Alcoholic Like Me – The Personal Story of A Recovering
(A typical story of "pure" alcoholism, i.e. without any combination with drugs,
street or medical, as is now so common. BG).
I have a memory of watching TV with my Dad as a kid. We were watching
a chat-show, or to be more accurate, we weren't really watching it, rather it was just on. I don't remember what the program
was called or much about it; I only remember that a woman in the audience stood up and told the whole world that she was an
alcoholic and claimed that she hadn't had a drink in 25 years. "Twenty five years! The stupid woman must be cured then!",
I laughed. While I laughed as a kid, the memory stuck, and that woman played a part in saving my life years later.
didn't really fit in at school, but didn't know it at the time. I preferred my own company and was largely oblivious to other
kids around me. That changed when I got to about 17 or so, when I decided that I wanted to 'fit in', but couldn't. I wanted
to socialize and be part of a group. I wanted to have a girlfriend and do all the things other kids my age were doing. I discovered
that for me, however, it was extremely difficult. I wasn't shy, but nevertheless, I was conscious of my every word and action,
and even, of my expression when talking to people. I felt like the whole world was watching me all the time, just waiting
for me to make a mistake. I thought had to achieve perfection in everything. However, I quickly learned that if I had a few
drinks, then things were much easier, and everything seemed to flow. It was if there was a hole inside me, which two or three
drinks filled quite nicely. After a couple of drinks I could relax and be spontaneous. I associated being mildly inebriated
with being happy. So I loved drink, or rather I loved the effect it had on me, although I wouldn't say I drank heavily in
the first couple of years. But alcoholism is progressive, and that's just how it was for me.
I left school and went to university. It seems strange now, but
at the time I had two separate personalities. One was happy; I was getting drunk and seemed to be having a good time. The
other was desperately lonely and confused. I did not understand how other people ticked and why they behaved the way they
did; nor was there a single soul who understood me. I knew I was different, and that there was something wrong with me, but
didn't know what it was. I used to cut my arm and stub cigarettes out on the back of my hand. I visited a counseling service
at my university. While it may work for some, I don't think it helped me, but it simply served to underline what I already
knew, that I was inadequate in some way, but it didn't tell me why. I used to think that if only I could find a 'proper' girlfriend
then that would fix me somehow, but could never understand why all my relationships lasted no more than a month or two.
I started to seek places, which stayed open into the night, the
more character, i.e. read squalid, the better. Like most alcoholics, I was looking for companionship and approval. I didn't
find any. Instead I spent many hours standing at the bar analyzing myself, replaying scenes from child-hood, and generally
trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I also wondered through graveyards at night believing I was somehow 'at home'
there. I think it would be fair to say that those years were among the unhappiest of my life.
A common misconception is that alcoholism is self-inflicted, and
therefore alcoholics must be both stupid and weak willed people. My experience is that the opposite is true. In my case, I
took the decision in my second year of university not to go to lectures, but to teach myself from text books instead. I knew
it was going to be a lot of hard work, which it was. I'd buy a bottle of wine most days, one was enough then, and work through
the night by candlelight like some Dickensian scholar. When the wine ran out, I drank black coffee until my vision blurred
and I could work no more. I built up quite a library of arcane textbooks, which I kept on show because I thought it made me
look clever. Amazingly my strategy worked and I left university with a very good grade. In fact, it worked so well, I believed
then that I had found the solution to my problem...
had arrived at the conclusion that I could run my entire life on self-will and determination, just as I had while studying
at university. I was ashamed of the way I had been and made a concerted effort to 'generally pull myself together'. I committed
to making myself a success. My life increasingly became work oriented, and the only form of relaxation I understood was drink.
I didn't see a problem with that. As a kid, I heard that alcoholics pour whisky on their cornflakes, so I believed that provided
I stuck with beer and wine, I would never have a problem.
My first blackout happened at a house party when I was about 25. I had gone there with my girlfriend of the
time. We had just got engaged, but it would turn out to be yet another relationship lasting only months. I recall arriving
and starting to drink, but that's where my memory ends. It resumes with me waking up wrapped around a toilet. The bit in between
is mostly a blank. Quite inexplicably, I was wearing a pink shirt twenty sizes too small. Gradually I became aware of someone
standing over me. He seemed angry but I didn't recognize him. However, it dawned on me that I was wearing his shirt. I handed
it back to him and apologized, while having no clue as to how I came to be wearing it in the first place. Although we had
driven to the party, I found my girlfriend gone; she had left to catch a train. Fighting a hangover, I dragged myself up and
ran to the station and, with seconds to spare, I managed pull her off a train. She was distraught and told me what I had being
saying the night before. I had no recollection of saying anything and absolutely refused to believe her. I genuinely could
not accept that I was capable of saying anything like the things she claimed, even if I had been drunk and didn't remember.
