Sobriety & Empathy: The Motorway Tailgating Paradox

Picture the scene…

It’s Monday evening, 17:30, and you’ve just joined the traffic on the M1 motorway to make your journey home after a fucking horrendous day at work. You spent the weekend hitting the booze hard (like Oliver Reed on his birthday hard), and as a result you’re still hanging like a bastard, and the lack of proper sleep has made you cranky and irritable. Your stomach’s rumbling because you stayed in bed this morning until the last possible moment, negating any possibility of you having time to pack your usual sad little cheese sandwich and bag of Seabrook Beefy, and your car’s engine management light has just come on, looking like a bright yellow Xmas illumination against the grey, dreary, grim backdrop of the motorway on such a cold, drizzly night.

‘Fuck this!’ You think to yourself.

‘Fuck this, fuck my shitty-pants car, and fuck my shitty-pants life!’

The traffic is building, and so to keep momentum up you move from the slow lane to the middle lane, and then cheekily zip across to the fast lane, potentially not paying as much heed to your mirrors as you should have done. Even now, safely slotted into the fast lane and with your foot poking threateningly at the accelerator pedal, you’re barely able to reach speeds of over 60mph. It’s just too goddamn bloody busy. Sometimes, if you’re making this journey during the school holidays when the roads are quieter, you’re able to wind it up to 75mph on this stretch. Even the low eighties if you’ve got a night of drinking dangling ahead of you, where the lure of the booze outweighs the points and the fine. And to hell with speeding penalties anyway, it’s at least three years since your last speed awareness course, so you’ll probably just get offered that again; a morning in a classroom full of chavs beats a morning at work any day, especially if you’re suffering your usual hangover. That’s the great thing about speed awareness courses – you don’t need to do anything to pass them, just turn up. It’s an easy day out and a bit of a laugh with a room full of strangers, almost worth getting caught for.

But there’s no chance of that happening on this journey, as you chug along at a snail’s pace as dictated by the bastard motorists stretched out for miles and miles ahead of you.

‘Fuck the motorway, and fuck everybody on it.’

Your tired, hungover body is jittery – a common sign of alcohol withdrawal, sometimes called the DTs – and as a result you almost jump out of your skin when the car to your rear emits a guttural, booming growl as it swerves and weaves behind you. You look in the mirror to see an old BMW with darkened windows, flashing its headlights and pushing forwards to leave less than a foot between his front bumper and your boot. He drops back a little bit, just for half a second, then pushes forwards again, moving constantly backwards and forwards in the space between your car and the car behind him. It’s like a motorist’s version of the Haka dance;Β a ceremonial Māori dance which was adopted by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team as a way of intimidating their opponents. He swerves around, flashes his lights, beeps his horn, revs his engine, and generally does his best to exert pressure on you to move out of his way.

“Not today you cunt bastard!” you spit as you ease your foot off the gas, forcing him to jump from his accelerator to his brake.

The middle lane is almost at a standstill now, so you’ve got him pinned in the fast lane and there’s no way around you for this piece of shit in your mirror. His progress today on the M1 is entirely in your hands, and he can get fucked if he thinks you’re going to let him pass without a fight. You smile to yourself – possibly the first time you’ve smiled today, given the dark cloud you’ve been dragging around – as you slow down even further to forty, and then to thirty, all the while forcing the impatient meff behind to stamp on his brakes.

The excitement of this standoff has got your adrenaline pumping, and you’re feeling a bit like twisting the knife (you little devil you), so you wind down your window and hold a big fat middle finger up to the car behind. That’ll teach the fucker a lesson, right?

Okay… stop there.

Consider this scene again, but this time align it with your current state of mind. Some people reading this blog might have got years and years of sobriety under their belts, some maybe a few weeks or days, and some may still drink – possibly with no intention of ever stopping, and that’s fine.

