My name’s Sid and I’m an alcoholic…

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…

The first 90 days, a murmuration of starlings and hashtag mania

The 90 days refers to the first 90 days of sobriety. They’re hard and anybody that tells you otherwise is fooling themselves and lying to you. Sobriety is hard work however long it is since you had a drink and the temptation to drink a glass of death is always far too close for comfort.

A few glimpses at the blog of somebody recently sober has underlined for me how seriously I took myself when I first got sober and what a pain in the arse it was for the people around me. Everybody I’ve ever spoken to who has went through more than two years of sobriety has been the same – we are earnest beyond belief!

The person whose blog I’ve glimpsed at has some quotes from partners of alcoholics and I want to shout at them to stop doing it. This kind of behaviour points a big arrow at your head that says in big letters, “I’m getting sober for somebody else.” I’ve tried to get sober for somebody else and I lasted a very short time (about eight hours). If you’re going to get sober then do it for you. Doing this kind of thing to make amends is doing it all arse backwards. Whether you’re following a 12-step program or not the making amends bit is way down the line because you have to understand a bit about you and the way you drank before you can understand how you fucked up somebody else’s life.

There is a rule around the rooms (which is the way AA members refer to meetings) that you shouldn’t share your story until you’ve been 90 days sober and that for the first weeks at least you shouldn’t really be opening your mouth at a meeting very much at all. The reasoning is that all you can talk about is your drinking and how it affected you and your family and friends and not about sobriety. Listening to people share about their sobriety gives you the tools to shape your own. As Zeno was supposed to have said, the Gods gave us one mouth and two ears to indicate that we should listen more than we speak.

All the above is my opinion of course but I know a good many long term alcoholics in recovery who will agree with me all the way.


So what are the starlings all about? As I was waiting for Ogden to finish his staring at squirrels and cat morning routine before he allowed me to pick up yesterday’s food in a black bag I stood on the little hill in the Bark Park. As I did 30 or 40 starlings flew over my head and they were so close I could see the pattern of their feathers on their breast and the light of the sky through their wings.

The hashtags – well that’s something that annoys me no end. You look at a photo on Instagram and they have millions of hashtags screaming “notice me, I’m a wonderful photographer and you have to notice me” and that makes me want to kill. It’s like that toddler having a tantrum in the supermarket. If you want to finish your shopping you’ve got to try and cut out their noise and it never quite works. So less of the hashtags, if you’re that wonderful people will notice anyway. I had a photo published six weeks after I got my first camera and there’s been quite a few others since and none of them have had tags that scream in your face. Yes I am aware that there’s tags at the bottom of his page but they’re bloody easy to ignore – it can be done!

Oh yes, another thing, don’t buy Marks & Spencer low fat lasagne because they use too much oregano and all you can taste is pencil shavings.


My name’s Cecilia, I’m an alcoholic & today I’ve been sober for 25 years

I remember one night in 1991 going to play darts with the girls from the Spring Gardens over to a pub in St George. We were in two cars and I was stuck in the back of one of them with the landlady of the Spring Gardens and somebody I can’t remember. I do remember there being some joking going on and her seeming to shout out that I wouldn’t be in a hurry to get to the pub because I could go minutes without a drink. I had a half bottle of vodka in my bag and I was desperate to get to that pub just to get into the loo and take a swig of it. I knew I’d order a bitter lemon or a coke or something so I could carry on the everlasting story of having a bladder infection to explain the frequent trips to unsavoury toilets. I fooled nobody of course, not even myself, but the compulsion to lie about the amount that I drank was nearly as great as the compulsion to drink.

I didn’t start out like that. I wasn’t always 32 and I wasn’t always an alcoholic but I always had a reputation as a drinker and a nasty one at that. I’d like to think I was nasty only when I was in my cups but alcohol has a tendency to magnify the personality traits that are already there. I can be spiteful these days but I try not to be nasty but sometimes I am and these days I own up to it if only to myself.

I don’t think that my parents thought for a second when they gave their youngest daughter a much watered down Dubonnet & bitter lemon as a Christmas Eve treat when I was six that they were unleashing an alcoholic – I downed it in one & knew that the second one made with blackcurrant juice was different. I never sipped alcohol because the faster I drank the more I got to drink.

