One of my favourite writers, Kingsley Amis (and yes, I do know he was a complete arse, thank you) was a well-known boozehound. In his excellent and often side-splittingly funny "Everyday Drinking", Amis describes the way in which the typical hangover takes 2 directions: the first, what he calls the Physical Hangover or PH, is the way your body responds to the damage wreaked the night before. The second, and I would argue more troubling hangover, is the Metaphysical one, or the MH: this is where we question our actions, wonder what we said and did and worry endlessly about the residual carnage incurred by a night on the tiles. It's a typically witty observation the MH and, like all wise ideas, rooted in truth.
For years I put myself through both on more occasions than I'd like to admit. A proper PH feels terrible, but the MH? That's infinitely worse.
And for years I'd've told you that I didn't have a problem with alcohol. On paper, or in casual conversation, you'd probably have thought so, too. Sure, my twenties were awash with the stuff like a lot of the people I surrounded myself with, and I often drank for all the wrong reasons - unhappy, alone, miserable in my working life. The one reason that stands out above all others is the one I can only name with the benefit of hindsight my mid-forties affords: I was trying to fill a gaping void of my own damned making, looking for something - love, creativity, connection - through a glass.
I remember the first time that I thought, perhaps, I drank too much. A friend of a good friend told me that she'd embraced a macrobiotic diet and, "no longer came home from work to drink half a bottle of wine". Half a bottle? I was regularly finishing one off. I was 26. I felt deeply, deeply ashamed. Metaphysical hangovers became a normal part of life.
On I went, though. I wasn't always unhappy, there were moments of great levity in life and I have always loved to laugh, but I seemed to be nursing hangovers and - worse still - was unable to quit the smoking I took up to be cool at art school. At 28 I decided to I was gonna have to learn to like myself. So I gave up smoking. I started walking the hills of Bronte and Clovelly in the early hours of the morning. I did, indeed, like myself a whole lot more by the end of that year.
I met my now-husband when I was 29; uprooted myself from Sydney and moved south to Melbourne at 30, a big adventure and a new, improved life. Our first proper date was a long boozy lunch getting to know one another in a wonderful restaurant. The wine was so much better than what I could afford and we drank a lot of the stuff. We talked about art, we drew on the paper tablecloth and fell in love.
By my early thirties and with occasional exceptions I only drank on the weekends. Those weekends, though, they were rarely sober and I began to feel anxious that a life without alcohol - especially a social life without a drink in hand - on the weekend was beyond my grasp. In truth it remained so until this, my 46th, year.
My early forties were different, though. I was armed with creative pursuits that made my heart feel good and, slowly, slowly, became more comfortable with, well, with me. Then, at 44, I began sleeping badly if I even had one drink - even half a beer and I'd be wired awake all night long. I read Jill Stark's excellent High Sobriety and found myself nodding. I knew all of this! So. I took a 6 week break from booze in the lead up to xmas that year. Finally, the beast was broken. I've drunk a little here and there since, but that familiar sensation of falling into the carefree world of intoxication isn't as desirable somehow. I simply want more from life. And sleep. I LOVE sleep.
How I did it was to realise how senseless it all is; how important I am to the small group of people that love me for who I am. That there's no safe level of drinking alcohol. That weekends are for the active pleasures of rising early to garden, to paint and sew and laugh and just feel GOOD. All of that and perimenopause, of course. Add booze to your menopausal flushes and you'll be ab-so-lutely miserable. Ditto caffeine, but that's another story. But learning what a drink means to me socially - like a cigarette held between the fingers, a drink is a prop for the hands if you're the nervous-type - helped too. I started making myself a fancy non-alcoholic drink of some kind to fill that role. And dammit, but it worked.
I've avoided this space because I rarely have much to say about food these days, and I'd hemmed myself in in a small way by focusing on food for the 10 years it ran. Yet it turns out I have something to say about drinking, a not entirely unrelated subject.