About five years ago, when I was still gigging with my turbo-messy techno punk band Petrol Bastard, we scored a gig at some big freezing-cold warehouse in Liverpool (I think it was Liverpool anyway. Dunno. Was drunk). From hazy memory I recall it being a total washout; maybe ten people in attendance, all rattling around in a room the size of an aircraft hanger. And most of them were probably only there because they were DJs or bar-staff, so in actual fact there were probably only two or three paying punters there, but fuck it – what did I care? We were getting paid, I was wankered on lovely cheap booze and nothing else mattered. Begone, peasants. I’ll make my own fun. It was a standard shit gig for us, which seemed to account for about 70% of all gigs, so nothing exceptional or exciting. Until, that was, I spotted a familiar-looking guy with piercings and a short spiky mohawk, unpacking a load of t-shirts and CDs onto a table by the back wall.
“Jay Kay!” I slurred across the cold void. “Are you Junkie Kut?”
The guy looked startled, and then a hint of recognition crept into his face as I barreled over to him like a drunken ape and squeezed his lovely face like an old woman squishes a newborn. Here was a guy I’d never met in person, but we had spoken a lot online, and I had nothing but admiration for the lad: his image, his anti-corporate views, and his nasty, loud, fast, distorted, angry seething music.
Junkie Kut, whose actual name is Ryan, is one of those characters that likes to challenge the norm; his live music demonstrates this wonderfully, what with his mental in-your-face live shows, and vocals that flit between distorted buzzing and angry mob chants. It’s not just about the music though – his defiant stance bleeds into other aspects of his life such as his veganism, and his decision to quit the 9-to-5 grind and go travelling in his van with his lovely girlfriend Ems. A more recent life-shift for Ryan was the decision to quit drinking, and to write about it on his awesome blog The Freedom Junkies, which he writes together with his missus.
Ems, the half of the Freedom Junkies duo who I’m a little less familiar with, has been sober for ten years (TEN FUCKING YEARS!) which is an amaaaaazing achievement – and she was keen to share her story with you lovely readers at SoberPunks. I told her that you’re actually not lovely at all, and that you’re all a set of proper bastards, but she was quite persistent.
So here it is: Ems’ inspiring story. The story of a WINNER:
I’m pretty excited to be writing this guest post – I’ve been a fan of the SoberPunks blog since I discovered it a year ago, and it has been a big inspiration. I now write my own blog about sobriety, among other things, but since my mum reads it, I can’t really swear as much as I’d like. So this is a dream come true…writing for a blog I love and getting to use the work ‘fuck’ as much as I want!
I stopped drinking 10 years ago, and one of the things I’ve noticed as I meet sober people, talk to them and hear or read their stories, is that even if the details differ, so much of what we have been through is the same. I might not have punched a rock star in the face, but I did a lot of things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t call them regrets – everything that has happened to me is what has led me here, to a place I feel pretty fucking good about – but looking back, alcohol features heavily in every memory that makes me feel cringey, embarrassed or stoopid.
I also realise that shit could have got so much worse. I think it actually surprised a few of my friends when I quit, because sure, I was a bit messy, but definitely not what most people think of when they picture an ‘alcoholic’. But I could see the road which my life was headed down, and I knew that it made sense to quit while things weren’t a total mess, before I fell down a hole so deep it would take crampons and a sherpa to pull myself out of it.
I started drinking around 14 years old, which coincided with teenage awkwardness, train tracks on my teeth and realising I was a bit weird. Alcohol made all that fade away, and that feeling, as well as alcohol itself, is pretty fucking addictive. Plus, all my mates drank. Everybody drinks, right? But when I think about it, the way I drank, even from the very beginning, was different. I just didn’t seem to have an ‘off’ switch.
The first time I got really drunk I was 15 – I threw up everywhere, had to be cleaned up by my friend’s mum (which would be mortifying if I had any memory of it whatsoever), and if I cast back to that admittedly dim and fuzzy memory, it was because I just drank whatever I was given. Which turned out to be a pint glass of every spirit we were drinking mixed together (probably Malibu and Archers!) with a dash of coke. From then on, drinking to the point of blacking out was standard, and throwing up the norm. Worse still, it got to where I would black out but still be upright, walking around and continuing to drink, so bigger and bigger chunks of my memory would be missing. Sometimes all I would remember would be ‘a couple’ of pre-drinks (or most of a bottle of tequila) – I wouldn’t even remember going out, but I did…for hours, getting more and more drunk.