There isn’t an alcoholic alive (or dead) who drank for any other reason than to change the way they feel about themselves. It’s a bizarre mechanism that protects us from ourselves and destroys us in the process. I won’t go into the details of why I drank so enthusiastically because they don’t count but I threw myself into it like it was my destiny. Perhaps it was.

I never really hid my drinking and there was more than one person commented on how much I drank before I got out of my teens but I tended to hide amongst those that drank more than me – where better to hide an alcoholic than in a horde of heavy drinkers? I think I married my ex husband because he was brilliant to hide behind but I became his patsy and assumed a responsibility for him that wasn’t mine. It really backfired on me when I was assessed for treatment at the same centre as he’d been through – the staff were very good at comparing us to the point that I was declared not at risk less than six months after I’d been told the get my act together or I’d be dead before I was 35.
I’m glad now that I didn’t go down the route of the treatment centre as peer “support” (as I saw in AA and other similar groups) is often more about telling people where they went wrong, how bad they are and then telling them off when they resort to drinking to cope with the way they feel.

I stopped drinking because the day a doctor told me I may not see 35 a light went on in my head and, to put it mildly, it scared the shit out of me. I wanted to give up and wanted to stay stopped but I was also aware that it was almost impossible to stay stopped. Pop into any open meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and see how many people are under a year sober and how many, if any, are over 10 years sober. Addiction of any kind isn’t about choosing to use the chosen substance or stopping using the chosen substance it’s very hard work. There are times over the past 25 years when all I’ve wanted was a bottle of Jack Daniels (he was my best friend you see) and a very long straw and there are times when I’ve walked up and down the booze aisle pretending I wasn’t seriously considering picking up a bottle with a degree on nonchalance and getting pissed as a fart. Had I actually touched a bottle then I would have bought it. It’s simple to stop but it’s hard to stay stopped and staying stopped does not get easier but you do learn a few coping mechanisms along the way.

People kept telling me that I’d get my life back once I got sober and I was really an emotionally stunted wreck who hadn’t had much of a life to begin with. When your life is ruled by booze then you tend to neglect life. I’d enjoyed being a beekeeper and I’d loved being a life model but neither a great achievements – anybody can don a white suit & veil and work with bees just as anybody can strip off and sit still. Really, I’d achieved nothing of note.

Since then I’ve made up for it. I’ve done some really good community work around the theme of anti-social behaviour (ASB) and, being a self-made expert I know what I’m talking about, I’ve worked with a former Arsenal player turned fire fighter coaching kids (football of course) and reducing ASB in the park where we played by 50% and I’ve been the troubleshooter on a street refurbishment (including resurfacing the road!).

I’ve taken up photography and had my photos used in books, I’ve learned that I’m not responsible for the world but I think I am and I’m learning to let go of the things that I really can’t do anything about though cyclists on pavements is hard to let go of. *shakes fist at cyclists on pavements*

I’ve challenged the way NICE have traditionally gathered testimonies for presentation at committees and now blog posts are allowed as long as they contain all the information needed. I’ve spoken to countless medical students over the years and spoken at schools and youth groups.

I’m not perfect. I’m a ratty, irrational ex drunk with a fondness for swearing far too much and being far too crude. I don’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, I really don’t like people much some days. I do like social media and everybody thinks I’m nice because I bite my virtual tongue a lot but the person that was the nasty drunk has her roots in the me of today.

Drinking doesn’t change our characters and stopping drinking doesn’t make us angels and I think that’s the lesson that’s the hardest to learn. We alcoholics drink to change the way we feel about ourselves and so, to be in with a chance of lasting sobriety, we have to accept that we’re flawed, scared and hopeless at times and that’s more than okay. Saying we’re fine doesn’t have to mean fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and emotional it can mean that you really are very well indeed.

On being confronted with the past me

Cecilia 19860001

This is a photo of me in the summer of 1986. I was 27 coming up to 28 in the photo and I’m stood on Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. I’d moved there with my husband in May that year and I really love the city. It’s was a different one than the one it is today – less pretentious and more honest.

I was a heavy drinker then but could always stop when I wanted to or needed to and never really saw my drinking as much of a problem though, with hindsight, it was.

