Strangers on a train

This morning I was on a packed train to work when a very large man squeezed into the seat next to me. Straight away I could smell it: the booze on his breath. It was horrible. It was worse when he looked or breathed in my direction, but I could actually smell it whichever way he faced. I think it was coming out of his pores.

Things got considerably worse when he opened his bag and pulled out a hot McDonald’s breakfast. I don’t want to sound like a food snob here, but there’s something about the smell of McDonald’s food that really turns my stomach, especially at 8.30am. The seats on the tram were so small he was practically eating the food in my lap.

I spent most of the journey staring furiously out the window, before remembering that less than a year ago this could have been me (albeit without the Maccy D’s). I thought back on all those times that I’d finished work late, maybe not getting home until 10.30pm. Despite knowing that I had to be up early in the morning I would stop by the off licence for beer and a bottle of wine, planning just to have a few glasses. Just enough to relax. That was always the plan. But hey presto, all of a sudden it’d be 3am and I’d wake up and realise that a) the bottle was empty and b) I’d been sleeping on the sofa again.

The man on the train looked so tired. I remember feeling like that, like I could sleep for a week. Going to work with a secret hangover is tough. At best you are a 50% version of yourself. And you can’t tell anyone about your hangover because that would be weird, right? So it becomes this silent thing that you have to just get through, whilst appearing to be fine. It’s hard work. It amazes me how often drinkers are painted as weak-willed, because actually you have to be quite a strong person to cope with the hangovers, turn up to work on time and then repeat the process.

When you stop drinking you notice so many benefits. For starters you sleep better. You also look better, feel better and you save money. But above all, sobriety makes life so much easier. It really does. It brings an end to the lies you tell yourself and others. You stop having to keep so many secrets. You stop feeling guilty about failing to stop. This morning, I looked at this man on the train and thought: yes, life is so much simpler now. 

A simpler life doesn’t have to be a boring one either. On a slightly different note, I wanted to share this article about Davina McCall. I’ve always been a fan of hers but I became an even bigger one during her recent Sport Relief Challenge (running, cycling and swimming from Edinburgh to London). Talk about determination! She has been very open about her drink/drug problems in the past and I particularly like what she says in the interview about being “hedonistic whilst completely sober”. I like the sound of her parties…

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25 thoughts on “Strangers on a train

  1. FitFatFood March 17, 2014 at 8:06 pm Reply

    Oh the alcohol from the pores thing… I wince when I think what I must have smelled like at work after over a bottle of wine… And you’re right about davina. Bloody hero in my books 🙂

    • soberjournalist March 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm Reply

      Yeah I always thought chewing gum would do the trick but looking back I doubt I ever came across as minty fresh!

  2. Nick March 17, 2014 at 8:10 pm Reply

    Hi Kate,

    Great post!

    I agree totally with everything you’re saying here -I too spent years trying to tell myself that it was okay because everyone did it. Now I’m sober, I can realise that whilst a lot of people do it, it’s not right for me.

    Beer-sweats with a McD’s? No thanks! Yak! 🙂

    • soberjournalist March 17, 2014 at 8:15 pm Reply

      It’s so easy to compare yourself to others and try to normalise your behaviour. It’s amazing the tricks your mind can play! I’m glad the hungover journeys to work are behind us both!

  3. thirstystill March 17, 2014 at 8:40 pm Reply

    I’ve had those horrible morning, too, being at work–even writing exams!–with a massive hangover. And I think you’re right about the strength it takes. Appearing normal and cheerful while dying inside, that’s hard work. Sorry you had to face eau de booze +McD’s on the train, though. That’s a nasty commute!

  4. graysgrogblog March 17, 2014 at 9:02 pm Reply

    Hi, Kate.
    Good to hear from you :o)
    I live and work in France and, as such, there’s the “bises” to be “enjoyed” every morning (a kiss on both cheeks …. sometimes even between blokes…. but I run away) and I can only imagine what a pleasant experience that used to be for my female colleagues ;o) ….. but, this morning, on my Day 67 ….. “it” happened…. That is to say that I smelt booze on one of THEM! …..
    What a bloody weird (and none-too-pleasant) experience THAT was!
    G x

  5. Learning Living Freely March 17, 2014 at 9:03 pm Reply

    “being “hedonistic whilst completely sober”. I like the sound of her parties…”

    I like the sound of that! Looks like we have some sober parties to crash :p
    Glad you made it through that awful train ride!

  6. Odysseus300 March 17, 2014 at 9:06 pm Reply

    Hangovers are no joke. I have no idea why I would put myself through that. I am so much happier with my simple, straight-edge, no drink, no drugs lifestyle now. I don’t miss feeling that sense of shame! Well done – keep it up! 🙂

  7. Anonymous March 17, 2014 at 9:32 pm Reply

    I’s was so paranoid that people could smell the drink at work I’d pretty much coat myself in Lynx and go through half a big bottle of mouth wash a day…. I was in constant panic most of the morning waiting for someone to spot it. I’d never book a meeting for first thing in the morning.

