This is my last post on giving things up. For now, I give up.
If I were to pinpoint a time when the person I am now was made, it would be the transition between high school and college, between O-levels and A-levels, between 16 and 17. Deliberately reinventing yourself is, as far as I can see, pretty hard. Consequently I only did it once.
I left school a pasty-faced swot, who had secretly and determinedly rebelled against classroom orthodoxy by refusing to wear his tie with top button undone like all the other kids. They never realised! In your face other kids!
The Smiths, The Fall and Joy Division were already in my life and by the time I was a couple of months into college I had spiky hair, a reclaimed dinner jacket and a sense that I could put stuff like that together and make a new facade, behind which I could become a new person. Let’s be clear, this was no bold striking out for new territory. I’m not even sure I knew it was happening, but happen it did. Nowadays, some 25 years later, I may look more like the 16 year-old swot than the 17-year old punk, but inside I’m still that black-clad weirdo.
Part of this transition, not at all pegged to it but just happening at the same time, had me giving up eating meat, giving up drinking and making some sort of decision never to smoke or try drugs. Whilst vegetarianism was a conscious choice, the others were more instinctive. As a result I was essentially straight edge for 20 years, although I never self-identified as such (hey, I had paracetamol when I had a headache and coffee all the time. SELL OUT!).
I wonder now, looking back through the Giving Up prism, whether the die was cast back then. Ever since that time I have, to some significant extent, defined my sense of who I am by the things I don’t rather than the things I do.
I wanted to write this series of posts to describe the process and experience of giving up specific things I had previously enjoyed.
I wanted to tell you that football might seem important but if you decide it’s meaningless, it pretty soon becomes meaningless.
I wanted to get some stuff off my chest about the way Twitter had started to become toxic to me, and how it felt to remove myself from the global conversation.
I wanted to explain how strange it was to discover that it’s relatively easy to just not eat for extended periods of time and to rebalance your relationship with food.
I specifically didn’t want to write about myself as I didn’t want to bore people and public self-absorption is never less than self-indulgent and tedious, but along the way I’ve started to wonder about that ‘personality disorder’ comment. I’m still wondering.
Am I a refusenik? A curmudgeon? Am I winding down, working my way into nothing, disappearing into thin air? Or just another slow-burning mid-life crisis without the balls to do something truly spectacular?
I think I’m all of these things to come extent. More than these though I think I may just be all-or-nothing, subconsciously aware that I need to do things with complete devotion, or not at all.
That explanation covers both my competitiveness, which I guess can be unhealthy in some circumstances, and also the creeping suspicion that I may be a latent addict, ready to throw myself wholeheartedly into anything I commit to.
When I chose not to drink or take drugs, I was consciously rejecting the temporary loss of control which most users are seeking and of which I was terrified. I think it’s likely that at the same time I was subconsciously rejecting the complete subjugation which could follow. I didn’t know it then but it turns out I’m not a dabbler. In which case, choosing to avoid drink and drugs probably saved my life.
Still, I’m left approaching my mid-forties with a long list of things I don’t do. Nay-saying may be a necessary survival strategy but it inevitably leads to absence rather than presence. What did you do with your life Rob? Nothing!
Time to start, maybe? Maybe not?