Celebrating alcoholism

I have been sober for 31 years today so to say that I’m celebrating alcoholism seems a bit odd. Being an alcoholic and knowing what drove me to the bottom of my particular gutter has given me insights into me and shaped me into the less than perfect person that I am.

There is no secret to why I drank because the reason I drank is the same as all alcoholics do; to change the way we feel about ourselves. I never felt good enough to be loved. I felt as though I was a tool for a series of people who used me to gain happiness for themselves and therefore I was unloveable; it was my fault.

I started drinking problematically at 16. I was engaged to a man two years older than me who was in the army. I’d planned to stay on at school and go on to teacher training (I realised later that I was being steered into fulfilling someone else’s fantasy future) but I was cleverer than he was and I found myself working in the local lemonade factory while he was away training. Middlesbrough wasn’t a town that had much to entertain teenagers in the 70s. Weekends were a visit to the pictures and the pub afterwards. My friends would sit with half of warm lager all night and I would down Blue Niles (whisky, lime cordial and lemonade) like they were about to become unfashionable.

There began the pattern of my life. A string of failed relationships, lousy jobs and drinking with a succession of friends until I began to work behind bars.

I had a reputation in Middlesbrough for being difficult to handle when I was in my cups and got away with behaviour in pubs that other people wouldn’t. I wasn’t violent, I wasn’t physical I just had that dangerous air of ’not quite sure’ about me. Largely because I wasn’t quite sure about myself I guess.

I eventually got married and escaped Middlesbrough. The marriage was doomed before we met but he was a way to leave my home town and he cloaked my drinking. No matter how bad I was he was worse. I was unpredictable but I was the unpredictable arsehole that could get him home.

About a year after moving to Bristol I realised that I’d got to the point were I could no longer take a break from drinking and that scared me. Not enough to make me stop drinking but it scared me all the same.

Fast forward to 1991 and we were running a pub. Dave was almost constantly hallucinating by then, his physical health was non-existent and so it was no surprise to anybody when he started vomiting blood in the waiting room at the doctors surgery one morning. I was sent to the hospital to say my goodbyes which were short and not very sweet.

I handed our notice in at the pub, threw away eight years of accumulated rubbish and began to look for somewhere else to live while drinking my way through the profits.

Then it happened.

On 23 April 1991 my GP called me over to see him for a chat. I’d had my usual whisky breakfast that morning so had a half of shandy so he wouldn’t know I’d been drinking. (Yes, really.) Even before I sat down he told me that unless I did something about my lifestyle that two years down the line I’d be where Dave was. In a hospital bed, blood coming from every orifice and nobody by his side. I wasn’t going to party and drop down dead happy, I was going to suffer in agony as the alcohol refused to work its magic and then die unloved, unwanted and a waste of a hospital bed.

I haven’t drank alcohol since. There are times, some very recently, when I have wanted that cold beer on an afternoon, something nice and sparkly with a bowl of nibbles or a really nice vintage Barolo. The thing is, alcohol was my lover and, when bad relationships end, it’s easy to remember the hazy good bits and not the reality of despair and degradation.

I found my elderly neighbour dead in his flat last week. His daughter in law asked me to go in with her when he hadn’t been seen for a few days. Another person who lives close by is waiting for the jury’s decision in the trial of the murder of her son, a young man who I’ve known since he was a child. A friend is going through a really hard time and I’m her surrogate Nan, another calls me his Aunty Sid.

All of these things and none of those things have made me want to visit my long lost lover of late. You see, the reality is this, if I drank something alcoholic today it’s because I wanted to and I was just using anything as an excuse to do it.

I no longer feel not good enough to be loved, I accept that sometimes other people ask me to help because I’m loved, I’m reliable, I’m ME.

I’m a crazy, cranky old crack pot but I am me and I’m grateful that alcoholism has given me the opportunity to see this.

The Pearl

I went into the cafe that helps homeless people on my local High Street today to say hello. It’s run by a team of Christians and they evangelise from time to time on the street.

I haven’t been in for a few weeks and so it was a good opportunity to catch up with people. One of them, Billy,  was somebody I’d never met before and he had a little story to tell.

Billy told us that he’d recently learned how pearls are formed within oysters. He told us that when an oyster is irritated by a grain of sand or something similar it begins to cover it over layer by layer forming a pearl as it goes. It covers the irritant and makes itself less irritated.

Billy thinks that Jesus sends irritating people your way so that you can learn to change from being irritated to being beautiful. He also thinks that when you die you have become almost perfect and will live forever with Jesus.

Irritating people make me laugh at and I feel sorry for them. They don’t make me less irritable or place a pearl of great beauty in my soul.

Perhaps I’m not as holy as Billy or perhaps I’m just more rooted in realism.

