually too tired to party after.

Saturday — Not hungover (or hungover if Pressure was last night. Mandatory massive comedown, but always lessened by amount of toxins sweated out by all the furious dancing). Once a month: Death Disco (city’s biggest Electro night at the Arches). Parties well into the next day. If not Death Disco, maybe another club, ABC, maybe Buff Club, just for somewhere to go out.

Sunday — Hungover. (If Death Disco was last night- massive inescapable come down.) If energy, Optimo. If not, Night in.

Monday — Start again.

See the pattern? I was either drunk or hungover, or coming down pretty much every day.

How I managed to leave university with a First I have absolutely no idea. Well actually I do. At the end of my second year, after a good year and a half of not missing a ‘class’ (of the above ‘timetable’ of course, not my classes at university, oh no.) I entered my English Literature exam only to sit down in front of my exam paper and be hit with the sobering reality that I couldn’t possibly sit this exam as I hadn’t studied any of the texts. Did I even go to class? I had spent the last year at house parties, in clubs, with eyes as wide as saucers ‘chewing my face off’; Either that or at home with my head in my hands, or ‘kipper flipping’ in bed— sometimes alone, often not.

I had a panic attack and walked out of the exam.

Luckily the university let me resit my exams at the end of summer without being penalised. Thankfully I got my act together and found a kind, reliable boyfriend who was a good influence on me for the next year or two and as a result I went out less for the remainder of my undergrad. (By less I maybe mean twice a week instead of almost every night. I calmed down completely on the drugs front and I would tend to come home when the clubs closed, that is instead of going from after-party to after-party until the next day.) ‘A’ for good behaviour.

This lasted right up until my final exams were over. Then I was free.  Free to start abusing my body again, woohoo! I almost didn’t make it to my graduation as I thought it would be a great idea to take acid 2 days beforehand (you would never know by looking at the photos). I calmed down after a few weeks as I found that no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t party like I used to. But then the stable boyfriend and I ended up on the rocks and I stopped coming home after the clubs closed and before I knew it I was staying out all night again, with the help of many stimulants. We broke up and so I went at it full-pelt. The endless rounds of parties and club-nights continued until just after my 23rd birthday, and by this time I was working in a bar so that just made it all the easier to drink all the time. A couple of days after New Year I was in a very dark place and thankfully realised that it was time to Stop. This. Right Now.

I was tee-total for just over a year and a half. In that time I took up daily yoga and meditation, I went on retreats to learn Tai Chi and Shiatsu. I cycled everywhere. I juiced. I was happily single. I was really enjoying my close friendships, and my own company.  I took up ‘Biodanza’: the hippy-dippy dance class this guy told me I would LOVE when we were tripping together (that time 2 days before my graduation) — I totally loved it; I hope to teach it one day. I had a lovely trip to Paris. I had a great time at Glastonbury with my Dad. I got really into hill-waking. I would come home to the countryside for a weekend a month. I had good relationships with both parents, and siblings. I started running. I danced naked on hillsides with a group of inspirational women. I performed with another group of inspirational women where we channelled our inner wild woman and howled like wolves. I was the happiest I had been since I was a carefree kid. I knew who I was, what made me happy and where I wanted to go in life. I was comfortable. I smiled when I woke up in the morning. I started getting promotions at the art gallery I worked for, and even thought about applying for a masters degree, if I could get a scholarship. I did. (I was becoming a workaholic, but that’s another story for another time…). Quite different from the drunk/hungover pattern though, no? I’d also finally had enough of the ‘I’m soooooooooooo hungover’ banter, (where people wear their hangover like a badge of honour). Or ‘I was sooooooooooooo wasted last night, I can’t remember a SINGLE THING’; like it was something to be proud of— It’s not. It’s boring chat. It doesn’t serve me or you to hear about your self-inflicted woes, let’s talk about something else (of course, who was I to say this? I had uttered those words countless times over the years myself.)

Then I met someone. We started dating. I was really into him. And what do you do when you go on a date? That’s right- you go for drinks (you’re nervous, you think you need some Dutch courage, right?) Then next time you maybe go for dinner and drinks. The time after that maybe he cooks dinner and you bring round a bottle of wine, and you decide to go out after getting a bit tipsy and you end up in a club taking shots (ok, so maybe you shot coffee flavoured Café Patron these days as opposed to cheap Sambuca, but a shot is still a shot). Then my memory starts to get a little hazy… I stopped doing yoga and meditating, I didn’t go home to the country so often and my relationships weren’t as fulfilling, including even the romantic one—especially the romantic one; it was a car crash and this just made me escape further into the bottom of a wineglass…or bottle— When I started drinking again after my first extended period of being a tee-totaller I was just your average binge-drinker: no drugs, just a few glasses of wine after a long, stressful day at work or in the university library; a bottle over dinner; a big Saturday night out dancing once in a while, especially if you’d had a tough week, a ten deck of Camel blues for a night out. Often I’d stop drinking by 1am and finish the night with water. Sometimes I’d even leave the club before closing time. A semi-sober walk or taxi ride home, maybe some left over risotto before bed. ‘A+’ for good behaviour!