In fact, I was so emphatic; I think I convinced her that she had imagined it all.
In a pub around six months later, I learned a bit more about the
missing night. I discovered that I was roaming the streets at four o'clock in the morning, carrying a washing-up bowl full
of wine, apparently looking for a restaurant. I also learned that I had dragged some guy off the settee where he was sleeping,
and forcibly took the shirt from his back. I laughed it off, but secretly I was disturbed by the whole thing. I was forever
moving around, and could not remain happy in the same job or place for long. Over the next five years or so I had four different
jobs in different areas of the country. I also tried working freelance, and for a while it seemed to go well, but things quickly
disintegrated into bitter recriminations with my customers.
My drinking steadily escalated without me ever really being aware
of it, save for a few thoughts about cutting back a bit. Hangovers no longer seemed to affect me, but my friends no longer
wanted to keep up with my drinking either. They had developed this seemingly odd condition called, 'work in the morning',
whatever that was. I watched my friends go through life forming stable relationships, buying homes, getting married and having
kids. None of those things happened to me. They were growing up, but I wasn't. I switched to drinking at home, believing I
was saving money.
For a couple of years, I shared a house with a friend. He had a
small collection of whisky. You know the sort-single malt this and double malt that, all distilled for a thousand years on
some remote Scottish island. He was quite proud of his collection, but inexplicably to me, hardly drank any of it. It lasted
a week from when I moved in.
Fortunately, he didn't seem to mind and told me it was OK, provided
I didn't touch one very special bottle he kept in his room. I recall making a solemn promise to myself that, whatever happen-ed,
I would never touch it. But I knew where it was. It unavoidably became an emergency stash, and I made a secret mark on the
bottle indicating the original level. When he was away, I'd drink it whenever my own supply ran out at four in the morning.
The following day I would buy a cheap substitute, refill his bottle to the mark, drink the remainder, and then have to empty
his bottle a few hours later. All the time I prayed he would never find out. He never did until I told him years later.
By now I realized I was drinking too much, but did not see it as
a serious problem. To prove it, I decided not to drink for two weeks. I printed out dozens of notices with words, "Must
Not Drink!" and stuck them all around the house. Ten days in, I decided that was near enough, and went to the pub. I
drank only three pints. Believing I was back in control, I stayed behind for a lock-in the following night. On the third night,
I drank three bottles of wine.
Can't Get Any Worse.
During a stint working abroad I met someone who would stay with
me, on and off, for the next seven years. Living in different countries, we typically saw each other only on alternate week
-ends. She knew I was a heavy drinker, but I kept from her how much I really drank for quite some time. She also resisted
my many unconscious attempts to break up and clung on to me.
I had lost all control over drink and my life was spiraling out
of control. I still held down a job, but these were the days of dot-com madness and no one seemed to care what time I turned
up for work. In fact my working hours were extreme; I typically ran on a 36-hour day. I could show up for work at any time,
be it mid-afternoon or 3 o'clock in the morning. I felt guilty about my time keeping, and would try to make up by working
through the next day and into the night. But no matter how long I worked, I would always get drunk after. I would visit off-licenses
in rotation, as I didn't want sales staff to think I was an alcoholic. I also got rid of empty bottles by throwing them in
my car for later disposal in public waste bins.
I was always chasing that elusive 'two-pint magic feeling' and wanted
to hold it for as long as possible. That was the way I drank, not as quickly as I could, nor was I topping up throughout the
day. Rather I drank steadily for as long as possible. A typical drinking session would last between 8 and 16 hours, for which
I needed a minimum of three bottles of wine to see me through. I hit upon the realization that large wine cartons were a better
bet than bottles, as there was less embarrassment associated with buying a single carton than three or four bottles. Blackouts
became frequent. I find it incredible now, but I would simply pour a drink in the evening, and in a blink of an eye, it would
be daylight again. Days and nights became one. It was common for me to reach for my watch when I woke and see that it was
6 o'clock, but I'd have no idea whether it was morning or evening.
I would come down stairs, having no recollection of going to bed,
to find bottles strewn around the floor and all the doors in the house wide open. So I developed what I called a 'lock down
procedure'. This was where I would go around the house and check, and double check, that all the windows and doors were locked
before I opened the first bottle. I thought drinking was helping me to think and relax. The reality was that I was going insane.
