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Is there anybody out there?

Like a religious hermit, or a post apocalyptic survivor, I have emerged from my self-enforced isolation (from fizzy drinks) blinking and full of mixed emotions. Sunday night marked the end of a successful 28 day challenge to drink no carbonated beverages. Not one drop. The focus was on avoiding cola, as my drink of choice for most of my life after I got to the point of regularly drinking one to two 2l bottles a day. Hey, even with deals like 3 for £3, that gets expensive.

I also wanted to take the chance to explore some issues about addiction generally. Things which affect smokers, alcoholics, gamblers, obsessive eaters.  I tried to use a trivial challenge to open up a discussion on some very serious issues which have probably touched everybody – through personal problems to knowing people who have had and continue to battle with these issues daily.

During the four weeks we learned how hard it was to avoid reminders of our addictions in everything we do. You can’t simply walk away from the problem. I was bombarded by imagery for Coca-Cola on the first day of the challenge. Imagine how it is for a gambler to see all these advertisements for football betting making it look fun and sociable. Or the booze culture in Britain where people often look at you sideways when you say your teetotal. To this day my ex-classmates repeatedly pledge to get me drinking. They see not drinking alcohol as odd. Why drink if you can have a fun time without alcohol? And as for smoking, well that might be the one exception. As a combination of government and health initiatives have risen the price of smokes dramatically in recent years, banned advertising and required special licenses to sell them. Still however, for those generations who took up smoking when it was the ‘cool’ thing to do, quitting is a very difficult business. My mother regularly cites the fact that my dad won’t give up smoking so she never will be able to. Seeing, and smelling my Dad smoking would just be too much of a temptation.

—– The following was written at a later date:

Due to a build up of work and technical problems with my computer I have been unable to finish off this blog post. I thought I would still post it however and give a round up of where I am at with my coke habits. That sounds wrong doesn’t it? Anyway, I am back drinking the bubbly stuff. However my consumption rate is a lot less than before. I’m averaging two 2l bottles a week. compared to 1 2l bottle a day before the challenge. I would also suggest that my appreciation of the drink has waned as well. I now drink a lot of diluted juice drinks (still water based) specifically for the strong flavours and find Coke no longer to be as nice to drink. Yet just like the alcoholic when things get tough, when I have a deadline to meet, the drink I go for is Cola. As a behaviour experiment I think #xcoke28 has been a worthwhile venture and I hope it has given pause for thought.

The Vysocina Diaries should resume normal service in the next couple of days as I am caught up on work now and my new netbook is functioning just lovely. Until next time, Ciao!

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“Just because they are alcoholics Robin,

doesn’t mean they’re not human.”

That line, somewhat paraphrased is from the campy original Batman television series. You know the one with all the dancing, colour, ka-pows and general hint of drugs gone wild in the creative department. It’s a good line which removed from its context stands up ever truer. We often think of people with addictions as being somehow different. He’s not your buddy from college, he’s the alcoholic from college. We tend to describe people by their addictions creating a subtle division between us and them. It is a classic form of Orientalism once used to distinguish the civilized people from the savage people. Now that’s just not kosher, so instead we make divisions within our own societies. First it was class, but again, that’s not acceptable anymore unless you’re a Labour supporter. So we have all these weaknesses that we pick up on instead. When the simple truth is that we are all capable of forming an unhealthy addiction or obsession with something, or someone. So the next time you dismiss that degenerate gambler, consider whether you could give up the lottery or your scratch cards cold turkey and never go back. Hmm?

I’m halfway through this dastardly challenge and have avoided drinking Coca-Cola or any fizzy drinks for more than fourteen days. Quite an achievement for me considering how long Diet Coke was my only drink. And I have been tempted, sorely tempted. In that first week I was willing to have crafty cans at the school I teach at, or replace bottles of coke in the house after drinking them whilst my fiancé was out. However I kept my composure and have in saintly fashion passed out half of the month.