I thought: ‘Hey, everyone else does it, why can’t I?’ But I was a mess. The hangovers kept getting worse. The weeks and months rolled by in a burning-the-candle-at-both-ends blur. I couldn’t even function as this level, of ‘normal’ drinking. I just couldn’t hack it. I became one of the ‘I’m soooooooo hungover’ people again. Yeah, there were lots of things besides the booze, but it really was not helping. Something I learned one time that has always stuck with me: you can always find someone to drink with. You can always find someone to drink with. The facebook status update I posted on the day I handed in my masters dissertation read: ‘Did that actually just happen? Just handed in my masters dissertation! Time for relaxing, sleep, but most importantly, GIN!’ You can see where my priorities lay… is it any wonder I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? The illness for people who live life at such a fast pace that they live on stimulants, tend to go without sleep and have completely forgotten how to relax?!

But it’s so fuuuuuuunnnnnn, I hear you say. And I agree, I LOVED drinking and going out, I really did. I loved DANCING to good music. I loved losing my inhibitions enough to dance all night long; and often well into the next day. I loved the EUPHORIA. I loved all the different people I met, all the deep conversations I had, all of the exciting new and situations I ended up in. And I loved all the attractive boys I kissed (and then some). I especially loved the late night sing-a-longs, of every song we could think of off the top of our heads. What would have happened if I’d been sober that whole time? Would I have still got to sing all those songs at top of my lungs? (I’d probably have carried a tune much better if I wasn’t half-cut). Would I have kissed all those boys (probably not, probably not even half, did I even find them that attractive? did we even have anything in common?); would I still have had the amazing conversations (yes, probably more so in fact. I bet it would be hilarious to be able to re-listen to some of the conversations I considered to be ‘profound’ at 5.30am, sitting chain smoking around some random’s kitchen table, all of us on a different concoction of class As.) Would I still have gone to new and exciting places and met lots of new people? (as much as it kills me to say this I know that if I could get back all the money I spent on booze, fags, drugs and nights out over the years then I would be able to go on a round the world trip—maybe even more than once.)

Me at Death Disco

Of course, I would be lying to you if I said to you that some of my best memories were not under the influence of drugs and alcohol…. Many of them were:

-Remember that time we played invisible tennis on the Kelvingrove courts at 7am, dressed in our finest clubbing regalia complete with beehives and leopard print coats? We launched our dancing shoes across the deserted courts, doing our best  grunting impressions of Monica Seles and shouting ‘Tally Ho!’ as if we were playing ‘Throw the Welly Boot’ at a Highland Games?

-What about that time we wandered round the backstreets of Florence, tipsy on the best cocktails I’d ever tasted, made with gin brewed by Benedictine monks. Do you remember: the barmaid in our favourite bar on the piazza accidentally gave me 50 Euros change too much? More drinks!

-What about that time I had that impromptu party in my flat and we were running around dressed in the pink, white and black feathered angel wings I’d somehow acquired?

-What about that time when it got to about 6am and our legs were so tired from all the dancing that we lay down in the middle of the aircraft hanger, our scarves underneath us. We held hands and we closed our eyes for a rest while the pounding techno next door reverberated through the floor beneath our prone bodies. Hundreds of people milled by but gave us our space. People started taking photos and someone came and called us ‘Sonar Angels’ because we were both in white dresses?

-What about that time we sat up just the two us and talked into the wee small hours while listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young records and my very soul was stirred not only by the music but by our profound conversations?

-What about the time I told you I’d secretly fancied you for four years. You invited me to come and meet you for drinks in the city you lived in and said that you were going skiing with your friends the next day and did I want to join you?

-What about the time we sat round my kitchen table, smoked a joint and sang along to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ in its entirety?

-What about that time that you took me by surprise and kissed me out on the cobbled stones as we left the party, the shock of which made me go weak at the knees?

-What about that time I said ‘Yes’?

Drunken memories, and good ones at that. But wait…. Wait. You didn’t let me finish:

-After we’d tired ourselves out with all the invisible tennis we went back to mine to crash. I was so drunk I wet the bed.

-We ended that night in Florence, the last night of my coming to see you, fighting in the middle of the street. When we finally made it back to the apartment I passed out in all my clothes and spent the entire flight back to Glasgow the next day thinking I was going to vomit. It completely spoiled what had been up until that point a really romantic break.

