THE WRITER’S LIFE
More than once in my life, I have found myself in a relationship which has proven to be divisive. Alcohol was the worst: an infatuation which almost killed me. It’s very difficult to explain alcoholism, especially when most people are generally ignorant of the condition. It is a condition; it’s an illness. Among my many diagnosed conditions, there sits Alcohol Dependency Syndrome: the medical term for alcoholism. I’d like to think that others watched the same Louis Theroux documentary as I did last night, Drinking to Oblivion. It was difficult viewing for me but necessary and if others saw it, they might understand how the illness affects the sufferer and those around them.
There was much that was familiar to me on the screen; some of it really quite harrowing in its familiarity. “A little too close to home” would be apt, seeing as I lost homes and destroyed others with my drinking. I did feel for the addicts, probably more than most because I can empathise. I felt the greatest sorrow for those around them though: partners, friends and family because I know what mine went through. But I only know now, with the benefit of hindsight through sobriety. When you’re in the depths of the addiction, the drink is the most important thing to you. Of course that’s illogical but I know first-hand how tight the grip of addiction can become. Logic becomes skewed as the addict focusses on their next hit. I sympathised with a guy who walked out of hospital to score a bottle of vodka before the shops closed. He’d rather have his fix and spend the night on a park bench, than be in a warm and dry place of safety without booze. I used to engineer arguments with my carers, whom I thought more of as gaolers (it’s the correct spelling of the Americanised “Jailers”: look it up), so that I could storm out and get a fix. Those who were caring for me, saw it as a simple matter of keeping me off of the drink: it’s really not that simple.
I tell people that I’m an alcoholic but usually that admission is met with the ignorance prevalent in society. I can see how it’s difficult to understand how something which others derive so much pleasure from, can be dangerous to someone but it’s a serious subject and a potentially fatal condition. The usual responses I get are along the lines of everyone likes a drink, so we must all be alcoholics. No. And it’s got nothing to do with being able to handle one’s drink. The thing which offends me most is, “Just one more.”; “Another one won’t hurt”, and so on: that’s pure ignorance, especially when I’ve usually gone to great lengths to explain exactly why I have to monitor my intake. I’m one of the fortunate ones and following my recovery, I can drink sociably but there is always the danger of a lapse, unless I remain fully aware of how I feel. What happens is that drink number X will make me feel a little merry: at that point, I’m happy, sociable and really quite pleasant company. That’s when I curb it. Because that one more drink will make me feel a little drunk and the coping mechanism for an alcoholic is to drink more to dampen that feeling of unease. Of course, this then becomes a self-perpetuating mechanism. Before anyone knows it, I grow abusive, irrational and in the past, violent. That’s why, when an alcoholic says they’ve had enough, the greatest respect which can be paid to them is that of not pushing the matter. It really is in everyone’s interests and credit ought to be given to the alcoholic for exercising restraint, when the easiest thing to do is just carry on. The sad thing is that, for every alcoholic who’s admitted their problem, been diagnosed and treated, there are at least five others who won’t admit or realise that they are drinking dangerously. As an alcoholic myself, I see it all the time but you can’t reason with those people and their irrationality. There’s a simple analogy I use: being an alcoholic is like being addicted to that which one is allergic to.
Then of course, there are all of the other problems which alcohol is at the root of: depression being chief among mine. My depression was diagnosed separately but that diagnosis was hastened by the alcohol addiction. I tried AA but being an atheist, the whole religious ethos of AA simply made me want to drink more. It’s not the depression itself which makes me reclusive: my medication keeps that at bay for the most part. I am prone to social anxiety, panic attacks and depressive episodes. If one of these comes on in an environment outside of my comfort zone, the temptation is to turn to the old coping mechanism. That would not be a good idea; it’s not pretty. I could not go through a supervised detox because alcohol cessation can be lethal. The drugs which are administered for detox render the patient paralytic. As such, the patient needs to be in a safe environment and at the time I might have gone through it, I was homeless. In the end, I did it myself. Now, I’m what’s called a “Functioning alcoholic.”