Cecilia 1989

This is me in 1989, almost three years after the photo above was taken. I was 30 going on 31 and felt like a hundred years old. I had gone from being a heavy drinker to a full blown alcoholic. Two years after this photo was taken my (now former) husband almost died as a result of his drinking and I was told if I didn’t smarten up my act I had two years to live.

What struck me so much was how I changed physically. I’d went from a healthy sized woman with a happy face and relaxed demeanour to a thin, old woman in a matter of three years.

Twenty four years have passed since those photos were taken and seeing them today has reminded me of how much I don’t want to be the woman in the second photo and exactly how much I have to lose. I’m not talking hard assets but of love and respect but by others and of myself. Sometimes it’s good to look back as long as we don’t stare too hard.

On celebrating 24 years without booze…

It would be odd if it went without notice that today was St George’s day or Shakespeare’s birthday (and his death day if you want to be picky) but for me it’s the day I celebrate how long it is since I stopped drinking and today it’s 24 years. For someone who didn’t think that they could ever manage 24 hours without a drink it’s pretty good.

Each year I look back on the day that I stopped drinking and marvel at the fact that even though people say that there are no magic words that can make you stop drinking the words that stopped me in my tracks felt like a magic spell.

In April 1991 my former husband was in hospital as a result of his alcoholism and he was not expected to live. Even if he beat the odds he was expected to be so badly brain damaged that his life would be worthless as it was believed he had a wet brain as well as pancreatitis and only 25% of his liver was still working which meant that his liver was a hardened lump with a little softness in the centre.

I went to see him most days and his drug induced coma reminded me so much of how I was not that far from ending up like him but, to quote a song, I was tired of living but scared to die. It’s a heartbreaking place to inhabit and one that none addicts, whatever the drug, cannot possibly understand.

While he was in hospital and I was working out the notice on the pub I was running while he lurched around drunkenly from the moment he woke until the moment he collapsed into unconsciousness I was making several visits a week to our local GP. I thought I was going so that he could keep up with Dave’s progress but the words he said to me during the visit I made on the 23rd of April that year really shocked me.

I had know for about six years that I was an alcoholic. I’d always drank a lot and could drink at least two drinks in the time it took most people to get two thirds down the way of one but I’d always been able to stop when I wanted to and I was always aware that I drank excessively even if I denied it when I was challenged.

Around 1985 I discovered that I could no longer stop when I wanted to and, even though my preferred drink was whisky of any kind (though I chose to drink expensive brands so that I didn’t look like an alcoholic), I often drank vodka because I mistakenly believed that it didn’t smell on my breath.

The morning of the 23rd April 1191 was a stressful one (but then they always were) and by 11.00 am I’d already had three large glasses of scotch to get me going. I was due to see my GP at 11.30 that morning and had a glass of shandy to cover up the smell of the scotch. I didn’t fool him and he burst out in the middle of the consultation that he didn’t really give a fuck about Dave but if I didn’t do anything about my drinking then I had about two years to live.

In the space of about a second I saw my downward path and I knew that he wasn’t saying I’d party well for two years and die with a smile on my face but that I’d gradually degenerate until it was too painful to stay alive. Given my history of depression (a diagnosis of bipolar disorder was still three years into the future) then it was highly likely that I’d kill myself before I got to that stage. I went home and I never drank again. It was difficult in the early weeks as I was still running the pub but I got through that and moved house. I had a stack of blood tests to check what, if any, damage I’d done to my major organs and got the all clear.

I had a rough couple of years being sober and only grudginly gave in and went to AA because I needed peer support. I hated AA because of the God aspect (I don’t think a belief in God is necessary in finding recovery) and because I was always being told that if I didn’t stick around AA I would never become truly sober and, to my mind, that encourages people to swap one dependency for another.

I went through a sticky period during a 13 year relationship with a man I met through AA. It started off well but it soon became obvious that he was very much a mummy’s boy and the only thing he really had going for him was that he had a Harley Davidson Sportster which he later swapped for a FatBoy. I miss those bikes though I’ve never missed him. It was a destructive relationship and he clung to me so tightly and obsessively that it took me nine years to get out of the relationship. He really wanted a stand in for when his mother finally died and I wanted a fun person who was keen on living life to the full and whose idea of a night out wasn’t a diet coke and a doughnut while sat in the car park of the local McDonalds. For the last couple of years of that relationship I knew that I had to get out of it no matter how difficult it was because I was wanting to drink more and more.

