We All Have a Turning Point – the Key is Which Way we Turn
Before reading this, please bear in mind that I have helped people with Making Changes who were nowhere near as bad as me, as well as people who were arguably worse – the purpose of this blog post is to show you the true reality of how I lived and to demonstrate how much, when you see and hear for yourself, how I live now, that you can change – and to prove that change, no matter at what kind of level you may be at, or whatever your age may be, is possible.
The final period that led to change…
It was around July 2013 and I was extremely anxious about starting my new job in London. I'd lost the previous two jobs through drinking, one of which saw me being escorted out of the office where I couldn't even make it back to the tube station to get home. Instead, I was face down at the side of the road in Holborn, suited up obviously, I mean you've got to retain some level of sophistication, unable to stand up or speak, in the pouring down rain. The booze had hit me worse than normal that day, I could usually function, just about, and no doubt under some level of suspicion at work, but on this day something was different and I was out of it. Hundreds of people must have passed me in that state. I don't hold any resentment towards them, I very much doubt I would have done anything – maybe now that I look at things differently but certainly not back then, I'd have just walked by like everyone else. I certainly wouldn't have been the only person seen in that kind of condition so was it really too surprising in a city like London? What I do feel is a real sense of sadness and empathy, not in a self-pitying, feel-sorry-for-myself, kind of way – it's like I see a completely different person to the one I am today, it's the same feeling I get when I see anyone like that – it just fills me with sadness, compassion and empathy because I know the pain. It's difficult to describe the feeling but I wouldn't wish it on anyone, you're worse than lost, in every which way and the word 'alone' doesn't come close. I don't know how long I was there for but part of me bizarrely, and comically, would have loved to have seen my efforts to get home, which, like lots of drunks, I somehow managed to do!
But anyway, a few weeks later and somehow I'd landed an interview for a new, even better job and the inevitable anxiety I referred to at the start of this blog, the anxiety which had always been my main reason for drinking was now my main focus – because there's no way I'd get a job sober – not only did I have anxiety when sober but I also had alcohol withdrawal induced anxiety to contend with too and no-one would employ a blotchy, jumpy, twitchy, shivering, sweating person who could barely speak or give eye contact to his own family without a drink in him. So now, the planning begins – how do I drink 'wisely' to get the job and then retain it – I mean, it's never worked before but why let that stop me? That, my friends, is one absolutely clear example of the insanity of what alcohol can do to a mind.
So, rather comically, I turned up for the interview that did actually get me the job, wearing glasses with clear lenses in as I thought I'd look more intelligent. Apart from drunken, blurred vision, my eyesight was and is pretty perfect. Nevertheless, extremely drunk, I gave a presentation and the feedback was apparently amazing, the only problem was, and why I say 'apparently', is because I had no clue what I'd been talking about.
The night before starting the job, I could not sleep a wink; in fact I hadn't slept properly for years now and so knowing that this might occur, on the Saturday I got some healthy food and just a few beers, nothing heavy, but hopefully enough to let me sleep without causing a severe hangover. I still didn't sleep. Sunday I did the same. Still no sleep. So whilst on the Monday I wasn't as bad as the week before, when I was actually supposed to start the job, but because of a horrendous hangover I didn't, I still felt pretty awful and had clear signs of withdrawal. So I hit the shops at 6:00 AM and got some booze. Just enough to get me through the day. I had enough time, my suit was dry cleaned, I had a new shirt, which for some bizarre reason I decided on the colour of bright yellow and was deservedly called a bus driver for most of the day, "what time's the next bus to Brixton Chris?". I had a new tie; shoes, my hair was cut and I was clean shaven. Yet, despite all that, none of it had any impact on my confidence or anxiety and so I was already a bottle of wine into the day and I'd not even got on the tube. I had my small bottles stashed in my bag and in my suit jacket and I headed off to the famous Chancery Lane, where Charles Dickens wrote some of his novels and I had no anxiety anymore – the alcohol had started to do its thing and I was off to 'conquer' London. My mindset was now one of, I don't care, I do things my way and if this is what I need to do get through the day then that's what I have to do. This is where, for me, it wasn't, or at least didn't feel like a choice – it was a system I'd created that was supposed to be short term and phased out as I became more comfortable with my colleagues and the anxiety decreased. Obviously, that was my insane delusion talking and it missed out the main and obvious fact – which was that I was an extreme and chronic alcoholic, which significantly supersedes any logic you think you might have, but at that time I knew of no other way of how to survive professionally in the workplace.