  8. Mrs D March 17, 2014 at 9:46 pm Reply

    I saw that Davina McCall article and loved the line too – ‘it’s possible to be very hedonistic while sober’ YEAH!! Great to hear from you and your lovely revelation about sober life being so great while sitting next to a sad exhausted hungover slob on the train. If you can feel good then you can feel good anytime. Yay for sobriety! Whoop!

  9. Lee Davy March 17, 2014 at 10:13 pm Reply

    Great blog post as always.

    I have these moments all of the time. I tell myself off for judging, but then give myself a break and call it a lesson in life.

    I can smell alcohol a mile away since I quit, especially that stale odour from the night before. Especially when it’s mixed with garlic, which is often the case because a night on the lash can so often be accompanied by take away food laden with salt, fat and garlic.

    The Maccie D’s comment made me think. I bet the guy was eating a Sausage and Egg McMuffin. I used to love those things and if I hadn’t stopped drinking I think I would still love those things. Except my decision to quit led to a decision to improve other areas of my life, and my food choices was a part of that.

    No more Maccie D’s for me.


  10. readingcreature March 17, 2014 at 10:27 pm Reply

    You are so right about how hard we made life for ourselves when we drank. I think it was a Bubble Hour podcast on which someone commented that if now, sober, she felt as bad as she felt back when she was drinking, she would probably call an ambulance!

    And the mental freedom we gain, the time, it’s so great (this may be the Pink Cloud talking!)

  11. Drunky Drunk Girl March 18, 2014 at 12:37 am Reply

    So true!? I’ve been thinking the same thing lately, over and over, how my life is just so much simpler. MY GOD, dry heaving in the sink before work? Before a flight? Ugh! And, yes, yes, yes, the secret hangover was SO rough, too so much energy. Anyway, I am so glad it’s simpler; I don’t even want the hedonism anymore–maybe I’m just over it. Thanks for this “simple” reminder! xx

  12. ZiggerZagger March 18, 2014 at 10:59 am Reply

    Having stumbled across this website in the metaphorical term rather than the physical stumble like it used to be it (pun intended) it makes my body go into a anxiety attack remembering all these feelings people have detailed in the posts above. Yes I had a train journey each day to work and now I’m not sure how I managed it and pity the poor passengers I was anywhere near. I drank heavily for 25 years and I think that despite how awful we felt the next morning that was our ‘normal’ and we became accustomed to dry heaving, sweats, lack of sleep, no appetite (I certainly couldnt have stomached a McDonalds for hours after waking) and just plowing through the day until it was to time to officially or unofficially have that after work drink and feel ‘normal’ once again. I could talk for hours (I wont as I guess there are other sites to do this) but what I will say to reassure everyone and hopefully a little booster is that I am almost 5 years dry now and all those horrible feeling mentioned above have pretty much disappeared. I now through my energies into running squash and cycling and fair play to Davina a massive achievement and one she should be well proud of. To all you newly sober people be strong and enjoy the new found ‘NORMAL’ trust me its a lot nicer. God Bless Zigger

  13. risingwoman March 18, 2014 at 11:26 am Reply

    Oh, God. That was me, on many, many mornings. And I had the McD’s breakfast, too: I’d get 2 Sausage McMuffins with hash browns and coffee. It was the only thing to make me feel human.

    Some mornings, I too ‘see’ myself in others. Scary, sad, and sobering. Literally.

  14. Rebecca A. Watson March 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Something similar happened to me on an early morning flight a few months ago. It really is eye opening isn’t it? How did we think we could fool everyone, when you can’t really cover up your body chemistry. I love the freedom of life now, and I never really thought of it as easier, but you make a valid point. So much less stress. Less pain. Less struggle. Yup. You’re right. Waaaay easier 🙂

  15. wren1450 March 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm Reply

    Interesting article you linked in your blog. Thanks for sharing.
    Joan B.

  16. Dave March 18, 2014 at 6:01 pm Reply

    I just found your blog in the past few weeks and find it very encouraging. You are an excellent writer. I appreciate you sharing!

  17. Liz March 20, 2014 at 9:26 pm Reply

    ❤ I just found your blog and OMG, I'm in love. I'm not a problem drinker, but I am a problem other-stuff-er and I can so so so relate to what you're saying here and so appreciate your sharing your insights and experience. Inspiring. And a hedonistic sober party? Fabulous.

  18. afteralcohol March 21, 2014 at 1:47 am Reply

    Oh, goodness, the early morning thing. One thing that I’m finding really, really unsettling about sobriety is how much better my sense of smell is. I’m only two weeks sober (see how casually I did that? Two weeks. Yeah, I’m counting in weeks. No big deal. So much more casual than counting in days. 14 days, that sounds like I’m getting through them a day at a time. 336 hours of not drinking, that’s quite a lot of hours. Two weeks, though. No biggie. Just some time) and this is one of the most obvious effects so far. And the reason that is unsettling, of course, is…oh my God how much did I used to STINK, then? I have this idea of myself wandering around in a fug of alcohoic stench constantly, because I never could smell it.

