Hello, I’m Ben, age 28, and I’m an alcoholic.
I’ve spent 4 weekends in London since I left rehab, and I’d be lying if I said it felt normal. For the past year I’ve rented a room in London during the week, and gone to family homes in Cambridge or Nottingham, every Friday to Sunday.
In short, it’s been essential to go to a “safe place” each weekend – using the time to revisit my rehab for Aftercare (when you go back and attend a session where you share your experience with current residents) and attend therapy – essentially removing myself from all danger.
In the past, weekends for me were times when I didn’t have to worry about how messed up I got, times when I could drink from 12pm – 12am bar hopping across London, times when I drank without fear of judgement, times that couldn’t come soon enough each week. Times I don’t want to relive.
But the time came in January to make the change, I’ve taken the leap and not only moved back to London full time, but in with Emma too. It’s a good move and a step forward, but it’s a little daunting and it certainly comes with its challenges.
A couple of weekends ago an old friend came to visit. Alex is a close friend of mine from University and despite him living in Vietnam for the last few years and me disappearing during the dark times, we recently got in touch again.
The week went by, and Friday rolled around. I felt excited, but also a little nervous. I texted Alex that afternoon to see which station his train was arriving into.
“Liverpool Street, around 1pm, see you there?”
“Yeah man, sure”
My heart sank a little.
Liverpool Street & Shoreditch were the scene of many drunken escapades during the last few years of my addiction. It was the place that my illness moved from afternoon and night drinking to morning ‘til night drinking.
We met at the station, hugged and set off to find somewhere to grab some lunch.
As we walked along, I tried to put memories of debauchery to the back of my mind, but the landmarks of my past were unavoidable.
One thing that people often seem bewildered about is day drinking (aka. drinking at work). And no, not the odd cheeky Friday lunchtime pint, I mean drink at work. To illustrate:
The Ten Bells & The Golden Heart – The two establishments I alternated every lunchtime for three pints of Guinness, without fail.
Juju’s – Where I’d run for an afternoon top up (or two) of a large Gin & Tonic, which took me about the same time to finish as a smoke break.
The Commercial Tavern & The Old Blue Last – The ‘after work spot’ a pint (maybe two) in each on the way home.
I’ll save you reading back to add it up – that’s around 8 drinks in a working day and I stayed in this steady rhythm for about six months, but that wasn’t the end.
I didn’t know why, but the urge for drink got greater. Every break I had I found myself wanting alcohol. The thought popped into my head just as easily as someone thinks “I’ll have a biscuit”. It snuck up on me like a demon.
You find yourself watching the clock “come on, how is it only 11am?! Just an hour more, then I can feel happy again”. It was hard to concentrate, hard to function.
I wanted more, I thought I could get away with more and I needed more.
I went from leaving the office having the first sip at 1pm, to 12pm, and then eventually to where I’d be drinking wine in the office kitchen at work at 9am to knock off the hangover from the night before. Hell, if i’m honest, it was throughout the day, in between my pub ‘top-ups’ too.
I’d find any excuse to be in the kitchen to have a good slug of rose, throw vodka in a juice, gin in a smoothie, you name it – but you had to ensure you covered your tracks – If you;
- go up to make a coffee, remember to bring it down with you
- take a call upstairs, make sure you’re heard saying ‘bye’ as you go back through the office door
- went to get a snack, bring back the wrapper
- offer to make anyone a coffee in the office, always do two trips
- went to the loo, make a ‘wee’ comment before you leave
In your head, you’ve become a pro at the art of disguise, laughing in your head that you’re sitting there buzzed, as everyone else trundles along.
But little did I know these tipples would escalate into a completely unmanageable situation.
The 9am wine became a 7am vodka on the tube, carefully funnelled into an innocent smoothie bottle and the rest decanted into a water bottle as an ‘emergency’ for when you couldn’t leave the office.
These ‘emergencies’ became ever more frequent – usually when I hadn’t had a drink for about two hours and I was starting to shake. I don’t mean, the slight dread and struggle when the hangover kicks in, I mean noticeable withdrawal – sweats, shakes, sickness – the lot.
This is why I had emergency vodka at all times. But cue the day I didn’t.
I was called into a two hour meeting and I’d drunk all my emergency supply, as for some reason the off licence wasn’t open that morning. Bastards.
I felt myself starting to shake. “10 minutes until the meeting, I can’t go out, but I can’t go into this thing un-lubricated.” I thought.
Ah ha! I almost jumped with joy, as I suddenly remembered that for my birthday the team got me a few craft beers and they were in my locker.
I snuck over to the locker wall, opened it and carefully placed them in my bag, attempting to hide the clinking. I darted toward the disabled loo.
I popped the cap off on the sink and drank 6 bottles of strong craft beer in about five minutes. I sighed in relief, “this should get me through” – meeting ended at 12 and I was in the pub for lunch.
It pains me, and yet amazes me how long I played this game for in my career, and I have no idea how I was never found out.