Luckily, the first day was meeting people – hand shaking, small talk and basically people staring at the new guy – all the things I normally hated. But hey, I was drunk so I was cool with it, I just had to be careful not to let it show and so I was simply polite and courteous and most of all, confident. If only I could be like this normally. I got through the day, what a relief. And so I made my way home got some good food and 2 bottles of wine to add to my full day of hidden drinking. At the flat I cooked for my French friend, chatted and socialised and I honestly thought I was going to be okay tomorrow. Absolutely no drink, even if I'm anxious I'm just going to deal with it.
And so after a 'little' drink and sleep that night I went to work the next day and didn't drink. It was beyond awful; I hardly spoke and I broke into a panic attack at a group meeting where sweat absolutely soaked through my clothing. This wasn't normal perspiration; it was like a waterfall and I was mortified. The look of horror and shock on my colleagues' faces at the sweat dripping off my chin was horrific. This is why I drink I shouted at myself internally – why can't I just be normal and sit and engage with other human beings? But, somehow, I clung on, got through it and stayed away from the bottle for about 6 weeks. Work got better, so did my confidence, in fact I even socialised twice without drinking, although it was tough. I cycled into work every day as the tube would give me small panic attacks and anxiety. I worked out before work in the gym lifting weights, running 7k after work and I also joined a football team. I was now living the London life! Well, sort of, in a very timid and ever fearfuk kind of way and I'd replaced drinking with severe exercise, which, whilst better, will only get you so far.
Just before I go on – in the programme of Making Changes we identify times and examples of where we do try to change and this would be one such example. The idea is to let us know that somewhere within us we were trying to do the right thing. So over time, I learnt not to beat myself up as some sort of failure, instead I recognised that in my own weird way I was always trying to live life the right way for me. At that time I never knew that, yes, spiritually I wasn't right - what I've heard referred to as 'soul sickness', I was alone and emotionally isolated and if I'm honest, extremely unhappy, lacking in self-esteem, lacking in self-respect and still lost and not knowing who I was as a person. Something was still missing from me and whilst at the time I didn't know it, I was on the hard, brutal path to finding it, to which I'm now ever so grateful for.
If we go back to my work, my immediate colleagues in my team were great and I can honestly say I got on well with them but outside of that I couldn't really stand anyone. Was it me? Was it justified? No, nothing like that is ever justified, I just didn't know that then. At the time, what was it then? I couldn't play the game of office politics – I'm too genuine, or at least that's what I thought. Looking back though, I always looked for the negative in people rather than just doing my own thing. I was filled with resentment and this in-built nature to want to go to 'war' with people I didn't like and eventually this mindset caught up with me and after about 6 weeks of not drinking, at the top of a rooftop restaurant overlooking a beautiful sunset over St Paul's cathedral, my 'rock bottom' finally began as I had my first drink in 6 weeks at a work function.
My job was in the international recruitment of students from Africa and I had an agent from Botswana, Barbara, who was visiting and, along with my boss, Tim, we were to show her around London. We were to attend a few presentations and do some networking – all the stuff I hated because of my anxiety, although, all these years later I'm able to attend these type of events and I can now attend sober and with confidence – that in itself to me is amazing and something I try to always remember and be grateful for – the change is significant and it's borne out of desire and action.