I did get out of it and because I had so much time on my hands I began to do things that he would never do or told me that I wasn’t capable of doing. I bought a camera and I’m quite good at it, I started to go to London regularly to take photos and to wander around the streets and I made contact with an old friend who has become one of the attorneys named in my Lasting Power of Attorney. I can’t work any more but I don’t feel useless about it in the way he made me feel useless just for being alive. I think he was projecting his feelings on to me.

Today life is very different from the day I stopped drinking. I couldn’t imagine what sobriety would be like and I never imagined that I’d have the life I have now. I’ve been diagnosed with an extreme case of bipolar disorder and my consultant used to tell his students that they would never encounter a patient with the same picture as I presented. I have to be different. Coming to terms with stopping work forever at the age of 42 was difficult and it took me a long time but I’ve grown because of that acceptance.

I’ve done lots of media work speaking and writing about having a mental health problem and I’ve always enjoyed that immensely. I continue to take photos, some of which have been published in books, and I also write a blog that is the main feature of my website. I’ve got lots more animals than I ever had back in the days when I was constantly at the beck and call of alcohol and I love them all dearly.

Had I not stopped drinking I would have been dead at least 22 years now but I live, I really live and, despite huge health problems, I live well.

Depressed not dangerous

There has been widespread and scandalising headlines in the British (and no doubt worldwide) media this morning because the pilot of a German passenger plane crashed a plane. They have decided that because the pilot had “a long history of depression”, had recently split up from his partner and did not let the pilot back into the cockpit that he committed suicide and thus killed the other 149 people on the flight. They have come to this conclusion BEFORE the facts of the incident are released.

The headlines this morning imply, quite erroneously, that depressed people shouldn’t fly planes with or without passengers when suicide of pilots by crashing the plane is so low that I can’t find any statistics to say how many there have ever been. I have found out that 11% of homicides are committed by people with mental illness but this is not confined to depression. In 2011 – 2012 the homicide figure of is 550 so that means that 60 homicides in the UK were committed by people with mental health problems but that does not mean to say all those people who killed were suffering from a mental illness at the time (it may well have been in the past), there may well have been other factors to consider and it certainly does not mean that all those people had or had previously had depressive episodes.

In 2012 5,981 people took their own lives.

Does this not suggest that people with depression are far more likely to harm themselves than others? Would the headlines have been different if the pilot had a physical illness that meant he felt he couldn’t face a life of prolonged and not necessarily successful treatment? Would the headlines have then read “Cancer pilot tragically ended his life and 149 others.”

I have campaigned against stigma and discriminate for 40 years. I have had manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder) since I was 14 and I have never killed anybody or acted in a violent way towards them because of that. I have many self harm scars on my body and drank alcoholically for 18 years – my anger was directed inwards not outwards.

Dangerous no, depressed often.

Twenty three years and counting

When I first had to stop drinking and using drugs 23 years ago I was well aware that even though I knew that I was looking at certain death if I carried on a large part of me didn’t want to stop. Alcohol particularly had been my solace and my shield since I was 14 and I wasn’t sure that I could live with or without it.

My first two years of sobriety were spent mourning the loss and wanting to drink more than when I was drinking. It was a confusing time to say the least and one that didn’t start to improve until I got peer support. I learned a lot from my peers and a large part of it was about how I didn’t want to be. I knew the answer wasn’t to be the opposite of what I didn’t want but to be different.

One thing that struck home for me was how much time people spent in meetings and talking to other addicts. The world was a place they went to when they weren’t in meetings and, it seemed to me, meetings were pubs for the soul. I’d used alcohol and drugs as a way of retreating from the world for a long time and it seemed that they were promoting a way of life that encouraged a retreat from the world. There was a lot of “people out in the world don’t understand us” talk. What they appeared to be saying that was, within the meetings, nobody is special or unique but walk out of the door and we’re all so special nobody could understand us. A very wrong assumption to make; none of us are unique and everyone is misunderstood for one reason or another.