To make things even more complicated for those in my company, it is not their responsibility to prevent me from drinking. I need to drink: not, as I once did, to simply stave off the Delirium Tremens (DTs) but to keep my body fuelled with what it needs. If I don’t drink, I could die. That’s why it’s recognised as Alcohol Dependency Syndrome. It’s on my medical records. The frustrating thing is that I can see how all of this might sound like a cop-out: I still drink, after all. Surely an alcoholic needs to completely abstain? Not necessarily. With some, complete abstinence is necessary after detox: their bodies are damaged and they are psychologically lacking in willpower. One sip of alcohol for some alcoholics will be all that’s needed for a catastrophic relapse. I refer to myself as one of the lucky ones because that’s the term used at CRI. Tonbridge Crime Reduction Initiative was the organisation I engaged with for a while when I first returned from London. Frankly, I found the whole thing patronising but while I was there (for several months), I was identified as someone who would stand a good chance of managing a self-administered reduction of intake. And that’s what I did, on my own but with people around me who didn’t try to help.
The Louis Theroux documentary gave equal time to the addicts and their support networks and there were many observations, among them that the alcoholic needs to have it within themselves to get better. It takes tremendous willpower to go through any kind of reduction programme, especially when it’s self-administered and you can cheat. I cheated and lapsed a number of times but I did it with willpower and it takes just as much to keep yourself on track. I have many compelling reasons to keep myself on the road when others might not be so fortunate. For the support network, it’s clear that the process is difficult exactly because they shouldn’t intervene. Those around the addict want to help but don’t know how, because the addict loves drink more than those who love him. Eventually, family and friends naturally withdraw. I hope that others gained something from the documentary because it told both sides of the story very well. The addict really has to want to get through it because their mindset is one where they would rather die than go through recovery and possibly never be able to have a drink again. The weighty conclusion was one that I derived a little comfort from: there comes a point where it is reasonable and ethical to leave the addict and allow nature to take its course. This was a process made simple by me because I had become such an unpleasant person that a part of my parents’ thinking was that they were exorcising their house of a demon. I learned subsequently of how devastated they were at having to throw me out but we have spoken about it in depth now and I reassure them that it was the best thing they could have done for me. It took great courage and commitment, because they never backed down when I kept going back to their doorstep. But for them, I wouldn’t be here. That’s obvious but I hope the sentiment isn’t lost.
I spoke previously of how easy it might have been to take my own life when I was drunk. I tried twice and was admitted to hospital on both occasions, while I was trying to get better. I’ve subsequently learned how cruel that would have been. There are – incredibly – people who need me, just as I need all those who hung around. I still don’t fully understand why they stick to me but the girls have emerged from whatever teenage teacups they were in and are keeping me busy. Of the many rewards which come from getting better, one is something which one of those three pointed out to me: There’ll be a lot more people at my funeral now, than if I’d died in the gutter. She’s very frank: that’s why we get on so well.
Although I’ve mainly been lazing about in The Studio and taking a 17 day break (from what?) to watch the snooker, I still can’t stop writing. It’s partly down to being in such a conducive place in which to exercise my hobby, job, skill? It’s mainly down to having Holly, the new typewriter. It’s taken a couple of weeks to make the laptop mine but it truly is now. It’s a writer’s dream machine. It’s actually not a bad gaming machine (I’ve over-clocked it a bit). Most importantly, it’s my typewriter.
It’s taken a little longer to get The Studio just as I want it. I’ve been here for almost six weeks now and as of tonight, I can state that it looks as a place of work shared with living ought to. My benchmark has always been that if a place looks good wherever you stand, you may sit down. As it stands, this place is perfect. For now. What I can only describe as the “civic” (a palindrome; have my favourite: “Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.”) lighting has been tamed with my refusal to turn the fucking lights on and exist instead in the more subtle glow of my reading and writing lamps, above the sofa and typewriter respectively. I’m so relaxed here that I even allowed interior aesthetics to come before my OCD, to an extent. The DVDs are still in alphabetical order but I realised that interspersing them with books and other shelf stuff made for a better look than everything with its own kind. It took me a year to settle into the twisted pub. Thankfully, then I moved out.
With so much time to myself now, some might have been forgiven for fearing I might lapse. I haven’t: rather than use the time to drink, I use it to write. I write in the hope that I gain readers, so that I can tell them things without the social anxiety. Just like the alcoholic, the writer is more afraid of stopping than of dying. Unlike alcohol though, writing isn’t a displacing infatuation which can be terminal.