Last week’s post was inspired by Mittal’s question about the balance between recovery and life. What started out as a brief chat, turned into an insightful, honest, and somewhat harrowing conversation.

 

I’ve looked to the past a few times in recent posts exploring whether alcoholism has always been part of my personality, waiting to break through since my early 20’s. 

 

Little did I know, as the conversation unfolded with Mittal, that exact question was going to be answered, along with a big slap of reality. 

 

Mittal and I met during uni, in a pool hall in Cambridge after a freshers event and, when everyone else was going home, I wanted to stay out. I lived out of town and taxi fares home were expensive so I often stayed on his floor. He remembers leaving for lectures and finding me still asleep in his room when he returned. 

 

“To be honest, I didn’t care, it was expected behaviour – we were first year uni students.”

 

He’s right, we were first year uni students, but as he said this, my mind can’t help but be cast to a recurring thought I’ve recently had: “I really did justify drinking, all the time”. 

 

At the end of the first year, Mittal and many other friends had gone home for the summer, but I stayed in Cambridge. I’d never seen it this way until now, but it seems I latched onto lots of different groups during uni. I didn’t like down time, but looking back this fluttering probably led to the breakdown of what could have been great friendships. 

 

“Yeah man, luckily we were a constant, but you moved around a lot. You latched onto a lot of different groups. Usually expertly timed when they were on the lash, then when the next one came along, you ditched that group for another.”

 

Drinking, to me, meant I was accepted. If I drank with a group, I was ‘in’. 

 

In my second year some friends staged an intervention, led by my partner at the time. Mittal wasn’t there but he felt the aftermath, for sure. 

 

“I said I didn’t want to go [to the intervention]. You were my friend and to be honest, I didn’t think that type of intervention was useful. I knew you wouldn’t react to it the way they hoped. Like clockwork you rang me afterwards and, as a result of being pissed off, we went out drinking.

 

It hits me suddenly, I knew drinking was a coping method in my later years, but it has always been my coping mechanism. It was my go-to and my best friend was usually part of it, but did he feel torn about us drinking to solve a problem? 

 

“You would say “let’s go to the pool hall, pub or beer garden”, it always involved drinking. You would talk to me about how pissed off you were about something or an argument you’d had. It seemed to be your way of coping – going out, leaving the house, getting pissed.

 

“You’d say stuff like “The house will be so annoyed I’m going home like this, super drunk” but you’d do it anyway and I’d be there with you, perhaps sometimes against my better judgement.”

 

Alcohol allowed me to vent, let my feelings out, become vulnerable and welcome advice. Mittal was the guy I trusted most, but we still needed that golden nectar to unlock our subconscious. 

 

“Often you’d just crack a bunch of beers and then we’d have a night where we’d talk and listen to music, which in fact was one of the most enjoyable things we did. But this involved a certain level of drinking.

 

“We’d buy a crate, just for this night because we knew what we were gonna do. We did this throughout our friendship, it was a way to let stuff out, for both of us. We’d get pretty deep if we hit that point, but it wasn’t what we talked about that left an uncomfortable feeling in the morning…”

 

I’ve never been able to bear hangovers, I could never lie in bed feeling shit. I know later in my journey I used to solve them by drinking first thing, but it seems the foundations for this were built in my early 20’s. 

 

“I’d lie in after a heavy night, wake up and you’d be gone. This is the point when I really started to wonder and become concerned. I remember thinking you’re hiding something, that your behaviour is just weird. We’d stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning, I’d have a horrific hangover and then I’d find out you were in the pub where you worked, hanging out with locals – who does that?” 

 

Let’s not forget, we were in our 20’s, both drinking a lot, as you do. But it’s becoming apparent that it wasn’t the fact that we drank a lot, it was the nuanced behaviour around drinking that caught my best friends eye. And when he didn’t  agree with my way of thinking, I turned it on him. 

 

“We day drank, sure. But it makes you tired. I’d go home, have dinner, but you’d just stay, not eat, and carry on until 2am. I couldn’t handle that. You’d always say “Oh, I just have to get up, because if I don’t, then I’ll lie in bed the whole day like you…” And I said “hey, don’t make this about me!”

 

Working in a pub during this time certainly didn’t help anything. It meant I had drinking buddies all day, every day. Looking back it became my excuse, my justification to drink. But it seems I wasn’t fooling anyone. 