I thought then, as I do now, that recovery is a loaded word. Recovery for me means living the life I have to lead to do what is best for me as a whole person. The alcoholic is a part of me, not my entirety. The far greater influence on my life is Bipolar Disorder and that has to be managed first. If I don’t manage that then I don’t have a cat in hells chance of maintaining a life of sobriety. For this I am criticised by other alcoholics, some of whom purport to be friends. They assume that the medication used to treat Bipolar Disorder is mood altering as opposed to mood stabilising. I don’t even take a mood stabilising medication but the presumption is that I do. The only medication I take specifically for Bipolar Disorder is one that is used to treat epilepsy. I also take levothyroxine to help my under active thyroid gland. None of these drugs give me highs or take the edge off the world but they do take the edge off illnesses that push me far too closer to drinking than I’m happy with.

Being clean and sober is exciting and it’s tempting to challenge the world and want to right the wrongs especially in the early days and years of recovery.  Many of my peers decided that working with other alcoholics either as a profession or in a voluntary capacity is the only way forward. They want to immerse themselves in a closeted world because they are convinced that being part of the real world is a sure fire way to drink again. Is working with alcoholics and addicts truly leaving the old life behind? There are ways of changing the world and paying back debts to society that don’t include staying in a destructive world. I see the temptation but I have not desire to inhabit a dangerous place because it feels familiar.  I didn’t stop drinking to find myself equally imprisoned by a way of life.

Freedom from drink and drugs should be unconditional.  It’s important to concentrate on recovery and get to know yourself but you can’t do that by inhabiting the old world even if it is in a new way. You easily become absorbed in a world that has a new terminology and is perhaps more of a crutch than you care to admit. Recovery is about breaking out of comfort zones and daring to live again and you can’t do that with one foot in the old life no matter how well meaning it is. I’ve done voluntary work within my local community and would still be doing it if Bipolar Disorder allowed me to.  The last thing I did before I stopped voluntary work was to act as a troubleshooter between the local council, traders and contractors in the revamp of a retail street whilst the road was resurfaced. My role was to make sure things went smoothly enough so that traders could keep on trading and to minimise their losses and to make sure that everybody was kept informed about what everybody else was doing. Voluntary work isn’t always about charity shops & community programmes, it can be as high powered as you need it to be. There are high flyers at all levels of society.

When I stopped drinking I was still in a worthless marriage and got divorced a year or so after I stopped drinking & using. I then took a deliberate break from that kind of relationship and concentrated on re-establishing the relationships with friends and family as they had seriously been affected by my behaviour.  It was all part of the getting to know myself process and I slowly began to change into a better person.  At least one man I knew decided that I was desperate to be in a sexual relationship with them but there are amazingly simple ways of chasing them off.

A couple of years after I stopped drinking I was eventually diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder and the management of that became, and still is, the centre of my life. If I don’t manage it then I don’t have a life and the things I do to remain mentally healthy also help maintain sobriety and growth.

I became involved with a man shortly before I was diagnosed and when I was incredibly vulnerable. What seemed to be a healthy relationship was actually destructive.  He was mentally abusive in a subtle way and pushed all the buttons that made me feel worthless and insignificant yet at the same time he made me feel as though he’d fall apart if we split up. It took me nine years to get away from him in what was a 13 year relationship but it has made me a lot wiser about relationships now.  I don’t demand that relationships are solely on my terms to but I don’t enter into or stay in relationships that aren’t give and take.

There is a lot I would change with hindsight but if I did would I be the person I am today? The person I am today is the person I like being. I’m not interested in being popular or being at the centre of attention of things. Give me my camera, my animals, time and space and I’m content.  I’m happy being a hermit and I’m happy with my hermitage.  I have come to terms with who I am and I’m not that bad after all.

I’d rather die than drink again

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.

A tale of addiction & why legalizing drugs will not stop drug related crime

I gave up drinking nearly 20 years ago on the same day that I gave up abusing drugs of both the legal and the illegal kind. I stopped them one morning after being told that if I carried on the way I was then I would be dead within two years. Two years of dying slowly and horribly not party, party, party and a spectacular death at the end of it. It was a hard lesson but one I learned really quickly. I did take another year to pack in the fags, that was the worst addiction of them all.

