Forgiveness

The act of forgiveness eluded me for enough time to teach me wisdom. During that time I suffered as I fantasised about what I could’ve done to prevent or avenge what I perceived as a great injustice.

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you intend on watching The Virtues on Channel Four.

I watched the Channel Four mini series The Virtues this week. The harrowing and raw perspective presented compulsive viewing. I followed Joseph’s decline into the abyss of alcoholism. I empathised so much with the character as he reluctantly purchased alcohol and pondered the first sip with such intensity I wanted to stop watching, but couldn’t. When he succumbed he entered the realms of blackout and chaos; when the drink is in the sense is out / Nuair a bhíonn an fíon istigh, bíonn an ciall amuigh. However, he was able to make significantly better choices when he made the best choice of all; not to drink. He then had the opportunity to consider the consequences of another binge, to empathise with people who cared about his well being and to confront life on life’s terms i.e. contemplate gratitude and forgiveness. When Joseph confronts his abuser it’s the act of forgiveness that sets him free. I was tethered to thoughts of violence, anger, hatred, anguish and despair. Similarly I let go and trusted that in doing so I was relinquishing the impossible for a very real more positive and aspiring future free from a persecuting past.

I have included some quotes that explain what forgiveness is in it’s oxymoronic simplicity and complexity. I think personally I make forgiveness a complicated matter because I simply do not want to seem weak in allowing a deed to be perpetrated against me and for it to go unacknowledged and unpunished. Then I ultimately suffer by playing scenarios over and over in my mind. In terms of AA forgiveness ia a surrendering of something that can’t be changed i.e. the ability to drink like a gentleman. Let go, Let God/Higher Power take care of it through prayer, meditation, mindfulness, practicing the AA Principles etc. In forgiving, you are essentially giving up the losing battle so you can move on. Grow through what you go through, accept the things that cannot be changed and courageously forge ahead knowing you have acquired a new wisdom.

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”

― oprah winfrey

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

― Lily Tomlin

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

— Mark Twain

You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.

Maya Angelou

In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. If you make a choice to forgive, you have to face into the pain. You simply have to hurt.

Brené Brown

I sincerely hope that I have provided some solace if you’re struggling with the hurt. Have faith that the wisdom you need to move forward in life is close and by reaching out, being inquisitive and observing examples of recovery you will be inspired to realise we can and do recover from traumatic experiences and addiction.

I’m an alcoholic sharing my experience, strength and hope. Please seek medical advice if you’re concerned about your health and well being.

Perpetual; Stop

Withdrawal from alcohol is hell on earth.

An old timer told me once that an alcoholic isn’t afraid of hell because they’ve experienced it here on Earth. We open the gates of hell if we take a drink. The anguish, the inferno of rage, sadness and oblivion sweeping through, carrying us uncontrollably towards insanity and an untimely demise.

Attempting to close the gates of hell is a somewhat insurmountable task. Escaping the vacuum of physical dependence feels so daunting it prolonged the drinking. Usually after the third day of drinking solidly I knew it would be difficult to stop without severe consequences. It’s not just a bad hangover, it’s horrendous in every way you can imagine.

The first few hours are subject to anxiety and heightened vigilance. There’s an impending sense of doom, however, enough alcohol remains in my system to feel subdued. Anxiety is seeping into my consciousness, both physically and mentally. I want to escape to the shop to purchase cheap booze and stop what is about to happen. Despite not eating for a week I have energy reserved for the acquisition of alcohol. My energy is so depleted my body is breaking down. My hair is greasy, fingernails are brittle and unkept, bloodshot eyes, dirty stained clothes and furry tongue beckoning unpleasant breath. The hour before the shop closes is the worst. The opportunity to stop this tragedy from unfurling into a flag of hopeless surrender is diminishing. A quarter of an hour until the shop is closed. A cold feeling runs through my body, dread has arrived to accompany anxiety.

I’m alone with my thoughts. An aura of nausea and sustenance deficiency resonates from my body. The blanket makes me expel heat in waves of discomfort. When I remove it a coldness occurs like crystalised ice on a railing. The monotony is unbearable, the same thought, feeling, sensation of anguish buzzing like an intensifying current through my very being. Muted television is a minimal comfort, or I should say distraction, from this tortuous existence. Images cascading into my brain, I can’t stop looking, I’m emulating car crash tv.

Rest seems like a good idea. Alcoholics don’t make good decisions, they make self serving bad decisions designed to prolong the madness of the disease. I close my eyes. I resent myself for stopping and allowing this to happen. A skull begins to rotate on the inside of my eyelids. Shades of green, black and grey accumulate in swirling chaos to settle as an image of a skull. Sunken eye holes, edged nose cavity, sleek jaw line turning in an ominous orbit of foreboding. I open my eyes to the luminous images of the television, silence pervading the living room with a sense of exhaustion. I manage to sleep for a few moments before my mind conjures up auditory hallucinations of it’s own to compensate for the silenced television. I hear crowds of people incoherently celebrating. Distant cheers intermingled with conversation. I attempt to listen closely and catch a small distinct uttering but it evades me and the elusive sound seems to exist in its world of joviality and mirth.

