It’s been a month since I wrote. I needed some time to recharge, explore some uneasy feelings and focus on myself. It’s also become increasingly more difficult to write when your daily life feels a bit like Groundhog day.
But anyway, this morning I felt an urge to write, the first time in weeks. I’ve distracted away from things for weeks, I’m trying to sit with them, actually feel what I’m feeling but it’s tough.
Have you had those shit nights? The ones where you writhe around for hours on end? When you wake up questioning reality? Questioning sobriety? Questioning what you’ve just worked your arse off for 19 months?
Me too, and this week seems to be a never ending slew of “those nights”. In fact, through most of lockdown, they have been a common occurrence.
Take last night for instance. I laid in bed happy and content from a cracking day. I played golf, made us a favourite dinner, played some PS4 (I’m a newly converted gamer) and set my head on the pillow.
As I felt my eyelids close, I could feel a wave of boozy thoughts. At that moment I tried to fight, but they were coming like a dark storm cloud over a sunny bay.
I’m not talking about dreaming, but the thoughts we can control. And isn’t it interesting how I almost indulge in them. I let them happen, I don’t push them away, think about floating down a river, I let them play out, every time.
I re-lived a few memories that make me cringe, like really cringe. Ones I’d rather forget, ones that embarrass me, ones that shock me, ones that might shock you…
I was out of the country, away with work. I was part of a huge project, one we had worked on for weeks, one I was meant to be a key player in. Truth be told, during the planning of this, I hadn’t pulled my weight. I knew I was on a slippery slope, and this trip was the deciding factor in this job.
I don’t think I’d quite grasped how much of a problem my drinking was until this trip. Sometimes it takes a change in circumstances, breaking the usual rhythm, to realise the power it has over you.
As we were all making our own way to the airport. I woke up early, dragged myself to the shower, hoped everything was packed, grabbed my bag and headed downstairs. I entered the kitchen to put the leftover gin and orange juice in a plain bottle, as to not spook my Uber driver.
Last night, as I thought about this, I could physically feel the nervousness I felt then descend over me as I watched the driver getting closer to the house.
I was going to a strange place, I didn’t know where the off licences would be, I didn’t know when I would next drink, I was spiraling in my kitchen at 5am.
I grabbed whatever I could find in the kitchen and drank it. But not the orange concoction, that was for the car. I remember standing there, looking out a dark window, and warmth coming over me as my nervousness eased. I saw the headlights and walked out to the car.
I sat there, feeling like death, swigging on my ‘cocktail’. We arrived at the airport, I met up with some colleagues, fuck knows what they thought, I definitely stank of booze, blood shot eyes, faking a smile.
We went for breakfast, sat down, I felt dread, fear and panic. Then from across the table I heard someone say “right, how about bucks fizz?”. My head darted up from the menu, I remember becoming instantly animated.
I didn’t eat, to which people questioned. I lied and said I’d had breaky at home, but truth be told, I couldn’t eat and didn’t want anything getting in the way of that alcohol getting into my bloodstream.
I got to my seat on the plane, sat down. The fear has returned. I was now working out the minutes until the trolley came round, but at the same time I couldn’t order booze at 8am, on a work trip, with my colleagues, could I?
I went against it. I sparked a conversation up with a woman across the aisle. She was my distraction. I chatted to her non-stop the whole flight. Colleagues noticed and even took pictures of me captioned “Ben’s made a new best friend”, it was undoubtedly funny to the group. Little did they know that it was a plea to not let my head remember, I wasn’t drinking.
Fast forward to the hotel. The room that through the course of the week started out as my sanctuary and then turned into my prison cell. This week was so rough, every time I see the brand name, I flash back to these moments.
I checked in, threw my bags down, got my phone out, and headed for the nearest “Kiosk” (newsagents). I pointed at a bottle of Svedka – it makes me judder to even type that brand out. The whole time I was there I was glancing over my shoulder, in case someone walked in I knew. I bought a bottle of coke too, and headed back to my room.
I’m not sure I’ve ever cracked the seal of a bottle faster than I did in that moment, I poured half a glass, with a topper of coke, and downed it in one. I stood hands on the sink, staring at myself in the mirror thinking “It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay, you’ve got booze now”. Comforting myself, reminding myself that my best friend was again, just by my side.
I drank another and another. There were texts flying round the group WhatsApp inviting people to go for a walk round the town, find some lunch, make plans for the evening. There I was alone, holding a bottle of vodka, responding that I was going to wander alone. Truth was, I didn’t leave my room.
The Kiosk became my church. I’d go there twice a day everyday. Once before we headed out for the day, once when we got back. I’d finish the two bottles, putting them in various containers and taking them with me, everywhere.
