Hi. I’m Matt, I’m an alcoholic.
I have been saying those words regularly now for the past four months. Whilst on holiday during the Easter break I finally admitted to another person that I was not able to control my drinking; I recognised previously damaging behaviours becoming more and more prevalent and the fantasy that I had my drinking ‘under control’ was just that, a fantasy.
I had my first drink when I was 17 years old and on that night I got drunk. It felt like coming home. All of my anxieties and social inhibitions just washed away. The hangover was a stinker. I started going to the pub with a couple of my friends then. Diamond White was the tipple of choice, because it was fairly cheap and got me really pissed, really fast.
And then that was it, I wanted to get pissed whenever I could; and I did. I remember phoning friends trying to get them to meet me at the pub; I always had a sense of dread that I wouldn’t find anyone available and wouldn’t get my fix. On the rare occasions that I couldn’t find someone I would be in a dreadful mood, irritable and annoyed, and I’d take it out on whoever I ran into. Mostly though, I would find someone, and I would cram in as many drinks as I possibly could. There were lots of good times, mostly good times in those days, but there were some rows too; I couldn’t have my opinion of the world challenged and I couldn’t control my anger or my passion when I had been drinking.
All of this early drinking coincided with the awakening of my sexuality; or rather with the realisation that it wasn’t going to change. I am a homosexual. Raised in the Catholic Church and Catholic school educated, I knew that being gay wasn’t what was supposed to happen to good Catholic boys. I struggled then to reconcile my understanding of my religion with the very obvious fact that I was gay. Drinking helped me to forget that struggle, to forget the guilt and to have the confidence to be myself.
I came out to my friends the day before my 18th birthday, but only after getting hammered. I came out to my parents on my 18th birthday, but only after getting hammered. I came out to my sibling the day after my 18th birthday and, you’ve guessed it, only after getting hammered. By then my drinking was already out of hand. I would be drinking whenever I possibly could and drinking as much as I possibly could. Once I passed my test I was drink-driving regularly, only having passed it in early summer of ’94, just a couple of months after my 18th birthday. By the time the following summer arrived I had been caught and banned from driving for 19 months. These days I would have had my licence removed completely.
Being prosecuted and banned from driving was humiliating; and the shame and guilt was the perfect permission for my drinking to increase. Now I didn’t have to drive I could also knock back the drinks whenever I wanted and I remember one occasion downing half a bottle of vodka on my bed before starting my night shift. I was the shift manager of a motorway service station.
But better times came and went and by 1998 I realised that I had to do something positive with my life. I studied and started university in 1999. I chose to study English Literature, for no other reason than that it demanded a mere 6 hours of lectures a week, so plenty of time to have lots of fun. Fun here can be read as ‘getting bolloxed’. And bolloxed I was for most of those three years. Typically, I got a drinkers degree (2:2) and ended up in a dead-end administration job that did not require a degree at all. And there I was, saddled with debt, drinking heavily, still single and no clear plan. Over the course of the next two years my drinking spiralled out of control. I was drinking secretly, away from friends and on my own most of that time. I started to take more and more risks, picking up strangers on the streets and taking them home for sex; or worse still, being taken to their homes for sex. I tried a couple of relationships, but my self-esteem and self-confidence was on the floor and they had no chance of lasting. Each failed relationship led to more drinking and more risks.
During this time I remember being at parties and losing control of my bowel and having to be helped to change. Friends started trying to hide drink from me in the house, even resorting to colouring it and filtering into different bottles to disguise it from me. Housemates were often called by me to fetch me from pubs where I’d been drinking alone all day and getting myself into an emotional state.
At this time I had the good sense to realise something had gone seriously wrong. I rang AA and they told me where I could find a meeting. A asked a friend to take me to one that week. She forgot, but I still made my way there. I sat outside and watched people walking in, but I couldn’t bring myself to go inside. I went to the pub instead.
And I carried on like that for a few more months until one day I arranged to meet a guy I’d met on the internet. He lived in my hometown, Bristol, and I was already due to meet a few pals on the weekend so arranged to meet him in a club at about 10pm. I turned up at 1am, bolloxed, but he was still nice to me. He even put me in a taxi and called to make sure I was back home safely. This was not typical. We carried on chatting by text and on the internet and arranged to meet up in Cardiff one Sunday afternoon in a couple of weeks’ time.
The night before that Sunday I went out with friends and of course, I got bolloxed. I slept with one of my best friends that night, behind his partner’s back; his partner was my friend too. It was the second time that had happened. When I was pissed I didn’t care. When I was pissed I did want ever I wanted to do. Damn the consequences.
