Saturday, 5 September 2015

Spot the Lush

BIG ROUND OF APPLAUSE to my old friend, Tallaxo, who made it to six months yesterday. Tallaxo, it's been a real pleasure and a delight having you on this road alongside me. You rock.

About a year ago (well before I quit), I was chatting to a school Mum friend about a mutual acquaintance (let's call her 'Daphne' because that's a really cool name, and I always wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo).

"Did you know that Daphne doesn't drink?" she asked me. I didn't. I tried really hard to appear only vaguely interested when, really, I was fascinated.

" Why's that?" I replied, nonchalantly.

"She's very open about it. She had a totally wild youth - drink, drugs, you name it. Had to quit everything. AA, NA, you know. But the funny thing is, she says that now she can spot the addict a mile off! It's a game she plays at the school gate."

"How funny," I reply. Not in the slightest amused. I was terrified. Had she spotted me? Had she out-ed me? Was this a pointed conversation? Aaarrrggghhh.

I was rather relieved when Daphne moved to the country a few months later as it got really tiring trying to avoid her in the playground. Now, I wish she were still here. I'd love a sober school Mum friend!

Anyhow, the point is, I now know exactly what she means! It didn't happen immediately (I was rather wrapped up in myself, initially), but I have developed an amazing ability to spot the lush.

When I was working in London in the early nineties I had a great gay friend called Guy (only one vowel away from being an adjective).

In those days, believe it or not, it was really hard to be openly homosexual in business, even in advertising (where Guy and I worked).

We had, for example, a boss who used to regale us frequently with stories about his girlfriend, Fiona. It was only several years later that we discovered Fiona was really Bob.

Guy said that he could spot an 'in the closet', repressed gay a mile off. He called it his gaydar. He was never wrong. 'Fiona' never fooled Guy.

Now, sober is the new gay. And I have a lush-dar. It's a great way to keep yourself amused at drinks parties.

The rookie error is to assume that the lush is the drunkest person in the room.  The loud, falling over person is probably an occasional drinker who's overdone it.

The real lush, at first sight, doesn't look too drunk at all - they have a far higher tolerance than that.

I was at a drinks party recently, chatting to a lady I'd never met before, and I thought Bingo. I just knew.

So, in the interests of this blog, I made myself analyse why. What was the giveaway? Here's what I concluded:

1. The lush is often overweight, particularly round the middle. Even if they are skinny, they tend to be puffy. Especially around the face.

2. They mention alcohol frequently in conversation, even to total strangers. "I'll be the one propping up the bar!", "We must get together for a drink, or three," "So, I'd had a few drinks when...." "Woke up with a horrible hangover and..."

It's much like when a friend first falls in love and scatters their lover's name into conversation liberally without even realise they're doing it.

3. They may not look drunk, but they don't seem physically steady. They stand a little too close. They might sway a little, or slur a little. They don't blink enough. They laugh too much. Tiny signs, only visible to an expert.

4. They are a bit florid. Red in the cheeks and the nose. Slightly bloodshot eyes. Broken veins.

5. They appear at ease, gregarious, confident, but something doesn't sit right. You get a sense that underneath the bonhomie they're edgy and insecure. They don't feel grounded.

This might sound like something out of Mean Girls, but, honestly, I don't look down on the lush. I don't despise her. I love her. She is me. She is one of my tribe.

I want to go up and give her a big hug, and say "it's okay. I know how you feel. It can all get better," but I know how much you hate hearing the truth from the people closest to you, let alone from a complete stranger.

So I say nothing. I just nod along to the suggestion that we get together "for a few jars" and "get hammered."

And it strikes me that I always had a 'lush-dar', it's just that back then I saw it as a 'new friend detector.' I would immediately gravitate towards the other hard drinker in the crowd knowing, subconsciously, that we had a great deal in common.

I still see them as potential 'new friends.' I just hope that they find me, when they're ready.

Happy sober Saturday everyone.

SM x


  1. Well SM, your lush-dar must be pretty strong - you found me in cyberspace! I'm not sure I agree with No. 4 but the rest fits pretty well. That's how it was for the first 10 years. The last decade I'd rather forget. However we live and learn. My main learning is that I can still feel the despair (at times) I felt when I was a lush and that is a great reminder/support/incentive to stay sober. Congrats Tallaxo! I don't know why but I still think you are American?!? Happy hangover free Saturday! LNM x

    1. Thank you LNM.x The name Tallaxo was a character in an online game I used to play for many years,Kind of sounds American I guess but to be sure, I am just an Irish guy living happily now in England x

  2. I'm not sure that everyone who drinks a lot is in pain. Maybe they are. Its sad to think that. I think I would only recognise problem drinking by observing someone actually drinking or smelling alcohol off them in the middle of the day/ morning when clearly they should not be drinking.
    have a great w/e

  3. I'm a crack at spotting them on facebook. Here's another clue, they post lots of post about all the good work they do, all the charities they're involved with, lots of photos of grandkids and family, and all the fun, fun, fun their life is.
    Overcompensating because of they're drinking. It's an exhausting way to live. I should know.

    1. Or check out the time of their posts! ( been there!!! )

  4. Thank you kindly SM for the lovely words. This is quite an amazing journey. You and your blog provides me with spadefulls of inspiration. Thank you for all that you do x

  5. Dear SM,
    I just finished the book you recommended, "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp and it was amazing! I identified with so much of what she writes in the book. But when I googled her to see what she was up to or if she had a website, I was so saddened to read that she died (from lung cancer!) in 2002. I can't believe it! I don't know if you remember, but in the book she talks about how her mother warned her to stop smoking right before she died. How ironic and eerie that after fighting her alcohol addiction, she succumbed to lung cancer from her other addiction - smoking.
    Well, at least I don't smoke.
    As for my drinking: I have cut down a lot since I started reading your blog. I get it every day via email and read it in bed before my feet hit the ground at 6AM (Eastern Standard Time in the U.S.). I have gone from two bottles a night to 2-3 glasses a night. I did quit completely for about two weeks. I know you are adamantly anti Moderation, but I am trying it out, as I am not convinced that I need to quit "full stop" as the Brits would say. I have lost about 10 pounds just from limiting the drinking, am noticeably less depressed, and have started to drink water and bike 8 miles 3-5 times a week. So I have noticed some positive changes. I am also sleeping better, notice I am more focused and have more energy. My husband jokes that I am "growing neurons" lol.
    Any other suggestions for a follow up book?
    Wishing you well from across the pond - Katz

    1. Hi Katz! So glad you enjoyed the book! Try Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston - also v good. Re moderation, I'm not anti it for those who can do it (without the wine witch driving them mad!). In fact, I think it's important to give it a good go before you quit. If you're going to go totally AF, you need to truly believe that moderation isn't an option, and to believe that you have to try it. I tried to moderate for years, and it only drove me crazy! Big hugs, and congrats to you Katz! SM x

    2. Thanks for the reply! Great advice and insight re: moderation.

  6. I can spot them too.
    I used to think no one noticed if I had a couple of drinks.
    I'm sure they do. I can see it in people so easily.