This last week I came to learn another lesson about addiction and the struggle to get it under control. This was a lesson about boredom. So often we read about kids and adults saying they took up drink or hard drugs because of boredom. We’ve scoffed at it. You took them up because your stupid and weak and easily peer pressured. With all the evidence of the damage that they do, nobody in their right mind should take them up. Yet they do, and we do with our own socially accepted addictions. The issue of boredom interested me this week as for the first time under the challenge I had a couple of days free instead of working in the museums. These days without a doubt have to be the hardest of the challenge so far. I had nothing to do, or more rightly felt like doing nothing (I could have you know done a blog, worked on my novella, played the guitar, done the ironing?) and was getting wound up by the fact that I couldn’t get a refreshing glass of coke when it was staring at me across the kitchen. When I’m working, and I come home tired, I neither have the mood nor inclination to get a drink and the challenge is easy. When I have a lot of free time on my hands, I start to think more about it and frustrate myself. This must be the single most dangerous issue that follows recovering addicts around like a second shadow. Giving up alcohol or drugs whilst kept busy (they don’t sit around doing nothing at rehab centers, they have activities to keep busy) is one thing, but when we are left to our own devices – isolated with our thoughts, then we are prone to doing the worst things. And for an alcoholic or drug addict – another fix is unquestionably the worst thing they can do. Buying that blue movie on satellite television is alright in comparison (unless your addiction is pornography, in which case this passage is a case of foot-in-mouth). Keep busy, help keep your friends busy. Maybe with time it gets easier to face the boredom. I don’t know and this challenge doesn’t cover a long enough time period.

Two weeks left. Going to be a breeze?

Whilst this challenge is trivial it allows a reflective comparison of some real issues. If you have any thoughts on addiction generally, or words of encouragement for me please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

My poisons of choice now, H20 and OJ

A quarter of the way through and I’m feeling like a real big man.

If you have just stopped by the first time let me first welcome you and explain that you have stumbled upon my self-imposed challenge of avoiding my beloved Diet Coca-Cola for the entire month of February. No small feat considering it is primarily the only drink I’ve drunk for the last 20 years. Then again, I’m not exactly giving up alcohol or hard drugs so perhaps any triumphalism should be rather muted. I hope this challenge will prove that will power is effective when applied purposefully and perhaps discover whether my health will improve without the caffeine and carbon dioxide of carbonated drinks.

So I have survived my first week of the challenge and find myself looking ahead to the next week a bit more relaxed and comfortable than I was when this started. Though believe me, I am giving every calendar the evil eye. I am going to so thoroughly enjoy having that first glass of coke in 21 days time.

It hasn’t been all easy this week. The amount of opportunities and places where I could get a sneaky can or bottle of coke are mind-boggling. My fiancé and parents have encouraged me and bought in a dozen cartons of orange juice (though I’m drinking mostly water with a touch of orange as too much orange leaves me feeling bloated).  That first day on the way to the school I teach history at seemed like I was being blatantly teased by the gods. A Coca-Cola truck drove under the footbridge I crossed, the Tesco Petrol Station was advertising its coke offers and students had red Coca-Cola gym bags! I was tempted to pop in to Tesco and buy a bottle to drink in the school’s staff room. However something steeled me and I walked on by. The next day I was left home alone with three 2 litre bottles of Diet Coke and I pondered how I could drink a bottle and buy a replacement from the corner shop before anyone noticed. Instead I drank a carton of orange juice. Fast. And suffered for it. On the Wednesday, I was going positively stir crazy and told my colleagues what I was doing (much to their bemusement). One colleague said I could probably get sick leave from the council to deal with my coke issues. I bought a bacon and sausage butty for lunch and felt shortchanged by the lack of Diet Coke. And it hit me;

This doesn’t affect just me. Think of the small shops and cafe’s I usually frequent, missing out on the variable 90p-£1.20 price of a bottle of my refreshing liquid lift.

Then I was informed that my parents were getting divorced.

Dont worry, I didn’t touch the Coke. I stayed strong and passed out the week with each day seeming a little better. Headaches probably from lack of caffeine or dehydration are just about gone and I feel able to walk up to the fizzy bottle in the kitchen, even touch it, and know I won’t drink a drop. So far, so good.

Did you know Coca-Cola advertise their drinks in the US as being healthy energy boosts? In a clear example of a marketing strategy to cut off people thinking of taking on more fruity still waters or energy drinks they have labelled their boxes and bottles with messages informing the prospective purchaser that Coca-Cola can hydrate you – its made of water you know! And that its caffeine kick can compare with other energy drinks. So buy me now! Almost as odd as McDonald’s re-branding itself green and healthy. Every time I ever drank coca-cola and did sports I’d blow up. Not my first choice for rehydration then, just for enjoyment.

I guess this week I have looked inside the mind of the alcoholic and gambler, seen how easy it is for an addict to find ways of continuing to get their fix without those whose opinion they care about learning of it.

If you are giving something up and want help, or want questions answered to better understand a friend who is fighting an addiction the following charities give free information and/or counselling;

In the UK – Talk to FRANK for Drink/Drugs and for gambling theres Gamblers Anonymous.

If you are abroad and know the website address for your help agencies please post them in the comments along with the country it works in. Until next week, you can follow my progress at #xcoke28 on twitter and share your own struggles trivial and serious.

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