Okay, let’s get the cliché out of the way first – “my name’s Chris, and I’m an alcoholic”.
Secondly, let’s be clear, this is not going to be a tirade about the frustrating, irresponsible, naïve and archaic public perception of alcoholism – that’s for another article, another time.
It would also be hypocritical to come out swinging the liberal banner and denouncing all those who misunderstand the illness of addiction – as until two years ago I was probably within that naïve and ignorant camp. “I can’t be an alcoholic”, I thought, “I drink Pinot noir”. Alcoholics drink cider, piss themselves and sleep in bus shelters.
It was the shame of being labeled that I was avoiding. Interestingly, it is this shame which is the first thing to get knocked out of you in rehab – addicts are not bad people trying to be good, we’re very ill people trying to get, and stay, well.
I didn’t want to be an alcoholic, as there was (and is) such a stigma to it. Nice, well brought up middle class boys with wonderful families don’t get alcoholism, they just enjoy a glass of red every so often – except for me it was a good few bottles of red, and it was daily.
However, two years ago I went into a West London treatment centre, after years of (half hearted) trying, (and failing), to beat my addiction. I remember the phone call from my Dad – my dear, sweet, infinitely patient and supportive Dad – the evening he suggested I go into rehab. More than anything I remember the incredible relief it brought.
This was not the first time help was suggested, but previously, I had dismissed the idea. I didn’t need it. I had a stressful job and red wine got me through – rehab is for celebrities necking bottles of vodka and whiskey each day. But that evening I just felt that, finally, I had had enough and wanted to find a way out. I wanted my life back and I wanted to stop causing so much pain to everyone around me. Most of all I wanted to stop the daily, incessant, unrelenting, violently debilitating mental agony that addiction causes.
It’s this smothering sense of utter exhaustion that was the worst element of my addiction, (along with the cavalcade of mental illnesses long associated – severe depression, anxiety, heart problems, plus in my case, alcohol-induced epilepsy).
The exhaustion is not just physical. Sure, Thatcher ran the country on four hours sleep a night (which was what I often had), but she wasn’t knocking back three bottles of red beforehand, and she certainly wasn’t having ‘just one more glass’ at 1.00am in front of the ice-hockey. I don’t even like ice-hockey nor know how it is played, but I’ve watched so much for the sake of one extra glass… it’s ludicrous.
The mental exhaustion is almost impossible to describe. It was like being stuck in a room with a hundred TVs on full volume, all broadcasting shows about what a terrible person I was. Alongside this was the incessant quest to remember the gaps in the previous evening black out.
The only thing to calm the 200mph train bombing through my mind constantly was a glass of red after work. Or two… or ten. It was an INSANE way to live.
Getting sober is the greatest achievement of my life, but remains a daily challenge. You need support, you need strong will, and you need to remember the hell you lived inside before, to stop you thinking you’re ‘safe’.
I’m lucky, I have an incredible and loving family; an amazing girlfriend who understands me; I have a great group of friends; and I have my career. I’ve even won international awards for my work – unsurprisingly things that I have done in sobriety.
But it’s not easy and sobriety is the most important thing in my life simply because, without it, I have nothing. It’s extremely likely I wouldn’t be here were I not safe. That’s not meant to sound overly dramatic, it’s a fact – and a sobering one at that.
As featured in CALMzine: http://www.thecalmzone.net/calmzine/