I increasingly lived in semi-fantasy where, through some daring high-risk venture, I would be transported to a position of
wealth and power. I was forever projecting about things that were never going to happen. I would sit, drunk, with my finger
on the back button of the CD player, repeating the same morbid track for hours at a time. I was angry and bitter about almost
everything, and it goes without saying, deeply unhappy.
My girlfriend would call me most evenings and I would do my best to hold a sober voice,
but she could always tell that I'd been drinking. So I held off getting drunk for as long as I could until after she phoned,
and if I couldn't manage that, I would simply let the phone ring out. Inside my heart was breaking, but I couldn't let her
know that I was drunk. I guess I succeeded in keeping the extent of my drinking from her, because despite everything, she
wanted to move to England and for us to live together. Deep inside I knew it would be a mistake, but went along with it because
I was too afraid to tell her. In the end I decided that I would just have to moderate my drinking a little, but really, I
resented having to do so.
Our relationship was rocky, to say the least. In one particularly
bad row, I picked up a serrated knife and slashed my arm in two places, opening an artery. It had all happened in a flash
and I didn't even know what I'd done for several moments. I swear to you now that if I had been on my own, I would have simply
climbed into bed and bled to death, for at that moment in time, it was all I wanted to do. In the hospital, I was asked about
how much I drank, but I made out that, while I drank a bit, it wasn't all that much. It was all very disturbing, and a few
weeks later I did want to talk to someone, but there wasn't anyone. I tried to talk to my doctor, but he wouldn't discuss
any-thing other than the physical injury and sent me away with antibiotics.
Not longer after, the dot-com boom came to an end, and I lost my
job. At the time I was glad to get out of it, as I attributed all my problems to work. I decided I would go freelance again,
but despite my best efforts, I spent the days getting drunk in front of day-time TV. Every morning I would drive my girlfriend
to work and promise her that I wouldn't drink that day. I'd mean it as well. On the way home, however, the notion that I could
get away with just one bottle would creep in and quickly become overpowering. It got me every time, and one bottle was never
enough. Even before I finished the first, I'd dash out to the shop to get another, which became two by the time I got there.
This happened most days, although occasionally I managed to white-knuckle it and limit myself to 3 or 4 pints in a pub.
Usually I was drunk when my girlfriend got home in the evening,
or unconscious. I remember that she once asked me why I did it, and for the first time in my life I told her that I had no
idea, because it was true. We continued to have raging rows. I blamed her for the fact I had slashed my arm. I would tell
her that if she didn't like the way things were then she should leave, and eventually she did. I hate to admit this now, but
I was actually glad when she left. At least, then, I could have a really good drink without her on my back. I distinctly remember
my first night alone in the house. I sat on the floor, for most of the furniture was hers, drank four bottles of wine and
missed her. The house was rented, but with no income, I had to let it go. I couldn't see what was happening, and things
had to get worse before I would...
I managed to get some short-term contract work in Paris and rented
an apartment there for a few months. All night drinking followed twenty-hour work stints. It was a lonely hamster wheel. However,
a few months later, by some miracle, I managed to get the job done, despite a stormy relationship with my employers. It had
been a truly awful experience, and things weren't about to get better. I returned to the UK with nowhere to go. A friend gave
me a floor to sleep on, and I found some work laboring on a building site. A fresh start, as I tried to see it, but it didn't
feel like it. I switched to pub drinking so that I would stand a chance of getting to work in the morning. I can remember
standing in the middle of a pile of bricks in the pouring rain wondering, "How on earth had things come to this?”
Virtually every penny I earned went on booze.
Ten years earlier I had resolved to be a millionaire by the time
I was thirty. Here I was, 32 years old, and almost destitute. What had gone wrong? The work lasted six months and I drifted
back at my parents with nowhere else to go. I had always been so independent, and as much as I hated it, I knew that if it
weren’t for my parents, I would have been on the streets at that point.
Over the last few years, I had
started to suffer from back pain, and would get terrible pains in my calf muscles when I tried to walk any distance. I found
that my fingers were increasingly numb, and I had started to sweat continuously. I didn't know it then, but the sweating was
due to the effects of high alcohol consumption on my liver. My back pains were not back pains, but were in fact my kidneys.
The numbness I felt in my hands was a symptom of nerve damage. I changed my drink, it would help me to cut down. I switched
to gin and tonic, or perhaps I should say that I switched to gin.
My parents went away on holiday for a week leaving me alone. I closed
the curtains and drank continuously for the entire week. The only time I left the house was to buy gin and to drop empty bottles
in public waste bins. The week seemed to pass in a blink of an eye, but I managed to pull myself together for when they returned.
