Dave, a Student
Drink and University went together wonderfully for me. I would go into college and make my way to the bar at midday. The premium lager was cheap and I had a student bank account, credit cards, a cheque guarantee card, and a large overdraft limit. The world was my oyster! Unfortunately I rarely made it out into the world – I was usually in one bar or another; and when I did make it out, the evening wasn’t complete until I’d got drunk.
Although I say that drink went well with University in general, it didn’t go very well with lectures. Once I’d got into the bar and had a pint, the idea of going to a lecture seemed incredibly boring. The bar was so warm and cosy, and the people so friendly. And anyway, it was months until exams: rock ‘n roll! I felt cool because I was such a heavy drinker, and all my musical and literary heroes were too. I read Jim Morrison’s biog over and over; and I loved hearing about Hendrix, Coleridge, Hemmingway and Bukowski. Alcohol was the fuel of my “genius”. My academic life was nil, but my social life was the tops. I was popular, and I listened to the best music. I had no time for the people who couldn’t keep up with my drinking because of academic commitments. They were squares and boring. You only live once – burn out don’t fade away!
Sometimes, on hangover mornings, I would worry that maybe I should be doing more work, and spending less money. I was in the student bar every night, spending £20, drinking enough to give me a throbbing head, and saying and doing things that I usually regretted the next day. My so-called “genius” usually involved a few drunken mumblings to other students in pubs, trying to persuade them, by direct or indirect means, that I was special. I wrote songs, and talked crap. The more I embarrassed myself, the more I lost my self-esteem, and the more I depended on drink to make me feel at home in social scenes.
One hangover morning I decided not to go to the student bar at lunchtime. But on the way into college, my head began trying to persuade me to go to the bar. I was telling myself that it would be okay, and that maybe I’d just have one pint and then go to my lecture, or that I had plenty of time to get my work done, or that “what the hell – have some fun!” But another part of my head was telling me not to do it: I knew that once I had one pint, I would not be able to stop, and that I would then drink through the day, and wake again with a massive hangover and another lost 24 hours. I found myself walking to the bar doors at midday. I stood at the doors and had a massive internal battle. I thought I must be going mad to be at such odds with myself – I was very confused. I wrenched myself away from the bar, and went to the student medical centre to ask for help.
I began to see a psychiatrist but, amazingly, I wouldn’t talk to him about the root of my problems, my drinking! I persuaded myself that I didn’t have a serious drinking problem (an amazing dishonesty – inspired by my desire to let nothing interrupt my habit.) The volume I drank increased, and the results became worse: violence, self-mutilation, police cells, morning drinks, isolation from friends and family, intense paranoia. When eventually I tried to stop drinking, I failed, and only managed three months sober. I tried again and again, but would always end up defeating myself: picking up a drink through some trivial excuse that had no bearing on the pain the drink eventually caused. Each time, just before relapsing, my head would fail to recall the immense suffering that drink had caused me in the past. Even a baby can learn to avoid a flame, but here I was, in my late teens, and totally unable to avoid the very thing that was ruining my life.
I had to retake my first year and my second year, and I only made it through one term of my third year before finally admitting that there was no point in continuing my degree until I could find a way to stop drinking. My despairing mother put me up again, and I began going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, aged 22. At the meetings, recovered alcoholics were describing how they stopped drinking. After a few visits I realised that I was an alcoholic, and that alcoholism was a disease! I wasn’t a bad person, just a sick one. But there was good news and bad news. The good news was that there was an A.A. program of recovery which could give me a daily reprieve from my drinking problem. The bad news was that unless I did something about my alcoholism, it would kill me, painfully. I would continue to poison myself, unable to stop – even to the point of death. Heart disease, Cancer, Alcoholism – yes it does belong in the list.
A.A. members will show newcomers how they did the A.A. recovery program. They do this because it helps them to stay sober! Not because they’re do-gooders… Although highly skeptical at first, I was taken through the program (divided into 12 “Steps”), and while doing the 12 Steps, I lost the compulsion to drink.
After doing the AA recovery program my life turned around astonishingly rapidly, and I returned to Plymouth University, getting the highest finals marks in the department, and winning a prize. I have now just had my third Christmas and New Year in sobriety. Instead of dreaming of writing, I am now a published poet, and a publisher of others. I am doing a higher degree, and have just started to get my research published. I can now use my intellectual, literary, musical and social talents to their fullest. My earning capacity has gone up, while my alcohol spending has gone down to zero, so I’m just discovering the joys of disposable income. And I have finally returned to my family and friends.
The joys of recovery are mine for the taking – now the world really is my oyster!
(Written Oct 1996, author still a member of Road to Recovery Group…)