I’ve finally realized I’m no longer ‘one of the lads’ but a ‘binge drinking father figure.’
I’ve been working in 16-19 education for ten years now, and in all this time, one of the yearly highlights has been the end of term Christmas binge.
I don’t see Christmas bingeing as anything unusual. I don’t even see it as deviant.
Like Carlos Alcos, weekly binges have been a regular part of my youth. I started at 14 years old and have alcohol to thank for both gaining and losing my first girlfriend, and for a few other relationships and one night stands since.
When I went to university in 1993, alcohol binges were effectively institutionalised and some of my fondest memories involve skipping lectures in favour of an afternoon binge. I managed to tone things down during postgraduate study, but on ending up in my present job in sixth form education at the age of 28 in 2002, the weekly binge returned, with the pinnacle always being the end of the Christmas and summer terms.
In my college, the Christmas ritual starts with dinner and drinks at twelve, after which about 50 staff descend on the pub, when about two dozen mostly younger 20 some-things get down to the proper bingeing. We’re usually on the Jaeger-Bombs by five, we tend to get our first gentle warning about the volume of our tuneless Christmas songs by six thirty, and from there on it simply deteriorates.
I was recently described as ‘one the foundation stones’ of these events, and this is a fair description: I have traditionally been right in the middle of this socially acceptable form of alcohol abuse: Three to five beers over lunch, followed by eight pints and shots as standard, and I’ve been one the last men standing on several occasions.
What’s been so good about this liminal period between the end of term and the holidays is that more people than usual are prepared to transgress boundaries, and really let off steam: There’s always at least one person who drinks too much way too early and makes an idiot of themselves, and of course there’s always the potential of ending up in bed with someone at the end of the night.
The lad in me wants to brag about how many times that latter’s happened but I’m not letting him because the whole point of this post is to say that it finally dawned on me this year, that I’m almost certainly no longer ‘one of the lads’ in the eyes of the my college’s younger binge-drinking milieu; I’m probably seen as more of a father figure.
I noticed this early on at this year’s event: I was one of the first to arrive, and ended up sitting with two other ‘old guys’ and when the youngsters gradually filtered in, they gathered at other tables, away from the old guard.
Of course I could have got up and circulated—at these events you don’t generally stick to one chair all evening—but this year I paused to have a good look around at the mainly younger drinkers, and I just couldn’t imagine myself having anything to add.
And then it came to me. That description of me as ‘one the foundation stones of the end of term event’ is absolutely precise. Binge drinking is something for your early twenties, and my role at these events for the last few years at least has probably been one of a father figure.
The younger generation do value my being there, they do want me around, but not as one of them, they want me there in the same way they want their parents around. They want me in the background, providing a sense of stability and continuity, a kind of avuncular figure whose reassuring presence says ‘it’s OK to binge drink, it’s OK … just one more … ‘
Then came the depressing moment of insight-wisdom: ‘I’m 39. I am too old for this’, followed by the sickening realisation that I’ve probably been in this ‘binge drinking father figure role’ for half a decade.
Of course I’ve been thinking and feeling this for years, mainly because my hangovers have been getting emotional recently, and my liver and/or kidneys have been telling me for a couple of years that anything more than three pints is harmful. I’ve known at an intellectual level that by Tom Matlack’s definition of addiction I’ve been a functional alcoholic for years, as drinking has been responsible for a general deterioration the quality of my life, but yesterday was the first time I finally realised—I mean, felt at a very deep level—that at 39 I am no longer a young man, and I cannot binge anymore.
So this year, for the first time in ten years, I left my Christmas do early, after one pint, with two-thirds of my second left on the table, and left my bingeing days behind me.
As I write this, in fact part of the reason I am writing this, is that realising you are no longer officially young, four days before Christmas, is pretty depressing. But this depression doesn’t run deep: deeper down there’s a sense of utter relief at knowing it’s the ‘right time’ to leave my youth behind—or at least the binger of my youth—behind.
What is, however, slightly concerning, is what I’ve realised in these ten dark days of sobriety since I gave up drinking. In the absence of a relationship or children (I don’t really think I’m suited to either), I’m left facing two fairly big questions. Firstly, what’s going to fill the gap left by the weekly binge ritual? Secondly, how do I ‘become middle-aged?’ Suggestions welcome.
Just to end on a final message to the next generation of drinkers: I’m not going to warn you off binge drinking at Christmas. Instead I’ll just say consider the ‘drinking baton’ officially passed on. Use it well.
Image credit: flickr4jazz/Flickr