By the end of university I was gainfully employed, living in a nice flat and in a relationship…and totally. fucking. miserable. I tried to drown that misery in buckets of pinot grigio, and when that didn’t work I did the next best thing, which was quit everything (except drinking of course!) and go travelling. A year of out of control partying in Australia was the final nail in the coffin, and I woke up on January 1st 2009 with probable alcohol poisoning, definite shame and decided enough was enough. Everyone around me agreed, I quit, and have never drunk since. Alcohol that is, I obviously still drink shitloads of tea and water (which is my smart-arse reply when strangers ask why I don’t drink and I’m not in the mood to share my life story.)
What’s strange about my experience is that I have a good chunk of sobriety under my belt and at the same time relatively little, for I am one of those fuckwits who quit drinking, only to continue to self-medicate with good ol’ Mary-Jane for nearly 10 years. I quit smoking in January this year, so have been completely drug-and-alcohol-free for 9 months now. This means that I have been experiencing the extreme highs and lows that come with early sobriety whilst knowing in my bones that shit will get easier. It’s like tee-total Ems is stoner-Ems’ sponsor. Which is kind of cool really.
So what are the most important things I’ve learnt on this weird and wonderful journey along the (relatively) straight ’n’ narrow?
One of the biggest realisations I’ve had is that alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution. It became a problem because it’s poison and is really fucking bad for you, but removing it from my life without examining why I abused it meant I just found another solution to my problems, which I’m only now just beginning to figure out. I have extremely negative automatic thought patterns, I’ve got self-esteem issues up the wazoo, and struggle with anxiety. This is what I need to work on, so that other addictions don’t creep back in.
Second is acceptance. Meditation. Deep breathing and shit (and not just taking a massive toke of a joint). Realising that I might not be able to control what’s happening, but I can control how I react to it. And that reaction needs to be something other than reaching for a bottle or skinning up a doobie. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it might feel nigh on impossible, but I know that it’s what I need to do, if I’m ever going to be able to deal with anything stressful in the future.
And finally, to paraphrase the Beatles, “all you need is time”. I have moments where stoner-Ems is almost in tears, wondering why I can’t smoke, and when will it stop being so hard. And tee-total Ems, kind of like Yoda, just smiles and says, “one day, fine you will be. Easy it will become. Turn your back on this nonsense, you will.” Because with drinking I have done just that. I have no interest in bars and pubs, no longer feel left out of a drinking culture I can’t stand, and would much rather stay home with a nice cup of tea and a good fucking read, like this lovely blog here.
So thanks for reading my ramblings, I hope they help you with whatever stage of the journey you’re on. Keep reading, keep learning, and keep sharing your story with whoever wants to hear it, because that shit can change people’s lives.
And just for shits and giggles…fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. (Sorry mum!)
Inspirational as fuk, that.
I’d proper recommend heading over to have a read of Ems’ and Ryan’s very cool blog here. They’re also launching a new podcast at the end of December called Breaking Free, which will be featuring ME as a guest (you lucky bastards). Apologies in advance to anyone who struggles to understand the Yorkshire drawl. I’ve taken to asking for a ‘kewk’ whenever I go into an establishment south of Northampton, as I just get weird looks from waiters when I say COAK MATE TA.
P.S. – I just wanted to say a HUGE thanks to all of you SOLID GOLD LEGENDS that donated some cash to support my mate Jonny in his time of need. You have made a genuine difference, and he has been in touch to ask that I pass on his thanks to the SoberPunks Massive (respek).
For anyone that missed it in my last blog… I have a mate from back in my days living up north; thirty-ish, kids, recently married, and diagnosed with inoperable esophageal cancer. I happen to know he’s a reader of SoberPunks, and a huge advocate of the improved lifestyle I’m trying to promote, and besides all of that he’s a solid gold lad with a fantastic attitude towards life, and less than a year left to live. It would mean the world if you guys would join me in helping to support his family, so that they can make some amazing memories together before he has to leave. Here’s the link to the JustGiving page which tells you a bit more about his story, and cheers in advance for anything you awesome people can do to help. May as well put some of that beer money we’ve saved towards a worthy cause, right?
Wanna read my big wanky blog from the start? Click here.
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