Monday, February 20, 2017

Giving Up

I have given up drinking alcohol. If this does not sound like a big deal to you, it is for me. I have been drinking fairly steadily since the age of 18 and, after 37 years, have decided to call time.

I cannot say it has been - or is - easy. Whether in a big or a small way, I had come to rely on alcohol, relaxing at home in the evening or drinking out with friends. For the regular drinker, the processing of alcohol becomes part of your metabolism and, when you stop completely and indefinitely, your body has to learn how to function without it. This is not really about withdrawal. I was not drinking enough to experience those symptoms. It is more about your body not being on constant red alert for the next influx of toxins, and the brain realising it is on its own from hereon in. No more using alcohol as a crutch!

Why did I decide to do this? What happened? Nothing noteworthy. No imminent-death warning from the doctor. No AA Gill moment. No dramatic intervention by friends and family. No accident. No embarrassing incident. I simply had the feeling that my life was never going to be right if I kept drinking; the inner-knowledge I have made a hash of things and should have done better.

My family circumstances are central to this. Never a day passes when I don't think about my estranged daughters Edlyn (known as Edie) and Frances. Over the past five years I have made many attempts to get back in touch with them. During my divorce proceedings, I was constantly asking to see them. I lost count of the number of letters I wrote to my ex about it, through her solicitor or directly. But, apart from one meeting in December 2011, my now-ex-wife was successful in persuading them not to see me. I believe she was determined to punish me after we split up, but has done so at the expense of taking our children's loving father from them. It's broken my heart.

Not long ago - 19 February 2017 - was Edie's birthday. She turned 27. Edie was 22 when I last saw her. Of course I wanted to wish her 'Happy Birthday', to give a present - and a hug. But I have no address, no landline, no mobile number, no email address for her. I do not even know where she is working or living. I know almost nothing about her life since 2011. And any attempt to contact her through her mum, my ex, is either ignored or meets with a level of rage that is off the scale. I have been completely cut out of Edie's life. It is as if I am dead to her. I no longer exist.

I see far clearer now I am teetotal. If I had not been drinking, the circumstances that led to my marriage split and locking out of my home would simply not have happened. My judgment was impaired. Drinking was the root-cause. With my ex, I got into a vicious circle. My drinking led to arguments, arousing her ire, causing me to withdraw into myself and turn to drink again. I had almost constant career difficulties and was obsessed with keeping my work going and the money coming in to support my family. I even moved away from home during the week so I could do a job in the Midlands to keep paying the bills. In truth, I hated being away and during that period I started to become estranged from Edie and Frances. When I returned home to Lewes, I found I was a stranger in my own home. Increasingly, this arrangement seemed to suit my ex. She ruled the roost and often I was verbally attacked by her in front of the daughters who lost their respect for me. My opinion came to be of no value in that house. Although I was living with my family during those weekends, I felt isolated and alone.

My relationship with my ex had broken down over a very long period. I loved her from when we met in the late 1980s but it was a difficult relationship, and we were probably never really compatible. When we moved to Lewes in 2002, she would take me outside to say she wanted a divorce. That blew over at the time but, in later years, arguments would flare up over the slightest thing. I began to feel afraid in my own home. I was walking on eggshells. I believe that my mental health was seriously damaged by what happened and by my drinking - a downward spiral. I was going mad. I wasn't thinking rationally or making life-decisions in the way I should have done. My judgment was shot. I was desperately lonely and not thinking at all.

It is interesting how being completely dry gradually peels away the layers until you find your real self and start to realise what you want. Yesterday lunchtime was an example in point. I set off from the office at around 1pm heading for Borough Market. On the way, I encountered a road accident and tried to help a woman who had been run over by a cement-mixer lorry, staying with her until the ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. At Borough Market, I saw a blackboard with the phrase 'Before I die I want to. . . ' printed on it, and chalk beside it. I found myself picking up the chalk and writing on the blackboard, completing the sentence: 'Before I die I want to. . . see Edie and Frances again.'

On the way home I reflected on my day and that I don't know how long I am going to live. Excepting perhaps those who are terminally ill, none of us knows how long we will live. Life can be taken from us so suddenly. You could die on the highway any day of the week. I am still raw from the recent death of my cat, Mr Cheeky. And so many people I know have died. When every second is so precious it makes me sick with worry that I have no contact or even a way of contacting my daughters Edie and Frances. Last night I had a most vivid dream about them. We were in a cafe, having tea and cake. We were talking and laughing and joking, and happy together. At the end I asked for their addresses and they readily gave them to me. Suddenly I was in floods of joyous tears. We were as one again.

I would do anything in my power to see Edie and Frances again and to be in regular contact with them. 

After five years of estrangement, five long years in exile, it would seem like a miracle but, since I managed to give up drinking, I am starting to believe in miracles.

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