Trying to stop lying

‘I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting tired of their own bullshit.’ Elizabeth Gilbert

When I rolled around to sobriety, I truly was tired of my own bullshit. If addicted drinking is the horse, it pulls behind it a carriage of lies. Sometimes I even had to write down the lies in order to remember them. ‘Remember I said I had flu to swerve that family party!’ or ‘Remember I said I slept at Alice’s house, rather than at that random person’s!’

Why was I lying? If I’d been honest, I knew that my drinking would be scrutinised, since ‘I’m hungover AF, again’ or ‘I spent my train money on Jaegerbombs, soz’ could not be used repeatedly. Yet, they were repeatedly my reasons.

Existing in this web of self-spun lies was exhausting. I constantly felt hangdog guilty and paranoid. Like a jumpy fugitive trying to pass as a regular person.

During my six months in AA, I learnt to do something called a ‘daily inventory’ where you self-evaluate your day and note down any dishonest moments. I recorded them on the notes section of my phone and mused later on the root reason for the lie.

It’s mind-boggling how often we lie, even if it’s to smooth social interaction by saying you like a band you don’t. A study found that in a 10-minute conversation, the average person tells nearly two lies (1.75).

My lies looked like this.

1. SELF-AGGRANDISING LIES. ‘I ran 10km’ when I only ran 9km. Or ‘I mostly cook from scratch’ when I actually use jar pesto, tub houmous and pre-made green curry paste.

2. PEOPLE-PLEASING LIES. ‘I’m cool with you being an hour late, absolutely.’ Or ‘yes, I like your awful new dress/the creepy antique doll you have given me’.

3. WRIGGLE-FROM-BENEATH-TROUBLE LIES. Most commonly in the sphere of work. ‘I’ve started that report, yes’ or ‘My train was cancelled, therefore I am not to blame’.

4. POOR-ME LIES. ‘They did/said so-and-so to me’. Omitting what I did/said to them.

Obviously, living a life with zero lies takes a heroic effort. Herculean, almost. A quarter of our lies are told for other people’s benefit. I do still lie at times. Totally. I’m human, and being honest sometimes goes hand-in-hand with being brutal. Show me a person who says they tell no lies and I’ll show you a…  you know.

But for the most part, I do my damndest not to lie anymore. When I find myself leaning towards a lie, I lean back towards the truth. I was recently paid £200 by mistake, by a magazine I work regularly for. Normally, I would have taken the money and ran, probably straight to Oliver Bonas. FREEMONEY! But no. I alerted the accounts department and paid the money back. Gah. But also – yay.

Why? Because a clean conscience feels as good as freshly-washed sheets. It’s a favour to myself. That £200 was grubby money. As Mark Twain says ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’

Try keeping your own daily lie inventory, just for a week. It’s really eye-opening.

Dear friends-who-think-I-can-moderate

Recently, a friend asked me this extraordinary question.

‘Do you think you’ll ever drink again? Like, just in a different way this time? In moderation?’

Once I picked my jaw off the floor that she’d even asked me that, given she knows every-damn-thing about the suicidal plans and the shaking hands and the mouthwash-drinking, I garbled an answer along the lines of:
‘The plan is to never, ever drink again, because even though it’s hard to believe, I tried to moderate for many, many years.’

‘You were trying to moderate?!’ was her bewildered response.

The thing is, my delightful friend has no idea what addicted drinking is like, because she’s never been there. I think she’s sceptical it even exists, because she can’t imagine it herself, and now that I seem so sorted and healthy, surely I should be able to drink again.

It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this question. Another friend said, ‘So, now you’re all happy and not depressed any more, couldn’t you just drink a little bit? Because now you’re happy. So you won’t over-drink.’

No, no, no. The #1 absolute 100% hands-down reason I am now happy and mentally healthy is because I do not drink, ever. They think that the depression was the reason I drank; but the drinking created the depression. The thought of checking out of the world has never, ever even half-occurred to me in sobriety. Yet, in the last six months of my drinking, those dark thoughts were practically daily. Because alcohol is a depressant, and if you drink fuckloads of it…. well. I rest my case. It’s depressing.

My wonderful friends also have no idea that I attempted moderation constantly. And failed, constantly. All they saw was me drunk, every time I drank. So, they think that was my intention: to get drunk. Because they don’t get drunk when they don’t want to get drunk. Or if they do, it’s very rare. A once-a-year type occasion.

I decided to write them a letter, to explain what I couldn’t find the words for, when they asked me.

Dear friends-who-think-I-can-moderate,

Firstly, you are lovely. Thank you for sticking around even though I was a fricking nightmare for so many years. I love you.

But, I need to explain something to you, that I can’t quite adequately do through speaking, because I am a better writer than I am a speaker.

Imagine this. Every time you have one coffee, you find that you have four or five coffees. In a row. Within a few hours. You just can’t seem to stop, once you’ve started. Until you’ve had so much caffeine that your body just shuts down and you generally pass out.

You try everything you can think of to just have one or two coffees, because you feel like you can’t live without coffee. Everyone drinks coffee! Coffee is fun! Must keep coffee. You try exercising before coffee, only buying espresso coffees, not keeping spare coffee in the house, creating rules around what days you can drink coffee. Nothing works. You try to control the mysterious coffee-hunger for two decades, and you always, always fail.

Then it gets to the point that you don’t want to live anymore, because the coffee is making you feel so wretched. You have destroyed relationships over coffee, you have woken up in a jail cell after a coffee binge, you can’t remember huge chunks of your life because of coffee, you keep entrusting your life to total strangers after too much coffee, you keep spending all of your money on coffee.

