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a blog by Chris Barrow

The Reward

Red wine pouring into wine glass, close-up

I drink alcohol every evening.

Normally on school nights it’s a glass or two (or three) of red wine.

If I’m out for dinner on a school night, a beer will often precede the wine.

At weekends (that’s Friday and Saturday) I will get through two pints of beer, a bottle of red wine and sometimes a large Scotch.

Then there are the special occasions when I have the potential to drink more.

I’m descended from a male family line that includes at least two alcoholics and a plethora of binge drinkers. On my mother’s side I am only aware the she was a frequent drunk.

I’m telling you that as if it explains something.

When I’m not broken or unwell (as now), I can do exercise with the best of them – 22 marathons, treks up mountains, off and on-road biking, spinning – and, in the distant past, a fair measure of 5-a-side football and volleyball.

I tell myself I can drink because I’m burning it off.

During the times that I’ve been unable or unwilling to exercise, the effects of the alcohol have, of course, become more apparent.

Like now – I’m tired and putting weight on.

So why drink?

Because it’s one of my favourite rewards for getting through another day.

Perched on the kitchen stool, chatting while Annie cooks. A TV dinner as we dive back into a series. Sitting down in a restaurant early evening. In the pub waiting for the football to start. In the bar with the dogs after a walk. Meeting up with the kids after a long separation. Curled up on the sofa with a good book.

Great moments of winding down. Redirecting thoughts and conversation away from work and finances.

Like most drinkers, I tell myself I can give up any time I like.

The evidence would support that.

I’ve gone without drink during enforced periods of Paleo nutrition, long expeditions and tropical island adventures.

In the last two years a new development. There have been a couple of occasions when my drinking has ended up with me falling over and injuring myself – not pretty, I’m not a bit proud of myself and it has made me rethink my attitude to drinking and become more careful.

My drinking seldom reaches any serious levels with work colleagues or clients. A boundary I have no trouble enforcing. You will not see me drunk at a dental dinner, conference or trade show. There are enough trolls and gossips out there waiting for any excuse.

I’ve read some interesting books on the subject of alcohol addiction and subscribe to the theory that there are drinking types:

  1. the social drinker

  2. the drunk

  3. the alcoholic

The terminology is deceptive and leads us to “aim” at being classified as a social drinker – that actually sounds as if we are the life and soul of a party – someone whose calendar would be full of invitations.

Being a drunk doesn’t sound at all glamorous – I remember a dental dinner many years ago, at which a drunken (dentist) staggered past a ballroom window in the early hours and urinated against the glass, unaware that the diners and dancers we watching in astonishment from the other side.

I’ve also seen a practice manager piss herself whilst in conversation, standing upright at a bar, after a session that began at lunchtime and ended late.

Drunks pick fights, throw up and are generally unwelcome.

The term alcoholic is assumed to mean reaching for the vodka bottle at breakfast (or, in the case of Denzel Washington’s character in the movie “Flight”, in the cockpit before take off). A level off addiction at which common sense has left the room.

Alcoholics are pariahs.

Reformed alcoholics are ticking bombs whom we simultaneously respect and fear. I claim the right to express that opinion based on experience.

What I’m trying to figure out is which of those three classifications applies to me?

Am I a social drinker, a drunk or an alcoholic?

How strange that the first would draw a round of applause, the second the withdrawal of social acceptance and confidence and the third sympathy and understanding.

Could an alcoholic do Sobertober or 28 days as a castaway?

Does a social drinker fall down a flight of stairs?

Will a drunk manage to control his emotions and never get in a fight, mostly falling asleep when he has had enough?

No doubt there are those who are qualified to give me an answer – and maybe the answer is that we can all demonstrate tendencies of the three categories – a Venn diagram of behaviours.

Would knowing the answer change anything?

What I do have to do currently is tone it down a bit.

Christmas and New Year are a time when we have every excuse to let our hair down a bit – perhaps because there are no work colleagues or clients to be seen. For me that was 10 days at home, 10 minutes walk into the village and frequent drinking sessions both at home and abroad.

Since then I’ve carried on in much the same vein – and so the time has come to reflect.

The inclination is to announce a sober month – but is the withdrawal of a reward for a set period doing anything to help or am I simply exacerbating the problem when I get back “on it”?

Is it just me that struggles with this?

Are there any elegant solutions out there that I’ve missed?

Is my faithful reader thinking “what a wimp – just bloody sort yourself out – and, by the way, what qualifies you to give other people advice on business and life when you can’t even control your own habits?”

I love my rewards – all of them.

But I appear to like a drink the best of them all.

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