-You asked everyone to leave around 10am the next morning; I was totally out of it. You convinced them to go, telling them I had a flat viewing at midday. I didn’t have a flat viewing but I did have to move out in 2 days’ time. It was only after everyone had left and I had regained consciousness that I surveyed the damage: the white tiled bathroom floor was completely black with muddy footprints, there was broken glass everywhere, the bedroom door was off its hinges, and someone had stolen my grandmother’s aquamarine ring. I went out to another party, came home to change, and went back out to Pressure that night. I still miss that ring; it was my most treasured possession.

-We left the club at 7am to get the subway back to our digs. We spotted the police with sniffer dogs in the station too late to turn back. We prayed as we walked through the gate; we were lucky. We were so high we were dancing to the sound of ambulance sirens. We got back to the hostel and managed a few hours of sleep, well, kipper flipping, until the manageress wanted us to get out so she could clean the dorm. We refused, we’d barely slept. I sat on the steps outside, dressed in my pants and a vest, last night’s glittery make-up and crusty mascara smudged all over my face and feet caked black with streaks of dirt all up my legs from my overzealous outdoor barefoot dancing to Dave Clarke. I was sitting there trying, and failing, to read Milan Kundera through blurry eyes. I could hear you fighting with her in Spanish. She called us prostitutes and wanted us out by the end of the day.

-In the morning I couldn’t remember a single word of our conversations, partly due to the booze, partly due to the fact that I was (unbeknownst to me at that point) already very unwell; I wasn’t ‘me’ at all; and I hadn’t been for quite some time I now realise in hindsight. The albums I can go back to, but all those beautiful words had disappeared forever into the drunken ether, never to be recalled.

-I was going through a heavy-drinking phase. I drank the best part of two bottles of wine, you barely touched any. At 4am we left to make the journey north to go skiing. I was still drunk, and your friends decided they wanted to go snowboarding instead. The funicular railway dropped us off at the very top of the mountain due to poor conditions. It was sheet ice and there was little to no visibility. I had never been on a snowboard. Within 15 minutes I had broken my elbow. I walked down the mountain with my snowboard under my arm (the one that was still intact.) That was some hangover. I never told you how bad it was. We haven’t really spoken since anyway. My elbow still twinges sometimes.

-Our kitchen table singing that night was just brilliant. Can we do that again? I am still impressed that you know that album word for word. I will never tire of belting out ‘The Chain’ and I have the fondest memories of hoards of us singing this at the top of our lungs at countless parties that summer… I do feel for the neighbours though, there was a lot of stomping.

-I was completely taken aback by your kiss as we were just friends, and you had just been on the couch at the party, kissing another guy. I turned on my heel to run for the taxi, my friends were waiting. My heel got stuck in the cobbles and I completely decked it. So hard. I heard the gristly sound of my face smash against the stone paving. I tried to get up, saw stars, and fell again, this time my face smashing right into the cobbles. I should have gone to A&E but instead I went to the party, took another pill and put a bag of frozen peas on my face. I now have an ‘x’ marks the spot on my tooth to remind me. Thankfully that was all, it could have been so much worse.

-I really meant ‘No.’

I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll leave it there. I think I’ve made my point.

But I’ll go back to the same question I asked before: What would have happened if I’d been sober that whole time? Well, for one thing I probably would have been able to control my bladder. In Florence, our holiday probably wouldn’t have been spoiled. If those talks had been sober ones — and if we both hadn’t been so busy and co-dependent on alcohol; If I hadn’t been so stressed/heartbroken from my last train-wreck of a relationship/disconnected from myself/getting ill… and if I hadn’t been leaving—who knows, maybe it would have turned into something— (I’m aware that’s a lot of ‘ifs’). This I know for certain: I wouldn’t have broken my elbow (honestly, I probably would have never agreed to snow-sports of any kind in the first place) and I definitely wouldn’t have smashed my face into the asphalt, TWICE. I can tell you that much. And I would have firmly said ‘No’ when I meant ‘No’.

I am glad that the decision to stop drinking was made for me. I am glad that, as painful as it is, my head is now clear enough that I can see my years of self-destruction clearly, and the structures that our society keep in place to keep us thinking it is just ‘completely normal’ to abuse our bodies and minds in this way. I know I won’t fall back into it even when a fermented grape will no longer force me to spend the rest of the day in bed, and I know that I have learned my lesson; those days are over for me. I just want to take good care of myself, my body and my mind. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever drink again, even in strict moderation.

I can only speak from my own experience. Of course, many people can enjoy alcohol in moderation, or even in copious amounts, and still be happy, and relatively healthy.

I never have been, and never will be, one of those people.

For me, quitting drinking is the biggest sign that I don’t want to escape myself anymore. I don’t need to get out of my head, or out of my body— I’m happy in it (even if sometimes I still have to endure the odd bad hangover CFS day. If my ‘calculations’ are correct, I might have another couple of years to go before I am miraculously healed. I sincerely hope my theory is complete bullshit). But I know I don’t need to get smashed – trashed – obliterated – rat-arsed – hammered – rubbered – off my face – paralytic – pure steamboats –fucked— anymore to enjoy myself.