 

“You were given industry cards, you got early entry to the beer festival, tasting sessions, and all the rest. You took authority on alcohol, you were the booze guy, making it basically, your life. It was the justification to what you liked to do, but you don’t see many people needing  to justify their hobby, do you?”

 

We lived above the pub, for about a year and a half. Without me asking he transitions into talking about that time. It hits me that this is perhaps something he’s held in for some time.

 

“There were so many things you started to not notice about me. You were my close friend and housemate, yet you never asked, or noticed that I hated living in that little room.

 

“I didn’t want to get drunk all the time. But you just didn’t see it. You were having late nights, speaking to different people, chatting up girls, and I’d just be upstairs in my room trying to play games or watch TV or something, alone. You’d just always be working – well, or drinking – towards the end, I didn’t know which it was. 

 

“I tried to talk to you about it and you just said “yeah, yeah, yeah”. So I got to the point where I was like, I just have to get out of this fucking place.”

 

This cut me deep. This gave me flashbacks of whenever this discussion came up, trying to get him involved, to ignore the conversation, pushing it away with alcohol. What friend does that? 

 

Usually friends or family say there is a specific point where they notice the amount you drink creeps up and therefore become concerned, but this isn’t the only sign. I asked Mittal if there was a ‘turning point’. 

 

“I didn’t think there was a particular standout time, we’d been as drunk as we possibly could together, I never saw you in a state I hadn’t seen you in before. 

 

“It was the consistency. You’d have routines. If you had a big night you had Guinness when the pub opened to ‘settle your stomach’, if the sun was out it was a gin and tonic, if it was raining it was an ale. It was like a weird ritual, planned consumption almost.” 

 

I never ask friends if they thought they should have interjected. I know I wouldn’t have if I was on the other side. It’s not something you want to come to terms with as a close friend and probably something you never think is possible. 

 

“Sometimes I thought maybe I should talk to him. But I countered it by thinking “he’s just young, we’re both young, we’ll grow out of it. He’s running a pub, he’s a manager he’s doing really well”. You didn’t show any signs of fucking up, you had it together. 

 

“But it was those nuanced behaviours I was always curious about, not concerned, just things I never understood at the time, until now.” 

 

We eventually moved out of the pub into our own house. During this time some friends came to live with us. I remember this time fondly, it was great fun, but as usual my brain has blocked out the parts it doesn’t want to remember. 

 

“One thing we should talk about is when Lee and Beans moved in. It was a heavy summer for us all and we all loved a drink, but there came a point when life became real. Lee was looking for a job, we were all a bit lethargic and arguably worn out. 

 

“You’d ask if anyone fancied the pub, and when you received a no, due to financial reasons or just wanting to chill,  you’d march in the door 10 mins later with a crate. It kept happening, like it was groundhog day. 

 

“No one wanted to turn you down because it was your house, but you’d initiate drinking sessions constantly, when really, people wanted down time. You were never happy just chilling out.” 

 

Hearing this makes me cringe. I kept coming in the door with booze and feeling like I was helping out, because that’s what I would have wanted. But, those guys just wanted to get their head down, find jobs and start their Cambridge life. But nope, the sober police were patrolling every night, and this wasn’t on. We were drinking. 

 

After 2.5 years of running the pub, I secured an internship in London and eventually moved there, but for a long time, Cambridge still felt like home. I used to visit every month, to see Mittal, Lee, Beans and others. Until this moment, I’ve always had a fond memory of them, until I learned the truth. 

 

“You did visit yeah, but it wasn’t what you thought. I remember talking to Lee about it, saying how we missed hanging out with you, but every time you came you were just hammered.

 

“We’d go out of our way to meet you in the morning, to catch you before you got drunk but that wasn’t possible. You always said “I’m on holiday” as you walked off the train with a GnT in hand, after drinking three on the train and I remember thinking “for fuck’s sake”, and this was every time. 

 

“It was just annoying, all we wanted to do was hang out with you, but all you wanted to do was get pissed – you just ended up slurring and drunk. 

 

“I remember feeling horrible, and I made the decision to not bother meeting you anymore. But I couldn’t do it, one time you were calling me and calling me and I was like “Ben, I don’t want to go to the pub”. I made up excuses, you just kept saying “please please, it’s been so long”. By the time I got there you’d forgotten I was coming, I was so fucked off, I just left. You’d been on the phone to me for half an hour, and just fucking forgotten.”

