Sunday, 27 February 2011

Give Up

(NB – the title of this blog is, in case you didn't know, a reference to the marvellous Postal Service album of the same name. Not only is that album beautiful, clever and well-crafted, but I think it deserves props alone for its stupendously miserable name.

Allow me an anecdote before we begin, if you will... I spent many long hours puzzling over the name of the album, loving it, but wondering if it might possibly have a double meaning which I was missing as it just seemed so unabashedly negative. Ben Gibbard, singer and genius lyricist of the Postal Service, is known for his love of words which have double meanings, so it seemed odd to me that the album title should only seem to mean one thing; a thing which, for me, brings Homer Simpson to mind – ‘You tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is… never try.’ It took a rather more positive person than I am to point out to me that it could also mean surrender, in a positive sense, as in surrender to the music. Try as I might, I would never have seen that more positive meaning by myself, which tells you just about all you need to know about me. That more positive meaning of 'give up' is not, however, the theme of this blog. You will be shocked to learn.)

(NB 2 – oh, and also, I now have Lost by Nine Inch Nails, a similarly cheery sentiment, stuck in my head. Gave up trying to figure it out, but my head got lost along the way… Come on! If you know it, sing along!)

The last 18 months have seen me give up a hell of a lot of things. Cigarettes. The Other Thing (forgive me for slight crypticness, reader, the walls have ears). Sex. Watching telly and being on my computer in bed. Alcohol. Wheat. And now, it seems like dairy might have to be next. I have withstood the previous six, but I fear the seventh might be the end of me. A life without cheese is surely no kind of life at all. Plus, I fear that if I have to give one more thing up, I will have to spend the rest of my life sitting still in my room and waiting to die.

I have given up smoking three times in my life now – three times of note, anyway. I started smoking when I was 15, for exactly the same reason, I imagine, that everyone starts smoking… to impress my friends. Of course, I would rather have died than admit that at the time. I had new friends, friends that were higher up the social strata than me, friends that, I felt, needed impressing. I had risen up from the ranks of the unremarkable to suddenly join the forces of the louder, more stylised, more in trouble kids, and I knew that I needed a stronger passport than just my encyclopaedic knowledge of Smiths lyrics to be properly accepted. Cigarettes seemed like the easiest way in.

I didn’t really like smoking at first – who does? It tasted like hot, dirty smoke. Obviously, in hindsight, since that’s what it is, but I suppose I, in my innocence, thought it would taste like mournful French movies and delicate Victorian poetry, not like the muck scraped from the bottom of a gutter. However, I choked my way through it and grimly clung on, until someone gave me my first menthol cigarette (I feel like those things should come from Fisher Price – My First Cigarette, they could be called, so lethal and kiddie and tempting that they are) and all my smoking-related woes sailed away on that cool, mountain stream.

Ahhh, Consulate cigarettes. Even now, after giving up attempt no. 3, the one that I hope will stick, I feel tempted when I see that packaging - which, fortunately, isn't very often. Those are MY cigarettes – if anyone else has a pack, it’s just because they’re holding them for me. Oh, the power of the brand… and I’m not talking about Russell, for once.

I smoked menthol cigarettes like they were going out of fashion for the next – blimey – six years, until I was in the third year at university, when my friend Petra and I gave up together, mid-way through the year. That lasted a year and a half, I think – a good long time, so that I felt that I would never go back.

The thing that made me go back in the end was getting a job and living in my own flat. I had spent so many years smoking out hanging out the window at my parents house, and waiting til I was round the corner before I lit up (how I *ever* thought I was fooling them, I really don’t know) that once I was living somewhere where I could smoke whenever I wanted without fear of reprisal, it made me want to smoke like crazy, even though I’d given up some 18 months before. So I gave it, and started again.

That lasted for a year, and then I gave up again… this time for seven long years.

