Lord, I Have a Broken Heart
When you stop drinking, you worry that no one will find you interesting ever again.
This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark.
My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 41-year-old man who went out for a quick drink in 1987 and woke up in 2008.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use Urban Dictionary, "menk" is slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person.
MENK 39: Lord I Have a Broken Heart
There’s no ignoring it anymore. I think I’m sick.
There are telltale signs. My head only has to touch the pillow and my body immediately starts jettisoning liquid. Tons have poured through my back and gallons off my scalp in the last few nights alone. I must have the cleanest pores in all of London. I’ve become a malfunctioning flesh water bomber, sucking up reservoirs of liquid during the day just to dump the entire payload the second I’m asleep. Each night, every few hours I wake up on glistening, sodden sheets, with my head throbbing, mouth gummed shut, and internal organs aching due to dehydration. In the dark, I reach down to the floor for my glass full of aqueous relief but my fingers are met only by an empty glass. Every time I get up to wet my whistle, I sluice the entire glass of tap water down in two gulps before I even get back into the bedroom.
And the night sweats become the diurnal sweats when exercise is thrown into the mix. And by exercise, I mean walking, standing up, typing, and making a sandwich.
Also, it's gotten to the point where I can't ignore the pains in my chest anymore. It feels like Slash is plucking the guitar solo to "November Rain" on my ventricles and aortas. If I run anywhere, I feel like the dude who gets his heart wrenched out of its cavity in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. So running has become this thing that I used to be able to do badly and comically but now can no longer even risk thinking about. And occasionally it simply feels like a sadist is squeezing down on one of my major organs' four cavities between immovable thumb and unstoppable finger.
There are other weird things going on as well.
Everything I eat and drink tastes of full-fat cream. Including Coca-Cola. And I drink gallons of the stuff every day.
(As every irritating schoolboy knows, Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine. Well, maybe it still contains a trace memory; maybe it's a homeopathically effective soft drink. Either way, I can't stop drinking the stuff by the bottle, even when it tastes like full-fat cream, or salt, or carbonated pond water. Like with cocaine, who cares if it is actually physically addictive or not, it makes no difference if you can't stop taking the stuff.)
Fate intervenes and I am shamed into going to the doctors.
When I take my son for a regular check-up at a baby clinic, the health visitor decides that I have come in (a regular occurrence) as a cry for help. "I can tell," she says imperiously, looking down her nose at my Burning Witch T-shirt, “that you aren't very happy. That you're stressed out and are having trouble coping."
I acquiesce sweetly to a doctor's appointment realizing that to angrily defend myself will just prove her right.
A few days later in surgery, Dr. A says: "It’s good you've finally come in. Your cholesterol levels are dangerously high."
I exclaim that it's amazing he can tell that much just by looking at me but he says: "No, it's from the blood tests we did last year. Didn't you get the letters we sent?"
Then there is a brief discussion, after which Dr. A agrees once more to attempt to update my address on the surgery's transcendentally shitty computer system.
"Well given my family history of madness, drug dependence, alcoholism, lung cancer, and heart disease, this is almost like good news!" I say jovially. "Yeah, about that..." he says and books me in for a whole raft of other tests.
Although often attributed to G.K. Chesterton, it was actually the Belgian poet Émile Cammaerts, who said: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”
When it’s time to give up drinking, one of the thoughts that most often goes through your mind is that no one will ever take you seriously or find you interesting and engaging ever again. Too much of your self-worth has become tied up with alcohol; you are worthless without it and no one would ever want to get to know the real you. Of course, for a good portion of those that count, nothing could be further from the truth. Your wife or husband and best friends are probably all too keen to reconnect with the boring you who doesn’t wet himself on public transport, shout at police cars, dive out of windows, burst into tears during wildlife documentaries, and set himself on fire during conversational lulls.
But this paranoia is a strong one and even if you stop drinking usually all you manage to do is to create a vacuum that nature finds very, very abhorrent.
Anyone who manages to kick will become prey to ill-advised drink replacement mania, it’s almost a given. And then the self-worth that you once derived from booze will come from collecting and painting armies of lead goblins or from the need to eat three tubs of ice cream every morning before work. Personally, I have tried to replace alcohol with many, many things—cheese, donuts, cocaine, coffee, MDMA, ice cream, sponge cake, painkillers, cough medicine, vinyl LPs, mephedrone, and HBO box sets with varying degrees of short-term success.
Cocaine, especially, is not the solid foundation upon which successful recovery from decades of substance abuse is built upon—although what a fantastic year 2010 was! I still have such fond memories of that summer. How shafts of golden dawn light would illuminate dust motes in golden iridescence, creating miniature solar systems hanging in the still office air, as I would hoover up two thin but long streaks of chisel at the start of the working day and then lean back in my chair with a mug of tea, contemplating the day’s work ahead. This contemplation would turn into animated babbling with attendant hand waving, and occasionally a little dance routine if I had a particularly good idea. The trouble is, these things always escalate. By winter, I was doing it around the clock so even Jimmy the Saint, my procurer friend with a gold tooth and an embellished Honda Civic, felt he had to have a word with me: “Did you ever think about taking it easy for a few weeks John? It’s not that I don’t appreciate the business, but…"
One thing that G.K. Chesterton actually did say was this: “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."
Well, I’m no poet but I don’t mind saying it: I fucking love cheese.
By all accounts when I was Little John’s age, it was all I would eat. Well, sometimes, according to my mom, I would accept a chunk of Spam dipped in syrup, but would often just suck the lovely coating off before spitting the unnaturally empurpled chunk of "meat" back out again.
I can sort of remember John Lennon and Elvis dying, and I remember the school assembly the day of the first ever space shuttle launch, but the lunchtime I had my first ever slice of melted cheese on toast is indelibly etched on my brain. I remember with the surety and firmness that all childhood memories are built on, raising the slice aloft and declaring: “What prestidigitation is this? What magical transfiguration of nature is this which has rendered that which was nice into that which is necessary? I have become Ozymandias, melter of cheese. Stare upon my toastie and despair.”
For many years now I’ve celebrated Christmas Day by sitting in a chair listening to instrumental rock music and eating cheese until my head goes cold. This usually happens between the three- and four-pound mark and is caused by an emergency rush of blood to the stomach that is needed to deal with the terrible onslaught of heavy dairy product, leaving the brain somewhat light and in a state of chilly levity.
This is how you get high on cheese.
Another thing that G.K. Chesterton actually said was this: “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act, but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.”
If I don’t get fit soon I will die. And more worryingly, if I don’t get fit soon, this death could even happen within the space of the next 15 years.
So now I’m at work and halfway through the first day of my new diet, I feel like crying. I want my mom to make me some cheese on toast. I want to run away and sit under a bridge eating Belgian buns until my head explodes.
My internal organs are throbbing in pain, although, I should say this is not in the same league as when I nearly died from liver failure and it is a walk in the park compared to renal infection and pancreatitis.
I use a thumbnail to get two Anadin Ultra [a form of ibuprofen] out of the foil strip. I release a third for good measure. I wash them down with some water. I read the information leaflet while I wait for them to kick in. Did you know that one of the side effects of taking too many Anadin Ultra is getting a headache? I mean, what kind of sick fucking world do we live in any way?
This column was the inspiration for John Doran's acclaimed memoir Jolly Lad, about the recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness. A new expanded edition has just been published by Strange Attractor Press.
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This article originally appeared on VICE DA.