I remember many years ago, when I was in my very early twenties, I standing outside a pub in Middlesbrough chatting to Jimmy Hartnett about this and that as we did when we bumped into one another when we heard laughter and a boisterous shout before we were swept up in a crushing hug by Malcolm Allison for a minute or so before he weaved down the pavement waving at people as he went.
I can see Jimmy’s face as he turned to me and said, “It’s such a shame he’s like that, he’s such a wonderful man.” I can still hear the thought passing through my brain that vowed I would give up drinking long before I got to that point. I was there a few years later except that Malcolm was a lovely man and I was a savage drunk.
I’m not exactly Miss Sweetness And Light at the best of times. I don’t set out to snap and snarl but you people just aren’t psychic enough to read the signals that scream at you to go away. Drinking irritated my brain to the point that I wanted to pull it out and give it a good scratch. The irritation in my brain was verbalised and, in later years, I lashed out physically at people. I was that person who people were nice to because it wasn’t worth even trying to cross my path. I had a tongue so sharp that I could bite your head off and you wouldn’t know it was missing until you tried to shake it in disbelief.
My star sign was Bass the Brewer and by the time I was in my extremely early 30s I was a complete mess. I had never been exactly on the fat side (though you would never know it now). I was painfully thin and was described by my GP as ‘anorectic’. I was bloody ill, I knew it but I felt as though I couldn’t do anything about it and one visit to AA had me convinced that I couldn’t handle those Holy Joes, none of them even drank FFS.
Anyway there I was drinking half a bottle of whisky a day (My best friends were Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker), I was smoking 40 fags a day and could quite easily get through half a weight a week if I really put my mind to it. I took pills to keep me awake, pills to get me to sleep, pills to stop me shaking and all of them, combined with the booze, a potentially fatal cocktail. Somebody up there likes me enough not to let me die.
My (now ex) husband was dying as a direct result of his alcoholism and when our GP called me in to see him at 11.30 on 23 April 1991 I presumed it was to talk about him. I’d had one or several liveners that morning so I had a bitter shandy so he wouldn’t be able to smell the booze on my breath. I was shocked when his first words were, “I don’t give a fuck about your husband but if you don’t do something about the way you drink you’ve got about two years to live.” I knew that he wasn’t telling me I’d have a two year long party then drop dead out of happiness whilst on a binge, he was telling me I’d have an increasingly painful life as I lost my life against a vicious element that possessed me and held me to ransom constantly. Purple prose you may think but this is how it was.
I went home that day, to the pub I was managing, wrote out my notice and I haven’t drank since the chat with the doctor. People say there are no magic words that will make you stop drinking but for me the words he spoke were magic.
I had no idea of what sobriety would be like. I started drinking when I was 14 to, as all addicts and alcoholics do, to change the way I felt about myself. I didn’t like myself and so I turned myself into a monster. Being that monster kept people at a distance because if people can’t love you then you can’t love them back and that way nobody gets hurt. In theory.
I’ve changed a lot. I don’t get into many fights these days but I’m still a mouthy cow with opinions that are far too strong at times. I like myself these days and understand that if I don’t like myself then I change until I do – there are no problems that can be solved with a bottle of spirits. I love these days – I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve broken hearts and, along the way, I’ve had a lot of very good sex.
I’m sitting here now in my untidy flat (though very clean posh kitchen) listening to music on a tablet. I would have stolen that tablet from someone when I was drinking and sold it when I need money to keep on drinking. I’ve eaten today and I’m no longer dangerously underweight but I’m fatter than I’d like to be.
It’s on this day every year I count my blessings and there are more every year. I love more people each year but still retain my sense of privacy. I’m working on that temper of mine (which is a blessing for everybody, believe me) and I try to be kind and do a kindness for somebody every day.
I think about Jimmy Hartnett and Malcolm Allison every year. Jimmy’s generous heart and the way he didn’t know he’d made me question my own drinking habits and, that ten or so years later, I’d gain sobriety. I wish Malcolm was still here and I wish that I could share this with him and give him a hug, just because – you know.
Lots of people get sober for a few months or a few years. Fewer people make it to five years and even fewer to 10 years. People 26 years sober don’t come along that often and people with who have bipolar disorder and have managed 26 years of sobriety barely exist at all. I am lucky. I am blessed. I am content.
My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…