I started smoking for the third and final time for the world’s most stupid reason – I’d heard that my old boyfriend had a new girlfriend (are we spotting a pattern, here, readers?) – he’d rung up to tell me, something boys seem to keep feeling the need to do to me (for future reference, boys – please don’t do this, no matter how well meaning you’re being, I’d so much prefer to hear it from someone else so I can cry and get mad and do all those things any human would do, rather than having to pretend it's fine cos I want to look cool in front of you… I mean, seriously)… so I decided that the surest way to show him that he’d lost out on the prize of a lifetime was to take up smoking again. Don’t ask me why, it wasn’t very logical.

I continued for about 4 or 5 months, I think, maybe longer, before realising that what had started as a joke was beginning to catch hold and I’d better get a handle on it before it all went wrong again, so I took myself in hand and gave up again. That was 18 months ago now, and this has been the easiest of the things I've given up. It’s a vile habit and one I don’t miss at all.

The next one was the Other Thing. I have waxed lyrical about that a few blogs ago, so I won't bore you all again. I'll just say that it's been nearly a year now and it's not a decision I've regretted for one moment since I made it. It hasn't meant that my life is perfect now - I certainly don't wake up every day with a six inch smile on my face - I don't think I'll ever do that, no matter how many things I give up and how much therapy I have - but when I think back to the way I used to have to struggle through the week, I'm pretty sure I'm never going to want to go back there. It hasn't been a fix for my life. I don't regret a moment of those times either. But it is a chapter of my life that is finished for now. There might be a sequel - there might not be. But as far as that whole saga goes, the taking part and the ducking out... I genuinely have no regrets. And there's not many areas of my life I can say that about.

So... sex. Again, I won't harp on. But the longer I'm being single, the less interested I'm finding myself in men. I am currently toying with a vague and curiously attractive fantasy that I'm going to stay celebate forever and become re-virginised, and life is going to become simple and easy and lovely, a bit like something out of Anne of Green Gables. Of course, it has only been a few months, I'm sure I'll tire of it pretty quickly. But seriously... the sulking, the whining, the needing to explain every little thing, the arguments, the pettiness, the heartache, the having to share your bed... who needs it? Currently, and happily... not me. I'll start missing the nicer things soon, but hopefully not for a good long while yet.

And while I take my hats off to the girls who can have sex outside of relationships, I'm really not a person that works for. I get waaaay too attached, waaaaaay too quick. I only need to lock eyes with someone before I'm thinking about china patterns and picking out a dress. I say this as a warning to any would-be interested men reading this (of which I'm sure there are thousands, natch); seriously. Leave me alone. I'm mental.

I think the most surprising thing I've given up, out of everything, is alcohol. I've been drunk on one occasion in 2011... which means I've only drunk alcohol on one occasion in 2011, cos everyone knows the only reason you'd ever drink booze is to get drunk... right? Right??

I stopped drinking to make my sleep better. And it's working. It's not always perfect, but I am sleeping so much better than I ever used to. And I was only trying to sleep better in order to make me less miserable, and - don't laugh - I actually think that's working too. Yes, I've spent a good portion of this month boo-hooing about The Couple That Shall Not Be Mentioned, but I think it would have been a whole hell of a lot worse if alcohol and - hence - a lack of sleep were still in the picture.

When I first stopped drinking, it was hard, I won't deny it. But even then, it was a lot less hard than I thought it would be. The first couple of social occasions I went to, I spent the week beforehand worrying about... but then only the first ten minutes of being there worrying. Once I was past those first ten minutes, it was easy. I think there are three tricks to not drinking: one, getting through that first ten minutes. Two, taking a really nice soft drink that you actually want to drink with you - I recommend an unusual fruit juice and a bottle of fizzy water to mix together. Three, knowing for yourself that this is what you want to do, and not worrying about what other people say. This third one is the hardest.

For me, the fact that I need to not drink in order to sleep - and this was bought home to me with a startlingly bright spotlight on the one occasion this year where I did drink, when I PINGED awake at 4am and lay in bed feeling anxious and hating myself until I finally got up some five hours later - makes it easier. There are times when I am tempted, but at the end of the day, I know that I would always (at the moment) rather sleep than get drunk. And plus, I can drive to places now, which is much nicer than getting the fecking bus or having to sleep (or not) on other people's uncomfortable sofas.

