If you had asked me this question periodically over the last 30 years of my drinking I would have gushed about how wonderful life was and could reel off examples of how great things were.
I had friends, really good friends. I always made an effort to become friendly with the landlords and locals of the various pubs I drank at. I made sure I cultivated these special relationships so much so that, at 23, there are at least five pubs that spring to mind that would let me stay over if I’d overindulged. How we all laughed the following day, usually whilst tackling my first pint at or before morning opening time. We laughed about the fall down the steps which fractured my ankle, the fall off the bar stool which resulted in an egg size lump on my head it was just so much fun, fun, fun.
Later in life, I would have explained how I enjoyed the weekends away with friends where we drank and drank and did really silly things. We played competitive drinking games and yes, I did deliberately lose sometimes. We would talk about how funny it was when I’d wandered off and fallen asleep in a field only to be woken by the police who had received a call about a body in a field. What fun, fun, fun.
I enjoyed dinner parties and nights at the rugby club. I enjoyed the theatre, concerts, and Glastonbury – I really, really liked Glastonbury. It was a free pass to drink alcohol at 8 AM openly and guilt free. I could write a book about what I did for fun, fun, fun.
As the years went by my mantra to those who asked was that I worked hard and played hard. My career was taking off, I was a homeowner in London and married. I was slowly ticking off those boxes that meant I was a success. Life was good and I was having a ball.
It’s only recently, with the benefit of clarity of mind, that I can ask myself that question again and take a different perspective.
To point out the blindingly obvious, all the so far (and the many more in my head) fun activities in my life included the consumption of alcohol to some extent, and mostly to excess. I thought it was fun but in reality, it was fast becoming sad.
People started to laugh at me rather than with me and the hardest cross to bear was that people started feeling sorry for me. I didn’t really notice things changing. I was blindsided by addiction but I can now see that other people, as they grew older, changed. They no longer found it funny to forget what they did the night before. They were not in the pub every night. Instead, they had started families. My socialising was with myself and it was far from social.
With the steady progression of my alcoholism, the consequences of my “fun” activities started to get worse. I woke up with unexplainable injuries, I began to have blackouts. To wake up in the morning full of fear, not knowing what you did the night before, is truly terrifying.
I can tell you that towards the end of my drinking, on a couple of occasions, I woke at my home in North London and could not see my car anywhere outside. Thankfully I had been sent home by taxi from my office in Surrey as I could not stand up. To this day I have no recollection of this. Shortly after, unsurprisingly, I became unemployed. This was no longer fun but a living hell.
So, in hindsight, my fun activities from an early age were tied to a singular basic need I had – to get inebriated to get along in life. The stories, of which there are literally thousands, can often be told in two ways. To illustrate I offer you the following.
A good few years ago I was on a bender in which I withdrew from society. I went on the run, from what I know not. I was sleeping rough in the woods talking to trees and thoroughly enjoying drinking myself to sleep each night under the stars. One night I ventured too far from base camp and fell asleep in the central reservation of a particularly busy part of the A4 in London. This was a very cold night and I had zipped my coat up over the top of my head in an attempt to keep warm. I was awoken by a sharp kick in the ribs. I jumped up and immediately unzipped my coat. I will never forget the look of sheer horror on the policewoman’s face. A headless body had been reported on the dual carriageway.
Over the years I have told this many times as a funny story. What, I now ask myself, is so funny about that – a drunk twenty-something sleeping in the middle of a dual carriageway. It shows how much I normalised irrational behaviour and made it humorous to justify continuing my drinking.
After completing residential treatment here at Gladstones, getting through the physical withdrawal and starting to look forward rather than backward, I now wanted to have “normal” fun. But in early recovery, I just could not see how I could ever have fun again without the taking of a drink. I thought every single fun thing in life involved drinking. I could not see it any other way.
I am not alone in this, it is one of the most common challenges in early recovery from addiction. Addiction narrows the mind to focus on what becomes necessary for it to survive and feed on. It twists and distorts our perceptions, it makes us susceptible to anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable).
How to have fun in recovery is one of the hardest things to get your head around but with the requisite tools, this can be reconciled. You just have to make an effort, not too much but, within reason. Try being open to new ideas and positive about activities you might have said no to in the past.
For me, the one I thought would be hardest to address would be socialising. I was plagued with the thought “what if they don’t like me?” or “I’ve got nothing interesting to say”.
You have to work at it but it can be done.
I started doing volunteer work for a local archaeological society. Before our first meet, I was petrified I had knots in my stomach, was anxious and felt physically sick. It was hard at first. I found myself saying things just for the sake of it. “That’s a really interesting piece of 1960’s Bakelite you’ve found there” immediately regretting the words coming out of my mouth. This was a Roman burial site. I persevered though and soon found chatting became easy. I spoke at the right moments and, most importantly, did not feel I was being judged.
These days I never cease to be amazed by what a pleasure it is to eat in a restaurant, enjoying my glass of water with unpressured conversation. I often used to spend most of the time focusing throughout the meal entirely on the amount of wine the waiter topped my glass up with compared to the others at the table. Now I can relax. I don’t feel obliged to constantly babble, I have a bloody good time.
I have honed my skills and found I can make people laugh without being drunk. I can have a stimulating conversation without it involving necking 4 or 5 shots of tequila. Am I becoming “normal”?
The simple answer is yes and boy is it more fun.
So, dear reader, what do you do for fun?