LIKE many of my peers who toiled through early adolescence in Dublin’s sleepy coastal town of Rush, my relationship with alcohol began at a young age. I was 13 and had agreed with friends to smuggle booze out of our homes so we could get drunk for the first time in unison. After pulling off our respective smuggling operations we all arrived at the agreed beach location, a sheltered sandy bowl hidden in the dunes.
Most of my pals had chosen soft alcohol, and their safe choices worried me: I had come armed with Bacardi white. Over the next while we grimaced and gurned through the forbidden libations and pulled extra hard off our cigarettes to mask the alien taste. One friend got tipsy, another got drunk and inevitably some got sick. However, I topped everyone by getting absolutely polluted and, in a moment of horrific judgment, abandoned the privacy of the dunes and went stumbling and slurring through the streets of Rush, scaring people I knew and girls I fancied along the way. I ended my day violently ill and with an aversion to Bacardi that has persisted ever since.
This embarrassing introduction to the “demon drink” should have made me cautious of alcohol. But my mischievous side, endless teenage stamina and my country’s culture kept me curious and thirsty. I had once harboured serious sporting aspirations, but my new drinking habit, combined with my having taken up smoking months earlier, saw to those.
Football, cricket, tennis and swimming were shelved as my drinking and partying intensified through my teens and 20s. Booze was so natural, such a constant; and, even though I do regret blowing the chance to become a sportsman, I can’t say I didn’t have fun drinking. I did. A lot of fun. Very good times. Recalling them in detail is another matter.
Infuriating to many a proud patriot in Ireland is the world’s view of us as a tad simple and regularly inebriated. The stereotype is nonsense, of course, but I do believe that the inhabitants of my beautiful, weather-cursed rock are more partial to a tipple than most. And, with the frequency rain falls in Ireland, I can understand why. It’s undeniable — the Irish do love a drink, and with the drink comes the “craic” (fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation).
Ireland’s penchant for both free-flowing booze and infinite “craic” means our cities and small towns are blessed with some of the liveliest, most fascinating, character-laden pubs on the planet. And I entered way too many of these alluring establishments in and around Dublin after coming out of a seven-year relationship in my late 20s.
The recession was kicking in, work at the newspaper wasn’t plentiful and I’d just painfully parted ways with a good woman — a recipe for disaster that would lead to an extended period of self-destruction. I would quaff wine with dinner followed by a feed of cans with my housemate about four nights a week. Such nights often included clubbing but always ended with my wobbling to bed.
After three years of this, I had moved on from my old relationship but my newspaper shifts were even thinner and I was supplementing my income with sporadic online poker wins and the dole. But all the while, as the recession’s grip grew tighter, I saved my pennies, so that on the day my severance arrived, after the paper finally squeezed me out, I had the funds to leave Ireland in search of stable employment.
My options? Australia was out (I’d already used up my visa), as was New Zealand (too far away). But Canada seemed a great alternative. I zeroed in on Toronto: Yes, it was cold, but it was closer to home, it had hot summers and, crucially, it didn’t have Vancouver’s Dublin-like rain.
I arrived at the tail end of winter and, fuelled by homesickness, drank heavily. During those shaky beginnings I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely local girl, Suzi, who would show me the city ropes. Eventually, she was my fiancée. We drank regularly in bars for a while, but soon Suzi tired of it and went on a serious health kick. I did not follow suit, opting instead to continue putting away 30+ units of alcohol a week (14 being, incidentally, the recommended maximum).
After a few months I had a new job at Toronto’s Metro newspaper and was regularly socialising with my workmates over drinks.
Applying the standard of Dublin, where any social situation is reason to get drunk and be merry, I’d get hammered while my Canadian colleagues all paced themselves around me.
This happened a lot and it frustrated the craic-loving side of me. As admirable as the Canadians’ polite, calm and humble way of life was, I did still yearn for the mayhem of a night out in Dublin.
Soon, however, Toronto’s wise approach to alcohol began slowly seeping into me. I gradually cut my drinking week back to two days and even curtailed my consumption on weekends.
Ontario’s government-run liquor stores also helped me to drink less. In Ireland I could fall out of the pub at 11pm or later and still buy booze to fuel a house party; here, I was out of luck by 7pm during the week and 9pm on the weekend.
The government is basically working to ensure that people are waking up with clear enough heads to keep things ticking. It’s smart, really.
Meanwhile, my fiancée’s ultra-healthy lifestyle and diet were rubbing off on me: I was exercising more and feeling better.
And then I went back to Ireland and all sense went out the window.
I returned to Dublin for nine days, drank eight of those days, got drunk on six and puked on two.
I returned to Canada a husk of a man. It took me a week to recover. It was then I saw the true difference between Ireland’s relationship to drink and Canada’s (binging vs pacing oneself) and, as a now-33-year-old man, I knew it was finally time to halt my partying ways.
So I challenged myself to a dry January, which I successfully completed.
If I hadn’t moved to Canada I can safely say I’d be drinking too much back in Ireland. So thanks, Canada, for helping me to rein in this tricky vice. I’ll occasionally drink to that.