“Friends”

Two of my friendships have ended during the pandemic. 

The first was at the start of the first lockdown and the second in recent days. Neither person seemed to have realised the the relationship was over until they pushed too much and I pushed back with a strength that they didn’t know I had.

I think it is no coincidence that both are conspiracy theorists and bullies. When you believe blindly in something you tend to be unsubtle in all your communications; Emotional Intelligence measures zero.

One is convinced that she can cure cancer by positive thinking and that it is caused by stress while the other is convinced that there is a worldwide network of famous people who are paedophiles and practice satanic rituals with the children that they traffic.

I have been addressed stridently in my home by both of them because I disagree with them and, let’s face it, any person capable of reasoned thinking would disagree with them also.

Both are emotionally abusive with their partners. Whatever these men do it is not good enough and never will be. One meekly accepts what is said and the other is beginning to kick back. I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that both men use drugs in more than a recreational way.

Of course I am to blame for both friendships ending and neither women understand why. Neither have notice that I’ve ghosted them on social media either. Big egos eh?

K has declared that she forgives me for my “little ways” – she forgives me for being me.

Recently K has said that she thinks I’m being less than understanding about her mental health as she’s currently living apart from her partner. She has no understanding or willingness to try to understand how it has been for me to live with severe Bipolar Disorder since I was in my early teens (I was diagnosable at 16 and it is thought that I had been ill since I was 13). I have been suicidal and I have attempted suicide. At times I have had my pills given to me by my GP on an almost daily basis to lessen the chance of an overdose and had police officers I have worked alongside within communities take sharp knives from my kitchen so that I can’t self harm. Just because I refuse to indulge the fantasy that her experience is comparable to me doesn’t mean that I lack compassion as is her accusation but that I think temper tantrums pale into insignificance.

Friends? Yeah.

Anxious about anxiety

I have regular check in appointments with my GP. Every four to six weeks we talk on the phone and I tell him how anxious I am and he tells me that I appear to be coping better than I am. He is right of course except since I last spoken to him things have changed.

I was unnerved by the potential COVID pandemic right from the start. I would walk to the local shops chanting within myself,”This virus will not get me, I refuse to die from it.” I didn’t realise that by that time I’d almost certainly had it and survived but even now that anxiety doesn’t subside.

Over the course of the pandemic I’ve been increasingly fearful. I watched waves reach stupidly high peaks, one person I know has died and his wife has suffered health problems because of his death.

There are people I feel secure being with and places that I also feel safe being but there are far more than I don’t. I’m not sure that I want to start hugging people next week though no doubt I will. I don’t want to go back to the old “normal” I want to have a different normal even though my life could never have been described as thus.

I want to go to London but the stupid people who want to demonstrate about their liberty being stolen from then scare me witless. There are friends and family I want to see but I can’t see it happening soon.

I’m afraid of going into one of my local shops where I bought a magazine every week because it’s a long and narrow shop with no room for manoeuvre. If I can’t manage to use a shop like that then what chance have I of travelling for reasonably long periods of time in an enclosed space. And the tube – forget it!

So this year I’m staying at home or at least within the city. I’ll start with short journeys to nearby towns to build up some confidence. I’m going to go to Bath even though I can’t stand the place because it’s a 12 minute journey on the same train that takes me to London and that will give me a realistic idea of how safe it is.

My mantra has changed from refusing to catch and die from the virus to refusing to let it kill my life and part of my mind. Onwards I go one way or another.

The art of kindness

I had a nightmare recently in which a group of Christians were expressing their “kindness” towards me. They walked into my flat without invitation, caused a flood, brought my inadequacies to my attention and then left leaving me to clear up their mess.

Their interpretation of kindness didn’t match my needs. They stripped me of my coping mechanisms and replaced them with “better” ones. This kind of false, if well-intentioned goodness, endows a sense of unworthiness.

Twitter “kindness porn” is prominent at the moment. 

People with “Be Kind” in their bio aren’t always the kindest people. One “blue tick” is telling people to be kind and increasing his follower numbers. Oddly enough he’s got a book out at the moment.

As the hackles are rising on your back I will make this bold statement: only people who are on the receiving end of a gesture get to say if it’s kind or not.

A random act of kindness is something that happens to you not something that you perform.

As often as I can I make donations to my local food bank and cafe for homeless people. I do this because I’ve spent time on the poverty line when there were no food banks and have spent a lot of time in my adult life in insecure accommodation. I give because I want to express my gratitude for the life I have now and perhaps ease the way for someone who needs a bit of a helping hand. If my actions are perceived as kind then I can’t help but be happy about that.

Kindness is important but it’s not the giver who decides on what is or what is not kindness, it’s the recipient.