The following morning I woke up very late and with a stinking hangover. I had forgotten all about my meeting with this kind man from Bristol. I couldn’t really remember what he even looked like. I was reminded by a text from him saying “I’m on the train”. I fell out of bed and looked for some clothes. Everything was dirty except for a pair of checked shorts and a brown t shirt. I had no socks. So I wore the shorts, the t shirt and a pair of sandals. I looked very much like an American tourist. I got to the train station on a blazing hot June Sunday in 2004, ¾s of an hour late and looked desperately around for the kind man from Bristol. I spotted a rather sexy looking guy, with beautiful tanned skin and a finely-toned body and thought “hey up, he’s staring at me!” and then realised it was the kind man I’d been looking for all along.
We had lunch, I could barely eat or keep it down, but I went through the motions. After lunch I took him to the park and promptly fell asleep on the grass. I woke later and couldn’t see the kind man from Bristol. I couldn’t blame him, I’d have left this hungover drunk if they’d fallen asleep on me, but when I looked around he was just behind me, doing handstands! He was still there! We chatted about ourselves then, but I still felt rough and wasn’t much company. He said he had to get the train and so I walked with him towards the station. I knew I’d probably never see him again after that shit-show, but something made me stop him and I did the only thing that any self-respecting alcoholic would do and asked him if he’d like to get a drink with me!
He didn’t catch the train and I was able to show him my wine side and within a few hours I had woed him with red, white and champagne! I also wore breast implants that a woman next to us had on and I have the photos to prove it! Well, it was clearly a work of genius, because he stayed that night and we both rang in sick the next day.
With him I didn’t want to drink so much. He wasn’t a big drinker and he made that clear and I thought that it was just what I needed; someone to make me behave better, to drink less. But when I wasn’t with him I was just up to the same behaviour. So then I decided that what I needed to do was to change location. I decided to move back to Bristol. Of course that didn’t work, I just no longer had people to go drinking with and, not wanting to drink alone around my new housemates, I took to walking the streets near home drinking cans and smoking, occasionally calling friends in Cardiff and lamenting my decision to move.
Then I found out that I was living around the corner from an old school pal and, drinking buddy secured I was out whenever I could be. The drinking was soon back to epic levels and I was losing control of my bladder fairly regularly; waking up in a wet bed was no longer shocking to me, just inconvenient.
After about 18 months of this I moved in with the kind man from Bristol and my drinking lessened significantly. Although I do remember him saying to me that he thought I drank a lot, but I genuinely was aghast at the suggestion! I mean had control of my bowel and bladder now after all and compared to where I was before, I was practically a saint!
And life progressed like that for almost ten years; plenty of excess and always regular drinking (most days), but nothing as had as those dark days, so in my mind I was doing okay. Until we adopted our second child in 2014. It was a tricky adoption. We didn’t bond with our son and he didn’t bond with us. He was either asleep or screaming and that was it. The shock of my lack of feeling towards him made my mood spiral downwards and I immediately hit the booze. A little more of it and little more often and of course things just got worse and so the booze increased.
In May 2016 I had a complete mental breakdown, my drinking was getting more out of control, but of course I didn’t mention this to my GP. I was off work for three months and heavily medicated. The drinking just continued to get worse. It still didn’t return to the dark excesses of ten years before, but my perceived control over alcohol was being exposed for the sham that it was. I knew where this could lead and I was scared. By the summer of 2018 I was waking up feeling so guilty about my drinking, how it was impacting on the children and making my tolerance and patience thresholds so low; I started contacting AA again on those mornings, but by 4pm I was back on the booze and it was all forgotten for another day.
The gaps between drinks seemed to disappear at this point. I would always drink more heavily on the weekends and during school holidays, but this then started to be maintained during term time. I was getting more and more forgetful at work and missing deadlines and not doing work well. I knew in my heart that any day now I could lose control of the drinking again and ruin my life and the life of my family. Finally, after two drunken weeks on holiday in Ireland, and whilst blind drunk, I went into my partner as he lay asleep in bed at 3am, woke him and told him that I thought I had a problem with alcohol. He hugged me patiently and was kind, as he always is. I told him that I wanted to give up drinking when we got back home, but only after my birthday (which was a week later)! I set aside May 1st as my sober day. What a good alcoholic I was, giving myself one whole week to get bladdered before stopping, and even said that to him “I need to get in as much as possible this week”. Unbelievable.
Something made me go on to Twitter. Now, I was not a big Tweeter, never had been, but I reasoned that there were all sorts on Twitter (don’t we know it) and maybe someone had some advice for me. I typed ‘recovery’ into the search box and up popped #RecoveryPosse. I tagged that and told them my decision; this was my Tweet:
Well, advice I wanted and advice I got; in spades and all of it saying with one voice: “Why not today?”
They were right of course and as I was still in the hungover shame period of the day, I resolved to stop there and then on bank holiday Monday April 22nd 2019 – a clear week ahead of my planned sobriety date.
On Tuesday 23rd I stumbled in to my first AA meeting at Frenchay, terrified, feeling like shit and totally ashamed of myself. But my god, everyone was kind and welcoming and I had finally started my recovery.
I haven’t had a drink since.