I did like Tim, and Barbara was also lovely, so I felt quite comfortable, which turned out to be too comfortable. They were down to earth and, like myself, could see through the pretence of some of the workplace hierarchy. So, we had a good day, then I found out that the whole company had hired the rooftop terrace at St Paul's and I was told that, as part of my role, I would be expected to attend the function – obviously they didn't know the potential problems this could cause for me and others. At first I tried to make excuses not to go but then I thought stuff it, I've not drunk yet apart from the very first day I joined the company and I deserve it (typical problem drinker thinking – justification, denial and already a 'loss of control'). I only realise now but thinking in such a way is quite common amongst problem drinkers; or whatever term you might prefer, normal drinkers just socialise and drink.
So, the evening started as a beautiful, hazy night on a rooftop bar looking over St. Paul's Cathedral, London. The sky was red, laughter was all around, business people flexed their egos and women of all kinds were in attendance. Ten years ago, I would have been having reckless fun and in my element, without causing too much bother – a bit like a 'rough but 'loveable' diamond' shall we say; that night however, like so many others in recent years, I was consumed with the inner emptiness of not belonging, this working class, council estate kid, with zero self-esteem and a bucket load of issues was well out of his depth and so for the first time in six weeks I drank; and I did so with a feeling of panic-stricken inevitability as I knew from experience that this would end up in turmoil. The final hurrah, the ultimate 'rock bottom', the last disaster all started that night.
More or less immediately, I had left the round of drinks and was on my own solo mission and come 7pm I was wasted. I knew that because I was unsteady on my feet and I wanted to smoke. Kind of lingering around groups without ever being part of the conversation. Despite this, I carried on at the same relentless pace and, to this day, have no idea how I got home.
The day after I somehow managed to make it into work, still drinking, where I had to meet Barbara for another day of chaperoning and presentations. Great, this meant that I could sneakily drink my hangover away and there was another gathering at the rooftop bar again tonight. Excellent. Now, this is what I call work, yet something wasn't quite right. I had a niggling nervous feeling about the previous night; Barbara and Tim were fine so I had no worries there yet all became clear at the end of the day when we met for pre party drinks – obviously, my pre party drinks had already begun much earlier in the day – when outside the first pub, where several people from the company were having a smoke, a guy who I'd met a couple of times called Alistair warned me that I had been troublesome the previous night and people had started to notice. He said it was just about okay but to be sensible tonight. At first I thought, who is this self-righteous do-gooder telling me how to behave? Yet, that was just bravado based out of fear and an only too familiar feeling of shame – in actual fact, I felt gutted these people had already begun to see this side to me, the side I'd spent 6 weeks trying to hide. The resentment and denial part of me also meant that I felt that they were already out to 'get me', the poor self-pitying Chris, taking no responsibility for his actions. Then my boss, Tim, showed me an e-mail from the Director that stated there was to be a full investigation into my professional conduct the night before. It transpired that a colleague didn't like the way I had spoken to her and as you may have expected, it was with justification. It became apparent that we were talking around the table and she approached the subjects on how difficult it was for a woman in a workplace such as ours and with my warped, drunk outlook and attitude firmly in the hands of the red wine I'd been gulping, I proceeded to shoot her down with such a well thought out argument as "bollocks".
The office gossip was that she had a very senior job because she was sleeping with the boss – now the point I'm making here is that, whether that's even true or not, if this was to happen today I wouldn't have an opinion on it one way or the other – genuinely. I mean, who I am to judge? Why would I want to judge? Why would I even have a thought on it and does it harm me in the slightest? All of these answers meant that I would have wisely and diplomatically steered myself away from any such conversation, rather than getting involved and going to 'war', so to speak. I also found out that later that night I had gone to a club with a group from the office and had been upsetting another guy there. He was the guy that got on with everybody in the office, always loud, always positive, always smiling, always chatting – just the sort of bloke I couldn't stand because I was, quite simply, jealous. Why didn't this guy seem to do any work, why was he always hanging around with and hugging women, all touchy feely? Just to be absolutely clear this is an example of my mind back then, through the vast amount of work I've since done, this kind of thinking is alien to me now and is another example of how we can change our views on life, circumstances and people.