I finally realized that I had a drink problem, but I wasn't beaten just yet. I committed to a desperate white-knuckle effort
to cut back my alcohol consumption. This primarily involved taking sleeping tablets on alternate days in the hope that I could
halve my consumption by simply being unconscious half the time. I hoped that if I could slash my drinking, then perhaps I
could regain control. I can actually recall explaining this theory to someone in a pub over half a dozen pints…
It didn't work.
My Dad would regularly find me unconscious on the floor in the morning.
One time he found me lying naked in the living room. It's a painful memory, but I have no recollection whatever as to why
or how. I had never been violent, but I now found myself struggling to keep my anger from spilling out. It seemed that
the pressure I felt inside exactly cancelled out the pressure from the outside. It was a dreadful precarious kind of equilibrium
and I didn't know if I wanted to explode or implode, but could do neither. I just wanted to get it over with. It was horrid.
I had run out of my own money long ago, and I finally went to the
DHSS Office to make a benefit claim. In my mind, I was only going through another humiliation and, of course I knew that they
weren't actually going to give me anything. I was openly hostile and fantasized about committing suicide by torching myself
in the foyer of the building. Perhaps I would even leave a suicide note which would say something like, "That woman on
desk 3, it's all her fault. Look what you've done to me!".
What I actually did was to sit, sweating and trembling, on
a bench in the town center. I'd had enough, and accepted to myself that for the first time ever, I needed help. “God!
Help me please!” At that moment a childhood memory of a TV program came back
to me. I remembered the woman in the audience who stood up and told everyone that she was an alcoholic, but hadn't drank for
25 years. I resolved to go home and call Alcoholics Anonymous… I attended my first meeting a couple of days later.
often tell me that their preconception of Alcoholics Anonymous was one of a room full of tramps drinking from bottles wrapped
in paper bags. I didn't have that particular preconception. In fact, I was worrying about whether A.A. would be some kind
of cult. First I would be humiliated, and then brainwashed. Later I'd have to handover my bank account; it never occurred
to me that there was nothing in it. Finally, I would be made to walk the streets and knock on peoples' doors with the line,
"I'm an alcoholic, and I'd like to talk to you about God!". But I didn't care. While I sat in the room waiting for
the meeting to start, I steeled myself against a possible brainwash… My preconceptions were ill founded.
The room filled with apparently normal sober people and I found
that I had actually no idea of what to expect. I listened to someone describe their own experiences of drink. He came from
a completely different background, but otherwise he could have been talking about me. Time after time both men and women described
exactly how I felt and how things were for me. Suddenly I wasn't alone any more. People told me that alcoholism is an illness,
not a moral issue. I been so ashamed for so long that I am unable convey the sense of relief I felt then. Toward the end of
the meeting I blurted out some stuff of my own that I can't remember a word of, but left elated. I wanted to run through the
streets shouting, "I'm an alcoholic!", but went to the pub to 'celebrate' instead.
From my first meeting, I had no difficulty accepting that I was
an alcoholic. That bit was OK. But this talk about not drinking? Well, I thought that was a little extreme. After all, I had
sought help and got it, so provided I was careful I'd be all right with a few pints. myself that I could do it, but decided
to keep going to meetings because A.A. was helping me to So I didn't tell my parents that I was going to A.A, and if I'm being
totally honest, it was simply because it would have made it difficult to carry on drinking. For the first week I drank three
pints a night, but no more. I proved to seriously cut down. I was in for surprise. It was a Friday night and I'd been out
to the pub. I'd had three pints, but decided that I would be OK with just one glass wine before I went to bed. It was the
weekend after all, and I deserved it since I was doing so well. After that glass, I decided that I also deserved a gin, but
definitely no more than that! I can recall looking into the glass and thinking to myself, "It's great to be sober!"..
Then it was morning and I was urinating in the garden. I don't remember drinking the whole bottle.
I awoke to the realization that
what A.A. had to offer applied to me. The words, "Don't pick up the first drink and you won't get drunk", applied
especially to me. The message hit home, but it was quite a shock. The first few days without a drink were hard. Three days
in and it dawned on me that I had never actually gone for that long since my early twenties, save for a short self-enforced
dry spell five years back. I'd watch the clock as pub closing time approached, and then watch it pass second by second. It
was excruciating, but I sat it out. On one occasion I was invited for a quick drink in the pub and I actually put my hand
in my mouth to stop myself agreeing.
I looked forward to meetings and went almost every day. I found they served to fill the hole left by the absence of drink.
Over the coming weeks, I stopped sweating and my back pains vanished. The numbness I had in my fingers went also. Gradually
the cravings left without me really noticing. Then one evening it occurred to me that I hadn't thought of a drink all that
day. That was the first of many. I was lucky. I had been able to quit drinking without suffering any dangerous alcoholic fits.
