I was trying to walk straight, I really was, but my legs had other ideas and all of a sudden I was bouncing off a wall and the pavement was rearing up fast to kiss my forehead. I was Bambi on ice; getting back up took several attempts and just when I thought I had achieved relative stability, I was on my arse again. To compound this befuddled misery of my own making, it started to piss it down hard underneath the Lucozade orange streetlights on this autumnal evening – that felt colder than a mother-in-law’s kiss. By the time I got to the top of the road, I was crawling on my hands and knees, sodden through to the skin by the rain…and a skinful of beer, wine and whisky. Now I was one of those drunken bums you see crawling around in the gutter – but I wasn’t a homeless derelict – I was a supposedly functioning citizen with a job, wife and car visiting the UK from Australia and attempting to get back to my parents’ home in a leafy Birmingham middle class suburb.
Earlier that night I had promised my wife, Char, I wold be home before 1:30 in the morning. I’d promised her such promises thousands of times before only to break them often by several hours rolling in pissed as a fart crashing around the place, reeking of booze and with the next day inevitably a total write-off as I stumbled through the day hung-over and resentful. But this time was going to be different – I agreed with Char that I had been going hard on the booze every night and sometimes in the day too since we’d landed in the UK three weeks before. The main purpose of our trip was to spend time with my family particularly my parents for whom travel to Aus was not possible for health reasons. So, tonight I wasn’t going to roll in at dawn drunk as a skunk, and I would get up the following day to meet my sister for brunch and be present and around with and for my family. So just a quiet night for me then, just a few drinks with an old friend over dinner and then home.
Except as usual – while I may have understood the concept of “just a quiet night”, my propensity for getting on the lash with just the scent of a drink in my nostrils had other ideas. A beer before heading out, a couple of G & Ts before dinner and as we were having tapas it would be rude not to have a bottle of Rioja, except that turned into two – of which I drank one and three quarters and then a ‘cleansing ale’ just while I was waiting for my friend to finish her meal. I liked the fact that my friend was doing most of the talking; it allowed me to drink more.
Then a bus ride into Kings Heath up the road to a favourite old local The Hare and Hounds – scene of many happy drinking sessions in the past – and, well, with a crowd of old friends there – the pints did flow and a couple of whiskies too – I’d guess seven or eight pints in about three hours and probably three or four tots of whisky….to be sociable and I was on holiday after all and for fuck’s sake this was a reunion, a celebration – so drink the fuck up and let’s have another. As ever, I was holding court – dazzlingly funny and entertaining – no doubt highly alluring to the ladies too…not that I’d ever think about playing away from home, but good to know I still had it…(booze told me these things about myself, no wonder I loved it so much).
Then back to my friend’s mum and dad’s house. Being a ruddy faced gap-toothed Glaswegian, her dad was very fond of single malt whisky or several with a small array of bottles of the noble liquor in his living room cabinet representing each whisky-making region of Scotland. Well then, let the tasting begin! I’d pretty much drunk my way around Scotland (perhaps downing the equivalent of half a litre of whisky) by the time I tried to focus on my watch face – it was 1:25 am – the witching hour. In my befuddled state, I dimly realised I needed to go now, if I was to have any chance of getting back for any time near my curfew. After refusing their pleas for me to stay, my friends beseeched me to at least let them order me a taxi – but I was having none of it, from theirs to my folks’ place is a good brisk 10-15 minute walk – how long would I have to wait for a taxi on a Thursday night at that time? Besides a good walk would sober me up, I reasoned.
Wronger than a six pound note. A 10-15 minute walk? Maybe as the crow flies when you’re walking straight, but certainly not when you’re zig-zagging across the pavement like a unicyclist with vertigo falling over every three or four minutes. I reckon it took me an hour to stagger, tack, crawl and slither my way to the top of our road. Somehow, I had not passed out and somehow in the dark depths of my scrambled, sozzled mind, I realised that I would wake the whole house up, if I even attempted to put the key in the lock, let alone crawl up the stairs. So pathetically I rang Char on her mobile to come and help me get in the door and upstairs without me crashing and thrashing around convincing the whole house they were being burgled by a Barbarian horde. She helped me up the stairs towards my dad’s study where we were sleeping, but because I was so sodden in wet street grime, I insisted on having a shower – so she had to help wash me and make sure I didn’t fall. Once a man, twice a boy, so they say…unless you’re a drunk…and it’s questionable if ever you make it to manhood in the first place. Certainly, when I was like this, for Char it was like having an unruly child to look after… one with serious cognitive and mobility issues.