Startled, my eyes open with the immediacy of a wild animal low in the pecking order. Panic stricken I check my immediate environment. Misery floods into my consciousness and I try to grasp the last few moments of slumber by closing my eyes. Light sleep is about to transcend into Rapid Eye Movement sleep where the dreams live and escape tantalises like a mirage. Startled, my eyes open with the immediacy of wild animal. Misery floods into my consciousness and I realise I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened in the last hour. Perpetual torment seems likely until the dawn provides some normality.

Exhausted and bewildered I’ve made it through the night. I sip tea and churn a small morsel of toast around my mouth until it dissolves and makes its way to my cavernous, bile strewn stomach. Vitamin B/Thiamine enables my body to absorb the liquid diet I try to introduce. A selection of soups line up in formation to challenge nausea in the battle of my emerging recovery. I notice how weak and shaky I have become when I reach to collect the hot broth. I wonder if the sounds and images will come back to haunt me like Jacob Marley. Death and indulgence wafting in and out of my cognitive perception whilst my spirit remains barely able to provide solace and encouragement to recover.

I explained to a psychotherapist once what it’s like to experience withdrawal from alcohol dependence. I could tell they couldn’t empathise with me in this regard when they commented about never drinking again if that was the outcome. I relapsed many times and endured plenty of home detox’s over the years, three times in AA, before I found the courage to ask a gentleman to sponsor me. I was never an inpatient at a rehabilitation treatment centre, however I did seek medical help numerous times, always after the damage was done. Alcoholism is an insidious disease that is cunning, baffling and powerful. It awakens the four horsemen, Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair and as an alcoholic I still have insane thoughts of drinking.

There is hope. Out of the array of recovery solutions out there I use three components on a daily basis;

1.) One day at a time. I’ve witness people relapse after a year because they no longer had an attainable target, plus the adulation had disappeared. The concept of ‘one day at a time’ puts me on a level playing field with the old timer who has 30 years of sobriety. One day, 24 hours, is an attainable target I can remain focused on. AA birthdays are really great to acknowledge and celebrate but in terms of sustained recovery I embraced #odaat as a touch stone for unity, fellowship, service within AA. In essence, I belong and feel like I found my tribe after being out in the cold, uncontrollably drinking myself into oblivion.

2.) Serenity Prayer. I’ll be brief with this as my last post detailed most of what I think about this magnificent recovery tool. I apply it to almost every challenge in life. I ask my concept of a Higher Power for acceptance (forgiveness, patience, tolerance) of people, places and things that might be causing me difficulty. I ask for courage to, as Brene Brown says, not shrink, blow up, stand my sacred ground and show up in the arena and in doing so, change the things I can. Lastly, I ask for the wisdom to know the difference i.e. know when to accept or adapt.

Step One. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The first step of the Program grants me the protection against taking the first drink. I accepted I’m an alcoholic and when I drink my life spirals out of control to the extent I don’t know what will happen. Before working through the Steps with a sponsor I was ‘white-knuckling’, my sobriety was fragile and an emotional disturbance was enough to cause relapse. I now know the difference between being sober and being in recovery.

The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer is attributable to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971). It is said at the end of every AA meeting, however I was familiar with it before I entered the Fellowship. Sometimes it’s embroidered on tea towels or hung up in picture frames in locations where visitors can wonder at what it means. Personally, it’s an essential part of my continuing recovery from alcoholism.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

While the debate over whether an alcoholic is powerless over people, places and things continues, as it’s not mentioned in the first 164 pages of the Big Book, I think the point is being missed. I have accepted that I am an alcoholic and my life becomes unmanageable when I drink. This powerlessness over alcohol can be applied to people, places and things to represent the futility of trying to control them. Einstein’s definition of insanity; doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, is relevant here. And so; Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us. (From page 417 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous). I find it beneficial to humbly accept I’m not perfect and that drinking alcohol and attempting to control every aspect of my life has been a calamitous experience that I have used to contrast with the next line of the prayer.

Courage to change the things I can.

I can change my perception through empathy. If I perceive the situation through the other person’s eyes, from their perspective, it opens an opportunity to engage and seek solutions through collaboration. I can react through forgiveness which I find to be a double edged sword. Forgiving somebody else’s actions and forgiving myself for making mistakes are two different things entirely. Perfectionism/procrastination, seeking approval and people pleasing are the axis of self seeking motives that exacerbate the potential triumph of forgiveness. I can defuse resentment through gratitude. Resentment is the number one offender in fucking up an alcoholics progress in recovery. The aforementioned people, places and things could be the subject of an impromptu gratitude list that could very well be the saving grace required to stave off relapse. Empathy, Forgiveness and Gratitude require initial courage, however the fruition of the prayer is at this pivotal juncture.