If I'm honest, before this night, I had actually made a good impression in the office and had potentially ruined it with my drunken antics and had been here before so many many times – that horrible feeling of, "man, I've done it again, how have I done this again? How has it happened this time?" I am literally sabotaging everything in my life. I left that second night pretty much straight away out of sheer embarrassment and worry that something even worse might happen. I tried to be diplomatic and seek to arrange a meeting to apologise and it appeared that I would be able to smooth things over. So, the plan was to carry on drinking, to give me the confidence and 'ability' to deal with this situation – the plan was to just get me through my hangover by drinking 'wisely' at work, sort this problem out, then at the weekend I would sober up and go back in on the Monday and stick to not drinking again – yet this never happened.
This incident had more of an effect on me and my own self-worth than I realised and I couldn't face it. I couldn't face up to this type of thing again. Partly, because of embarrassment, partly because of self-pity, an immaturity to own and face up to my wrongdoings but I think also because I knew it ran deeper than that – that it would happen again. I had no control and my words, no matter how heartfelt at the time would inevitably turn out to be meaningless, whether it be days, weeks or even months later. That familiar feeling of self-hate, guilt, abnormality, feeling misunderstood, loneliness, and an unwillingness to fight on had now, once and for all, become too much.
I told them I had to work from home, yet I knew I was on the edge of the cliff, just about holding on – I couldn't focus on work, had no recollection of e-mails I had sent 30 minutes ago and no upcoming plans in place. My only thought was when and how can I get my next drink. I was going to have to blag my way through till Friday but I knew I had stupidly arranged a date through a dating website. One of the many that I went on whilst in London and also one of the many that I could never remember, so I'm sure all the women had a wonderful time!
On the Thursday, I wasn't even working from home, instead I was cycling through the manic streets of London city centre which can be perilous when sober, let alone drunk. I must admit I felt like I was flying, speeding past Saint Paul's cathedral whilst 10 sheets to the wind. Fortunately, I can look back at that moment with a smile but I also look I look back at it with sadness at that lost boy not knowing what I was doing or where and why I was going. That's exactly what I was I was. Lost.
I had decided to cycle to Liverpool Street station to meet with a Canadian guy I had met at football. He was a decent bloke and he'd won a competition to try new tourist spots in and around London and asked if I fancied going white water rafting along with some other lads from the team. So there I was, horrendously drunk in a partial blackout, and with no idea where I had parked my bike for the return ride home. It was a Thursday, but I forgot about work completely and I was drunk enough not to be anxious and I appeared, to the lay person, pretty normal, that's the thing about 'blackout' – the tasks you can do whilst in such a state are almost akin to being hypnotised. I was well and truly drunk – yet here I was about to sit in a big dinghy, wet suit and crash helmet on, rafting through quite dangerous rapids at some speed. Fortunately, I've always been a strong swimmer/sportsman so somehow I managed to pull it off and I have to say I was quite grateful and happy that somehow I'd managed to bond with the group, at least I think so anyway. Unfortunately, I now headed off back to my reality, which was a lost bike and my apartment room where the dread of normality and loneliness would set back in. So, I got some more booze on the way home and rather than dread work the next day, I drank and decided I was going to say I'd banged my head at white water rafting the evening before. That's when the spiral of my final bottom truly began, because for the next five weeks I have no real idea what happened.
Fast forward approximately 5 weeks later…
As I awake from my coma-like, wine induced 'sleep', my first thought is "Why? Why did I have to wake now, why is it that I still don't feel better, even just a little bit, why hasn't the booze worn off yet"? I then lie there and I can smell myself, my bed, my room and I feel disgust, shame, fear, confusion, dread, hopelessness and countless other similar emotions. How has this happened? I 'think' this is about the fifth week I've been drinking 24/7 and I'm not sure what day or what time of day it is.
