Essay: Three Reasons I’m Doing sober October.
So it’s that spooky time of year again, ghosts and ghouls; pumpkins, skeletons, sobriety? (terrifying) Why would I stop drinking for these next four weeks? Especially when the world is crumbling, and we are facing the ‘most miserable Christmas on record’ according to the Belfast Telegraph, the answer is because I am fed up getting punched around by drinking and I want more of that sweet sober struggle baby. I learn a lot from being sober and all I learn when I drink is that I should do less of it!
You may know, for those who read the blog, I spent the first half of this year sober fighting off the demon Coronavirus and suffering cancellation after cancellation. But ever since July, I’ve dipped my toes back in the drinking pond, and truth be told, I just haven’t settled back into it. Do I like being sober now? What is this witchcraft? Drinking these days just feels a bit like when you snooze your alarm clock. It’s dark outside and cold, and you’re being a wuss, so you give yourself an extra ten minutes and wake up three hours later, like a dehydrated pancake. Everything has been terrible lately? Unpredictable, stressful, lonely, demoralising. The temptation to say ‘fuck it’ and just head off on the liquid yellow brick round is genuine, but that’s not how I want to do business anymore; I want to care. People say treat yourself? My philosophy is treat yourself (properly). So here are my three reasons why I am doing Sober October in the infernal hell hole of 2020.
1). Feck the FOMO: Not drinking does always gives you a healthy dose of FOMO on a Saturday evening. When the Instagram stories are going up and you’re eating a bowl of Branflakes in your underpants, considering if maybe you’re having another yogurt or not, you can feel well, like a loser? At times the FOMO can be uncomfortable and even downright depressing. Still, the upside is, there’s feck all going on right now, and we are most likely heading straight into the abyss of lockdown 2. If you spent the first half of lockdown in an alcohol-induced coma, then there’s never been a better time to try a different tactic. What I really want these days is the reverse of FOMO, the gratitude of missing out on a stinking hangover on a Sunday morning; I am genuinely getting too old for this shit. My god, I went out on Saturday and sucked 12 pints through a straw, accompanied by 147 cigarettes, and when I woke up, I was ready to be brought to the vets and put down; I was one sick pup. That feeling of hopelessness, facing into a potential 48 hours of feeling not quite right, my conscience says, why? Sure I have such a great time hanging out with people, chatting, slamming a few push-ups, but why do I need the 7 liters of booze on top to do that? And then a Sunday which is spent limping, nursing a chicken fillet and hoping no-one makes eye contact with me. For this month, I want to enjoy my life. I want Saturday to be enjoyable, Sunday to be enjoyable, and wrestled from the jaws of the beast of a bad hangover. In the words of Robbie Williams, I don’t want to miss a thing! I’ve had enough of the weekend warrior turned ICU patients on Sundays, and I know well now a good time doesn’t have to come at the expense of regressing into a human puddle of piss.
2). Changing our culture: Seth Godin, a marketing wizard, says: culture is: people like us, do things like this. Sometimes you gotta put your money where your mouth is. I genuinely see myself as an advocate for clean living (most of the time) and the disciplined path of the warrior monk, yet when I drink, all of that goes out the window? I smoke cigarettes, I eat shit food, I skip training, I can’t face my writing. How can I in good conscience, behave that way and still consider myself an example? Well, just a month of getting things back in line, tipping the compass in the right direction can steer me away from becoming a big fat hypocrite and maybe help someone other people make that positive change too. We are at a disadvantage in Ireland for being sober, since, for the most part, our culture is about getting properly langered. There’s a reason after the invention of Whiskey in the 14th century we didn’t invent anything else for 300 years; we just love the sauce! The Irish are an indigenous people like the native Americans or Aborigines, and as a result, we are very vulnerable to alcoholism because of the destruction of our culture. It’s kind of our Schtick. You can start to feel your reputation and identity as an Irish person depends on drinking till you shit your pants; that is not true. Being a sober Irish person can sometimes feel like an oxymoron, but being Irish is about our history, having the craic, telling stories, and being a mad cunt. Still, the drink isn’t always necessary for that. Finding other ways to express your identity as an Irish person helps others to do the same, and I think being an example as an individual is a powerful way to pioneer your larger culture in the way you want it to go, and I’d like to see more people taking a break from the pints and trying something different; in a complicated system, small changes can make a really big difference.
3). Getting into the real spirit of Halloween, obviously, October is about the spooktacular build-up to Halloween. A holiday which I have personally spent many times face down in a field, mildly on-fire, or being handcuffed by the police. Halloween is the time when the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play, and the barriers between the supernatural and civil society are lowered, and all manner of chaos results. It is basically a license to behave as poorly as possible. I think poor behavior is an important part of learning and living well but should be learned without the performance-enhancing drug of alcohol. It’s a get out of jail free card. There is a reason they call strong liquors spirits because they possess you and puppet you and drive you round like a gargled Fiat Punto. Liberation and learning to let go of self-control and self-consciousness to be spontaneous and odd and weird is the sauce of life, but if you need alcohol to do that for you, you’re cheating. Sigmund Freud had this idea called sublimation. His argument was that society puts all sorts of demands on us to be proper and upright, but we want to be little devils in reality. So we hide our darker sexual and aggressive impulses. Alcohol gives you an excuse to take your dark side for a walk, but like any tyrant, leaves you bereft of the knowledge of how to do it yourself. So you are stuck in an endless loop of having to get pissed to feel like yourself. So this October, I want to spend time getting down with the dark side but without any performance-enhancing substances. To find a way for the natural impulses for power, strength, dominance, sexual desire, etc, to be implemented in my life in a healthy manner and not just expressed in short-lived bouts of chaos. These representations can be implemented symbolically in art or in random acts of strangeness, making fires, dancing with strangers, and slaying dragons. Acting on impulse is a skill that should be learned sober if you want to learn it at all. Who knows, by the end of October, you could end up being more in touch with yourself than you were in the beginning, and that is a success.
So as always, in chaos, there is opportunity. 2020 is not going to do us any favors, so the reality is that if you want a transformation, you will have to step up to the plate and take on the challenges yourself. Sure nobody is going to give out to you if you go on the batter for the whole month, but is it really what you need right now? It is tempting to believe the world is ending, and we are just going to keep partying until it does, but that’s not going to happen, and the dust will settle, the sun will rise on tomorrow, and the real question is, who will you be when it does? Now is the time to make that decision.