And wisdom to know the difference.

The cost of empathy is experience. This expense correlates with the severity of the disease. On occasion there are anomalies that occur. I’m referring to the individuals whom attend meetings and seem wise beyond their years. I’m of the variety of alcoholic that needs to put his hand in the fire to find out if it will burn me; instead of seeing the truth when all of the “yets” (as in, that hasn’t happened to me—yet) started happening, I just kept lowering my standards. (From page 328 of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous). I recite the Serenity Prayer, I use it as a mantra to channel good intentions and thoughts throughout my day. I apply it logically in a whole host of settings to remain still, serene, contemplative, faithful, hopeful…recovered.

A Day to Remember

A couple of years I visited Dublin, Ireland and I wanted to incorporate a couple of AA meetings into the trip. I had attended meetings in Malta whilst on holiday so I was in no doubt that they would be available and at that stage in my sobriety I was convinced meetings were necessary if available.

A family member in the Fellowship suggested I attend a particular meeting and I confirmed the time in anticipation of attending. I left half an hour before it was due to start and enjoyed the stroll. When I got there I was greeted by a group of Polish, Latvian and Russian people. I received a warm welcome and after the initial pleasantries I was asked if I spoke Russian?

I understood the meeting to be friendly to Russian speakers but primarily conducted in English. Making assumptions isn’t a good idea but I regularly do it and feel like an idiot afterwards. Today is different, I’m willing to adapt and make the best of a situation whereas in the past this situation alone would’ve provided enough fuel for the alcoholic fire. I sat there with my cup of tea listening to the meeting progress, in Russian. Approximately 20 minutes elapsed when I decided to make a move. I waited patiently for a pause, stood up promptly and approached the Chair. “Thanks for the meeting, I’m leaving now”, and with that I departed feeling slightly perturbed but honoured to have been there amongst a community within the Fellowship. I subsequently found out that once a month that particular premises hosts the only Russian speaking meeting in the city. My Higher Power works in truly mysterious ways.

When I got back to the hotel I was determined to attend a meeting that I could fully participate in. I found a ‘live and let live’ meeting that was about a half hour walking distance away. I’d be able to have lunch and hopefully avoid the crowds in town. The Holy Father, Pope Francis was visiting and good old Catholic Ireland was experiencing change. Protest marches were gathering to demonstrate against historical abuse and the reports on the television detailing official event proceedings to hear the Pope speak were juxtaposed with what I was witnessing outside on the street. Placards, speeches and a simmering sense of injustice buzzed in the summer breeze.

My priority was to attend a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I left in good time and walked in the opposite direction towards the meeting. I saw the huge rainbow flag gracefully wafting in the sultry breeze and thought nothing of it. I was familiar with it representing the gay community and assumed per haps this area was part of the gay quarter. Assumptions are no friend of mine, but alas, I am prepared to adapt and learn from new experiences so I continued into the building and continued up the stairs to the room where the meeting was being held. I was the first person to arrive and as such I struck up a conversation with the Chair. As a visitor I was asked to do the main share, reluctantly I accepted. The fear of public speaking is something I try to confront but mostly I avoid it and then feel guilty. I sat there trying to remember my own name, telling myself to share my experience, then strength, followed by hope for my fellows and our future. The attendees were then asked to welcome me to the LBGT meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and I knew right then that my Higher Power was guiding me to new experiences of discovery and diversity.

The walk home was exhilarating. I had met people from the Russia, Poland and Latvia and despite the language barrier I was given a most hospitable welcome. I had received the same reception from the LBGT community. My share was listened to intently and my sobriety was secured through carefully considered responses filled with compassion and a dedication, I see at all meetings, to ensure our fellows get well and free themselves from the grip of alcoholism. The backdrop of politics, religion and civil unrest made the whole day one to remember. A day to cherish because it highlighted liberty and freedom to commune and converse. Wherever I go in the world I know AA will give me an opportunity to be of service, therefore ridding myself of selfish motives. I can experience unity at meetings through fellowship and ensure my continued recovery by practicing the principles of the Twelve Step Program .

Wretched

wretched/ˈrɛtʃɪd/adjective

  1. (of a person) in a very unhappy or unfortunate state.

I chose this word deliberately when naming my blog because it encapsulates the way I always felt emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. The hole in the soul, the fear, the unworthiness that could only be appeased and enticed by alcohol.

I was told two things early on in my sobriety; 1) I didn’t have to drink anymore and 2) I chose how happy I wanted to be. I met both statements with the utter most contempt and arrogance you would expect from an alcoholic newly arrived from the cut-throat wilderness of ‘the madness’.

