Don't Look Back Hangover: How to handle your drinking demons
Finding Inspiration in Every Turn
‘Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside of you as a result of what happens to you.’ Gabor Mate
It starts with pain.
There is a desire to plaster over the cuts and scars, and at first it feels like the elixir works. There are people out there who say that they drink just because they enjoy it too and that's a fair statement.
But this book is concerned about the people here who have a genuine problem with the booze.
The ones who (like me), quit over and over again. The ones who after three days off the sauce, take every ounce of concentration, the ones who need every fibre of their being to walk past the pub. The ones who think about the next drink, time and time again, during the day.
It doesn't start like that.
Like I said it starts with pain and it could be anything. Shyness around girls. Parental Bonds. Not fitting in. An absent father. A stressed-out mother.
For me it was neglect, and it took me a long time to realise that as a child I did not have a ‘normal’ upbringing.
I knew I didn't fit in, but I didn’t know that I was dealing with severe loss from my absent father and my sister who left me, physically and emotionally.
My dad left when I was thirteen years old, my sister the same. I started drinking properly at fourteen.
Before this there was heavy modelling for me that framed alcohol in glorious technicolor, backlit like an upmarket, King’s Road bar, working its alluring magic on my itchy, unsatisfied soul.
I remember many Christmases watching The Wizard of Oz or West Side Story. I'm going back to around the age of seven or eight now, and my father would be drinking an ice-cold Michelob.
'You never get it cold... ice cold... like you do in America, son.'
I watched and waited and was brought Kaliber, with its bold, silver label and a horse on the front. I drank, ignoring the taste, trying to fit in, to be like my dad.
We had a drinks cabinet in the living room that was made of dark wood. The cabinet was opened by a silver handle which revealed the inner secrets of a life l dreamed of, exciting, different and new. The drinks cabinet had a large sticker on the inside which read, 'I drink to make other people more interesting.'
My father’s tipple was vodka and diet coke, with ice and a slice. He never drank Smirnoff, only Absolut or better. It was a thing that I took into my drinking years too. A sort of peculiar snobbery that big drinkers turn to, to hide their degeneracy.
Well, it's OK.... It's not Smirnoff/Fosters/Bells... whatever.
As if the quality of the poison somehow absolves you of its sins.
Lies and Deals. That became my world. ‘It’s OK, me doing this, so long as I do that, to make up or compensate.’ It’s OK to drink during the day, as long as it’s not before midday…
I can have ten pints as long as its Guinness, Guinness is essentially good for you…
The first time I bought alcohol it was with a friend at Hari's, my local newsagents. He must have known I was underage. He caught me looking at porn perhaps a year or two before and although I was a big 14-year-old, what can I say? We went in and pulled Diamond Whites out of the fridge and walked out with a carrier bag full of booze and a head full of dreams.
We walked to Gravel Hill and sat on top looking out over North Kent. We told stories, we waited for the hit. I felt dizzy. We laughed. It felt light and confusing. Disorientating and odd. But me and Matt were together so it was OK. Plus, everyone drinks.
It never really dawned on me at the time but Matt and I were outcasts. In fact, it is safe to say that despite having a large group of ‘friends’ when I was thirteen or fourteen, we all shared some form of issue or problem that made us different.
As with most youngsters, my friends came primarily from school, in this case Dartford Grammar School.
For me, being six years younger than my sister, it was the only place I was going if I passed my 11-plus. She was in the sixth form at Dartford Grammar Girls’ School and superficially, she was smashing it out of the park: amazing grades, no detentions, no visible issues or problems. If she can achieve there, then surely Trev will?
I think it’s best I tackle the family issues first before getting into the school itself: although they both share the same aching similarities of being a loose fit and oddly-ordered in their own specific ways.
My father was an incredibly charismatic and free-spirited person. That is a nice way of saying that he was rebellious, rambunctious and libertine-esque in a number of ways.
By the time I started secondary school, he was regularly holidaying in America every summer (without fail since 1987, we are in 1992 now). This was an amazing feat for someone who spent a large portion of his time unemployed. I don’t know the exact ins and outs of how unemployment occurred for his teaching in London, but he was made redundant and my educated suggestion is that he became too much of a pain in the arse to keep on, in a variety of the roles he undertook.
Of course, at the time, I was doe-eyed and obsessive about my father. He was like a God to me at this impressionable age. I added Mr Tobin, (the headteacher who effectively fired my dad) to my shit-list and lapped up every word of dad’s aching lament of the hard done by, put upon, poetic maverick. I too wore this disguise for a number of years. I guess the truth is drinkers need an enemy to blame for their behaviour, as any other conclusion would lead them to looking at themselves and their habits, but that is not on the cards!
So, I digress.
My father was in and out of jobs, doing supply, doing cover, not really earning enough, while my mother worked full time and raised me as best she could. At the age of thirteen, my mother had enough of dad’s ebullient treachery and ongoing liberty-taking and kicked him out, much to my chagrin.
I remember vividly a moment in my life where I was sitting in dad’s metallic blue 2.8-litre injection Capri (that’s right, Capri), listening to ‘The Spaghetti Incident’ by Guns n’ Roses and we had the ‘chat’. We were in a rabbit warren-y estate where he had rented a flat, and dad told me that I could visit him Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
You what? What would I do for the rest of the time?
It didn’t matter to dad; he had his own life to lead. So, I continued to chase the shadow of my father as he drifted further into a life mixed with solitude and debauchery, wine and women, hedonism and the morning after.
I resented my mother for the expulsion. I adored my father and his devil may care approach to life, to parenting. I found him a breath of fresh air from the stuffy, draconian halls where I attempted an education, but more of that later.
Since my seventh year I had watched my father leave in a taxi to the airport, off to America; without us. The family stayed and he jetted off ‘on his own’ usually for four weeks while mum attempted to entertain and engage a confused and neglected school boy and my sister, an increasingly disillusioned teenager.
It has often been discussed how I would sit looking out of the window, daily, waiting for my dad’s cab to return. He never gave a specific date or time he would be back, much preferring to arrive on his own home, as the hero with a cursory present in hand to the screams and adulation of his adoring son.
Mum took up the slack, she kept the family going, she suffered the embarrassment of my father’s behaviour and the vitriol from me for his lack of presence. Until she decided enough was enough and out he went to Slade Green and his one-bedroom flat.
It was a bold move on her part. My parents had come to this country from Africa together, apparently in love. However, the arguments raged between them at whether London and England was the place, or maybe New Zealand (mum wanting the latter). Either way they couldn’t stay in Zimbabwe, a wise choice history has taught us, but my father won the battle of wills and London it was, with its culture, its history and its temptations.
So, after years of what could only (with education and years of counselling) be termed as neglect from my father, I was as tight with him as ever. He was incredibly powerful at manipulating the terms of any agreement in his favour.
His quite blatant philandering was twisted into him being thrown out unfairly.
The fact he never made it as a writer was thanks to my mother not doing enough or throwing out his ‘stuff’ with nan one day.
His holidays abroad while married with kids was because he had to get away. He worked hard (when he was employed) just for the chance to live… finally live for four weeks a year.
That was his schtick and I bought every word, every time.