I had been living in a fog for so long that I had forgotten any
other way of being. After a few weeks it started to lift, and I realized that I had been seeing the world on a black and white
port-able television with a coat hanger aerial; for suddenly I was surrounded by three dimensional color and sound. I could
hear birds in the morning!
My emotions came back suddenly like someone had thrown a switch,
and I realized that I had, in fact, been using drink to suppress them. I found myself on a weekly roller coaster. One week
I would be full of despair and anger, even rage. I was irrational at times, and wrote letters to companies claiming persecution
of one form or another, and demanded special treatment because I was an alcoholic. Didn't they understand? However, I kept
going to meetings and didn't drink. For the next week or so, the broken glass in my head would evaporate and I would be floating
on air. I often thought that if I died next day, I wouldn't mind so much, because today had been so good.
Over time I became accustomed to the emotional cycle, and I knew that no matter how
bad I felt that day, it would pass. I was still a child emotionally. It was if I had been frozen in time when I was 14 years
old and never grown up. In a strange kind of way it is a great thing, as I now have the chance to grow up all over again.
When I was around six months sober, I got my first tattoo!
At around a year sober, I got a job. It was the first time I had been in proper employment for five
years. The most amazing thing was that I discovered that I am capable of listening to and being taught by other people, where
previously I could only learn if left alone. I regard the whole experience as one of the best of my life.
The strangest thing happened after about two years. A chance remark
by someone prompted long forgotten childhood memories, and I suddenly saw my past in a completely different light. I broke
down and cried. In fact I cried for three days, day and night. I hadn't cried in years and had believed myself incapable of
it. It passed as quickly as it had started, but I was left feeling profoundly changed. It was the most wonderful thing.
Since I've been in A.A., my life has continued to improve. It's
not been easy, it's still not easy, but it is worth it.
As far back as I can remember, I treated everything in life so very
seriously. I never knew how to be happy. I used to feel inadequate. I used to feel that other people were better than me some-
how, and I was always trying to prove otherwise. I had both an inferiority and superiority complex rolled into one, and I
was confused and bewildered by it. I felt different to other people and could not relate to them. I believed the whole world
to be watching me, waiting for me to slip and fail. I had been, in fact, completely ill-equipped to cope with life.
I am now discovering how take life as it comes, one day at a time,
and to enjoy every moment. I have had to come to terms with the possibility that I am as equal as everyone else, while not
let-ting it go to my head. I am still coming to terms with this. I have had to realize that I am human, and that there is
no requirement on me to be perfect. I get angry and upset sometimes, and that is allowed. I am not the machine I once thought
I was. The whole world is not watching me, rather I am a part of it. Most of all, I have had to learn to accept life on life's
terms, and not my own. I am still learning.
I am an alcoholic and I'll always be an alcoholic. Some people prefer
the name 'recovering alcoholic'. I do not believe that a period without drink, even one lasting years, will cure me. I could
never control how much I drank in the past, and I accept that I will never be able to do so in the future. I don't often think
about drink, but when I do, it is not one or two drinks I think about, but only being drunk. That is why I'll always be recovering
alcoholism to be an illness, a mental illness if you like, at least in part. To let you in on a secret, I wish I were not
an alcoholic. Not because I find it shameful; I am not ashamed. And not so I could drink like normal people. Even if some
miraculous cure became available, I hope I never drink again. Rather I wish that I were not an alcoholic simply because I
could have been spared 15 years of misery. My life could have been so different. I am not glad to be an alcoholic, but I am
glad I found out that I am one because if I hadn't, my future would be different also.
When I first told my parents that I was going to A.A., they told
me that no one needed to find out, like it was some dirty secret. The truth is, that without help, I had no more control over
my drinking than I would over cancer without medical care. Why should that be a dirty secret? In the end, I simply went down
the path I had to. In a very real sense, it hadn't been my fault.
I am ashamed, however, of the way I treated certain loved ones in
my life. I don't believe I can simply use alcoholism as a blanket excuse for everything. I know there is no guarantee that
I will never drink again. There was a time when the thought of never having another drink scared the hell out of me. So much
so, I realized I had to stop thinking about it. Now it scares me to think that one day I might.
As I'm writing this, I've been thinking to myself, "Was it
all really that bad?". Yes it was that bad. I never want to go back, and I do not want to die in the gutter.
Since being in A.A. I have witnessed five people die because they
were unable to stop drinking. All but one was around my own age. I am extremely fortunate and owe my life to people in A.A.
My sobriety is the most precious thing I have, for without it, I have nothing.
I wish to thank the woman who appeared on television in mid-1980s. I saw you and it
made a difference.