An alcoholic of the variety described in the Big Book has to drink. The predilection, whether it be genetic or behavioural has crossed the physical dependence boundary. The obsessive urge to pursue oblivion is the ultimate goal and the alcoholic knows the stark choice has now developed. The progressive disease of alcoholism has developed from an obsession of the mind to physical dependence. I always said ‘I didn’t do hangovers’ and the reason being was when I started drinking I couldn’t stop. The phenomenon of craving had me in a vice like grip. The one constant feature is that the alcoholic has been ill since the notion was conceived to drink. Therefore, being told I didn’t have to drink anymore was akin to the absurdity of being informed I needn’t bother breathing, as I could absorb the air through osmosis. To say I had a resentment towards the old timer would be an understatement. However, I had an underlying respect for the man as it was clearly evident these were words of wisdom I wasn’t ready to comprehend fully. Learning from the Fellowship at AA meetings and working the Program gave me the insight, dignity and preparedness to understand I didn’t have to drink again and that was a joyous notion as opposed to the dread of compulsive drinking.

I was baffled by the concept of deciding to be happy. I was convinced that happiness was something that happened to you as a result of external forces. My self esteem and ego were poles apart. Egocentric alcoholism had devoured my self esteem to the extent it hardly existed. How could I dare to be happy? I’m like a pig in shit when it comes to wallowing in despair. I know self loathing, pity, procrastination, depression and anguish, They’re my accomplices, my allies, my team, before the Fellowship of men and women in AA and a higher power of my understanding came into my life to expel them. Marianne Williamson wrote; ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.’ I believe this is what was being communicated to me when I was told I chose how happy i wanted to be. I was so deflated, ravaged by years of alcohol abuse and barely no self analysis, an urban barbarian of sorts, that I couldn’t even anticipate taking that step towards serenity.

They say ‘keep coming back’ at meetings. If I had not gone back to meetings after relapsing, or delaying by conjuring up excuses, I wouldn’t have learned the wisdom of the two lessons I’ve just described. So if you’re wondering whether to go back, heed the words ‘Keep coming back’!

I always had this inkling that my drinking would bring misery and an untimely demise – be that insanity, incarceration or death. The undercurrent of fear coursing through my being, hypersensitive anguish leading to inebriated cruelty. A friend said to me recently that they perceived me as a person struggling with alcoholism rather than an alcoholic. My response was reflective and considerate of what recovery from alcoholism really means to me. In an ironic twist, alcoholism has led me to a program developed by other alcoholics that enables me to live life on life’s terms. I can answer a phone when it rings instead of being filled with the terror of the what if’s. I can keep it simple and hand over whatever is troubling me to a Higher Power of my understanding, asking for the willingness to believe I’m living the way I’m supposed to. I was conditioned by the progressive nature of the fear based dis-ease and then tempered by the Program like steel cooling after being hammered back into shape to become purposeful.

Wobble – The Threat of Relapse

After 3 years in recovery from alcoholism I am convinced the obsession of the mind has left me. I no longer strategise about the purchasing, logistics and consumption of alcohol. I remind myself every day that I still have an allergy to alcohol. If I ingest it the phenomenon of craving will be the catalyst for opening the gates of hell. An inferno of anguish and turmoil will engulf my life leaving ash and ruin in the aftermath.

The ‘ism’ associated with alcohol can be considered as an acronym for I, Self & Me. An excellent way of affirming the selfish nature of the disease. Selfishness is a driving force for Alcoholics. Me, me, me totally obsessed with where, how and when drinking can commence. Today I can still be self centered but it tends to manifest in more insidious ways.

This is the point in my sobriety that can feel like hitting a brick wall at speed. Depression that ways heavy, seeping into a vortex of guilt and regret regarding the past and a morbid fear of the not only the future, but the immediate present too. I suppose I just described existential fear and crisis and I remind myself that recounting my experience is reason for hope because it’s proof I came through it. Grow through what you go through.

The wobble came after a prolonged period of procrastination. Granted, the last few months have been unprecedented in there being a complete lock down of most nations across the globe. Working from home, performing administrative tasks and functioning without attending meetings has created a kind of fragile sense of security. Basically I’ve been white-knuckling and doing the very basics i.e. daily readings, the odd text to my sponsor and dipping into an international online 24 hour zoom AA meeting once in a while.

Sat at the desk looking at the laptop I zoned out imagining what it would be like to drink. I’m aware this is the dis-ease of alcoholism manipulating current events in my mind to create an environment for relapse. My thoughts advanced further to the inevitable distraught reactions to my potential behaviour. The pleading for me to stop, the disappointment in their eyes, the nihilism erupting like a mute mushroom cloud that will eventually rain acrid tears of waste and humiliation. I felt full of anxiety, then dread galloped through which weirdly brought some relief as I was repulsed by what I had envisaged. I began to weep a little, a cleansing emotional response to what I once enjoyed immeasurably now being abhorrent. Sadness and relief made me feel isolated and vulnerable.

