We only said goodbye with words / I died a 100 times
I fled the cinema when I saw the tiny frame in a body bag, my memory jolted back to the night my eldest brother was found dead in a corridor next to two empty bottles of vodka. The film was Amy, the tragic tale of Amy Winehouse and her battle with addiction, eating disorders and fame. Overwhelmed, I stood in the rain contemplating why, over and over again, alcoholism pushes sufferers towards what they see as their only way out.
Paul Christopher Maddocks was born in 1969 to my Mum and her first husband. He was 8lb 9oz and upside down; my Mum was tiny, her baby too big. Back then, Caesareans were rare, and Mum says the natural birth nearly killed her. Of course she loved him all the more, big brown eyes and curly dark hair. Thirty-eight years later, she had to identify him in a morgue.
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing / She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing / Mama will keep baby cosy and warm
After Paul’s agonising birth, Mum swore “never again” but still had four more children. When I was born, Paul was 16 and already drinking. I don’t believe addiction is just a disease on its own, I don’t think people abuse alcohol for no underlying reason. Paul’s father left my Mum when he was just five and never once came back, a disruption that began a lifetime of searching for an identity.
Paul believed our family came from Irish Catholic stock. Once, I met Paul to hunt for evidence in the Family Records Centre, for our grandmother’s birth certificate. Years after she died, he discovered that she had been sent to a nunnery at the age of ten because she was illegitimate. All this had been a family secret, hidden through guilt and shame.
Where Lagan stream sings lullaby / There blows a lily fair / The twilight gleam is in her eye / The night is on her hair
The possibility of our Irish ancestry fired Paul’s imagination and his writing, which he tried to make his living, but failed. Each knockback from a publisher or producer would turn him back to drink. But the research inspired poems about Irish lords and kings, the pseudonym Pól Mac Madóg, and beautiful Celtic drawings.
For my fifteenth birthday, he bought me an Irish drum, a bodhrán. He’d owned one himself since the same age. I think he wanted his only sister to be just like him. So I adopted his tastes in music: Van Morrison, The Bothy Band, Oasis. Later on he played me The Fall but The Smiths won my heart. Music brought us together.
Someday you will find me / Caught beneath the landslide / In a champagne supernova in the sky
The following Christmas, Paul mentioned the baby his ex-girlfriend was expecting – his child. He thought mum had already told me. She hadn’t. Another illegitimate child, another family secret. A different Christmas we had to lock all the alcohol in the shed because Paul had crashed again. Everything just seemed to repeat itself. Always a cycle of recovery, remission and relapse. Like Amy, and all the world’s addicts, he just seemed unable to resist the demons of self-destruction.
In the last few years of his life, Paul studied music in the Outer Hebrides, estranged from his son. It seemed like he was running away, but he couldn’t outrun his demons. It was a year before the drinking started again but months before he asked for help. Finally he left for the two-day long journey back to London. For him, a two-day long binge. He was unconscious when the train pulled in.
Wake from your sleep / The drying of your tears / Today we escape, we escape
We took him to the nearest hospital, where, through tears, he pleaded to stay with me, and not my brothers or my mum. You might think I cried too, but I was numb with fear. This was the worst I’d ever seen him. I was filled with a cold fury that my eldest brother was going to die and it wasn’t fair. He’d asked for help before. Why couldn’t we make him better?
This is a sad fucking song / You’ll be lucky if I don’t bust out crying
We took him to stay with Mum. After three months, he had kicked his habits, became a new man thanks to the strength and bloody-mindedness of a woman who’d survived him being ripped out of her feet first. But when Paul left Mum’s home for his new life, he broke like a glass bottle smashed against a wall.
The power to break addiction has to come from the addict. Family and friends can only form a barrier to those demons for so long. Faced with being on his own, Paul folded. And drank. And drank. And drank.
Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head / See, the sea wants to take me / The knife wants to slit me / Do you think you can help me?
A week before Paul died, I went on holiday. I deliberated phoning him. I knew he was in a terrible state. The hour-long, rambling phone calls. The desperation in his raw, cracked voice. Every time I said goodbye I wondered if I’d get the chance to see him again. But I didn’t call, I couldn’t bear it.
When they found your body / Giant X’s on your eyes
A week and a day later came the phone call from my Mum, “He’s gone. He’s gone.” I realised I had said my final goodbye, two weeks before, the last time we spoke on the phone. He died, and a bit of me died too. And it dies again and again, every time I realise I will never get to see him that one last time.
We only said goodbye with words / I died a 100 times
Image credit: Back to Black music video, Fanpop website
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