I have a memory of being 23 and standing outside of a pub in Middlesbrough talking to a family friend. As we talked a mutual acquaintance who was once a talented and much praised footballer staggered out of the door. He flung his arms round us, kissed our cheeks and staggered off down the road. As he walked we talked of the tragedy that a man with so much talent could become that way. In my head I was telling myself that I would stop drinking before I got that bad. I didn’t realise until I was much older that thinking like that was acknowledging that my drinking was as bad as his.
By the time I was 26 I couldn’t stop. I’d get so drunk I’d hit my head on the stone window sill beside my front door as I was letting myself in. I’ve staggered in front of traffic, woken up in a pool of my own vomit and the mattress on my bed had more piss stains than it had clean patches.
When I was 32 the alcoholic I was married to was admitted taken hospital to die as a result of his drinking. My GP rang me to ask me to go and see him as he wanted to see how I was coping. I swilled down half a shandy to cover the smell of the whisky I’d drank that morning and, at about 11.15 on 23 April 1991, I put the empty glass on the bar and went to see him.
At around 11.30 he sat me down and told me if I didn’t do something to change my lifestyle then in two years I’d be then one in hospital dying. I’d seen my husband deteriorate in the eight years I’d been married to him and I knew he’d been dying all that time; a slow death, a painful death, a death I didn’t want. I’d walked into the surgery a practising alcoholic and came out a recovering alcoholic.
I was managing a pub and that was the day I handed my notice in. I spent my first three weeks of sobriety listening to the spirits behind the bar whispering at me to have just one drink. I’ve never been sure if that was the Delirium Tremens or a false memory but it’s one of things that keeps me moving forward.
The details from the past 28 years don’t matter because what counts is how I was then and how I am now. If I cannot remember the person I was then I can no longer be the person I am today.
The person I was then was nasty. I would stamp on people’s feelings if I wanted to get my own way. Like every alcoholic I’ve ever met I drank to change the way I felt about myself. I was insecure and as I got older then I began to bully the people who reminded me of how I saw myself.
Active alcoholism for me is both self harm and a long slow suicide. Like other alcoholics my drinking cost me more than money. Alcohol doesn’t just remove stains on clothes and carpets it removes family, friends, health and dignity.
Sobriety isn’t easy. There are days that I won’t walk down the booze aisle in Asda even if I want something out of the freezers that face it. It’s difficult at times to deal with feelings but dealing with them is a lot easier than drinking on them. I try every day not to drink again because I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to stop again. I’m neither willing to waste what is almost half a lifetime of sobriety nor propel myself forward to a premature death just for the sake of a few drinks.