Booze, bridges and birds

I feel great today. Peaceful. Rested. Unworried. The usual white noise of negative thoughts are still there, although barely audible, which makes space for compassion, gratitude and even a touch of joy.

Why? I don’t know really. I slept pretty well the last couple of nights, which is no guarantee of positive mental health, but the converse is certainly true – I’m no good if I don’t get a solid six hour stretch (preferably with an hour or two either side.)

This is one of the main benefits I have found since quitting booze last year – the quality of my sleep has improved significantly. My theory (based on my own diligent and committed research over the past 25 years) is that every minute you sleep whilst drunk doesn’t count towards feeling rested the next day.

So, if you go to bed 5-pint pissed at 11.30 pm and sleep until 7.30 am, then you have not had 8 hours worth of good sleep. Depending on how long it takes you to sober up, you have had maybe 5 or 6. Lack of sleep was a multiplicative factor in the severity of my hangovers. That and lovely, lovely whisky, sadly.

I read in the news this week that alcohol consumption has increased during lockdown and so problem drinkers who were managing their addiction are falling back into old habits. I can 100% identify with this. If I was still letting myself, I would be cracking open a beer as early as I thought socially acceptable. This point would have got earlier and earlier as lockdown continued, until the friendly lunchtime beer in the garden became a staple.

I would rarely have consumed enough to call myself “drunk”, but it would have been a steady flow of 3 to 6 beers each day. Not exactly Phil Mitchell, but still not great when you do the old weekly unit count.

So I don’t drink alcohol any more. I drink alcohol-free beer instead (surely the subject of a future blog). Crucially, I am no longer attempting to medicate my anxiety with a drug that increases anxious thoughts (from the following day onwards anyway). I can’t say this has been transformative for my mental health, but it certainly has done no harm.

I’m not a preacher of teetotalism. I like alcoholic drinks (beer and wine in particular). I like the way the drug numbs negative emotions, but also increases confidence, which I lack at times. And I like the semi-religious institution that is the Scottish pub.

But I like these things less than I like being alive and healthy. For most people the choice is not that binary and I envy them. But I know it was the right decision for me.

What’s that? You want an update on the bridge project? You really do want the moon-on-a-stick, don’t you?

Funny you should ask, as I crossed two separate bridges over the Tweed on my morning constitutional today, and walked under a third (as you can see below). I’ll talk a bit more about these bridges, and bridges in general, in my next blog, I promise.

I would also like to introduce you to a new character in my story, who made an appearance this morning. There is a grey heron that hangs around the stretch of the Tweed that passes through Peebles. I am a big fan of this bird (highlighted below). She (I am inclined to believe this is a female heron, on account of her relatively short aigrets, which you will all have spotted, of course) is super-chilled and very patient.

We can all be more heron and I would encourage you to bear this in mind as you go about your day.

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