Scott Bailey (30), writes about his relationship with alcohol for Alcohol Awareness Week 2012
Alcohol Awareness Week (AAW) was set up in 2009 by Alcohol Concern to stimulate discussion and local activity to promote understanding of the risks and problems associated with alcohol misuse. This year the week of 19-25 November has been designated as AAW with a theme of "It’s time to talk about drinking". Action on Addiction supporter, Scott Bailey writes about how he became aware of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, and how he dealt with this.
Alcohol, it’s a socially acceptable thing isn’t it?
We all get to that stage in a week where it’s time to meet the boys/girls at the local bar to let off some steam, unwind, de-stress. So in a week of alcohol awareness, how aware do you think you are of your own problems?
About 2 ½ years ago I went to the doctors with some ailment like a sore throat. Once he’d written my prescription he said something I’ve never experienced before, he asked me a completely random question out of the blue.
“Scott, can I ask you, do you drink much alcohol?”
A little perplexed I think I remember replying something like:
“Not much. You know, average. Same as any other person really. Why do you ask?”
He mentioned that he’d noticed I was shaking a lot and my speech was very slurred. I guess in hindsight he’d put two and two together to equal drink problem. He then asked me another question that not only had me stumped, it actually scared the living daylights out of me!
“How many times a month would you say you blackout from drinking alcohol?”
I had no answer. I couldn’t even come up with a guestimate! That was the moment I realised I’d lost control. I didn’t even know it. I just thought I was acting and being normal - and that’s the thing with alcohol, it leads you into a false sense of security. It allows you to think you’ve got total control and then it hits you harder than a freight train just when you’re not expecting it.
My acceptance of alcohol came from an early age, watching my dad brew beer in the bath tub. I thought this was normal and what all dads did. He couldn’t wait to take his little boy out for his first pint at the pub. That’s what dads do, right?
Inevitably alcohol had torn his marriage apart and everything and everyone else was to blame. He left home when I was 11, taking with him his home brew. The lasting image of ‘drunk’ Dad stayed however. I thought he was pretty cool. He was my rock star.
Peer pressure had me drinking cheap white cider in the local park on weekends at a pretty early age. I was easily led but at the same time also pretty accepting as I was being grown up like the man that proceeded me in my own home. Phrases like “rite of passage” and “being one of the lads/girls” do nothing to help such carelessness and on reflection I really do have major concerns about how alcohol is perceived by young people in society.
I must point out at this time that my dear Mum tried everything to make me avoid turning into my Dad. It was these words and lessons that I now reflect on later in life, words that I think have saved me. She could easily rattle off stories of walking me up and down the garden in the early hours of the morning to keep me awake, so as not to fall asleep paralytic. She had an impossible job and I can’t believe how well she coped really. I was however the master of sneaking booze around. I knew every trick in the book by now and even if some did get confiscated, the drinking culture amongst us kids gave me an endless supply anyway. Nothing could have stopped me and it didn’t.
By the time I was 18, I’d already been drinking heavily for a few years and was building up my tolerance. I was normal after all.
What I’d failed to see was the negative effect alcohol had already had on my family and my life. My drunken holidays with Dad in previous years were mere anecdotes for friends, not warning signs that my views on alcohol had already become dangerous and distorted.
So by the time I’d moved to London in my mid 20s and the stresses and strains of working life in the Big Smoke were getting a grip; alcohol was my comforting blanket. I was safe with a pint in hand. Or was I?
When my stepfather (who lived with me from 12-24) died in his early 40s due to blood cancer (from what I personally can only put down to his addiction to cigarettes catching up on him) I didn’t think to talk to anyone about my feelings and heartache. I didn’t know how to communicate my thoughts. Alcohol was an easier route out, it blurred everything and made my problems go away, if only briefly. Many blackouts ensued and this part of my memory is lacking somewhat now.
At this stage of alcohol abuse, you don’t really know what’s going on anymore and have to rely on other people telling you what happened the night before, where you were and who you were with.