I know this is at least the tenth time I've done this to myself in as many months, and that's not even considering all the previous years that have gone by, but this time it's really bad, worse than before. I strain over the side of the bed to see if I have any wine close by and I do. So I psych myself up for five minutes and try not to be sick at the thought of drinking it, but knowing that I need it – if I don't drink I may have a seizure and without it in me, I certainly won't summon the energy to even move, even slightly. So I sit up slowly, steady myself and pour about half a bottle of red wine into a large glass that hasn't been washed for days.
It has small flies on it. Yet that doesn't stop me. I start gulping and it's horrible. Drink it, all of it, I tell myself. And I do. I'm almost grateful, because I know that, if I can keep it down, it will at least ease some of this current pain, I know there's more to come in the future, but for now, I have a slight rest bite. I'm careful not to look around my room too much just yet as I know the carnage that will be there. So I settle back and put the TV on quietly so as not to wake the Portuguese idiot in the next room or the fat Hungarian girl across the hall or the weird Spanish guy who lives like a hermit and definitely not that guys nasty sister who runs this flat. I only define them in this way as part of this blog post, not because this is how I would think of them now, it is to demonstrate the insanity of how I was living my life, yet that I could still judge others, at that time, who I didn't even know, in such a bitter and resentful manner. Insanity.
I mean, come on, did they not know that I just needed to be alone, how can I sort myself out when I need to be isolated so they don't see me like this? I check the time and it's 4:00 AM and it's a Wednesday. Thank goodness that I have enough booze to see me through till 7:00 AM when the local shop opens over the road. I'll chill out till then and drink what I've got, then I'll go there and get 3 bottles of red wine to see me through the day. I'll try and eat then as well and I'll try and sort this room out to some extent, then I'll try and shower then I'll reply to my family, then I'll contact work and aim to get myself in next Monday sober, but I wonder if I'll still even have a job by then. Yet, this is all only remotely possible if I can somehow manage to drink the red wine I need to consume to get me functional. If you're asking why red wine – it was the only drink left that I could stomach, just about, that still had a strong enough effect on me. Also, I could say to the shop owners that there was a work function or something to justify purchasing three bottles every morning, yeah course there is mate.
Anyway, I can't think about that right now – just drink till 7 then start with the plan. This is going to be tough, in fact I don't know how I'm going to pull myself out of this one. Drink it all - you need to Chris. Oh please. Just let me be okay. And so I lie there for 3 hours and drink 2 bottles of red wine in my sweat infested bed. I can't remember the last time I ate, drank water, washed, shaved, clean my teeth or changed my clothes. I reach for my wallet, keys and phone. I'm okay, I have a couple of grand in my account so I'm okay. I then tried to get out of bed and I literally cannot touch any carpet with my feet. It's covered in sick, piss, clothes and approximately 60 empty red wine bottles. I look in the mirror and I can see my muscles have wasted away. 5 weeks ago I was cycling 15 miles a day, doing 30 minutes weight training in the morning before work and running 7k every night, before cycling back home. Whilst that was impressive, I now know it was just another form of avoidance addiction. But now look at me. The shop seems like a million miles away, when in actual fact it's 2 minutes' walk away and I need to go now before anyone in the apartment wakes up. Come on Chris lad, you're a fighter. You can do this. And I do.
The walk to the shop is horrendous. My legs feel like jelly and I have no strength at all, yes I tried to look strong. I lived in a rough neighbourhood in South East London and normally I could look after myself, but now I'm walking in complete fear and I don't even know what of. I'd never be able to defend myself right now. I'm extremely twitchy and I nearly always jump out of my skin at any slight noise. I look at people going to work, cars on the road, buses stopping by and I feel a million miles from normality. I don't feel real. I can't turn my head too quickly when I look across the road in case I stumble through dizziness. Jeez man, I'm weak, dangerously weak. I entered the shop with my skinny legs on show, a stinking T-shirt, a baseball cap to hide my face, long, uncut filthy fingernails, itchy and blotchy skin and I don't mess around – straight to the counter – 3 bottles of red wine please at 07:10 in the morning. The family shop owners look at me with a smirk. I try and socialise, as if what I'm doing is normal. Who am I kidding? They know. I look back on that and understand that they had a business to run and they had no responsibility to me whatsoever, but I do feel kind of sad that as human beings we sometimes have so little care for each other.
