Chapter 1

While actively enjoying alcoholism it seems light, bright, an utter delight.  It is not light, however, but the complete opposite. It is hard to describe the darkness from within the midst of it. People looking on, however, shake their heads, dismayed. They are confused by the lies, pissed off at the irresponsible behaviour, and horrified at the neglect and abuse of the children. They walk away in the end. First friends, then family. They leave without warning and don’t look back.

The loneliness hit me in time when the only folks who I hung out with were lowlifes and crims in the local public bars. I could not see my part in any of this, I was a victim of circumstance. My life could have been called a train wreck -  if there were any rails in sight. The rails were long gone. I stared angrily round my empty flat. Most of the furniture was broken, smashed, and the bed was a mattress on the floor. I blamed everyone and everything else. Then I would go out and get drunk and the world sparkled once more.

It did not matter what people said to me about my behaviour, I didn’t believe them. The evidence was everywhere but I closed my eyes to it.

So what happened? What got through the impervious magic cape of drunken excess? There is no rational explanation. All I can say is ‘God did it.’

My daughter wanted me to meet my granddaughter for the first time – Amber had just turned one. She paid my fare to Dunedin and I went, curious to find out how she, a junkie, could have stayed off heroin for 4 months. It seemed a bit far-fetched. In all my years of drinking and drug abuse I had not met any ex-heroin users. I thought them the lowest form of addict. I did not consider myself addicted – the only drug I didn’t take was heroin. Full of virtue I looked down on junkies as weak and not really human. I looked down on most people at that time. It seemed the lower I sank the more highly I thought of myself.

At the airport I was told that due to the airline strike, the plane would stopover at Christchurch and there would be a six hour delay.  I didn’t care – one day is very like the next inside a bar and in fact the days and nights blur together. The plane landed at Christchurch and I took a bus into the city. I withdrew all I had from my bank account and had my first beer of the day in an Irish Pub in Cathedral Square. It may have been the first beer drawn that morning as it tasted foul. I had another and that turned out to be my last drink of alcohol.

I sat there, and a thought occurred to me. Lisa is four months off heroin and I am going to fall off the plane drunk. What am I doing?  I looked at the sticky tabletop, not quite clean from the night before. The door to the bar opened and a ray of morning sun lit up the dust particles briefly. The door banged shut again. The faded photos on the wall were scenes of Ireland I think, and scraps of green crepe paper hung limply from pins over the bar. Remnants of St Patricks Day. The familiar smell of stale beer and cigarettes oozed upwards from the carpet.

Then, surprisingly, I got up and walked out of the bar. As I walked around The Square, listening to the Wizard, roaming aimlessly up and down, I began to feel a terrible craving. Having just two beers for an alcoholic is nearly impossible. I didn’t know that though. As I began to go through agonising jitters, stomach and mind, I wondered what the hell was going on. My internals fought in turmoil to become externals, and my mind was blanketed by darkness. Eventually after hours of this, it was time to go back to the plane and finish the journey to Dunedin.

I boarded the plane weeping without control, and with no idea why. I was in the strangest state of longing and grief and sat dabbing my face with serviettes that the kind air hostesses kept bringing me. In this mindset I finally had a tiny thought. What if I had a drinking problem?  The not drinking was causing me so much pain – there was probably a connection.

When we landed I nearly fell into my daughter’s arms and begged her to take me to one of her ‘Meetings’ that seemed to have helped with the Heroin thing. I thought there might be one of the Meetings later in the week but it turned out there was one starting in 15 minutes. Unfamiliar thoughts crowded in as we drove to the place. I had never considered there to be a problem. Well maybe there was that one time I came to after a particularly awful blackout, covered in guilt and shame for things I could not remember. Then there was the time I tried to end it all… These incidents had been shoved in a box and the lid nailed down and now they wanted to get out.

The meeting was at a school and was just a bunch of people sitting in a circle. I had a bag of dope in my handbag  for later – I wanted to share with Lisa to take the edge off giving up heroin.

To my embarrassment I started crying again. They stood holding hands for the Serenity prayer – I couldn’t comprehend a word of it. People took turns talking about random things. There was no therapist or group leader. No-one made comments about other people speeches. They all mentioned God but not in a churchy way and I thought that was most odd. I was scared they might know about the dope in my handbag and tear me to pieces like hungry wolves. Someone asked if I wanted to say anything and they remembered my name. That was startling. I could not remember any of their names and hoped I wouldn’t be asked to. I couldn’t say anything because the tears had started up again, but they were kind and said ‘That’s OK, keep coming back.’

Did I decide to stop drinking then and there? No I didn’t.  I made the decision 10 hours later the next morning when I woke up.