Friends and family are mostly relieved to learn that I’ve abandoned my hedonistic lifestyle. But when the alternative is death, perpetual intoxication quickly loses its appeal. Despite diagnosed with pancreatitis way back in 1992, I’d been gambling with my life ever since. 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 that stopped me from drinking myself to death. 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. But that didn’t stop me booking into a nearby hotel just before Christmas 2015 and embarking on one almighty binge before physical breakdown became an inevitability.
December 2015. 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. But back in reality, 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 comfortable double suite for a couple of days, 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. I check out, jump in a taxi and quickly return home, mouthing insincere apologies to my Mum and some £300 lighter. Painkillers, bed, sleep and then I’ll soon be back amongst the living, I tell myself.
Fast forward to January 2016 and I’m being discharged from hospital for the second time in three weeks. 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. However, the bottom line is my body cannot and will not tolerate any more alcohol. I am told in no uncertain terms that I will be dead in six months if I carry on like this. Somehow, finally, this starts to sink 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 dear 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 researched for myself – I’ve been telling my GP for weeks. So, armed with a monumental supply of this latest in a long line of medications, 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 boasting a positively healthy outlook on life. 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 may 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.