Friends and family are, by and large, relieved to learn that I’ve finally abandoned my hedonistic lifestyle. But when the only outcome is death, perpetual intoxication quickly loses its appeal. Despite being diagnosed as suffering from acute pancreatitis way back in 1993, I continued jeopardising my health at any given opportunity.
One way or another, it had to stop.
I’m aware that many people in similar circumstances often struggle to maintain sobriety (despite the risks) and I wish them all the luck in the world. But, as weird as it sounds, I’m genuinely grateful for the onset of severe illness. Otherwise, without question, I’d be dead. Though, I was beginning to tire of alcohol long before I quit. I was conscious of wasting both time and money and that I was essentially killing myself all for the sake of appearances. I used to love going down the pub, but years of subjecting my body to alcohol abuse on a daily basis was beginning to show. I felt ill most of the time and wasn’t enjoying myself. However, that didn’t stop me booking into a nearby hotel for a few days prior to Christmas 2015 where I engaged in one final, colossal binge before the prospect of serious, potentially life threatening illness became an inevitability.
Shortly after checking into the hotel at around 1am and sat alone in my room, I gulp thirstily at the first of many beverages, I imagine myself to be like John Belushi during his last hurrah at the Chateau Marmont in 1982. But the truth is, I’m a sad and lonely 40-something burdened with Dorian Gray syndrome, pancreatitis and a desperate need to recapture the halcyon days of my youth. All that “live fast, die young” stuff? It’s bollocks. There’s no glory in suffering a premature and unimaginably painful death from drug and alcohol abuse.
Languishing in a very comfortable double suite, I keep room service busy by ordering multiple trays of either lager or Guinness and the occasional light snack. From time to time, I visit the downstairs bar in an effort to appear sociable. However, come the third day, I’m not feeling so good. The all too familiar pain around my left lower abdomen begins to set in. Either my stomach or pancreas is in bad shape. Possibly both. I check out, jump in a taxi and quickly return home, mouthing insincere apologies to my Mum and some £300 lighter. Painkillers, bed, sleep. I’ll be fine.
Boxing Day. I’m doubled over in excruciating pain. I’ve really overdone it this time. I can’t keep any food or liquid down and keep having to run to the bathroom every ten minutes to either vomit bile or shit blood. By the time the ambulance arrives, I can barely walk.
Fast forward to January 2016 and I’m being discharged from hospital for the second time in three weeks. I’d initially checked myself out after only 48 hours because I’d been placed on the dementia ward, where the majority of my fellow patients spent most of the night either talking to themselves or shouting at nurses. I couldn’t get any sleep. But once home and disconnected from the morphine drip, I’m in complete agony again. Ambulance number two returns me to hospital where I’m situated on a less geriatric ward.
Upon leaving and having been diagnosed with pancreatitis – chronic this time – I’m prescribed a variety of heavy-duty painkillers to deal with continuous abdominal discomfort. A surgeon takes me to one side and spells it out in no uncertain terms: my body will not tolerate any more alcohol and I’ll be dead in six months if I carry on like this. Despite being told the same on numerous occasions by my GP, somehow, this rather grave prognosis finally sinks in. Various appointments with assorted clinicians are scheduled and once home, I remain something of a shut in. Eating food proves to be somewhat trial and error. The few meals I can manage are mostly slight and I allow myself the occasional cigarette. My days are spent adrift in a haze of medication accompanied by hour after hour of television.
April 2016. My Mum pays for me to visit a private gastro doctor who, upon completing his examination, announces there’s not a single trace of body fat about my person and that I require enzyme supplements to enable food digestion and nutrition. A fact that – having conducted a bit of research myself – I’ve been telling my GP for weeks. So, armed with a monumental supply of of medication, I begin to eat three meals a day for the first time in years. Initially, I notice little effect but I soldier on. Within a few months, I’m at least two stone heavier and looking relatively healthy. Gone are the days and nights of pissing it up in the pub, narking everyone with my woeful Liam Gallagher-wannabe attitude and slowly poisoning myself in the process. Though, despite the incalculable risks, I treat myself to the occasional pint now and then. This is all new to me, though. I’m on a very steep learning curve.
But better that than six feet under.