It was like watching a hazy, scratchy film about a raving lunatic who couldn’t physically coordinate himself, I was there, but not there…I was shouting, I was crying, I was laughing…I was a fucking mess and I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was hitting my rock-bottom. The next day, I was in trouble with everyone. I was late meeting my sister for brunch – the one occasion of that UK trip where we were to get some one on one time together. She was not impressed, totally pissed off in fact and she told me in no uncertain terms. Char was furious – yet another broken promise but this one with bells on it. Understandably she felt humiliated and repulsed by my behaviour. For her it was enough – she told me she didn’t have another one of my benders in her – do it again and we were history. Fuck. I had no doubt she meant it either. That was food for thought – carry on drinking like this and risk my marriage. Risk losing the person who’d stuck by me through all the struggles with my demons in the past with the anxiety, the depression and the self-loathing – the person who wanted little other than mine and our family’s happiness.
What also began to stir in the gloom of my hangover was bemusement – for once I really had every intention of making it back on time the night before – in fact I had been determined before I left the house that night that I would make it and show to Char that I really did love her and my family. But the booze robbed me of my resolve and literally of my legs. For the first time, my powerlessness over alcohol was laid bare to me. It had been sneaking up on me for years as my binges got more and more voluminous and my behaviour under the influence more and more erratic – more and more arguments with Char about my drinking and the money I was spending on it – our money – the impact my hang-overs were having on the kids – my increasing dependence on the prospect of getting on the booze on Friday nights to get me through the week (being Jewish I was supposed to bring in the Sabbath on Friday night with a couple of sips of wine…not sure about two bottles of the stuff).
Then hung-over Saturday taking personal training sessions with clients bleary-eyed and, if I went, sitting in the pews at synagogue feeling unholy and guilty, limping through the afternoon and all I could think about was getting through to when five o’clock came, so I could get back on it. Hung-over again Sunday watching the kids playing football – finding solace with the other hung-over dads – trying to normalise it somehow. This would invariably be followed by pissy Sunday afternoons around at friends for long lunches and barbies – me drinking faster than everyone else, getting louder than everyone else, then on returning home wanting to carry on the one man party. Then Monday morning forcing myself out of bed to do a boxing circuit at the gym to punish myself in a bid ‘to sweat it out’ before rolling into work and feeling dreadful, tired, washed out and a day to crawl through and to forget as quickly as possible. At first I rarely drank again until the following Friday, but then Thursday became the start of the weekend, then Wednesday and I am sure it was only a matter of time before I started hitting the grog on a daily basis.
Looking back now, at 40-plus, I was dead inside, going through the motions, trapped by my monstrous emotions with my “life sliding out of view.” I was increasingly disconnected from those I loved and began to hate myself more for it. Towards the end of my drinking, the only times I really came alive was weekends away with mates – where, unrestricted, I could drink my fill with little fear of recrimination or upsetting anyone around me – although on occasion I tested even the patience of these friends when my drunken shenanigans spilt over into utter arseholery.
But now I was on the brink of losing the remaining shining positive influence in my life – the one who occasionally made me “forget myself and feel like someone else, someone good.” The showdown was coming – what did I love more in my life – the booze or Char? I vowed to myself to get some professional help on my return to Aus, I managed to stumble through the rest of the trip, not getting utterly wankered – but it was hard.
I had no intention of giving up the booze at that point – I just thought I should get some help to get it under control and I didn’t realise it then, but with those pinpricks of light shining through the veil of my denial, it was the beginning of the end of my drinking.
In my next two blogs I’ll be writing about how I finally knocked the booze on the head, stayed sober (so far!) and paved the way forward for the exponentially richer and more fulfilling sober life I am lucky enough to live today. Watch this space!