In the past I wouldn’t have been capable of processing my emotions and a drinking episode would’ve been imminent. The following day I wondered if it was the alcoholic disease, or the emotional response to the severe consequences of drinking, that is the root cause of all this suffering? Nature, nurture, chicken or the egg? I reckon it doesn’t matter. The important thing is how we, as alcoholics, prepare for these testing times. I have a toolbox with a selection of tools I can utilise to accomplish a task. They include, meetings to go to so I am interacting with like minded people and receiving positive feedback through fellowship. I have a sponsor to contact for guidance, advice, empathetic understanding. I have an array of literature at my fingertips containing decades of applicable experience, strength and hope for alcoholics. I have conscious contact with a higher power of my own understanding. I can afford to lower my defenses enough to use these tools to build lasting recovery on a foundation of abstinence and sobriety.

I would like to make my blog something substantial for alcoholics to relate to and draw hope from. You’re investing by taking the time to read this and hopefully you’re absorbing coping skills for the future by relating to my experiences. I was recently asked what my dream was and what I want next? My response was filled with a lot of ‘wants’ that I later replaced with ‘haves’ because alcoholics have to nurture gratitude so we can minimise and neutralise jealousy, envy, resentment and forms of fear;

I want a healthy family, I want financial security, I want fulfilling hobbies, I want to believe we have a soul and can make conscious contact with God before we die so death isn’t scary, I want to be still and not have to worry about all these things and I want to learn how to be balanced and useful in the world and be worthy. What I’ve learnt in recovery is that I’m here for a purpose. That purpose in simple terms is to do for others as I would like to be treated. Out of everything spiritual prophets have said, this is essentially the reason why we are here. Life is sacred and precious and it’s simple. AA says ‘keep it simple’ and when we do, life is ok, it’s not overwhelming, I can even decide to be happy if I want to!

The Grip of Alcoholism

Denial colludes with ignorance to conspire against the platitudes of common sense within the mind of an alcoholic. I recall being sat motionless in a hospital bed and some talk of ominous consequences. My train of thought was that of escape, or rather release from this odious predicament. Sitting at home amongst familiar surroundings tenderly clutching a bottle of white cider seemed much more preferable.

My sense of mortality was non-existent. This doesn’t mean I felt immortal, I was in complete denial of the potential for this dire situation to become even more grave. The consequences of withdrawing from physical dependence didn’t present itself for consideration until the concern for my physical well being had become critical. Stomach distended despite there being no nourishment to mention in quite some time. I presented at the hospital Accident & Emergency department hoping for a quick fix, a remedy, a pit stop of sorts.

Ascites is the abnormal build up of fluid in the abdomen, caused by liver scarring. I couldn’t wait for the water tablets to disperse the fluid so I could get home. I had no humility or care for the help I was receiving. The dis-ease of alcoholism was all-consuming in it’s compulsion to continue in the same vain as before.

My stomach returned to normal. Bloated and jaundiced I can understand why alcoholics pursue the intoxicating effects of alcohol into the depths of insanity and death. I had been ravaged by disease of the mind, body and soul. The previous year I had survived pulmonary Tuberculosis and the way I perceived the situation, drinking had become a real game of Russian roulette. Even at this stage drinking alcohol remained alluring. King Alcohol demanded obedience and I wasn’t going to disappoint.

I attended monthly Liver Clinic appointments to monitor the affects of alcohol on my body. I enjoyed the approval I received when it was proven in the test results that I had refrained, abstained and remained alcohol free. However, I wasn’t always compliant with the doctor’s instructions. I binged a couple of times and guilt enshrouded my attendances following those indiscretions.

‘I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her name was grief’. I remember seeing this on social media and thinking how profoundly wise it was. Depression is anger turned inwards I recall before thinking of the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Sadness emanating from a yearning for what could’ve been if trauma wasn’t the catalyst for suffering. Bargaining meant the difference between white-knuckling and relapse. Striking the deal between satisfying the obsession to drink whilst rolling the dice in terms of staying alive. A conflict every alcoholic has encountered in their journey.

I feel I could develop every sentence of the last paragraph into another paragraph. Dissecting the very essence of an alcoholic until the insanity can be explained.

This jeopardy continued throughout attempts to normalise my alcoholism. I justified drinking at weekends because I had worked hard all week, or moved into a place of my own, or finished an educational course. Alcoholism was insidiously lurking, anticipating the opportunity to entice with offerings of engaging fun and laughter.

The last time I drank was a three day relapse after eighteen months of abstinence. I can’t say I did it in ignorance as I’d been to my first AA meeting two years earlier. The parallel between drinking after medical and spiritual warnings is evident. I returned to AA with a new found humility that enabled me to ask another alcoholic to sponsor me. Step One gave me the protection I needed against the first drink. I accepted that I am an alcoholic and that my life becomes unmanageable when I drink. One drink is too many and a hundred isn’t enough. The obsession encourages the first drink and the allergy sustains the drive to drink into oblivion.