I only ever meant to give up for a month, but it's approaching two now (if you don't count that one night) and I'm not sure I'll ever go back. I'm going on holiday soon... I don't know what I'm going to do about that... but the rules are - there are no rules, as Chandler once said. So we'll see what transpires.

NB no. 3 - I do hope I'm not coming across as the kind of self-righteous prig you all want to beat to death upon reading this. I love drinking. I love to get drunk. I am deeply jealous of those of you out there who can drink and sleep. But I'm not one of those people, and I got so bored of lying awake feeling anxious and hating myself, something had to be done about it. At least now all my anxiety and self-hatred is confined to the daylight hours, where it's much more manageable, ho ho.

Giving up watching TV and surfing the net in bed is a Paul McKenna related thing. It has sucked - I have conquered it now. It's not massively interesting, so I shall only say this - I may even be getting rid of the massive telly in my bedroom and buying a zebra-print chaise longue to go in its place. Watch this space.

And so, to the ever-fashionable food intolerances which I seem to have suddenly acquired. You would think, that with giving every fun in the world ever up, I would be a blooming blossom of health, wouldn't you? Sadly, you would be wrong. Stomach aches have been the bain of my life for about a year now. Perhaps longer - in fact, when I properly think about it, almost certainly longer. What I am realising is that giving everything else up has given me a clear enough head to do that thing that hippies are always banging on about - listening to my body, maaaaan. Oh, the shame.

And what does my body seem to be telling me? That it really doesn't like wheat. Oh, the humanity! Couldn't my reward for this seeming preparation for nunnery be, I dunno, a Pulitzer, or a pony, or at the very least a plate of toast? No, even this last has been grabbed away from me. I'm not going to go into the exact details of what wheat seems to be doing to me, because it isn't really seemly. But I want it to stop. And so I am shopping in the Free From aisles now and suddenly feeling a lot more empathy for my several coeliac friends. It's a bloody good job I've given up drinking as, with wheat-free pasta being something crazy like £25 a packet, I wouldn't be able to afford any gin anyway.

The results have been almost depressingly instant. On stopping eating wheat, my stomach aches stopped like that - *clicks imaginary fingers*. Why, you might ask, is that depressing? Because it means I'm most probably right and am having to give up bread and crackers and biscuits and couscous and barley and even, I have just discovered, my beloved squash!

However, it really isn't so bad. Who cares about the crackers, I have been stoically telling myself, as long as I can have the cheese? I can put cheese on my hand and eat it right off that, like I am my own pony. Everyone wins! The crackers can live to fight another day - they're only a fancy plate anyway. But... the other day, I had a dinner which contained a large amount of cheese. I've not been eating a lot of cheese lately as I've been on a diet, trying to lose all the love-makes-you-fat directly followed by miserable-Christmas-alone weight I put on in 2010, but I was cooking for a friend and made something that involved some Philadelphia light. And oh GOD, the stomach ache it gave me was horrendously horrific, as a charming girl on Come Dine with Me recently said.

I had had no wheat in that meal, that day, that week. Nothing else was awry. I can only conclude it was the cheese.

Of course, I have been wrong before. I remember it clearly, it was a Tuesday. (Sorry, old joke, but I love it so.) And here's hoping I am wrong again. But only time will tell. And if I am right... well, I really might as well go sit still in my room and wait for death to take me.


  1. *grin*

    Given that you're coming to dinner this week, where does this leave you in terms of things that you're comfortable eating?


  2. Heh... I'm a vegetarian on a diet who won't eat chillis and now can't eat wheat or dairy. How about you just give me an apple and make me sit out the front of the house while I eat it? ;-)

    Seriously, though, Ted... wanna come to mine instead?


  3. JFS - paella, risotto, soup, roasted vegetables with gravy and veg sausages, an omelet with delicious steamed vegs, rice and stir fry...not-chilli-hot veggie curry with rice and coconut milk and lots and lots of stuff really.

    great blog Johanna

  4. @KItty - thank you - that's a good list. My worry was that my default recipe for anything includes a line which says 'and now add shed loads of cheese'.

  5. Thanks Kitty! And actually that's a useful list for me as well! :-) xx

  6. I think lent starts tomorrow. (In case you didn't know.)