The Gift of Desperation
There is a story in the big book about ‘a skinny kid that was always tested’. This is one of the first stories in the book that I identified with. It describes how I was to a tee. I lived up in North London and I was a lanky kid with tortoise shell NHS specs and teeth braces. My trousers would always be hanging half mast around my ankles and I was very self-conscious and physically awkward. I discovered alcohol around the age of 15 and I grew to love the numbing effect that it had on me. I would hoard cans of cider in a cupboard in my bedroom and I would drink them on my own. If I was to go out with friends, I would be oblivious to where I was going or who I was going with. As long as I could get drunk I was okay.
At 17 I tried to join the Army. I was in the Army cadets when I was younger and I loved the sense of belonging it gave me. I got turned down as I was not fit or strong enough. That was it, I would prove them wrong! With typical alcoholic defiance I ran everyday and trained hard and in the end I got in. My military career came to an abrupt end when I was discharged. I felt angry and totally demoralised. This anger turned to extreme resentment and I started to drink more heavily. My behaviour also started to change for the worse; I began to argue with my parents and friends. I can still remember my father’s reaction when I turned up drunk with an orange mohican haircut dressed in dirty, ripped clothes swearing and shouting abuse at him. Months earlier his son was an infantry soldier wearing the uniform of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. He is a very proud man. Looking back I must have broken his heart then.
I decided to move back to London and I found work in security, living in a small room in the Kings Cross area of North London. Anybody who knows London will tell you that you can’t get much lower than this. I was certainly seeking out those dark and sordid places like the book describes… I was soon sacked from this job and for the first time in my life I was broke and totally alone. At this point I began a very quick descent to depravity central. I was travelling around on the tube with a couple of bags full of my belongings, living in squats, shoplifting, begging. I became a shell of a man. I lived of benefits and occasionally I worked cash in hand on building sites to earn money for drink. I stopped caring about myself; I lost weight and looked like a skeletal ghost, drifting from place to place in an alcoholic haze. I woke up one morning after being spending another night in a cell and realised that I had to move from London. It wasn’t the drink that was the problem, it was the city… I ran away from London to my parents. My parents took me in after they had got over the initial shock of my appearance. I was out after two weeks; they had both had enough of my constant mood swings and self pity. I started to drift around Cornwall and Plymouth, hanging around on the edges of the ‘alternative scene’. I never felt cool enough to belong in these circles and I would always get to drunk and make an idiot out of myself.
This stage in my drinking was punctuated by ‘sober’ periods. I wanted to be a cool artist type: so I would stop drinking and smoke loads of cannabis instead. I grew my hair long and began to go for long walks with headphones clamped to my head playing acid trance. I started to eat proper meals and I rented a small room in Callington Cornwall. I got a job in a pottery and started to design and create objects from clay and metal. It was like a dream; I kept myself to myself and tried to focus on keeping it all together through the haze. Though around this time I started to get more paranoid than normal and I had begun to feel acutely depressed. I was prescribed anti-depressants and sedatives. The feeling of unease and discomfort came back and I started drinking again. I got sober again, this time I threw myself head first into fitness and boxing training. I was fit as a fiddle but mad as a hatter. I was soon living in a squalid flat in Plymouth and back on the downward spiral. This was my pattern: I would really try to sort my shit out. I would to a certain extent, but then I would wreck all that I had built up with a series of senseless sprees. After a few more years of moving around the country. I was back in Plymouth again, confused and lost as to where my life had gone. I was on the bones of my arse again, and this time I had had enough…
When I got to my first AA meeting I was a pathetic case. My thinking was shot and my emotions were unravelled and in knots, I could not control them. The other alcoholics seemed well and friendly. I was very intimidated by them but I felt so bad, that I would have gone along with anything at this point. It was a God-given gift, that desperation. I was taken through the steps at lightning speed; there was no need to hang around, I was hungry for recovery. I soon began to feel the benefits of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. A group of us had push bikes and we would cycle to Whitsand Bay in the summer and go swimming, we would meet for coffee and talk recovery, it was the best summer of my life.
I was encouraged to share honestly with my sponsor and attend 3 – 4 meeting in a week. I started to enjoy and look forward to meetings, and people around me started to notice the change. My dad, a Second World War veteran, said that I should never stop going to these meetings as he has got his son back. I love my family now, my parents and my 2 children – including the son who I could not be a father to. He remembers my drinking, the shouting, the crying and the chaos.
They also said that I would live my dreams. I have achieved much in the 8 years I have been sober. I got educated and I work in adult education now as a careers advisor. I have had small and large scale art commissions, I got fit again (100 % because of the Munio, RIP), joined the Territorial Army and I have had the privilege of training with Marine Commandos at Lympstone. I live in a beautiful place in a gorgeous flat, I have two wonderful children. I have friends but I can also be alone. I have also had trials and low spots in recovery but I have been able to deal with these with a certain degree of composure and dignity which I could never have done when I was drinking. I am not telling you all this to inflate my ego (well, maybe a little bit, I am an alki after all) but I was so hopeless when I got into AA, so broken, so defeated and so miserable. I really love the life I have now, I very feel grateful that I reached such a low point in my drinking as without the gift of desperation I would not have this wonderful way of life I have now.
Plymouth Road to Recovery Group, July 2009