 

The tone in his voice sticks with me as I write this and I can feel how pissed off he was – half the frustration of not being able to see a friend and half that after making a big deal, I clearly didn’t care if he was there or not. Fuck. 

 

We lost touch for a few months, it seemed alcohol hadn’t only got hold of our friendship when we were together, but it was also controlling me in ways Mittal didn’t know. 

 

The next time I got in touch was after my seizures and during rehab. The theme continues as I hear from Mittal that I didn’t own up to why I seized. 

 

“The first time you told me that you had a seizure. You didn’t say it was to do with alcohol. I cut in and said “Ben, you had alcohol withdrawals”. You kept saying it was to do with something else, and although it was a convincing lie, I was having none of it.”

 

I was embarrassed – I had just seized due to withdrawal, at 27. My friends were working hard, busting their balls to progress life and I was checking into rehab. 

 

“I wasn’t shocked you’re gonna go to rehab, I was shocked you seized. After looking into it, mainly how much you needed to drink to seize, I said to myself “Jesus Christ, this must have gotten pretty bad”. 

 

“I was just so glad you were doing it. But if I’m honest, there was a part of me that thought “he’s not going to go, he’s just saying this”. Having known you for so long, it didn’t seem like something you’d do, I just had this feeling. 

 

“I feel bad about that, but you used to lie about everything, it was a common theme. About everything big and small, you flaked on plans, lied about stuff that didn’t even matter. I wanted to believe you, but I couldn’t.” 

 

Mittal was one of the first people I called from rehab, when I could. I had no emotion, didn’t talk about my feelings, mainly talked him through the schedule, but there was clearly a part of me that wanted him to know I was there. 

 

After having the above conversation with him, I had to sit in silence for a while. Mittal’s honesty brought many things to the surface, but my overall feeling as I type this is of amazing confusion. 

 

Even in my twenties, my illness was putting my boozy lifestyle above my friends’ well-being, lying about most things and putting alcohol before our friendship. Yet he looked past that, gave me far more chances than I deserved and held on to perhaps the best  bits of Ben he remembered. 

 

That call I made from rehab was confirming the best version of Ben he knew, the sober Ben, was coming back and this time to stay. 

 

Thank you, Mittal. 

Love, Ben xx

 

It’s no secret that I was in active addiction for years, but in 2018 it took a destructive turn. This was the year that I lost my job, relationship, home, moved back into my parents’ house and went to rehab.

 

But before that, I moved in with Jake and his then girlfriend, Imi, in March 2018 for around 6 months. 

 

 

It was only a short tenancy, but Jake and I bonded pretty quick. Like any normal mid twenty guys, this involved alcohol.We would regularly visit the local watering hole, participate in boozy lunches and watch Chelsea at the weekends (I don’t even like Chelsea). 

 

But little did he know there was a secret side to me, a side that no one knew about. At least that’s what I thought… 

 

Unbeknown to me, my addiction actually poked its ugly head out a couple of times. But luckily for me at the time, nothing bad enough to warrant my housemate and close friend suspecting I was, in fact, a raging alcoholic.

 

This week he kindly agreed to talk with me about his experience from the moment I viewed the house, to the present day.  

 

Welcome to Jake’s perspective. 

 

“One of the first things I remember is when you came to see the house. We were doing viewings for the spare room, me and Imi. A lot of the people that came were couples or really boring, just people that I’d turn to Imi and be like ‘yeah, I don’t want to live with them’.

 

“Then you came, and I’m pretty sure I had just cracked a bottle of wine, I showed you the house really quickly, picked up my glass and asked ‘do you want one’? Without hesitation, you said ‘absolutely’, slung your bag down and collapsed on the sofa – before you were even invited. 

 

“But, I was like, I like this guy, this is a man after my own heart. Confident, funny. You left and in my mind I said to myself ‘I’d happily live with him’.”

 

This was the first very encounter we had and it sits awkwardly now to know this is how I acted. 

 

The truth is that right before knocking on the door, I’d cleared about five GnTs in the pub around the corner, telling myself I needed courage to go and meet them, but as I later discovered, they were a couple of the nicest people I’ve ever met. 

 

Move in day came around fast, and I think both Jake and I knew we were going to be mates. 

 

“I remember thinking, ‘this guy’s just like me’ – pub after work, GnT on a Wednesday, glass of vino after a hard day, definitely.

