Here’s a confession:
I am an alcoholic.
There, said it. Naming it is the first step to solving it, I suppose.
I realised that I had formally adopted the A word on Christmas Day 2015. I was completely alone in my house. It was about 4pm in the afternoon and I had been drinking since about 10am. I had passed out, and woken up on my bedroom floor. Blearily, I observed four empty bottles of wine and the dregs of a bottle of cheap dark rum rolling lazily about about the floor with me, almost in a gesture of solidarity. I look at the bottles, got up on the fourth attempt – my head had been replaced at some point by a medicine ball, and kept trying to head straight back to the floor – and had two thoughts: the first was “Did I drink all of that today?” (to which the answer was “Yes,”) and the second was “Oh, cool, is there anymore?” (to which the answer was also “yes.”).
I’ve always had a high tolerance for alcohol. I can happily polish off a bottle and a bit of wine before I start feeling woozy. I almost always ended up being the designated home delivery man when on nights out, because I could hold my drink well, and could, if needed, sober up in about fifteen minutes. I’ve never, however, been a heavy drinker. My tipples were single malts, pints of ale, the kind of drinks one nursed and savoured, something to loosen the tensions in my mind and help the conversations flow a bit more freely. How I got from that to finding myself waking up on my stairs, swirling in a black pit of depression, wanting no company beyond my good friend Jolly Jack Daniels, wanting to drink and drink because in my mind if I kept drinking it would prolong that perfect state of freedom, that sense that the world was less constricting which you get after two or three drinks, if I just kept drinking I could make that state last forever, just me and Jolly Jack and Jim Bean, or maybe just the £4,49 from Spar – how did I get to that state?
It began in around November time. Maybe it was the PTSD. PTSD is a horrible condition because it steals your dreams and takes away any comfort you get from sleep. Every night is a repeat showing of the worst things imaginable. It’s the emotional equivalent of Top Gear repeats on Dave, grinding on a human face, forever. Every night I found myself suddenly reliving being raped, nearly losing my life at the hand of a relative, being cheated on, beaten up, molested, over and over again. Initially, I was scared and woke up screaming. Then I got bored. I found myself reliving the worst things that had ever happened to me and just disassociating from it to the extent that I would be sitting at the wings, while my nightmare pranced around the stage like an particularly bad A level Drama student, and I would say….”yeah, ok, I’ve seen this one before. Is there anything else on? I mean, I’ve got Amazon Prime? Netflix? Have you seen Jessica Jones? Fucking awesome show…” After that, I just stopped myself sleeping. I’d rather have to suffer sleep deprivation than have to spend my nights in the constant cycle of boredom and terror. If I wanted that, I’d have gone into insurance.
So I started having a night cap before bed. A stiff whiskey to calm the nerves. Just one, just one to keep my steady. To keep my sharp. Then one became two, then three, then four, then the bottle, then I couldn’t face the night without being in the state of drunkenness where if I was on a night out with Tyrion Lannister, he would have thrown in the towel and gone home at 9pm, telling me I was being a bit stupid.
I drank for every conceivable reason. I got my trust abused, my heart broken, and then jumped up and down on repeatedly- so I drank. My frankly insane mother would leave me long voicemails that babbled on about how I was scum and how she as a Catholic would have aborted me if she knew how I’d turn out – so I drank. I had a bad day at work – so I drank. I had a crisis of whether I was worth anything academically, emotionally, politically, socially – so I drank. I got assaulted in the street by someone I used to call a friend – so I drank. I didn’t have a reason to drink so I drank.
I supposed I carried myself well. I kept my drinking to myself. I tend to not get hang overs (sorry) and I didn’t notice the exhaustion of heavy drinking because, honestly, I’m always exhausted, like a fatigued Hulk. I never drank during the day, and in spite of being drunk for a large portion my evenings, I applied for, and got into, three PhD courses. I ran a successful comedy night. I cooked dinner most nights, kept my house clean, fed my cat, went to the gym, then came home and drank myself into a stupor. Every single night. I didn’t do anything stupid, like go for a walk by the river that saw me end up in the river. I’m far too sensible for that. Or high functioning, as my GP called it. But it was only on Christmas Day, about that point where most people were either collapsed in front of the TV or killing each other in the spirit of the season, it was then, faced with glass husks on my bedroom floor, that I realised I had a problem.
So I went to get help. I joined the AA. Turns out you need to drive to be a member. I joined the correct AA. I went to a meeting. We all went round and talked about what we wanted to do. I said I wanted to stop being dependent on alcohol, but I didn’t want to stop drinking. That went down like a Don’t Mention the War impression at Octoberfest. I left that AA too, and then got drunk to celebrate. I tried to write some stand up about being an alcoholic, but found it too depressing, because unlike Winston Churchill, I’m not a witty drunk, and so I got drunk to make me feel better.
High functioning alcoholics – since, according to the NHS, embodied by my GP, I am one – tend to be rather different than how one would imagine an alcoholic, because, it seems, we’re very good and convincing people we aren’t alcoholics. We tend to achieve a lot, carry on with life, have fairly normal relationships and also drink ourselves to sleep. Which doesn’t sound too bad on the surface, right? Except it is bad, because trying to balance a normal life and a three bottles of wine a night habit is like trying to play chess with a pigeon. You may win the game but that fucker will still shit all over you at the end and the fly off. It’s like trying to play twister with an octopus. You may win because the octopus is going to die from dehydration but you still have a dead octopus in your living room to worry about. It’s like trying to play Halo with a fourteen year old boy. You may win but he’ll still racial abuse your grandmother..
So, as my therapist often asks, where does this leave me? That’s not something I can really answer, because I honestly do not know. I have an odd relation with addictive behaviour. I smoked between 20-40 cigarettes a day between the age of 19 and 25, and then just stopped, Perhaps, the same will come of my new found fondness for alcohol. Ultimately, such self soothing behaviour is understandable but not helpful. An emotional and physical detox of sorts is called for, I suppose, but in the meantime, drinks are on me…