Today I don’t have to drink. I resented being told I didn’t have to drink anymore. I didn’t understand that underneath the resentment I felt was the realisation that I had other options. I could now opt to join a fellowship, attend meetings and read the Big Book instead of poisoning my mind, body and spirit with alcohol.

Trauma

I always thought I was over sensitive. This might be explained by the latent alcoholic disease or perhaps how I was brought up. In hindsight it’s probably a combination of both circumstance and cognition.

The value system I held as a youth didn’t equip me with the coping skills necessary to deal with violence, be that verbal threats or actual physical attack. I was told to respect my elders by listening to their wisdom. I was told it was important to have manners i.e. say please and thank you and think of others when doing things. I was told to respect authority and follow the rules. All of these instructions, in my mind, were under the premise that behaving in this manner would entitle me to being a worthy recipient of the same behaviour. Conflict was on the horizon.

Two incidents happened in my mid teens that had a very detrimental effect on my mental, emotional and spiritual well being. Alcohol would lay waste to what was left in subsequent years.

The first incident I remember vividly to this day. I was fifteen years old. My friend and I had spent the day in the city center. I recall it was a warm summer day and I felt confident, happy and excited to be independent. We purchased a club cassette tape from a dance music record store. We were too young to get into the clubs at the time, but this tape was soon to be blasting out of my speakers at home. The bus fare was 20 pence at the time which makes me feel incredibly old now, it’s all I had in my pocket. The bus stops at the time were sheet metal structures painted black, I didn’t pay much attention to the four individuals sat on the railings in my peripheral vision until I saw my friend going over to them. My heart sank, panic pumped out of my sunken heart until it reached the pit of my stomach. We were at the mercy of something that was potentially very sinister and I observed with an ominous yearning for escape. I slipped the nine carat gold tiger eye ring from my middle finger into my pocket and reluctantly approached the gang after being summoned. They had taken the tape from my friend’s possession; one of them triumphantly commented it looked good. The youngest of the gang did the talking as the remaining three loomed behind him. I was told to hand over the ring I had placed in my pocket or face a hiding. They didn’t know it was a gift from my parents and sentimental value meant more to me than anything. I was told to hand over my watch, and relinquish anything I had in my pockets. They allowed me to keep the 20 pence bus fare. The cunt put my ring on and said “nice fit” as I turned too my right to see the bus had arrived. Numbly I floated onto the bus and put the coins in front of the driver. Tear’s fell from my burning eyes, rolling off the cusp of my bottom eyelid and scraping my anguished face before plummeting to the ground. I was glad to escape but the incendiary injustice was ravaging my sense of value and worth. I felt the passengers eyes on me and wondered why the pedestrians looked on whilst I was being robbed. I felt shame, demasculated in the sense of not fighting back and living up to the expectations of being a man and displaying strength and courage. Returning home the emotional pain was crushing. I wasn’t physically hurt, however the mental scars would have far reaching repercussions, especially when I became aware of how alcohol made me feel in comparison.

The second incident happened a couple of years later. Again, I was stood at a bus stop chatting with a friend from from college when I was approached by another boy. He proceeded to shout abuse at me, exclaiming I wasn’t to go near his brother again and he’d do this and that. I was stunned, perplexed enough to step back to see if he meant me? I saw my friend disappear around the corner, abandoned I turned to face the person swinging at me, trying to hit me in the face as I flinched to dodge the haymakers. I noticed the much taller youth, built like a brick shit-house, stood behind him willing me to hit back. I sensed this would give the bigger fella justification to step in and finish the job. Escapism is my natural preference when faced with ‘fight or flight’ situations. Hence the reason why alcohol, with its intoxicating capability to anesthetise was so appealing in later years. So I saw my escape route and took it by making a B line for a nearby construction site. I hurriedly approached the workman in his over sized fluorescent orange jacket and hard hat remonstrating the situation to him, hoping he’d understand. My garbled appeal was met with a look of confused absurdity as he turned with disdain to continue his work. At that point I didn’t care, the boy had walked off accompanied by his accomplice. I walked home with tears of anger and frustration gathering like a tsunami. My mind was about to short circuit as I contemplated reasons for impromptu attacks upon strangers. I realise now that I was empathic enough to attempt to understand and process peoples behaviour to resolve the problems I had with it. The terror followed me in College as the boy who attacked me had the audacity to attend classes and walk past me like nothing had happened. I left shortly afterwards with no further qualifications.

Emerging from my mid teens to adulthood my experiences conflicted with the values I was instilled with. Coping consisted of saying I was ok when I wasn’t, suppressing emotions and avoiding possible situations. My childhood friends left me alone after multiple requests to socialise with them fell on deaf ears. I chose to pursue academia and victimise myself further by convincing myself that my friends had abandoned me instead of helping me. Following the death of my Nan, my first direct experience of death, I became agoraphobic and sank into existential crisis. The occasions I chanced upon to drink alcohol had become opportunities to release some of the raw emotions that I couldn’t face. The residual feelings from past trauma would erupt with the lubrication of alcohol. I recall really fretting, sobbing for no distinct reason other than the loss of innocence that couldn’t be retrieved and was now considered naivety through adult eyes.

