How can I forget, when I don't drink and don't smoke?

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The Independent Online
It was not until I gave up drinking, and then smoking, that I realised what a laughable and pathetic person I was. Of course, this made me feel strange and vulnerable, so I investigated other paths. Unlike alcohol and nicotine, these were visually exotic, intellectually stimulating and, to my mind, afforded a more creative viewpoint.

For instance: only when I finally stopped drinking and smoking did I realise that "laughable" could become humorous, that "pathetic" might become empathetic. I saw I could not take myself seriously any longer, not if I wanted other people to. (If you are not scared of being laughed at, tell me I am wrong.)

So I made some tough decisions, like accepting the fact that I will always wear disco fashions, no matter how old I get; realising that some things will never change; accepting my neurotic, ridiculous self.

The middle classes are trained from birth to regard life as something whimsical, but my early outlook was derived from a drunken Scot with a stomach full of self-loathing, teetering like a cobra in a saloon bar, ready to strike. Quite melodramatic, really.

No wonder things seemed different when I finally gave up drinking. (Shortly after which, I gave up smoking.) They say that some people become zealots when they stop drinking, especially if they also give up smoking, especially shortly afterwards. But I do not think I have that problem.

My sense of humour is quite good. Well, not that good. I mean, I am not saying I am a clown or anything. But, you know, it's good enough.

Anyway, it was not until I gave up smoking and drinking (though not necessarily in that order, of course) that I finally realised why people drink alcohol, the only sanctioned drug that facilitates social intercourse, reduces inhibitions and generates a sense of confidence and well-being. It is simply because in some places we are allowed to.

Funny, but I used to think it was the taste. Must have been drunk.

Whatever. It was not until I finally stopped drinking (altogether, mind) and then found I could not be bothered to smoke any more, that I realised how boring non-alcoholic drinks are. They are either made for kids (sweet, fizzy and freezing cold) or vacillating alcoholics (looks and tastes like a drug, but the nearest you get to euphoria is the stifled joy of flatulence). And if you think the drinks are tiresome, try conversation in a pub when you are sober.

And it is strange, but once you stop splashing the back of your throat with icy alcohol, you really do notice that burning sensation every time you inhale a lung full of hot tobacco smoke.

Oooh. Boy, that feels good. Hmmm-mmmmm. Reckon it will only take me a year or two before I've got a nice tumour there.

"Hey, Andy, put your finger here on my throat, man. Feel that? That's my tumour. Only 20 a day for 12 years. Not bad, eh?"

It is true, every word. Back in the old days, you had to work for your cancer. People had to smoke untipped for decades before they would even spit blood. These days the additives do all the work for you: better living through chemistry.

Where was I? Oh yeah. And as soon as I gave up smoking and drinking, I got my memory back! It all came back to me. All the ugly scenes and fights I had started, all the two-faced bullshit, all the tears of self- pity that fell whenever I got drunk. And all the reasons why I had been drinking and smoking in the first place.

What were they? Oh, it was something to do with my father and alcohol. To be honest, I forget. Hey, I stopped drinking four years ago this week. That is a long time. Why should I hold on to the pain?

But you need a good reason to stop drinking (after which, smoking is a breeze, believe me). Personally, I only gave up drinking because this girl I was in love with threatened to leave me if I didn't. And I only gave up smoking because she gave up first.

But I did not change fast enough. I was an animal. So she left me anyway.

I am still in love and I just can't stop it. Not with her, but with the idea of falling in love, of being loved, of love as justification. Strung out on love's fantasy, I crave its idealised warmth and happiness, its ego support. It is the one addiction I cannot shake off.

And because I do not smoke or drink any more, I cannot forget it. Without regular doses of alcohol and nicotine to cloud my mind, I am uncomfortably aware of my real dependency.

But at least I don't take it too seriously these days. After all, I have got a pretty good grip on my problems now.

Yeah, well.

If you see me coming, run. You know what they say about junkies.

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