I’d always ensure to leave a half a bottle for the morning. I’d wake up, drink half that, get a shower, and pop the other half in an orange juice bottle and take it to the conference centre.
A lot of the trip from here on out is a blur, if I’m honest, but I do have some very specific memories, of perhaps the worst moments.
The days at the event were long. There were no drinks allowed through the security gates, so I was stripped of my stash from 9am – 6pm. I could physically feel myself weakening around lunchtime everyday.
I’d make constant excuses to leave. I discovered one beer truck and a bar upstairs. But with a whole team of people with me, it was like a James Bond mission everytime I wanted, no needed, a drink.
I got through the days, fuck knows how, and before every evening activity, we went back to the hotel to get changed, freshen up, and… down half a bottle of vodka.
Luckily, I was with a very sociable group, who liked a drink in the evenings, attended the ‘close party’ on the last night, socialised with the clients and guys we were working with.
Unluckily, I never quite made it to any of these events. I drank so hard when I got back in the early evening, that I’d black out and not wake up. I slept through the first ‘opening dinner’ and woke up to 20+ messages from our team asking where the fuck I was.
I missed the closing party, because I passed out. A guy who was meant to be a key player in this whole project was a mess, the whole week.
As I write this I remember all the little things too… Like how I used to clear out my hotel bin everyday, because whoever cleaned my room, who I’d never met in my life, might know I’m an alcoholic. How I’d take vodka down to breakfast in my own glass from my room, people must have questioned why I was doing that? How I’d stand outside the hotel to try and look ‘sociable’ with a GnT and cigarette, when really it’d be my 7th and I’d have been there for hours.
I’d never felt more relief when that trip was over, I could now go back to normal.
It was a trip that I look back on now and wish it was different. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever had a chance to work on, yet, I made it a trip I want to forget.
Over the last few months, it’s felt like my mind wants to go to these places. I thought I’d been getting used to this way of life, but it seems I was just creating more things to distract myself, getting better at pushing my mind away, and when these were removed, I was left feeling uneasy.
I chose to take a break, a week off. 13 weeks has been enough inside my one bed flat, so I went to visit my parents and friends.
After giving my mind time to reset, I now see that recently I have actually allowed my mind to go to these places, allowing myself to “live in that moment”. But is that a bad thing?
It’s made me to properly sit with things, gain knowledge on what I’m lacking in my recovery, what’s causing the fantasies, and how I can better deal with them.
I think it’s important to realise where thoughts come from, and why we interact with some, but not all… take the time.
I’ve discovered a big thing for me is almost not acknowledging how far I’ve come. Self praise doesn’t come easy to me, but it’s something we should learn how to do.
In the sober community, we praise each other for where we are now. We celebrate sober-versaries, congratulate each other on our triumphs. But often what’s missed is people’s past.
I know for me, I view the “past as the past”, it’s not me anymore right? But it was.
Celebrating milestones, sobriety, life, relationships, health, money, clear heads, no hangovers, is all amazing stuff. I’m not knocking celebrating any of it, but sometimes all this celebration masks the past.
It’s important to remember and reflect on the past and where we have come. I’m guilty of not doing so, and I often minimise my addiction, especially the role it has played in where I am today.
But the past can’t be masked, because I can’t forget what it used to be like. Where alcohol took me, what alcohol made me do, what relationships alcohol broke, what money alcohol stole, how it nearly took my life at 27. It keeps me safe to remember.
When I did my appearance on The Sober Sessions, I noticed my story was perhaps a little different from the panel. I think in a way, because my story is a little different I almost don’t tell it as much.
For example I haven’t done a “This is my Story post” I haven’t told it from start to finish. It ekes out in what I write, but is never perhaps defined. In that session I laid out my story, and opened up about it perhaps more than I have before and people’s reactions said it all.
It was those reactions that made me feel genuinely proud.
But then, I sat there questioning why I couldn’t do that for myself? Why couldn’t I be proud without having someone basically telling me how far I’ve come, I know my past and present better than anyone…
I’m ranting now.
The bottom line is; it’s been 19 months. I did end up in a bad way. A close to death way. A way only professional help could help me out of way. A way that if I go back, I probably won’t be sitting here anymore.
See, typing that makes me uncomfortable. It seems like I’m entering a dick waving competition. “My problem was worse than yours” “I drank more than you” and it’s not about that. But it’s the truth.
I love where I am, and I don’t want to forget the past, but I do feel it’s slipping slowly away.
Okay, this was very much a sporadic free flow of thoughts and feelings, of which hopefully some of you can relate. And now lockdown is lifting I should be able to get back into a regular flow, so the rantasaurus rex doesn’t return.
Love, Ben xxx