Anyway, mission accomplished, so for that and the questionable morals of the shop owners aside, I'm now bizarrely grateful, just like the heroin addict would be if they'd got their fix – the exact same thing – no difference at all. And somehow I managed to walk back to my pit, probably because I knew I was nearing the end of my Everest like arduous journey from the shop 150m away. Whilst I'm relieved that I have the wine I also feel a deeper dread and despair as I know what's going to happen. Thankfully, I make it to my room with no one in the apartment seeing me. My room stinks. Bottles of urine in the corner where I've been too fearful to even go downstairs to the toilets in case people see me. The empty bottles of water that I've used to urinate in are the exact colour of red wine. There are flies all around my bedside cabinet buzzing around my left-over, feeble attempt to eat food from who knows when. I sit on my bed and pull out the newspaper I've just bought, you know, to maintain at least some level of sophistication, but I quickly realise that I have no idea what's been going on in the real world. My football team, Manchester United, played yesterday. How did I not know that? I can't even read so in the end I put the paper down and just pour another drink instead. Bosh. Another half a bottle done. Then I sit in a daze and cry. I just cry. Because I'm lost. I've been near here before, very near, but this is definitely my bottom and my worst. Both physically and mentally I've gone and I can't get myself out or see a way of getting myself out. One more glass for now. Bosh. That day was October the 2nd 2013 and I had been drinking around the clock for about 5 weeks. Copious amounts. For 6 weeks prior to that I had been completely sober and living life as what I now know is described by some as a 'dry drunk'.
Fortunately for me I had family back up North who cared for me, they tried to contact me yet I was only capable of drinking, puking it up, using the remote to put the TV on as some sort of distraction, move to urinate in my bottles, nibble on food, cry, pass out, then get to the newsagents again in the morning and repeat. Obviously, this is not sustainable and sooner or later something bad was going to happen, I was following in the exact same footsteps as my Mum (perhaps to be explained elsewhere but a very similar story). Looking back, I had no fight in me to get out of this one. In the past I had managed to just about pull myself back, but this time I had gone. My brother, living in Manchester, had contacted the police who came and knocked on my bedroom door, I unlocked it and popped my head out and said everything is fine, blocking out the filthy chaos behind me, although they must've smelt the room, they said okay we'll let him know and I stumbled back to the pit. The night after though, my brother, Mike, and father came to rescue me and this was to be my moment. They literally saved me from death. I think another few days and my body would've packed up. The people in the flat never knew if you were in or not so I doubt they would've checked and my door was always locked anyway. Whilst I'm truly grateful for this I'm also touched with sadness and complete empathy for those out there that might not have family or friends, if I hadn't, I honestly don't think I would be here today.
One of the key elements to any mental issue, alcoholism or addiction is isolation. You put yourself away where you can't be harmed or found out for what you think you really are. It's also because you end up so beat down that you believe you're unworthy of getting better or receiving help, all things that are part of the messed-up mind that contribute to this. I now know I am worthy. I now know I need to talk about it. I now know it is nothing to be ashamed of. This might all be easier to deal with if we lived in a society where we could just admit that we were a bit messed up. Although there is no doubt that things are getting better around mental health as a whole, there is still a long way to go around alcohol and drug issues and normalising what it can do to people like me. Is it really that strange a concept? You know that chemical that most people can drink, well, I can't, it does something to me that will cause me and others like me problems – it ought to be that simple. For me now, with the confidence and awareness I have, most of the time it is that simple to talk about, but I still have to pick my moments depending on the situation and the audience I'm with.
