MY drinklessness, which started during the Covid, has now extended beyond lockdown. The time may soon be drawing near when I must stop denying I have a problem and seek professional help.

A few months into lockdown an official NHS survey showed that problem drinkers in Britain had risen from 12.4% to 18.7%. The latest numbers show that 17.7% of us remain in the at-risk category. This is of no comfort to me though, for I have begun to develop a non-drinking habit.

When the icy embrace of Covid-19 first began to insinuate itself into our everyday lives, like many others I began to encounter sharp feelings of paranoia. Living on my own, I was stalked by visions of what might befall me, were I to start drinking at home during the curfew.

The first stages of jaikiedom surely beckoned and my children would find me slumped behind a door surrounded by bottles of the Dragon Soop and the Lecky Melon. And in a state utterly beyond the salvific faculties of an already over-worked NHS.

And so, I embraced sobriety in the mistaken belief it would get me through Covid-19 and make me a better person. Like others who have slipped unwarily into abstinence, I convinced myself I would only avoid alcohol in moderation. Surely it couldn’t do any harm to try a few days without the tender caress of a Sauvignon or Pinot?

Those ‘few days’ soon turned into weeks and even months, though. Time that was once spent in a rewarding and responsible manner getting gently howling and being at peace with the world now had to be occupied by less edifying pursuits.

I began to exhibit those Zoomer tendencies associated with over-exposure to the wretched videotelephony communications platform of the same name: staring vacantly into space and pretending to be present at meetings and talks while jouking off to watch Midsomer Murders. Developing a granular knowledge of bizarre pastimes and joining chat-rooms with complete strangers to discuss your new-found hobby.

I get that sobriety in moderation works for lots of others. But in people with an addictive personality such as me it can lead to dangerous delusions of adequacy. I began to become adventurous with unsupervised home cooking and came close to poisoning myself on at least three occasions.

I was mesmerised by home improvement fantasies, a telling sign that I was losing my grip on reality through drinklessness. No week seemed complete without at least two visits from a Blue Amazon van and the delivery of a household implement with an instruction manual that was several grades beyond my competence.

At my lowest point I began binge-watching Masterchef and Come Dine With Me.

And when the lockdown restrictions began to ease, it became increasingly difficult to mask my drinklessness. I began to experience withdrawal symptoms as I found increasingly absurd excuses to avoid nights-out in the pub. On those occasions where this was unavoidable I became sly and wily. The best ruse was to purchase a large carry-out and painstakingly replace the alcoholic contents of the bottles with that toxic Stan Pellegrino stuff.

As my descent into teetotal oblivion proceeded remorselessly, my personality changed. My friends would be drinking happily in a jocund environment as I became more morose, sullen and withdrawn. My conversation became more inappropriately reasonable and measured.

On one unhappy occasion I single-handedly wrecked the convivial atmosphere during a pleasant discussion about the long-suspected bias of Scottish referees against Celtic FC. I insisted on jumping to the defence of the men in black and accused my chums of being paranoid and having an inferiority complex. I once applauded a rather splendid goal scored by an opposition player, an action that was greeted with embarrassed silence.

The lowest point came in the midst of a debate about our chances in the Champions League when I sought to re-direct the conversation away from football and towards Britain’s chances of winning the Eurovision song contest.

Social media was a treacherous minefield of iniquitous virtue-signalling. During lockdown, people whom I genuinely respected insisted on glamorising their sobriety by posting pictures of unfeasibly complicated gastronomic creations.

At times like this you discover who your real friends are. One by one, all of those who I considered close began to disassociate themselves from me as my anti-social sobriety took a remorseless toll on my sense of time and place. Thank God though, for my friend Tam who stuck with me, never failing to offer me a drink and refusing to feel insulted at my rude refusals.

He introduced me to a self-help group in our local tavern consisting of men and women who were at various stages of recovery from sobriety. Their stories would have wrung tears from the DWP. They were littered with the details of broken relationships, family estrangements and – in one desolate instance – joining a cycling club. All of them had wasted eye-watering amounts of cash on optimistic designer clothing and adventure holidays in Kathmandu.

Admitting to these brave men and women that I too had a drinkless problem gave me hope that I also might conquer this malady. They hugged me and offered me a large Bacardi and coke. “No-one is judging you here, Kevin,” said Tam as he asked the bartender to stick another one on the tap.

As the country moves gingerly back to a state of post-Covid normality, the challenge of embracing drink in a world seemingly obsessed with self-denial has been tough. Those who have endured the tormented journey back to responsible drinking will recognise the obstacles.

There you are feeling peaceful and secure after five or six straight days of renouncing sobriety. And then its shadow suddenly looms over you without any warning. Before you know it, you’ve succumbed to three days of teetotal oblivion and all the self-loathing that comes with it.

But people have been very patient and understanding. I made a list of those whom I’d offended and outraged during extended bouts of abstemiousness and asked them to forgive me. It’s a long road ahead but with the help of my loved ones I feel I can re-visit a licensed premises once more and practice restrained and responsible sobriety.

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