Now that I am sober, I see that we are too tolerant of alcoholism and too indifferent to the suffering it bringsby Nick Cohen / August 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Hi, my name’s Nick and I’m not an alcoholic. At least not anymore. For most of my life, I have been what the British euphemistically call a “heavy drinker.” On 1st January, I stopped and that seems to be that. I fell off the wagon late one night. But it was just a slip rather than a descent into perdition. I got back on, and have been sober since.
Anyone who quits alcohol risks turning from a drunk into a prig. The redeemed sinner forgets that among the many reasons people drink, smoke and binge on sugary food is the desire to escape life’s miseries. I have no way of knowing if circumstances will push my hand towards the bottle again. But as things stand I don’t drink and don’t want to drink. Someone else can take my place at the bar. I’ve been there long enough.
I didn’t stop because I found myself face down in a ditch or locked in a police cell. I didn’t lose my job or my relationship—although I guess there were moments when I could have lost both. I went through several dry Januarys. At the end of January 2017, I could not find a good enough reason to start drinking again. I still remembered the allure of alcohol, its promise of comradeship, love and simple pleasure. For me the most romantic lines in English poetry are from Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
But after too many years and too many flasks, neuroticism replaces romance. No one who hasn’t experienced it can appreciate the obsessiveness of the determined drinker. Questions build up as the evening approaches. Where am I going to drink? Who can I hassle into a pub? Can I sneak another one in without anyone noticing?
By the time you wake up in the morning, obsessiveness has metamorphosed into paranoia. What did I do? Why can’t I remember? Who did I offend? How did I get home?