I remembered the Police knocking on my bedroom door the night before I was picked up, the door I always made sure I locked just in case anyone tried to get in. Mike had called them up out of concern because I hadn't replied to any calls, text messages or Facebook messages. I was living in hell but he was in there with me too, it must have been awful for him, especially considering we had both gone through the traumatic consequences of my Mum's experience too, yet we can only consider this after we get sober. Non-alcoholic people may class it as selfish, and it is, it isn't a conscience decision to be selfish though or one that has any type of awareness. When you've gone that far, any type of rational, reasonable thinking has long disappeared. In fact I remember thinking, oh no, please leave me alone, just leave me, why can't I be left to just continue to damage myself, I'm not harming anybody! When really I should've been grabbing any opportunity for help that came my way! This kind of thinking is, I believe, down to being utterly ashamed, 'embarrassed' isn't a strong enough word. In a sense, you can't understand how this has happened to you so how will anyone else?
The Police asked me if I was okay and I told them yes, and in turn could they tell my brother not to worry, that I've just been under a bit of stress lately. I told them this whilst peering round my door to block the dungeon that lay behind me and whilst remaining in the dark so that they couldn't see just how not okay I actually was. I then staggered back to my bed after locking the door and continued to exist in that horrific place of not wanting to die yet not wanting to live. As I reflect on that night now, I do recall a glimmer of something, whether that be hope that Mike would come to the rescue or that somewhere deep down I would find the strength to pull myself out of this as people were now looking for me, I don't know exactly what it was, but there was something. What became clear however, was the fact that there was no way I was pulling myself out of it, not this time, I physically couldn't, I knew how bad it was going to be, the withdrawals this time would be dangerous. I needed professional help but that was a million miles away. The only thing I could do was make sure I kept the supply coming.
Yet, there were other plans for me and the rescue party came the following night. It consisted of my brother in the driver's seat of my Dad's Ford Fiesta and my Dad and Step Mum, Lorraine, in the back, they had driven around 5 hours at night time to come and get me. It was a pretty quick getaway, they were at my bedroom door and I just broke down, crying like a baby. They hugged me, told me I would be okay and to get dressed. I threw something on and they helped me into the car. I sat with Lorraine for several minutes whilst Mike and my Dad liaised with the landlady of the flat. I remember sitting in the car sobbing that I was a, "f**king loser", that, "there was no hope for me", "what is wrong with me and why do I keep doing this?". It wasn't said in anger or self-pity, more as a representation of my genuine sadness and bewilderment at the whole situation. I knew that something, me, life, something, was seriously broken and right now was about surviving and taking the help that was being offered to me.
Think how crazy that drive must have been for my family?! I mean Mike and myself have been through some brotherly 'ups and downs' in our time and I think we can cope pretty well with stuff (alcohol aside for myself of course), but what about my Dad? What about Lorraine?! I do know we did have some humour on the way back, I was still intoxicated although more coherent than was expected I think. It was quite obvious they had envisaged this problem would have something to do with alcohol and that they had done some sort of research as my Dad brought some small shot bottles of whisky, they knew it would be dangerous for me to just stop drinking and that I would need to ween off. That was good as it meant I could still carry on drinking too; the thought of stopping filled me with absolute dread, yet I also had another feeling too, that support was here and that this really was it, I knew I had been close to death and that had such an impact on me, I just wanted to surrender - to say no, I cannot do this anymore.
When I arrived back up North I stayed with my Dad which was a very strange and surreal few days. Hallucinating was something I'd never experienced before, this wasn't visual, yet I could hear things when I was trying to sleep. Sometimes they were isolated noises and other times it would be a consistent buzzing or humming sound. When I closed my eyes I would see flashes behind my eyelids, that is the best way I can explain it, it was almost like my body was so full of poison that I was simply a lump of mass made up of complete anxiety. In my mind, I felt calmer than I had for weeks yet the alcohol was doing its physical thing on my body and I had to just endure it and ride it out. I didn't sleep once whilst there and that was for 3 or 4 days; my eyeballs themselves would burn and tingle as though they craved rest – maybe they just didn't want to witness any more carnage!
