Back in 1983 I was stood outside of a pub in Linthorpe in Middlesbrough talking to a guy who I knew from church. He was a former Middlesbrough footballer, long retired at that time, and we talked football, people we knew and other irrelevancies. As we stood and chatted a famous football name stumbled out of the pub, down a few steps and threw his arms round our shoulders. He called out our names, kissed me on the head, patted my friend on the back a few times and walked off down the street. He kept on stumbling and his ever present hat fell off. We watched him as he went. My friend turned to me and remarked on how such a wonderfully talented and fine person could end up like that. Going through my head as he was speaking was the thought “I’m going to stop drinking before I get that bad.”
It was many years before I realized that, for one thing I was already that bad and, for another, to be thinking that way in my mid twenties was pitiful.
I won’t bore you with the details of where my drinking or drug abuse took me but it including dealing on a small basis, violent arguments and rows with anyone who breathed wrongly in my presence, countless injuries to my face when I head butted the window sill as I paused to open the front door on my way home from the pub. I was known as the woman who could go minutes without a drink.
I was married to a man who almost drank himself to death and, whilst visiting my GP to talk about him and his pending death I was given a death sentence. It sounds very dramatic and it was. He didn’t say you’re going to party for two years and drop down dead of sheer delight with a smile on your face when he told me he guessed that, unless I cleaned up my act, I only had approximately two years to live. What he was saying that slowly but surely all my major organs would fail, my eyes would glow in the dark, I would shake and rattle desperate for a drink but my body would reject it. The thing I needed to cure me would be the thing that killed me. There is nothing rock and roll about a lifestyle when you wake up in a pool of piss and not know whether it’s yours or your unconscious husband. Life as an alcoholic is hard on the body, mind and soul.
I was running a pub at the time and I went home and wrote out my notice leaving five weeks later. I’d had a third of a bottle of scotch and a pint of beer that morning so stopping with that much alcohol already inside me wasn’t usually something I would even be able to consider – one drink led to another, to another, to another, to oblivion. I don’t know how I did it that morning but I had had my last drink at 11.15 am on 23 April 1991. I was scared and angry amongst other things. I had no idea what life was going to be without the one thing that made life worth living for and, potentially, dying because of. I could not imagine life without being close enough to touch alcohol anytime I needed to. I could not imagine what life would be like without alcohol in my life or even how it could go on.
I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I have the life I have now. I’m not able to work as I was diagnosed with a severe form of Bipolar Disorder that will never improve. It’s enabled me to look at myself and realize where and when I went wrong and take steps to prevent that from happening again. It’s enabled me to speak out about mental health and, particularly this year, about health, welfare and benefits. I’ve been able to train some call centre staff in mental health matters and their service to the public has improved as has their closeness as a team. I’ve done a huge amount of media interviews and written a couple of pieces for newspapers. I’ve recently wrote a blog piece about self-harm and as a result NICE are now using links to blogs as testimonies. Incredible things for a woman who was expected to die 18 years ago.
I bought a camera about three years ago and it turns out that once I got the hang of it I was rather good. It’s the one thing that fills me up when I’m spiritually bereft and never go anywhere without at least one camera with me. I started to write again and am publishing my novel online a chapter at a time. I write my blog and I enjoy it so much. I no longer have to hide my feelings if I chose not to.
Today my life is a success though some people would not look upon it as such as I’m quite poor and have few material things. For me the very fact that I’m alive 20 years later is a huge success. I’ve learned that not drinking isn’t about a lack of alcohol it’s about learning to be courageous and not being afraid to fail. Failure sober is a far better feeling than success whilst a drunk.
I had no idea what life without alcohol would be like but I could never have guessed it would be like this and now I have no idea what it would be like to have alcohol back in my life. No one could have told me about the gorgeousness and peacefulness of my life. They could not have told me that I could sit in a wood in the middle of nowhere and just be or walk the streets in London taking photos and smiling.
I’d like to think I will never drink again but I’m an alcoholic and that’s not a realistic statement. Instead I’ll state this – I’d rather die than drink again.