BUT. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m always going to be a hedonist.

And don’t get me wrong:

I still want the dates (but without the need for the Dutch courage). I still want the dancing to great music (but not in seedy clubs, and not when I’m the only sober person amongst throngs of drunken revellers). I still want the euphoria (but I want to get my highs from Kundalini yoga, Vipassana meditation and from the music, and not pills and coke— it’s freakily similar btw, try it!). I still want the sing-a-longs and the sharing of amazing music (but I want to be sober enough to sing in tune and I want to be compos mentis enough to listen properly). I still want the deep and meaningful conversations (but I want to be fully present so I can say what I really want to say and remember every word of them). I still want the silly escapades (but without the need for stimulants to get there, I want to be silly sober). And of course I still want the knee-weakening kisses (but I want to be 100% sure that I definitely want to be with the person I’m kissing).

And I don’t want the next generation of kids growing up to have to go through all this in order to come to the realisations I have. ‘It’s just a normal part of growing up.’ Is it? IS IT?

[Just before I finish— A wee ‘smoking break’ aside: I could write a whole other article about smoking, but I don’t think I want to. I smoked for 10 years (if I had a glass of wine in one hand I tended to have a cigarette in the other). I finally stopped for good when I got sick and when I tried to smoke I literally couldn’t breathe (my adrenals were so weak that my breathing was already impaired and smoking became impossible).

I think it’s pretty simple really: If you ask me why we smoke it’s because we don’t want to face our real problems. Yeah yeah, I hear you: ‘I enjoy it,’ ‘I like the taste’, ‘it calms me down, ‘I can stop when I want to.’ I’ve said all those things. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are spending an exorbitant amount of money to inhale little chemical sticks into our bodies that pollute our own lungs and those of the people around us, and are proven not only to shorten our lives but to quadruple our chances of cancer, not to mention a whole host of other suffering while we’re still alive. We don’t want that, right? Of course we don’t. (It’s also a bonus to never have to wake up with furry carpet/ashtray mouth ever again). I think that we really smoke so that we convince ourselves that smoking is our problem. Just like we do with drinking. We use it as an escape route from our real problems. ‘I really need to quit’, ‘I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself,’ ‘I just can’t seem to stop.’ But you know this already. For as long as smoking is our ‘big problem’ it means that we don’t ever have to look underneath, at our real problems. If we stopped smoking, maybe we’d have to face that we hate our job/we’re unhappy in our relationship/the city we live in; or that maybe it’s time to heal that family rift/face that childhood trauma. Even if we did quit smoking we’d probably go through the same cycle with a few other addictions first (sugar/exercise/sex/work perhaps? Alcohol of course) before we actually began to address the real problems… But it’s all the same in the end. That’s some tough shit right there. No, I’ll just keep smoking instead ‘Man, I really need to quit smoking…’ Ok. Rant over. I told you the deep conversations always happened in the smoking section!]

I’ll finish with this: the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung believed that alcoholism was a sacred disease. In his book Further Along the Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck writes about how it occurred to Jung ‘that it was perhaps no accident that we traditionally referred to alcoholic drinks as ‘spirits’, and that perhaps alcoholics were people who had a greater thirst for the spirit than others, that perhaps alcoholism was a spiritual disorder or better yet, a spiritual condition.’

Maybe we ARE looking for something at the bottom of a bottle? Maybe those of us that have problems with addictions to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are, underneath it all, among the most sensitive and spiritually aware people of all? Maybe we are just looking in the wrong place?

I’ll leave you to chew on that. (Perhaps just don’t drink it down or put it in your pipe and smoke it!)

9 thoughts on “Confessions of a Hedonist: Dissecting a Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery on the One Year Anniversary of the Day I Finally Gave Up Alcohol, for Good

    1. Hi Rick. Thanks for reading. I’m not sure I exactly know what you mean! I think the only thing that ultimately ‘takes the edge off real life’ is trying to understand it completely, expose everything to find the truth, then, even though the ‘world’ can be tough- at least you are clear about what it actually is. I find meditation and yoga, time in nature and good food are essential!


  1. Great read, Emma. It seems our respective rollercoasters have delivered us both to the same place (physically and spiritually) – though I don’t recall much leopard print (unfortunately?) on my ride. And I thought you would find in interesting to know that the origin of the world “alcohol” comes from the Arabic word “al-kuhl”, which means “body eating spirit”. It is also where the word “ghoul” originates. Also, in alchemy, alcohol is used to strip the essence (soul) of an entity. I can’t remember where I read that, but etymology always comes up with the goods. We (Diana and myself) look forward to connecting with you both, when the stars align. X – Mike


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