In the drawer next to my bed I keep my old passport. The picture in it was taken around 2004. MY eyes are bloodshot, my face skinny and tired. I looked ill because I was ill. I once showed to a friend of mine in China and she couldn’t believe it was me and proceeded to tell me I looked like a drug dealer. I keep it because it’s a reminder. A reminder of a time when getting through the day was my only ambition. Make it until I fell asleep, sometimes crying, sometimes happy.
Recently I found a notepad in a cupboard which was filled with writing. Most of it was incomprehensible, I’d obviously gone writing when I was out of my mind on whatever it was I was on at the time. Even at that time of darkness I still managed to write. It might not have made sense but it was still a way in which I was able to express myself. And that was always my problem, I didn’t know how to express my thoughts and feelings.
As a child we had an Amstrad computer at home. It only had a green screen and you can only type about a hundred characters on the main screen. I’d spend hours writing stories. Typing out the first hundred characters, deleting them and then continuing the story. I can’t remember what I was I writing about, as a child obsessed with football it was probably something about me playing in a world cup final and scoring a winning goal.
At school, we weren’t allowed to play football with a ball. The headmistress, who was a raging alcoholic, had decided it was too dangerous. Instead we would wait for the men who would carry the barrels of beer into the cellar of the social club next to the school and ask them if we could have the caps which went on the top of the barrels. We’d use them to play football. If I didn’t have one of them I would just pretend. My classmates probably thought I was a nutcase but I was easily lost in my own imagination and didn’t really care.
I used to love Friday nights because even though I went to bed early I could still stay up late reading. My favourite book was ‘The Hobbit’, I was living in that world, I was with Bilbo on all the adventures he had. I read that book so many times but never became tired of it, it allowed my imagination to run wild. I’ve heard it said that Tolkein wasn’t the best of writers, some of The Lord of the Rings is overly descriptive, but The Hobbit taught me the importance of transporting the reader into the world they are reading about. You write but they’re the narrator and it’s them living inside the book.
As an adult five years doesn’t seem like a long time, but as a child, and as a teenager it seems forever. From the age of ten to fifteen your life changes dramatically and it begins to shape the rest of your life. In those five years I went from being a quiet kid who caused no trouble to a self-destructive one who had no regard for his own life. My lack of confidence and self-belief became so overwhelming I had to find a way out and drugs and alcohol offered that solution. You could throw a blanket over your problems and believe it was the best choice, it was a reasonable way to live your life because your problems are hidden.
I rarely went to school, I hated it. The only time I would go was when I had History. I loved and still love History. It captured my imagination and it was a form of escapism, times past allowed me to be in another world. I’m of the firm belief that history should be a compulsory subject at school, the critical thinking skills it produces would be part of the solution to the media saturated world we currently live in. A good teacher helps too. My history teacher once called me apathetic, it was true but I never really believed in myself to have any kind of enthusiasm. Potential can’t be realised if you don’t know you have it.
My English teacher was not a good teacher. No matter what I did it was never good enough so I stopped trying. One evening I had spent hours writing a story which was to be handed in the next day. I’d taken the lyrics to a song and based a short story on it. I was pleased with it, I genuinely thought it was good. I handed it in the next day, waited a few days in anticipation and when I got it back was effectively told it was rubbish and I had to write it again. After that I didn’t write for a long time.
Even through all my absences I still managed to pass all of my exams. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, university was an option which I only saw as a way to prolong my hedonistic lifestyle. I was offered a place at Manchester University to read History and Philosophy but my life became more and more unmanageable and I didn’t sit my exams. It’s not something I particularly regret, life took me on a different path and even if I had managed to sit the exams and went to university I wouldn’t have lasted much longer than a couple of months with a student loan in my hand and alcohol and drugs galore.
At this point I was living in full blown addiction. I clearly remember the day I went to the shop at eight o’clock in the morning to buy alcohol. I was sweating and shaking and I knew the only thing that would stop that would be to drink again. I never denied I had a problem, if anything I was open with it. When you’re getting sick in the morning and only sleeping a few hours because you need to drink then you can’t say to yourself you’re okay. You’re not and to deny that is to absurd.
I didn’t want to get clean and sober though. I had convinced myself that the way I was living my life was enjoyable, that I was getting something out of it. The sickness was just a price you paid. The foolish things you do were funny. You don’t want to see the destruction you’re causing and the madness of the world you have created for yourself. My only goal in life at that time was to get as fucked up as I possibly could and hope I’d be able to do it again the next day. It’s a lonely place though, relationships you have are superficial, based only on a mutual desire to live a life without responsibility.
It was around this time where I probably wrote down what I did in the notepad I found. Addiction is hard to describe and I’ve sat down many times and thought I’m going to write something which will accurately portray it. It’s contradictory in that you’re using substances to escape the world yet find yourself locked in another world which has even more of a grip over you than the one you want to escape. I would have written things on that piece of paper because I would have seen it as a way to let out my thoughts and feelings. The numbness of substance abuse has its limits, at some point all that emotion has to escape and my pen and notepad was where it escaped to.
I still vividly remember the nights where I would sit on the sofa, bottle of vodka in front of me, dreaming about the things I wanted to do. I wanted to travel, see the world. I wanted to make something of myself and make my mother proud. These were just dreams though because the next morning you had to do it all again. You wouldn’t be well enough to get up and start doing productive things. You don’t have the confidence or self-belief, so you live in those drug and alcohol induced fantasies that you know will never amount to anything.
In November 2005 it all caught up with me. I’d been to hospital countless times to be detoxed, one doctor had told me I only had a couple of years to live if I carried on the way I was going. To me that was a badge of honour, when you live a life of excess going out early in life meant that you were good at what you are doing. It’s how you think, physical ailments don’t break you. My immune system had become non existent, I caught a rare illness which caused abscesses in my neck. I looked a bit like elephant man, yet I was still trying to knock back vodka. If I’d not gone to hospital the morning I did I wouldn’t still be here today.
Being only 22 my body healed quickly although I was in hospital for seven weeks altogether. I had a morphine button next to my bed which you could only press every five minutes, I would sit there looking at the clock waiting for the five minutes to pass so I could press it again. I couldn’t speak because I had a hole in my throat so the only way I could communicate was to write things on a piece of paper. I’d spend my time in hospital writing things down and it reignited my passion for writing.
It took another year before I broke emotionally. Christmas Eve of 2006 and I hadn’t drank for about ten days but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get through Christmas without drinking. I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of vodka took it home and sat there for an hour just looking at the bottle. I didn’t want to drink it. I was broken emotionally, I didn’t want to live a life of loneliness and unhappiness anymore. I did drink it, but it was the last Christmas I had drinking. I started a detox on January 31st 2007 and finished it on 8th February.
I’ll finish this tomorrow. I’m writing this because sometimes you need a bit of perspective and to remember where you’ve come from. The last six months haven’t been the easiest for me so I need to remind myself things have been a lot worse and writing is good therapy. Authors are often faceless people behind books, you rarely know anything about them so this is also a good way to let those who read my books and blog who I am.
(I’ll write more of the short story I started yesterday later tonight.)