Thursday, September 21, 2017

Clean

Eight months ago I took a momentous decision. I gave up alcohol.

After 37 years of boozing - all of my adult life - I decided that enough was enough. No more drink!

There was no spark for this life-changing decision, just a gnawing recognition that my life thusfar had not gone as I would have liked. Something needed to change.

As a result, I have been healthier and happier. It has not been easy. . . but it has not been as hard as I'd imagined it would be.

For the first few months, I felt quite ill. My metabolism had to learn how to cope without alcohol.  It didn't like it.

But now I feel better than I have done for a long time.

I started drinking seriously at the age of 18 when I landed a holiday job in a pub, The Old Harry (now called Butler & Hops), on the High Street, Poole, Dorset.

As a barman there, you were allowed to drink the beers (but not the spirits) while working, and, with typical gusto, I took full advantage of this parlous perk.

However, it was when I went to study at the University of Hull in 1980 that drink really took hold of me.

I found alcohol hugely addictive and was drawn to activities where drinking was tolerated or, better still, encouraged.

I drank all through my three undergraduate years studying, or rather not studying, physics, and my one post-graduate year learning about journalism at University College, Cardiff.

Journalism appealed to me as I was inquisitive and liked writing. But, mainly, I can now see now with the benefit of hindsight, because drinking was a major part of the way of life of a journalist in the 1980s.

By the time I started work at the Hull Daily Mail in 1984, I had a serious thirst.

My booze habit was deeply entrenched. I enjoyed long drunken evenings in the pub and nightclubs, and lunchtime drinks, whenever I could slip them in.

In fact, hindered by phobias, anxieties and a lack of confidence, particularly with women, I assayed to stay drunk as much of the time as possible.

For me, booze was like rocket fuel. It gave me confidence and energy to live. To forget my fears. To be who I naively thought I wanted to be.

Embarrassing and shameful incidents happened to me because of booze, but I felt I needed it, and almost no one would ever tell me otherwise.

I drank my way through years at Hull and as a senior reporter at the Coventry Evening Telegragh, and onto London's Fleet Street, where I worked on the Daily Star - a paper that was awash with booze.

They loved me there because I could drink the best of them under the table.

I had a loyal partner (and later wife), Edwina, and, in February 1990, our first daughter Edie was born; it was the most wonderful day of my life.

At that magical time, I should have given up the booze and focused on my family.

But, to my eternal shame, I didn't.

I continued, on a befuddled, downward spiral through the failings, the missed chances and the lost years.

In June 1996, our second daughter, Frances, was born. It was another joyful day.  I loved the time I spent with my children, but didn't find anywhere enough time to be with them.

I went on drinking as if it were going out of fashion.


And so the years rolled on. My relationship, my family life, my career and my health all suffered.

But booze had its sticky tentacles around me, squeezing out the life.

Exactly six years ago today, on 21 September 2011, the eve of my 10th wedding anniversary, I returned home from my nine-to-five PR job in London to find the locks had been changed on my house in Priory Street, Lewes. 

My marriage had broken down beyond repair. Suddenly I was homeless. Although I did not realise it at the time, it was also the end of my relationship with my children, Edie and Frances.

I was allowed just one meeting with them, at my parents' house in December of that year. After that, nothing.

Now I am stone cold sober, I can see clearer. In so many ways I had badly let down my family: Edwina, Edie and Frances. I am deeply sorry for that and I always will be.

Being around some of the time and paying the bills was not enough.

I had lost my moral compass. They deserved better. They deserved to be cherished. They deserved the best of me.

Of course, now it is too late. "Sorry" carries no weight. They have made it pretty clear they don't want me in their lives. I have been banished. Forgiveness or redemption is a hope too far.

I am clean now. After 37 years of almost continuous drinking, I have conquered my habit, my addiction, my demons.

I've cleaned up my act.

Although I have done it through sheer will power, and without professional help, I know it is permanent.

When I used to drink, my wife Edwina would say, "You'll never change", and yet, amazingly, I have.

I've changed "for me",  because I desperately wanted to - and not for any ulterior, cynical motive.

I wanted to become a better person and, in that, unlike so many facets of my previous life, I have been successful.

Naturally, I miss my Edie and Frances.

There is never a day when I don't think fondly of my daughters, now aged 27 and 21, and wonder where they are that day, what they are doing, worry about them.

I can't help it. I am always looking out for them in the street, although I know it is unlikely their paths will cross mine.

I guess I just have to learn to accept the ineffable sadness of their absence in my life.

If only I could have given them the man I've become, when I had the chance. Things would have turned out very different.

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