Again, at this point you’d think alarm bells would have been ringing in my ears, right?!
Weekend drinking had well and truly progressed into drinking most days of the week now. It was all thrills and spills which actually felt like great therapy to me at the time. Everyone was merry, we were all having fun and solving all of the world’s problems.
How very wrong that proved to be for me though. Nothing was being solved and I was just sinking deeper. I still had the sadness that remained deep, I just kept repressing it further till it felt insignificant.
At this stage I was also finding that I turning up to work more hungover, more drunk than ever. It had gone beyond affecting my private life now, it was also creeping into my way of making a living.
I was creating problems, not solving them. I hated my job, I hated the people I worked with and performing even the simplest of tasks was getting harder to do. I’d have to sneak to the company’s bathroom to try and sober up, avoiding the boss at all times for fear of him realising I smelt like a brewery and was becoming pretty incompetent at my job too. I was at a breaking point.
My only real solace to this was to jump on a train or coach to go and see Mum back home, to get away from the city and get away from my problems, but the booze always came with me. One can’t travel without refreshments after all! Have you ever found yourself sat next to an elderly lady on a coach and you’re the one who’s knocking back neat Jack Daniels out of a hip flask? That that’s a pretty odd feeling I can assure you, but I didn’t really care what people thought of me anymore. My needs were far greater.
You’d think a bit of fresh air in the countryside would cure all problems, but things never got better. The inevitable was just prolonged somewhat.
There were plenty of times where I’m ashamed to admit my thoughts got very dark and I wanted done with life. I’d lost all perspective and wasn’t in a mentally stable enough place to be able to solve my problems anymore. But the truth is that I was too scared to end my life, as I knew deep down inside I still had something to offer and I could find happiness after all.
Now I wouldn’t ever recommend letting it get to such a point in life, but it’s true what they say in that sometime you have to hit rock bottom before you can start to climb again.
Along with the panic that my doctor inadvertently installed in me, it was also the lyrics to a Van Halen song ‘Right Now’ that I heard on one of said journeys that finally made me wake up and jump on the sobriety bandwagon. I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone that they read the lyrics one day, even if the music is not to your liking. They’re pretty inspirational and certainly helped give me the confidence to believe in myself again.
Which brings me to today…
Two and a half years of sobriety and I’m glad to report that life hasn’t been better than it is now. I have full control of my destiny again and the little boy with a lust for life that was inside me before I ever found alcohol is well and truly back, fitter/stronger than ever.
As I continue to heal and learn, it’s important for me to acknowledge what happened and try to understand it. Education is everything and learning from my mistakes is vital for me to continue on this forward path.
I’ve actually gone on to take it one step further as I have the ability to share my story and try to help others who feel like they can’t cope anymore either. From this desire to help others it has manifested into me raising money for the charity Action on Addiction (AoA), whom I actually came across by chance having read an article on them in the paper. I guess it was just meant to be!
I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through as it’s really not worth it, and I really do believe that AoA have the ability and passion to reach out and help many people. I lost years of my life to alcohol and now I want to raise awareness of how dangerous (amongst many other drugs) it is.
We all have the ability to make positive changes, seize a day and love each other without the need for chemical imbalance. All too often alcohol seems the easier option and yet I’ve only ever found it distorts the truth. It has a great ability to make you very accepting of a situation.
I challenge anyone to go out on a Friday/Saturday night with their friends who are drinking, not have a drink yourself and take a good look at what’s going on around you. Ask yourself, do I like what I see now? I’m sure you’ll notice that it truly does bring out the worst in people, despite how much you love them. It’s because of having had a few drinks yourself that you just start to accept things for what they are. If you can’t beat them, you might as well join them, right? It’s pretty sad state of affairs in hindsight isn’t it? One that can end up in pretty dark places where you’ve lost total control - you just don’t know it yet! So I ask you again, how aware are you of your own drinking problems?