Perception of Alcoholism

Relapse is something all alcoholics are threatened by and in my experience my sobriety was fragile enough to break under pressure. Support can be found in Alcoholics Anonymous, Treatment Centres and Rehabilitation Clinics to prevent relapse through peer group discussion, Addictive Voice Recognition Technique, Psychotherapy etc. However, I’m going to discuss the period of time I experienced wanting to be sober but succumbing to the turmoil and intrusive throughts.

I recall being at a works night out and playing along with the socialising element of it all. At the bar I ordered a lemonade and it was presented to me in a large tumbler with a napkin and a straw. Fucking SMH! I drink pints! I thought as I picked up the glass and turned around to try and engage with somebody I knew. My self esteem was none existent at the time, I needed to get in with a clique because God forbid I might actually spark a conversation with somebody I didn’t know.

I found making small chit-chat at public events excruciating, even when it was meant to be a joyous event. My alcoholic disease wanted me clutching a bottle at home with the curtains closed. A colleague asked me what I was drinking and I told her. “You don’t drink?” I was asked surprisingly. Now at this juncture I think it’s important to add that now I would reply with a confirmation of the query and move on to the next natural course of conversation. On this occasion I wasn’t assertive or confident in who I was or what I was doing. I actually replied, “no I’m not…”, and the pause said it all. “So you’ve got a problem with…?” I was asked as she turned away to speak to somebody else. I don’t think I drank that night but I certainly did at some stage afterwards. I knew where drinking took me and it was never a good place. I wanted acceptance and recognition for making the effort and what I felt was rejection, disillusionment and resentment. All the fellas had pints lined up on the table, similarly the ladies had Mojito cocktails, some of them multiple beverages seeing as though it was a free bar. I was judged with strange looks for staying with soft drinks.

Today is a different scenario entirely when I attend social gatherings. An example of other peoples intolerance for individuals not behaving the way they want them to happened to me at a works Christmas party. I hope you can relate and take some strength in dealing with similar situations you may find yourself in as an alcoholic. I was placed at the table that had a Manager sat opposite me along with other colleagues. Everybody is enjoying the entertainment and we’re having the main course when I’m abruptly asked, “what’s that in your glass?!” I was fucking raging at that point because I’d been drinking lemonade in a wine glass and it wasn’t questioned, but there was only orange juice left apart from the copious amounts of bottled beer stood in ice coolers. I told him, despite it being abundantly clear, that it was orange juice. Then I watched as he put his head in his hands shaking his head disapprovingly. I looked him in the eye and shouted across the music, “I don’t drink”. No explanations or excuses. I know that if I drink I wont stop and chaos will ensue.

The difference between the two situations is the availability of choices. The choice to drink was never afforded to me. I drank in ignorance as it was the solution I knew fit best at that precise time to obtain oblivion and fuck the consequences. I chose to text my sponsor and ask for support. I knew I could go to a meeting. I chose to run through the Serenity Prayer in my mind. I humbly accept I can’t change people, places or things and that includes the Manager’s opinion of my sobriety. I was courageous enough not to wither and walk away or worse still take a drink to gain approval. The wisdom came from previous situations like the one I described where I did succumb to drinking. I was able to identify my shortcomings of not feeling worthy, seeking approval, being insecure, lonely, fearful of rejection etc, and make an informed decision to interact socially on life’s terms knowing I’m an alcoholic and being happy with it.

The concept of surrender worked for me; the only battle you win by giving up. By completed a strong Step 1 with a sponsor I was able to stop fighting, white knuckling and hoping for change without action. The temptation and obsession have now left me and can only be described as miraculous. I achieved 3 years of sobriety on 10th March this year and I look forward to a sober life one day at a time.

Diagnosis: Tuberculosis

I alluded to TB in Isolation Room but the stigma I perceive still haunts me. When I was diagnosed I felt a vacuum enshroud my senses. Attempting to focus on what I was being told I immediately envisaged dying from a Victorian disease. Isolation is terrifying because it detaches your connection and interaction with people. I learnt there was treatment, a course of antibiotics that would take six months to eradicate the disease but I should be grateful it’s the standard issue and drug resistant TB. the terror, bewilderment, fear somehow diminished any gratitude I tried to muster but every cloud has a silver lining right?

I felt persecuted with the questions, have you ever been to any of the following countries? Have you ever been an IV drug user? Are you promiscuous? Indignantly responding with ‘no’ each time, I wondered myself where this affliction had struck from. Answers would evade me for a long time I was satisfied.

