Hello, I’m Ben, age 28, and I’m an alcoholic.
As I sit here typing I notice that, within the first 13 words, my head feels space for the first time this week.
For the last 20 seconds my head hasn’t thought about things I don’t want to think about or going to memories I fear, because everything I’m thinking I’m just writing. It’s freeing.
There’s no need for me to explain that what’s going on in the outside world is alien to us all. It’s something that we have never experienced before and probably will never again. But while we’re all trying to stay strong, personally it’s proving harder than I thought.
As Boris announced we must all work from home, a good majority of people jumped for joy. I did not. As further measures were taken to ensure we stayed inside and did not leave in the house, my heart sank further.
Alone time for me is, quite frankly, hell.
Hold up, before we continue, I realise this might come across a certain way, so I just want to highlight this is not a ‘woe is me’ post, or me looking for sympathy – we are all affected.
Actually, perhaps selfishly, this post is all for me. It’s not easy to write, but I need to write this to relieve and release feelings and reflect on the past week to try and make myself feel more (ironically) at home, at home.
Drinking for me was not only social, it was also an isolated occupation. While, yes, I took every social opportunity to drink, most of my downfall took place behind closed doors.
The battle you face when you’re alone is far greater than that of a social occasion. After I lost my job, 90% of my drinking was me and the bottle. The bottle was my lifeline, hero, lover, enemy, death sentence and lifesaver. It was my everything.
Just before I left London I’d lost it all; my job, relationship, house, friends, money and, worst of all, myself.
I was the loneliest I’ve ever been and even when I was with my parents, I was still alone. I existed in my own bubble, with my only friend, the only one that always stood by me, comforted me – the bottle.
I sat up, rolled over as my head pounded and felt the wine bottle I’d emptied at 2am dig into my side. I struggled out of bed as my liver shot pains up my side. I pulled myself upright and stumbled down the stairs, slightly leaning to one side as the pain throbbed.
I stood in the living room staring out the window. Everyone was out, I was alone.
A sense of happiness flooded in as I thought “Fuck yeah, another me day” – another day of drinking what I want, not being watched as I go to the shop, no judging eyes, no awkward questions, no pretending I’m fine when I’m struggling to stand. It was just me.
I looked at the clock, it read 7.50am and I glanced up out the window at a 20-something guy walking, laptop bag in hand, smart shoes (obviously going to work) and that’s all it took.
“Fucker, going to work, I want to go to work. No wait, I need to enjoy this time I have, it’s a gift. I’ve worked so hard this year. But I do need to find a job. Yeah, shower and then job search. Productive day ahead, c’mon Ben,” I thought.
10 seconds passed. I thought about the pub opening at 12 and the reward it would bring once I’d done some job applications. I was essentially planning out my next ‘normal’ drinking escapade to convince myself that what I was doing was normal, because as long as there was someone else in that pub, I wasn’t alone.
I saw another guy going to work and intentions went out the window.
I glanced down at my shaking hand, sweat appeared on my forehead and that familiar wretched smell of stale booze that oozed out of every pore.
“Fuck it, I need booze right? Yeah a drink then I’ll get going. A drink then I’ll be productive. A drink then I’ll step on it.”
I popped open a guitar case and pulled the empty bottle of Absolut stored neatly under the headstock. “Did I drink all that?” I put it back and headed to the kitchen where there was an old bottle of red. No idea how long it had been there, fuck it, I chugged it.
There was no one home and there I was, at 8am, chugging half a bottle of red, gagging with every gulp, while feeling the fire burning in my belly as I pounded more acid into my already dissolved stomach.
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you have that first drink, but it’s like a comforting hug. Warm, gentle and lifting. You feel normality is near, you can be yourself again, it’s like someone just put new batteries in you and turned you on.
But this only lasted about 10 minutes, and I was back in the kitchen hunting for anything I could find. I opened every cupboard, not giving a shit what it was, how old it was, as long as it had alcohol in it, I was drinking it.
The anxiety kicked in and I needed to escape. A feeling of uselessness, worthlessness and loneliness all came at once. “I’m a fucking failure,” I thought. “Look at me.” I needed to make this go away.
My heart pounded outside my chest and I pleaded out loud to myself that there was something, anything to drink.
I found a Brew Dog and gulped it down. The temporary hug came back, I felt warm, my heart slowed, but for how long?
This was the ordeal I battled for about a year. The internal struggle of being alone and trying to escape my own thoughts was fought with copious amounts of alcohol.
Truth be told, this is a similar battle to what I’m experiencing now, but sober. I haven’t had to spend large amounts of time alone since I left treatment.
Despite advice to take it easy, it’s the reason I pushed myself when I first left rehab – getting back into work, staying in London on weekdays and eventually moving here.
But none of that matters now, the fact of the matter is I’m stuck inside, alone, for most of the day, everyday.
I’m still working, or trying to, but my mind wanders every 5 minutes. I try to focus, but unless I’m doing something which requires ‘physical work’ like; baking a cake, cooking, cleaning, washing, hoovering (our house is spotless right now) then I find I can’t concentrate.
It’s an alien feeling to me, and reminds me a lot of the past. When I’d attempt to do something and, without thought, end up with a drink in my hand.
It’s when I’d drink the most and the most frequently, and I can’t stop thinking about those times. Memories of;
drinking housemates’ whisky, replacing it with water, then challenging myself to find the same replacement once it was too diluted.
brilliant games to find an off licence I hadn’t been to.
accidentally drinking too much and being unable to move or, worse, waking up 3 hours later.
anxiety that I’d forgotten something, done something, or said I’d do something about which I was now oblivious.
waiting until the clock struck 12 to go to the pub to see literally anyone to normalise my drinking.
frantically texting all of my contacts to ensure someone was going to be there.
putting vodka in anything that looked unsuspicious so that passers by wouldn’t know I was drinking – fucking paranoia.
It goes on.
It’s these thoughts that are currently coursing through my head along with the biggest of them all…
“I could stop all these thoughts right now, no one would know”.
But I’m too strong for that. I’ve cheated death, I’ve nailed this fucking disease and it can haunt me all it likes, it’s not taking hold again.
I’ll be alright and how I’m viewing this situation is that it will be another medal to add to my jacket. Another situation I’ll overcome and, to be honest, if I can do this one, I can do them all.
I know everyone is in this boat together and we all have different difficulties we’re facing.
It’s the people with kids, elderly parents and mental health issues that I think about the most at this time. The biggest thing we must do is connect.
I count myself lucky to have a brilliant therapist, as well as someone here at night to share my fears with.
But for those who don’t, remember there is always someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to help and someone to say I love you.
Love, Ben x