In addition to the sleep deprivation, not just at my Dads, but for the weeks prior to that too, given that the only time I ever closed my eyes was when I had passed out from the booze rather than actual sleep, I still hadn't been able to eat properly. I'd managed the odd bite of a sandwich or half a slice of toast but still couldn't take a full meal. This meant that I was physically weak and I found out just how much when I ventured out of the house for the first time. It was after my Dad had suggested I go and get the morning paper and a few 'bits and bobs' from the local shop which was literally 2 minutes' walk away. Of course, I craved fresh air, I just didn't have the confidence to go out; yet off I went. As I crossed the road I gently jogged to the island half way across as a car approached, little did I expect my legs to almost buckle, to the point where I wobbled and almost fell down. I wasn't dizzy or feint, my legs just simply had no strength and were still full of poison. You see that is how I view alcohol these days, as a poison, for me that's what it is, I may as well pour acid down my throat as the end result will look very similar, so just like every normal person avoids acid at all costs, I do exactly the same with alcohol. The wild, glamorous, hazy days and nights full of laughter and joy doesn't happen for me. Period. Being unable to physically cross a road, weeks of no eating or sleep and hallucinations is my version.
The most surreal day of all though was the day we were to go and see the consultant at the treatment centre for an assessment. I had been weening off the alcohol for about 4 days now and had gone through hallucinations, DT's, constant sweating and hardly eating. All my clothes were still in London strewn around the floor of my hell hole covered in the biological remains of my illustrious life in London and so I had to borrow some of my Dad's clothes. I looked mental and guess what? It turned out that I was, the treatment centre was actually an acute mental health hospital! So the clothes were actually quite fitting, not in size but certainly as a representation of my circumstances and state of mind! So off I went with my baggy black trousers, short sleeved white shirt, where the sleeves actually came down close to my wrist, my skinny arms, legs and bloated little pot belly having undertaken strict instructions to clean shave as we wanted to set a good example. Not sure what example an alcoholic at rock bottom is supposed to present but there's nothing like trying to keep up appearances.
The two things that struck me the most from my assessment, which was extremely straightforward, "Yes Chris, from what you have said I believe we need to treat you for addiction to alcohol", were 1.) the genuine empathy from the guy that assessed me. I later realised he was also an alcoholic and so when I described my symptoms and what I had done to myself he was almost in tears, of which I now know is because it reminded him of what he'd been through and 2.) when offering his opinion of my situation and the background of it he told me that, "If you were to go back drinking after what you've told me, knowing the negative impact it has had on your life and what it does to you, a clinician or psychologist would diagnose you as insane, in fact you have displayed clear evidence of insane behaviour up to this point which has brought you to here". I nodded along quite shocked and somewhat insulted, "Me? Insane? I am a man of intelligence who just has a problem with the drink, he obviously doesn't know that last year I received a first-class law degree and wrote an award-winning dissertation! Pfft, insane indeed, I'll show him!". After the meeting when me and my Dad were driving home I stated (whilst still looking mental) with a completely naïve and unknowing delusion that, "Yes, I agreed with everything he said, but that comment about me being insane was a bit far!". Yet how right he was and you know what? I'm not embarrassed or ashamed about admitting that now, it's the opposite in fact, I'm proud to be able to admit the fact it was true. I look back at that time, in October 2013, in amazement at just how much there was that I didn't know; about life, about my illness/disease, whatever you want to call it and most of all about myself. But this was my turning point and I'm grateful, as you will discover, should you also take part in Making Changes, that it was the right turn to take.
From February 2014 I started working in the IT sector where I have now become a successful consultant in the public sector. I have a lovely dog, who has helped me massively in terms of learning how to put another being before myself. I have a lovely home which I pay for with a mortgage, something I never thought I would achieve. I'm fit, well and healthy. I also have the love and respect of my family and friends. Yet, more important than any of that, which is all fantastic - I have hope; I'm not living in constant fear; I'm at peace; I have pride in myself. The list could go on and they are all things I had never felt before. That is the magic of this journey and why I created Making Changes - so that others out there can experience it too.
With love and compassion, Chris