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