It was around the time I turned 40 that the hangover became a two day affair. As a younger man, a mug of tea and a bacon butty would usually clear the fug, but in my 40s, I noticed it took much more, and with a much longer recovery period.
As I get older, I have noticed I’ve developed a much more focused sense of my own mortality. Niggling aches and pains, recurring and persistent injuries that won’t go away, and other medical ailments that were once just words you heard uttered by grandparents, are now being uttered to me, by my own doctor.
I’m certainly not alone here I think, friends of mine are also suffering more. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, warnings of heart problems, cancer scares, warnings of impending diabetes – these are all phrases I hear increasingly. Some directed at myself, some at friends of mine.
Sometimes, at least in my view, the medical responses are lazily diagnosed by disinterested GPs (I will blog about Statins one day), but generally the basic premise, the warning, is usually well founded in solid science. In layman’s terms they’re clear indications that our bodies are being stretched beyond their functional operating range, and we all face two choices in response to such news – we either carry on, ignoring the warning signs, continue to live life to the full and perhaps die at an earlier age (crash & burn), or we moderate our behaviour in some way.
I’m not preaching one approach over the other here. Each to one’s own, say I. Some people are perfectly happy living their lives to the full, preferring to burn the candle at both ends, possibly dying earlier but leading a much higher quality existence in the meantime. I’m too scared to do that. Death worries me, I have too much still to do and I’m not ready to ignore these warnings, so my personal choice is to try and follow the second route of moderation.
As a younger person, moderation to me just meant having a day off, whereas in my 40s it really means lifestyle changes, serious lifestyle changes, and that takes a lot of getting used to. Especially for me as I haven’t traditionally done moderation very well as I tend to do extremes. Intense days of excess, followed by several days of complete abstinence. And as I said earlier, that seemed to work as a kid. Flush out the old system, give your body a ‘ctrl-alt-del’ style reboot and off we would go again.
That doesn’t work too well in middle age though. I’ve found that out, and that’s why I’m now trying to practice the true art of long term moderation. That no longer means taking it easy Mon-Thurs then going balls-out Fri-Sun, it means taking it easy, (almost) always.
At first that was a depressing thought, but recently I tried it. This past weekend was an interesting one as I had social events Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. All three events centred around drinking, as is the British way, and so all three came with a certain level of social/peer pressure to participate.
In the past, when trying to moderate and faced with such a weekend, I would have responded in one of two ways:
- avoided the occasions altogether, made excuses and not turned up, or
- dragged myself reluctantly to the events and sat in the corner avoiding as much human interaction as I could get away with, watching the clock, rocking from side to side, sobbing and stroking a dead sparrow, begging my wife to take me home so I could beat myself with birch twigs.
This weekend however, I tried a different approach. On Friday night I had one pint of Guinness, and no more. On Saturday night I had one glass of champagne to toast soon-to-be absent friends, and on Sunday I just drank soft drinks. Sounds easy doesn’t it? But for me that isn’t easy. For me, that first drink has always been like a klaxon going off in my head, the sign that we are now officially off and running, the red mist would rise and that first beer would turn into a second, that would turn into a third, then perhaps move onto wine if I was feeling bloated from the ale, maybe 2-3 glasses of Shiraz (ironically feeling virtuous having switched from hop to grape), then be driven home to continue drinking in front of the TV, rounding off the evening off with a couple of fine malts, convincing myself I deserved them using some kind of warped logic that also makes the drunkard think a kebab is a good idea at 1am.
And you know what? It felt good*. And that’s because a significant knock-on effect of not boozing is an improved diet. The urges for that kebab or another bag of crisps are nowhere near as strong or as attractive to the sober mind as the inebriated one. The perverted logic that I need salty, fatty food to soak up the booze looks as flawed as it always should to the sober mind, whereas to the soused brain such logic seems scientifically sound and positively health promoting. “Yes, a burger from that white van opposite the taxi rank, that’s just what I need right now, I am going to live forever”.
I enjoyed my weekend. I did have a couple of drinks, drinks I enjoyed as drinks in their own right, not as precursors to an evening of hedonistic indulgence. I had many lucid conversations with friends, made some new acquaintances, and still remember their names. I slept well, rose early each morning, had productive days and returned to work on Monday feeling relaxed, fresh and raring to go.
* What utter bullshit. I looked on more than a little enviously at some of the imbibers who were slurping their way through several bottles of very nice red wine, pizza cheese stuck to their chins, and I desperately wanted to unshackle myself from this new, boring regime and get bloody stuck in. I wanted it badly and I felt utterly miserable nursing my warm, flat, sweet glass of coke. I looked on misty eyed. I called them names. I was insanely jealous if truth be told. I wanted to do that so much. I told myself it was the chimp inside talking, trying to get out, the chimp who desperately wanted me to be one of the troop, down with the lads, getting wrecked.
But I can’t. Not any more. And it’s hard.