You finally, finally manage to stop drinking coffee. You find that, if you don’t drink the first coffee, the coffee-hunger lies dormant. The residual cravings gnaw at you at first, but eventually the hunger fades to a faint tug, and eventually disappears completely. You learn to ignore it when your still-addicted brain is suggesting coffee. You can resist the thought, rather than act on it. Who knew?!

You grow really, super, mega happy without coffee in your life. You realise coffee was the root of all your problems; not the solution, as you once believed. Everything starts to get better; your friendships heal, you clear your debts, you get a great new job, you look better, you feel incredible. You have literally never felt this good.

Would you ever risk drinking coffee again? And chance re-awakening that awful, all-consuming hunger?

So, no, lovely friend, I will never be trying to moderate ever, ever again. I tried for 20 years, and never cracked it. And that is not something to feel sad about. It’s actually a life-changing, heart-awakening relief. I have finally stopped failing at moderation, and started winning at being happy.

Love, Cath

Sober Celebs

JAMIE LEE CURTIS

“Getting sober just exploded my life. Now I have a much clearer sense of myself and what I can and can’t do. I am more successful than I have ever been. I feel very positive where I never did before, and I think that’s all a direct result of getting sober.”

EVAN DANDO, of The Lemonheads

“I decided if I gave up the thing that was holding me back, which was alcohol, I might be able start writing songs again. It worked too. I actually lost my taste for booze, which was weird.”

JEMIMA FRENCH

“I don’t drink anymore. I don’t want to get old, and drinking really makes you old. I just got fed up of feeling slightly groggy in the morning when I went out and had too many drinks. Now, I can go out until two or three in the morning and leap out of bed the next day and feel great.”

GRAHAM COXON, Blur

“You just don’t do it. Drink. Plus, don’t be scared of being bored. And if you do get sad, don’t think, ‘Fuck, I wanna have a drink,’ just think, ‘I’m sad, it’ll pass.’ And that’s pretty much it.”

FATBOY SLIM

“I bought myself an extra ten years as a DJ by quitting drinking. I would have been either burnt-out or dead by now.”

KRISTEN JOHNSTON

“It’s time for addiction to stand up and demand some respect. Because every time someone is ostracized for being an addict, every time there’s a breathless, trumped-up, sensational headline, every time we giggle at a wasted celebrity, and every time addiction is televised as salacious entertainment, yet another addict is shamed into silence.”

SAMUEL L. JACKSON

“I ain’t the kind of guy who can have one drink. I never could. That’s what I have to remember. I never had one drink in my whole life. When I bought a six-pack, I didn’t drink a couple of beers and put the rest in the fridge for later in the week. I drank the lot, then went out and bought another one. I was compulsive.”

EDIE FALCO

“[Getting sober] is like learning to ride a bike, you know? You have to get your bearings and you have to stay stable. And balanced.”

RINGO STARR

“I had a serious drinking problem… the blackouts got worse, and I didn’t know where I’d been, what I’d done. I knew I had the problem for years. But it plays tricks with your head. Very cunning and baffling, is alcohol….If any of my friends can’t deal with me being sober, then I just don’t bother with them. Because for me to live is more important than a friend getting uptight because I won’t have a drink. If we go to a party now, Barbara and I usually leave around about 11:30, when everyone else starts getting rocky… It makes my heart glad. I lived that ridiculous myth: To be creative you have to have your brain twisted in some way. Since we’ve stopped, it’s fabulous.”

ANTHONY HOPKINS

“I would show up on movie sets after drinking and not sleeping. What made me stop drinking was not remembering where I’d been the night before. One day I just thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ It was simple. I didn’t want to go on feeling bad. I don’t miss drinking, not at all. I don’t want to ever go back there. Now I just love English tea and digestive biscuits or Hobnobs. I just thought, well I have a choice here. Change or die. Grow or go.”

AMBER VALETTA

On what she would say to her twentysomething self. “Just say no. Drugs and alcohol will rob you of your present, keep you a prisoner of your past and hold you hostage, blocking any real future. Addiction will be your darkest demon, but it will ultimately save your life. Your sobriety at age 25 will become the cornerstone of building your self-esteem and discovering who you truly are and want to be.”

JIM CARREY

“I’m very serious about no alcohol, no drugs. Life is too beautiful.”

KRISTIN DAVIS, Charlotte from Sex and the City

Became teetotal aged 22. “I really didn’t think I would pass 30. I don’t know why or whatever, I just didn’t. That’s a very weird thing to say, I’m sorry. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was drinking so much as a youth. I drank a lot when I was a teenager and I don’t drink any more, because that’s when I thought, you know, I’m gonna end up a car wreck. I just had a fatalistic view of the whole situation at that point. I just realized that drinking was counterproductive to what I was trying to do.”

EWAN MCGREGOR

“It just wasn’t so much fun any more. So I decided to stop. It wasn’t that big a deal. I mean, it’s not an easy thing to do, especially here – the culture is so wrapped up in alcohol and drinking – but it was just one too many things in my life. I was a husband, a father, and I was a drinker. And the one I was willing to let go was the drinking. So I just did that and it made everything else much easier. My life is much better for it. I don’t miss it.’

LANA DEL REY

“I would drink every day. I would drink alone….Until it wasn’t working for me anymore. Thinking about not drinking forever was very scary, but once I did it wasn’t hard anymore because I had all of these miracles happen that let me know I was on exactly the right path.”