Looking back as someone who is genuinely work orientated and hates not pulling my weight, I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit this. Namely at the way I must have treated people – offloading work purely due to my inability to complete it, blaming others, excuses, I could go on.
I felt like a useless twat, which is arguably half the reason I wanted to escape reality at work.
If any of my old employers or colleagues are reading this, I’m sorry.
Christ, that was hard to write. Sorry, I went on a bit of a rant there, more on that in later posts. Back in the zone…
We made it to Pizza East, somewhere I hadn’t been before, so arguably a ‘safe zone’.
Conversation flowed and it was brilliant to hear about his adventures in Vietnam and his plans to go back. I was disappointed I hadn’t seen him in the last 8 years, but then again grateful to have met up, rather than not at all.
He asked about what had happened, as all he’d seen was my Facebook posts and I don’t tend to divulge the full deal unless in person. Of course I obliged, he was shocked, but also thankful I came out the other side and that we were able to hang out again.
Once we’d done the ‘catch up’, so to speak, you tend to reminisce with friends, think about the old times. But when the last time you saw each other was just after university, it brings up some questionable memories.
I’m now sat at the table racking my brain to avoid pissed up stories, large benders, 3 day binges, but it’s hard.
I started to question if there were any memories other than pissed up ones, I mean it was uni, but did I really drink that much?
My mind is cast back to a memory from when Alex and I lived together. It has been a particularly heavy summer and while others were recuperating, I’d often find myself with a drink in the evening.
I remember my girlfriend and housemates at the time pulling me up on the fact that I just constantly had a bottle of Bell’s on the go and me being me, denied it at every turn.
I remember telling myself it’s just a grown up thing to do, finish lectures, have whiskey & coke while we watch a movie, or play a game. “It’s grown up life”, I said.
But the reality was, no one else was doing it. At uni people drank to get drunk, or at the pub with mates, and it was at this time it became obvious to others, but unknown to me, that I fucking loved alcohol.
After a while it seemed my friends became concerned about how much I was drinking.
They went as far as to secretly collect all the bottles I had consumed in a month; beer, wine, whiskey, cider, the lot, and arranged it in the living room with the word “Intervention” written into the carpet.
I laughed at first, but then I remember getting a bit offended. “How dare they criticise how much I drink, it’s not that much, it’s not stopping me doing anything, it’s not like I’m hungover and it’s not affecting my life” – basically fuck off.
Bit defensive eh? Looking back I had the alcoholic behaviours when I was 20 – the denial, and the defensive nature when I felt like I was being attacked about my drinking.
The problem had begun and I had no idea.
The afternoon winds down, and we all get the train back to mine. I felt a bit knackered – reliving my old daily routine, judging the various booze cruises around Shoreditch, battling past memories, attempting to reminisce the good times, while trying to forget the bad.
We watched a movie, and I remembered a conversation I had with my therapist. It centred around not focusing on the past, but making things of the future.
In a nutshell, since leaving rehab in January 2019 it feels like I’ve had to relearn everything. I’ve had to learn how to do things sober, just like when you turn 16, hitting puberty, and feeling different.
This may sound odd, but it’s true.
When you believe that all your confidence, charisma, sociability, motivation, humour & laughter comes from alcohol, what do you do without it?
How do you socialise, participate in meetings, go on dates, go out, be yourself, and perhaps the most questionable – live the life you used to?
I was worried that after all these years I wouldn’t be so outgoing, funny, chatty – all the reasons I thought Alex and I became friends all those years ago.
While I’ve had to ‘start again’, I have to remember that while doing things again is tough, it’s a journey and everything is a new experience.
I still fear that I’m not the same person, I feel awkward, I avoid things and i’m nowhere near as confident as I was – I’m actually kind of shy, but none of that matters.
I told Alex what I was feeling, and tried to explain what it feels like to explore this world in my sober state after so many years of abuse. He said “Mate, I can’t imagine what that’s like, but this has been great. It honestly doesn’t make a difference if you drink or not. You’re the same Ben, just without a beer in your hand.”
My friends are here to stay, my friends wouldn’t give a shit if I sat there in silence, if I ranted at them, if I cried on their shoulder and that’s so comforting. I can’t thank all those friends who have listened to me drone on and on, rant and rave, you’re all beautiful people.
I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I let an illness take over and while it gave me some things, it robbed me of others.
I may be more shy, quiet, and introverted, but I know that I’m in control now and while I don’t feel like the same person sometimes, it’s things like this comment from Simon that help me see that I am.
“I love you brother ❤ I loved drinking with you, but you know what I love more?
Post-booze Ben is somebody I can talk to about anything. You’re more open than you’ve ever been… to ALL things; you’re receptive emotionally and your responses are honest, tuned and informed.
We don’t have to resort to superficial laddy banter anymore. And yet, you’re the same person. You still take the piss out of me when I need it, tell home truths when I need it, we have laughs, we talk shite and we get serious when we need to. You’ve got my back, unreservedly, and I have yours.
I’m so fucking proud of you dude!”