    That’s probably not exactly true, but it’s interesting how many of us winced at your description of Sad Hungover McDonalds Man. That was us. But the relevant word is ‘was’. Never again.

  19. Rare Herb March 21, 2014 at 9:45 am Reply

    Aloha Soberjournalist,
    Agreed. Sobriety does make life easier. It took me about six months into my journey to start realizing that. The longer I stuck with it, the easier everything became. Keep on keeping on, you got this!

  20. ajxpressionz March 25, 2014 at 11:18 pm Reply

    It took me years and years after walking into my first 12-Step meeting (which I did only to shut everyone up) to STAY sober. I would stop drinking for 30 days, take a drink (or two), slither back to the Rooms, pick up another white chip amongst the murmurs; might proceed to 3 mos., 5 mos., almost 6, never more because the spectre of my past kept coming out to haunt. Or several times, I had cancer recurrences which somehow made me think if I could heal from that, why all this awful trouble with a bloody drink?

    Unspeakable events occurred; some legal ones but those facts didn’t deter me from seeking refuge in my favorite elixirs of Champagne or beer. As the years progressed, the list of liquor I could tolerate became shorter and shorter. One would logically assume as this list grew small, and consequences great, I could talk myself into stopping by listing the casualties to my psyche, friendships, financial status and family; it did not.

    After my 5th recurrence of cancer (I was not yet 50), I took a risky radiation treatment for 7 wks. during which I had to live 5 hrs. from home in a University town, something miraculous happened. My taste buds were ruined and suddenly my favorite quaffs tasted like one might imagine a 9-month forgotten casserole in the back of the fridge might taste.

    It was the miracle I had prayed for so often and long; I couldn’t believe it happened after all the degradation of stopping and starting; the rotten comments made to by 12-Step types who must have supposed telling me, I “didn’t want sobriety badly enough,” “had too much pride,” “needed to drink more,” would be helpful in “making the decision” to stop.

    In a few weeks, I will have 6 years without a drink and I can tell you may not get much better but drinking makes everything much worse. I sought therapy (a bad word to many) but it was key in unlocking the doors to my troubled past; 12-Step programs have one purpose only. Without a many pronged approach, I would not have made it to where I live comfortably in my own skin today.

  21. M March 26, 2014 at 11:21 am Reply

    Hi, great blog and I admire Davina’s frankness. I watched her on that programme where “personalities” trace their family tree. You could see then that there was pain, but on reading the article you refer to, so much pain.

    I did visit this blog a while ago and felt so relieved that others felt the same as I do. The challenges, experiences, frankness and recovery filled my heart with hope.

    So far, I have failed to give up alcohol, I get to the evening with determination and then it all collapses. What do you do to not cave in? How do you get over that first evening?

    I so much want to stop. I am tired of the battle between my intelligent self telling me that “you know it’s killing you and you love life” and the habitual thoughtless daily first swig that makes me feel relieved and leads to unmeasured consumption. I wake up in the night and mentally repeat a “Please help me to have strength to do this” mantra.

    I am not going to give up thinking that I can stop, I want to and need to.


    • soberjournalist March 26, 2014 at 11:32 pm Reply

      Hi M – getting through those first few weeks and days can be tricky. If you tend to drink in the evening why not alter your routine? Go to the gym late or make sure you’re busy. Put your sobriety first, make it your too priority. Read lots of books. I’d recommend Allen Carr’s no more hangovers. The day long seminars run in his clinics are also very good.

      Nearly everyone round here has had multiple failed attempts so you’re not alone. Just keep on trying and one of these days it’ll click. K

  22. KT March 31, 2014 at 9:27 am Reply

    Thanks for this. I’m at day one again, at work with a hangover. I quit pretty happily for three months then decided “the odd glass of red wine” would be fine. Of course it wasn’t. The first glass I remember well, the whiff of alcohol coming off it wasn’t nice. By the next day I was already used to it. Six weeks later I’m back to a bottle a night. Last night I went through more than that. I’ve been hiding it, pretending I’m drinking one glass after dinner when really I’ve already drunk the rest of the bottle while cooking.

    No more hiding. No more shame.

    I know it’s going to torment me for a bit, to try to persuade me that I want it more than I want to feel good, but those three months, I slept like I haven’t slept since I was a child. It was wonderful. I had the best New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had. Yes, sometimes “missing” wine bugged me like hell (I actually used to imagine going to a B&B with a bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum!), but I want to feel good again and being bugged a bit isn’t actually going to hurt me. Let’s hope it clicks for me this time. I’m off to stock up on my favourite alcohol free beer at lunchtime – for me it’s the “glass” of wine while I’m cooking that’s the killer. Swapping for 0% beer cons me long enough to sit down and eat then I’m fine.

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