I look back on the time that I drank way beyond excess partly in horror and partly in a sense of loss. Alcohol was my best friend and my lover. It was more faithful to me than my husband and it had more staying power than my lover. It was the reason I woke in the morning and the reason I fell unconscious each night. My first drink of the day was the reason for my being. I would inhale the fumes of whatever whisky it was deeply, holding small sips in my mouth, swirling them round my teeth & making the back of my mouth sting before letting those first precious drops of the day slide down my throat so that I could begin to feel normal again after a few hours of enforced separation.

I had a different drink for every occasion. When I was loading and unloading the washing machine I had Valpolicella because it didn’t mind the warmth of the kitchen. It was a pretty good wine for drinking whilst cooking. When I ironed I drank litres of Lambrusco because all that steam made me pretty hot and thirsty. When I was working it was vodka with lemonade or another soft drink because it was easily hidden. If I was hungry it was Guinness or port and brandy. Sometimes, if I was very hungry, I had Guinness with port added to it. If I was all alone I sat on the top floor of my pub in the unused bedrooms and kept company with a vintage Barolo. I can still remember the last bottle I drank. It was 10 years old and triggered orgasms on my tongue. I often dream about how that same bottle would taste today at 30 years old.

Mostly though I drank whisky. For 18 years my constant companions were my three blokey buddies – Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker. Whisky was a sweet torture because even though I adored the taste, the colour, the smell and the shape of the bottles, it gave me the hangover from hell. Long after I stopped drinking I could taste whisky in my mouth when I’d been dreaming of soothing away my problems the old fashioned way. Whisky was my first love and the other drinks were the times I strayed from the path, the guilty affairs that I could never quite give up.

After I’d been drinking for about 4 or 5 years the alcohol no longer did for me what I needed it to do. I drank, like all other alcoholics, to change the way I felt. I hated myself deeply and whilst it never gave me the courage to love myself it did give me the means to hate myself less. Then, as with all addictions, it takes more and more to get the feeling you need. Illegal drugs are very handy as is easy access to Valium and I took advantage of both. I would have vehemently denied being a dealer in those days but there isn’t really another name for someone who sells drugs for profit even if they were “soft” drugs and it was only to her friends.

The constant drinking and using combined with far too little food and far too much emotional baggage meant that I caused devastation to the people around me. I was unpredictable to a point that, even when quite young, I could behave in almost any way I wanted in the local pubs & clubs because it just wasn’t worth upsetting me. I look at that person now and feel sorry that she ever saw life. If anyone got close to me then they were getting close to a person I had manufactured and not the person I actually was. I didn’t build walls to see who cared enough to climb over them; I built them so I could have target practice when people dared to climb over the top. I led a life that was far too charmed and paid for my misdeeds only when my conscience kicked in when I eventually stopped living what I had considered a life that others were jealous of.

Towards the end of my drinking and using, despite running a pub and living there rent free and without bills to pay, my money was no longer stretching to pay for my habits. I had stopped dealing when I moved into the pub, finally realizing that it actually was dealing and not doing a friend or two a favour. I was married to an alcoholic and was planning to kill him because I couldn’t face trying to divorce him. I was desperate to keep drinking and terrified of running out of booze. That’s when I started to watch the old people going in and out of the post office next door. I knew where they lived and I knew if they lived alone. I was seriously considering stealing from old people just to feed my booze habit.

And that is why legalizing drugs that are now illegal and making them widely available won’t reduce drug related crime in any meaningful way.

An addict is an addict whatever the drug of choice and will stop at nothing to satiate their need. Except that need is never satisfied and more of whatever the drug might be is needed and it can never be found cheaply enough. I stopped at violent crime but many don’t.

Only 30% of people who enter into treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction actually become permanently clean and/or sober. The rest repeatedly return to drink and drugs until it eventually kills them.

The only way we can do anything meaningful about drug related crime is to look at why addictions happen, make treatments much more readily available, recognize that getting someone clean and then returning them to their old neighbourhoods will never work. If we treat the problem holistically then maybe, and only maybe, can we look at legalizing some of the drugs that are now illegal.