Nightmares, agitation, global confusion, sweating, fast heart rate. You looking at me?
I’ve developed a tic. Nothing at all to do with nits, lice or any other parasitic insect erroneously selecting my decomposing cadaver to lay their eggs in (if only!), but that of the more irritating, involuntary variety. As with the other ailments I seem to have accumulated this year, I’ve spent a bit of quality time getting to know and learning to live with it, but I’ll be straight with you: this one’s a hard baby to like, let alone love. Because the tic, unlike Samantha (who you may remember from a couple of months ago), thrives off everything I don’t:
- Stress? Bring it on!
- Anxiety? Eat it for lunch!
- Exhaustion? Fill my boots!
- Heartbreak? Mine’s a pint!
- Increasing awareness of the pointlessness of existence? Yum yum!
Anyway, I was in the supermarket earlier, loading up with few enough bottles of Pinot to avoid suspicion but a sufficient amount to get me through the evening, when I realised I couldn’t get the bloody things into my bag. I was shaking like Mr Stevens, and to make matters worse, quite visibly to the queue behind. At which point, as an unwitting performance artist, I had to make a decision: do I let them think I’m a chronic alcoholic, or do I go the route of a hapless somebody life has chosen to frown upon? The latter seemed disingenuous, the former too candid. So I went the extra mile: looking straight into the eyes of the lady closest to me and channelling my late father, I smiled winningly after having completed the task, and made an almost imperceptible bow. Combined with a slight wink. The look she returned was a cocktail of pity, incomprehension and disgust.
When I got back indoors, I wikied the DTs. Just for the sheer hell of it. Not that I can possibly have them, because they only kick in when you stop drinking. But oh my stars, it made for uncomfortable reading: nightmares, agitation, global confusion, sweating, fast heart rate, the list goes on – it’s enough to keep you on the wagon for good. Fortunately, the tic I have has nothing to do with the above, despite the similarity of symptoms. I’m under a lot of pressure right now, and I could do without the snide remarks, thank you.
Tomorrow, I’m up at 5.50am to take four trains to a town which sucks the marrow from my very soul. If I stayed at home, I’d be privy to the dulcet tones of builders improving the flat beneath me, or witness to the owner dry shampooing a dalmatian next to the bins. Is it any wonder I’ve got the shakes? Or that I occasionally take to the bottle in order to blot out such horrors? Judge me not, for the cause is greater than the effect. And if you think that depression, paranoia and anger are part and parcel of the same, you can all fuck off. The lot of you. Seriously, take a hike…
Bit of back story here. Not all that funny either, but at least it demonstrates we can pull something out of the bag if pushed.
Of all the relationships I’ve ever had, perhaps the most difficult is the one I still hold with the booze. It’s pretty shit, to be frank, and I didn’t choose it either. My namesake grandfather died of it before I was born, as did my own father indirectly, and it will probably see me off prematurely if the snout doesn’t get me first. Its claws are pan-generational, way outside the boundaries of logic and reason, and conveniently, a quick re-read of the above somehow absolves me of any absolute guilt, thereby allowing me to persevere with more of the same in order to write dispassionately about it. As if that makes it okay. The obvious, entry-level question filed by those close enough to be concerned, is this:
‘Do you drink alone?’
And the most honest answer I can give is:
‘Yes, I do. I drink alone out of preference. Because then, finally, the ever-present critical voices (which extend into every cranny of my existence) shut up long enough for me to be able to do the things I actually care about. Until I go down the opposite slope and couldn’t give a toss any more. Can I get you a top up?’
It’s not what they want to hear. And those I’ve upset along the path (trust me, there have been a few) will see it as a romanticised excuse, along the lines of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited, very much the architect of his own downfall despite every gift life bestowed upon him.
Someone kindly gave me a book last Christmas. Called ‘The Trip To Echo Spring’ by Olivia Laing, it discusses the troubled link so many writers have with the demon grog. Not that I have ever considered myself a bona fide writer, and thereby lies the problem. The very term has such powerful connotations that the unsure are crippled at the starting blocks, pitifully reliant on whatever it takes to be taken seriously. Until the crutch becomes counterproductive, by which time it’s usually too late. Between these, I walk a fine line: If that glorious moment ever comes about when something I have created becomes a thing, I’ll probably be too mullered to notice. But maybe you will, and I’d be grateful if you could let me know. We’ve been around the block together for nearly four years. You owe me.
I have a rule. When I spew this stuff out, usually late at night and alongside a bottle of Pinot, I resist the temptation to hit the publish button until the following morning. Because, no matter how cathartic it may seem at the time, the unforgiving light of a new day will invariably reveal my incisive efforts to be little more than a muddled, steaming pile of cack. But ask yourselves something: You’re reading this. Does that mean it’s through quality control, or am I slumped comatose over the return key?
I’ll leave that one with you.