 

“We drank more than Imi, but I don’t remember thinking ‘wow, Ben drinks fucking loads’, but probably because I was drinking a lot with you.

 

“It wasn’t out of the ordinary in my mind, I guess I thought we were both in this together – mid twenties, probably drinking too much – but it’s a time in our lives to do that. I never thought you were on another playing field.”

 

By this point I was fully dependent on alcohol. I was heavily drinking in secret, with my housemates blissfully unaware. 

 

Looking back, as we started spending more time together everything seemed to revolve around booze. There was always drink involved and I was always trying to push it further and further. 

 

But perhaps this is my alcohol-tainted view on the situation, because from Jake’s perspective, this wasn’t that out of the ordinary. 

 

Most of the things I was doing with my mates  tended to involve drinking anyway, or have a drink tacked onto it in some way. 

 

“I guess there were exceptions though. I played five a side on a Monday night orI might go see a film with my other mates. We never did that.”

 

As time went on, my drinking habits became more apparent. But as Jake has aptly mentioned to me in the past, he didn’t know me before I had a problem, so there was no baseline to compare my behaviour with. To him, that was just how I handled life. 

 

“The longer we lived together and the better mates we became, after a while I did begin to think ‘Fuck, he drinks more than anyone I know’. In fact I had that conversation with one of my mates, saying that ‘while we drink a lot, my housemate Ben, fucking hell, he doesn’t stop’. 

 

“I think I did refer to you at some point as my housemate, the one who probably drinks too much. It sounds stupid but even as the months passed by and I began to realise more, it never really clicked in my head that there was a massive underlying problem of addiction, probably because I was only aware of what I could see. 

 

“In fact, if I drank the same amount that I saw you drink, I wouldn’t have thought ‘wow that was a messed up week, I need to slow it down…’ So from my side, it wasn’t to a level where I would have thought  ‘we need an intervention’.”

 

I was a master of disguise, and as time went on my drinking got worse and worse. A few months into our friendship, I was drinking all hours of the day, morning ‘til night. Everyday, without fail. 

 

I remember times when I’d be crouched by our ‘drinks fridge’ in the morning. Listening for where Jake was upstairs, so I knew when it was safe to decant whatever spirit we had into my water bottle. Or waiting for him to leave for work, purposely making myself late, to have a drink before my commute. Always ensuring I got home first to refill it before he noticed.

 

When he was around, I used to have bottles in my wardrobe which I’d drink from throughout the week. I’d always get juice or tea before my shower, take it up stairs to ‘drink while I was getting ready’, after I’d put a good glug of something in there. 

 

These are just two examples of my drinking tactics and while I knew I was an expert at hiding, lying and manipulating situations, I must have slipped up once or twice, surely?

 

“You know, I do remember seeing a bottle of whiskey of mine slowly go down, but I just thought ‘you bastard’ and shrugged it off, or came to the conclusion it could have been me when I came in pissed. 

 

“But saying that,  there are two specific things I can clearly remember…  

 

“We were quite late in the tenancy and it was the height of summer. It was a Sunday about 10.30am you marched in and said ‘right I’m going to have a gin and tonic, do you want one?’ I said ‘Pwoar nah, I’m alright man’. 

 

“I kind of did a double take and thought ‘wait, why does he have a gin and tonic at 10.30am?’. You said ‘it’s just stress man, I’ve just had an argument, it’s Sunday fuck it, I’m having a gin and tonic’. 

 

“It was at this point I logged it in my head that gin at 10.30am on a Sunday in response to a stressful moment, that’s dependency. I thought ‘there’s probably a problem playing out here’.” 

 

What strikes me about this situation is that for a minute, I risked exposing my secret. The likelihood is that I’d drunk my stash, Jake was around but I needed a drink. 

 

The addict inside me took over, made me take a huge risk, potentially exposing my illness, all by playing it casually with a gin and tonic at 10.30am. Sheer desperation. 

 

“The second was another weekend morning, we were sat watching TV on the sofa and you were just going and getting Ribena after Ribena, non-stop. By this point I had some suspicions and I’d begun to build up a picture in my head. But it was so difficult because I still wasn’t certain. 

 

“I really wanted to just reach over and drink a sip of it, to catch you out. But at the same time I didn’t want to – you’re my friend, you’re an adult. I didn’t want to embarrass you.“

 

Jake says now that he didn’t feel comfortable because  we drank together and ‘calling me out’ would have put him in a ‘parental role’, almost telling me off for it being a bit early. 

