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.