Four years sober: Alcoholics Anonymous helps but it’s not the only weapon a recovering drunk has in the armoury

Demons & angels

From a deep inner darkness I emerged to find myself lying on my back on a pavement, bewildered and lost. The street was silent, iced in deep-winter frost, the night hazed in the orange light of the early hours. I had no idea how I had ended up here, or where I was.

Staring into the black hole of my memory, I faintly recalled sitting in a pub near Victoria station slamming down umpteen pints of Guinness and large Jameson chasers. Now here I lay. I made it on to my hands and knees, blinked at the world around me, and shuddered with relief when I realised I was a mile down the road from home.

Somehow, I had managed to cross a vast swathe of London. For all I knew, I had tripped through a rift in the fabric of space and time, but it seems more likely that, guided by the mystical forces that frequently watch over drunks, I traversed a couple of lines on the Underground, missed my suburban stop and got out at the next one down the line before falling to the pavement, where I had lain for an unknown period. This is speculation, though, because those few hours of my life are a void.

Some of that mile home I crawled on my hands and knees, some I stumbled sideways, hands scrabbling at walls, lampposts and hedges for support. I may have shed a tear or two – frozen to the bone and feeling broken, I wasn’t sure I’d make it home. I was relieved enough when I finally lurched through my front door to take a large whiskey before dropping back into that deep inner darkness.

This is not the beginning of a drunkalogue. It is a tale of sobriety.

That night was just one blackout among many over 35-odd years of remorseless drinking, but it was my last; my last blackout but not my last drink, because I carried on for another month or so.

Towards the end of those final weeks, I played the cruel trick – not for the first time – of passing out so deeply one evening that my wife and son, unable to detect any obvious signs of life in me in the morning, were considering whether to dial the dreaded three digits when my eyes flickered open and I blinked back from the abyss. This was not precisely a blackout, but it felt like something worse – like a premonition, as if the Reaper had breathed dank breath on to the back of my neck.

I had been warned and I knew, with a sense of certainty I had never experienced before, that it was time either to pay attention or prepare for the end.

And so to my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It felt like a desperate measure but also inevitable. I had known for many years that I had a problem, (more…)

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Two years sober: the phantom thirst

Whiskey & GuinessStill now, some evenings, my alcoholic thirst occasionally takes form behind me, stepping unexpectedly forward and placing a light hand on my shoulder to steer me towards the window of a pub I happen to be passing, whispering: “Just a couple of swift ones… you’re fine now.”

I look in and see a phantom phasing in and out of existence, alone at the bar, watching over a pint of blackest stout and a large, golden whiskey, as if waiting for someone – me, looking in – to arrive. For a moment, my breath unfurling in the sharp winter air, troubled by my everyday troubles, I want to walk in and feel the dark, wood-panelled warmth of the place and give the ghost at the bar solid shape; it would, I try to tell myself, be like coming home.

I force myself to hesitate, however, and as I delay, continuing to watch through the window, the figure turns and looks in my direction. Even through the gloomy haze of the pub, I recognise those lost, frightened eyes instantly; in them, I see his isolation, his retreat into himself, withdrawn so far from humanity that he cannot even make small talk with the barman busy doing nothing. Profoundly lonely, he turns back to the bar and orders another brace of drinks; I turn away and continue on down the treacherous path of recovery, one step, one moment, at a time.

I am two years sober today, slowly reconnecting and immeasurably grateful.

[ Booze picture by IntangibleArts via Flickr, used, with cropping, under Creative Commons licence ]