I can only speak from my own experience, currently at somewhere just under four years sober, when I say that the above story reflects pretty perfectly the way I would have acted in that situation back when I was a drinker – especially if I was hungover-to-shit on a Monday. The hangovers meant I spent most of my time cranky, irritable, and dismissive, and believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t see past the end of my nose (metaphorically I mean, otherwise I probably shouldn’t have been driving at all). It was all about ME and therefore FUCK YOU if you think you’re going to get one over on me. This spiteful mindset was all because of the drink, and that’s a FACT. How do I know? Well, easy really! I know because when I stopped drinking, I also stopped being a miserable, hateful bastard. In fact, I started to actually quite enjoy life – which, I’ll be honest, was pretty fuckin’ weird at first.

Okay… now picture a new scene…

You’re two years sober, and life is good. Your sobriety has given you a new lease of life and allowed you to reconnect with your family in a way you never thought possible. In fact, for that very reason you’re currently out shopping in Tesco, picking up a birthday cake for your little niece who’ll be turning three tomorrow. You’re rushing up and down the aisles with armfuls of party poppers, looking for a cake with a princess on it, or failing that just anything Disney – she fucking loves Disney – and then your phone rings, MUM flashing across the screen.

“Mum?”

“Darling! It’s your grandad, he’s been rushed into hospital!”

“Wh… what!? What’s happened??”

“We’re not sure love, but the doctor thinks it’s his heart again. It doesn’t look good, you need to get here fast. I’m so sorry darling.”

You ditch the party poppers on top of a huge pallet of baked beans, and dash out into the car park. Minutes later you’re on the M1, but it’s not looking good – the roads are rammed with people leaving work. You glare down at the digital clock on your car stereo: 17:23. Fuck! Rush hour traffic is the last thing you need.

‘I’m coming grandad! Don’t go leaving us yet grandad!’ you say over and over in your head as you drop from fifth gear to third, and accelerate hard across two lanes of traffic to get into the fast lane.

“COME OOON!” you scream at the car in front, a battered old red Fiesta, as it pulls across into your way from the middle lane, forcing you to hit the brakes hard. “THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!”

You flash your lights, swerving from left to right in a bid to be noticed, in the hope that the driver in front will see your urgency and move aside, but no… you can’t believe your eyes. The fucker is slowing down. They’re slowing down ON PURPOSE! And now they’re giving you the finger!! How RUDE!

As your grandad heaves his last breath you’re still stuck here on the M1, held to ransom by an idiot in a shitty Ford Fiesta, and the opportunity for final goodbyes is missed thanks to a dickhead having a bad day.

I’m sure you can see how this all ties together.

angry-driver-large

So what the fuck does all of this mean, uncle Jonathan?

Great question little, erm, Timmy. Well done for asking.

As a perpetually smashed/hungover drunkard, as I once was, you tend to live life in a selfish little bubble, and in that little bubble you only have the time and the energy for one person: YOU. Time is precious for everyone, but becomes even more valuable when you’re a drinker due to the hours lost to blackouts and hangovers. Energy, too, becomes a rarity for similar reasons: you lack proper sleep, you make bad food choices, and you’re generally dehydrated. All of this contributes to a general feeling of ‘treading water’ just to get through each day – and any boozehead worth his salt will spend months, years, even tens of years just trying to keep their own head above sea level – so there’s no room for help or consideration towards other people, no abundance of time and energy that can be given towards the plight of those around you. For me, it was hard enough making room for family or girlfriends in my selfish little bubble, and so strangers didn’t even feature. As far as I was concerned, all strangers were fucktards and enemies – out to get one over on me. And what this all boils down to, this perpetual inability to consider the welfare of any person but yourself, is a selfish life that lacks any ability to feel empathy; to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and say “Hey! I understand now – you weren’t trying to be a dick, you had your own reasons for acting like you did! I get it!”