A chest drain is typically inserted under the armpit and above the nipple, unless it’s a cardiovascular surgeon doing the honours. After the initial incision my first chest drain went in like a straw into a carton drink. Hydro-pnuemothorax, fluid and air filling the pleural cavity. Following the tube from my chest to the pot filled with water on the floor I coughed and waited for the bubbles to appear. Getting the air out of my chest was critical.

My condition worsened and the chest drain had to be replaced by a larger one, 10mm in diameter. I was complacent, the oramorph didn’t touch the pain I envisaged in my mind. I asked for more, warranting a stern comment that another dose was out of the question as it would cause an overdose. My alcoholic disease had been awakened by the buzz of morphine. The pain from the procedure was excruciating. I understand why people pass out in the movies and how the brain can become so overwhelmed with the visceral severity of the whole experience it just malfunctions.

My immediate environment was contained before I was taken to the isolation room, an opaque nylon curtain briskly pulled around the circumference of the bed I was propped up in. “We think you have a bug, but don’t worry, there’s a treatment”. I accepted the luminous plastic bag, box of tissues and instruction to cough anything up into the tissue and place the tissue in the bag. A bio-hazard bag. I am a bio hazard. I can only describe those moments as transcendent, accompanied by very little emotional response. ‘Lost’ would be a good way of describing it, vulnerable to the unknown.

Proceeding the diagnosis I overcame added complications including the superbug MRSA and an effusion; a build up of fluid in the plueral cavity between the lung and the ribcage. I lived at home for a few months as the medication slowly eradicated the disease from my body. Vanity had been eclipsed by survival and my hair had grown ragged. I’ll never forget the gentleman who visited my home to give me a haircut. This simple gesture meant I received my dignity and self respect through gratitude and humility. After months of feeling wretched and ravished by disease and consequence I had built up many resentments and indignant feelings. I would confront these many years down the line when I was granted the opportunity to work the 12 Step program.

Some time prior to the operation I needed I was visited by a Catholic nun. I was raised in the Catholic faith but I don’t practice the religion. I’m surprised I didn’t cling to religion when I was so desperately ill. The African nun appeared at the door and asked in her distinct accent if I would like to pray. I remember feeling agitated but it wasn’t the nun’s presence, it was the humidity of the room, the re-emergence of acute pain, the cold sweat I felt when I moved to sit up and change my posture. I declined the offer, however I was left with a prayer card. I looked at the picture, St Joseph holding the baby Jesus and a lily. I began to read the reverse and in a moment of perplexed surprise I thought “she thinks I’m at deaths door!”. The Patron Saint of Departing Souls was looking after me that day to this one.

My TB was resolved by having an operation to de-cauterise, remove a lobe and re-attach the lung. There’s three lobes belonging to the left lung and two on the right. My left lung was peeled like an onion and put back in place brand new. A doctor who was present at my operation told me he saw my heart beating. It’s easy to forget we have a heart beating away inside even when we’re asleep. I also had the other kind of heart, the heart to survive and cling to life.

You’re probably thinking how all this relates to alcoholism? When I recovered from having TB I was determined to stay sober. I didn’t realise that this was ‘white knuckling’ and hoping for the best with absolutely no defense against the first drink. Approximately three months after my operation I got a few bottles of alcohol free lager. I’m convinced that alcoholism is a progressive disease because I got a thrill from taking the bottle from the fridge, cold glass, chilled beads of moisture, clink sound pinging off another bottle and the clasped alloy crown about to be leveraged. The smoky vapour dispersing as the aroma of hops hits the nostrils. It was a year before the drinking inevitably manifested into chronic dependence once again but it started when I decided to get 0% beer.

I drank cheap strong white cider for a year after surviving pulmonary Tuberculosis. This is the reason I say it’s not a choice to drink if your an alcoholic. Nobody in their right mind would jeopardise their health further by consuming alcohol through any means necessary, a perpetual obsession fed by fear.

The stigma particular disease’s carry is something I have pondered and struggled with because they reflect the person in a negative light according to social constructs. My latent pulmonary TB became active due to my abuse of alcohol and subsequent lowered immune system. I often wished that the disease of alcoholism and tuberculosis were other afflictions deemed acceptable by society and therefore worthy of compassion. I feel guilty for surviving TB then drinking. I feel deep shame because I thought TB was a dirty disease contracted by unhygienic, irresponsible people. I feel isolated emotionally, mentally and physically whilst being bereft of any empathic understanding. I tell myself I felt this way and things are different now, and that’s true to a certain extent. Belonging to AA, sponsorship, the Program and meetings have enabled me to overcome some of the post traumatic stress I have endured as well as Person Centered counselling sessions and family bonds. I guess this is my way of letting go of the stigma and talking about it openly. The ultimate vulnerability is counter balanced by the return of self worth & humility through gratitude and forgiveness. This blog has empowered me to confront trauma and suffering by shining the light of kindness and compassion on it, lighting the candle, feeding the spirit.

(Note: I am not a physician, if you’re experiencing difficulties regarding alcohol abuse or respiratory problems please consult your doctor.)