 

He goes on to say how torn this left him, as a friend. In a strange situation, not knowing what the right call was. 

 

“To be fair, I didn’t need to prove it unequivocally, I didn’t need to have a sip to know that you were drinking. It was this situation, you basically waving it in front of me, plus the previous gin and tonic incident where you hadn’t even tried to hide it, that ticked me off. 

 

“I thought, right, this is now. Let’s get real, he’s definitely got an alcohol problem, it’s significant.”

 

We take a moment to discuss how this feels now, looking back at those situations now, knowing that I am an alcoholic. 

 

“I can vividly remember when we first had those conversations where you outlined to me just how much you were drinking for the duration of when we lived together; the bottles in your wardrobe, solo pub trips, sneaking drinks, and all this was when we were pretty close friends.”

 

I got an eerie feeling at this point, a coldness hung over me. The last line “when we were pretty close friends”. I was living a double life and while I was someone Jake considered to be a close friend, I had a whole other agenda.

 

“Despite all this I didn’t ever go trying to catch you out by going through your wardrobe. I guess I almost didn’t want to admit that it was happening to someone I was so close to. 

 

“We spent a lot of time together in such a small flat, so I’m more surprised I didn’t catch you slipping up once. It’s not like I ever heard a clinking sound every time you moved something, but then maybe it’s because I wasn’t looking out for it. 

 

“Second thing is despite how much you were drinking, you always seemed to have it together. Getting up for work, paying rent, shopping, money. I don’t know how you did it, knowing what I know now!”

 

But behind closed doors, I did not have it together. I’d spend nights writhing in my sleep, waking up and drinking anything to get back to sleep again. I’d wake up in sweats, gagging, trying to get the stale smell of booze off me before finding another tipple. I’d drink in the shower to feel human before work. I’d avoid everyone at work. I was amassing debt left, right and centre. 

 

The sentiment changes in his voice, from justification to anger at himself. While it’s true you would never want to believe your good friend has been lying to your face, you would also never suspect it. But that seems to bring anger that he didn’t spot it and perhaps intervene sooner. 

 

“When we first had this chat and I knew the extent of your addiction, I felt  pissed off at myself. I wasn’t pissed off at you, because I get it, you’re battling an addiction. But I just felt like a real mug.

 

“How the fuck didn’t I notice and put it all together when I saw little dribs and drabs of it. How did I just see dribs and drabs instead of the whole picture?

 

“I’m supposed to be your mate and housemate, how did so much of that slip past me?”

 

When you don’t want to believe something, you’ll do anything to not confront it. Jake cared for me and he didn’t want to admit that a good friend was going down a path of destruction. 

 

As far as he knew, I was a work hard party hard guy, who got his shit done. 

 

“I realised at one point that maybe this was normal for you and passing out on the sofa often with your shirt off, in my head, just meant you were a bit of a slob. At the end of the day, it could have been from excess drinking, or just you had a fuck off burger and a bottle of wine.. Which is fair enough. I didn’t have a normal healthy living Ben to compare anything to”.

 

Now, fast forward to when I left London, went into the care of my parents and went to rehab – Jake was by my side. He was in constant contact with my family as they tried to unscramble the seriousness of my problem. 

 

He was one of the first friends I admitted my problem to after I was hospitalised. He was also one of the first people I called when I made the decision to go to rehab. He’s a real special guy. 

 

It can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable to relive some of these moments. Especially when you realise how much you took advantage, lied, deceived and most importantly made a friend feel anger that they didn’t see your problem and justify to themselves why. 

 

I do feel ashamed and guilty of the things I have done. I am thankful that I have people in my life who are willing to give me the chance to rekindle friendships. 

 

It brings me peace to know that over the last 14 months, he has gotten to know the real Ben and not the guy that hid behind a cloud of alcoholic bullshit. Our friendship has flourished. He was the first person to visit me after rehab and the first to come on holiday with me after I got sober. He has helped me explore sober life to the max and continues to be one of the most supportive friends I have. 

 

I can’t change the past but, through conversations like this, I can begin to bring peace to the past. It may take a while, but I’ll get there. 

 

Jake, thank you for sharing your memories, being there for me throughout and helping me see what a sober life can bring. 

 

Love, Ben xx