The journey of sobriety allows you to see beyond that bubble, and gives you the foresight to think properly about a situation before you make a judgement. In the case of the Fiesta Bastard in the story above – the driver chose to take a defensive, obstructive stance without fully considering the situation. With a clear, sober mind you could have probably quickly come up with a list of reasons to hold the fucker back, vs. letting the fucker past:

Reasons to hold the fucker back:

  • Pride. I don’t want this stranger to win the imaginary race down the M1
  • Nope – can’t think of any more

Reasons to let the fucker past:

  • He’s in a BMW with blacked out windows – therefore possibly a Russian gangster who will murder you with a Kalashnikov
  • He’s getting awfully close, maybe the safe thing to do is let him past before there’s an accident
  • Maybe he’s got a family emergency and needs to get somewhere fast

And the winner iiiiiis…. (drumroll please)

LET THE FUCKER PAST!

This ability to be empathetic, to consider things from other people’s perspectives, which positively blooms with sobriety (or at least did for me), isn’t just limited to experiences of being tailgated on the M1. There have been more than a handful of recent examples in my little world, where the situation could have been improved with a stiff injection of meaty empathy:

  • People tutting in the cinema due to a guy at the back shouting obscenities – who was clearly disabled and had a carer with him doing a great job of calming him down. If only the tutters had taken the time to consider this angle.
  • Being beeped at, at the petrol station, for not using the front-most pump, when in fact it had a little ‘out of order’ tag on it.
  • Shouting at a group of teenagers for pushing in a queue, before being told that they’d in fact been there much longer than us and had had to leave the queue to get water (this was my bad – still learning).

I have to tell you all, in the spirit of openness and honesty, that the tailgating analogy was stolen (as is most of my guff, probably) – it actually came from a lady I used to work with, although the context was a bit different. It was delivered as part of a training course about improving your mindset, which I was sent on when I worked for a big insurance company in Manchester. In hindsight, and somewhat fittingly, I wonder if it was my hangover-afflicted dire workplace performance that landed me in that training group in the first place?



I did make contact with her recently to ask if she minded me using it, but she read my message and then chose not to reply – so I’m taking that as YES JONATHAN IT’S FINE GO RIGHT AHEAD AND I’VE NOT SEEN YOU FOR AGES I HOPE YOU ARE WELL.

I hope today’s wanky blog makes sense. Empathy costs nothing, but you do have to be in the right frame of mind to embrace it, and the results of a bit of well-considered empathy can make a whole world of difference to the lives of the people around you. Oh god I’m starting to sound more and more like one of those wanky inspirational quotes. Quick Jon! Tell a bad, tasteless joke!

**Why did the baker have brown hands? Because he kneaded a poo**

Finally, I just wanted to once again remind you guys of the fantastic little community that we’ve created on Facebook – a private group for anyone sober or trying to get sober, where the only real rule is DON’T BE A DICKHEAD. You can join up HERE πŸ™‚

Have an awesome week you crazy cats, and if you’re hungover today, and some total cunt tries to tailgate you on the drive home then just remember… his grandad might be in hospital dying. But the chances are he’s actually just a cunt in a flash car πŸ˜‰

Fist bumps,

Jonathan xoxo

P.S there’s a possibility that I haven’t quite grasped what a paradox is, so the title might be a bit wrong, but luckily I couldn’t give a shit. BOOM *mic drop*

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Wanna read my big wanky blog from the start? Click here.

Show us some fuckin’ love by buying yourself a lovely SoberPunks T-shirt here.

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Join the discussions! Become part of the ‘SoberPunks Gang’ Facebook Community here.

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3 thoughts on “Sobriety & Empathy: The Motorway Tailgating Paradox

  1. Accidental Spacegirl says:

    This is day one for me – that’s how empowered and positive I feel since you created the Facebook group! I’m sitting here with a big glass of elderflower cordial in place of beer, and looking forward to one of my speciality Chinese teas later this evening. Thank you πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

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