The walk for sweets that ended with sobriety.
A boring walk to the shops that subsequently altered my life and led me to embark on the struggle for sobriety.
The 16th June 2019, a fairly regular summer’s evening in Britain. Warm yet cold, dry but a hint of moisture in the air. I left my house on a walk to the shop, very routine, dull in fact. If only it was dull. This was not routine. Something was different, almost not right. I placed it on simply tiredness from work. I thought nothing of it. I returned to being unbothered by the world around me as I settled in my own seldom universe, fixated on the music being uttered through my headphones. Fifteen minutes later, I awoke sprawled on the floor of the shop to the unbearable flashing of blue lights and a host of people gathered over me, inquiring if I was alright, with worried expressions brandished across their faces. I did not know in that moment, but what had happened would have ramifications for my life over a year later.
“To thine own self be true.” “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things that I can and Wisdom to know the difference.” A theatrical collection of words, something Rudyard Kipling would have devised or a typical inspirational quote an Instagram page would take credit for. However, the power behind these words is known to thousands across the United Kingdom and millions across the globe and are pivotal to understand, in need of resurrecting their lives from spiralling. The words lay inscribed on a gold coin in front of me, coupled with the singular Roman symbol of ‘I.’ Fairly innocuous to the average person yet its meaning is crucial, for many including myself.
That evening, I lay sprawled unconscious, fixed to the floor of the shop. Those quotes were the furthest point away from me. Thirty minutes had passed since I left my house, my life had gone from being your average university student to that nearly being the inscription on my headstone. Somewhat dramatic maybe, but this is how I recall what happened to me. I remember the puzzling feeling I had when I arose from my slumber, soon had escaped and been replaced with the intolerable sense of fear. I attempted to move. My legs were motionless. I have surely only fainted? Nothing else could have happened, I felt fine this morning. I would later discover this could not have been further from the truth.
I sat in the back of the ambulance to the sight of my mother talking to the paramedics. “Seizure.” The only word I could manage to overhear. Seizure? How? I am not epileptic, there is no way I could have had a seizure. The doctors proved me wrong. They suspected seizure also, from the witness accounts of what had happened. Again, I reasserted, in my head, how is that possible. Then came the hardest question I have always struggled to answer. One I have never answered truthfully when somebody has asked me before. ‘How many units of alcohol do you drink in an average week?’ Could I lie again? My response seventy units a week, which thinking back was probably still an understatement. The doctor’s faces told the full story. A concoction of shock, understanding and pity. You cannot hide your feeling on your face, it is very difficult. There is something unsettling when not one, but two doctors come over and have that reaction. The diagnosis became almost certain. An alcohol withdrawal seizure, completely unbeknown to me that was even a thing. That was irrelevant now. My confidence and attempts to make light out of the situation with my humour, slowly eradicated and turned into intoxicating fear and trepidation.
A host of scans followed. EEG, ECG, MRI, CT- you name it pretty much any scan with an abbreviation I had. They all came back normal. No aneurysm, no stroke and I was praying to not be epileptic. Instead I fully had to learn my three year relationship with excessive drinking was over. No more beers to drown the sorrow of lectures, to mask my negative outlook of the world or the bleakness of my life. This path to the abyss that I was catapulting to, was no longer on the horizon. I had fallen down it a long time ago.
The problem; I loved drinking. Trying beers from different countries, like I was Smithy from Gavin and Stacey, getting drunk with my mates and absorbed in the joys of drinking to distract me from the Cardiff City game, which we were probably losing. I could handle my drink. I rarely consumed alcohol to the point I was sick from it, in fact, this hadn’t happened since I was sixteen. I drank a similar amount to my mates on a night-out. How could drinking be the problem? I am the same as the majority of students across the United Kingdom and the World. The vital difference? My mates know when to stop and drink for enjoyment. I did not. The next day would bring my mates so much disgust they would stop drinking for a few days, and the last thing on their mind would be to drink the next day. The anguish felt unnatural to them. To me, it gave me solitude, in a peculiar way. It almost gave me the excuse and reasoning to feel miserable. It gave me the allowance to miss lectures and excused me if I failed at university. Did I really love alcohol? No. Alcohol was the torment of my life. The reason for my downfall. I embarked through university believing it to be the passageway to an oasis of opportunity to complete university experience. Every sip tasted of exuberance and immortality yet the truth was much darker. Every sip pushed me a step further from reality, as it slowly decayed and eroded my teenage joy to a dark hole of despair. The Abyss. The next decision was easy. Completing it would be the hardest conquest my nineteen-year-old self would battle to date. Alcoholism.
Recovery. I finished acceptance- yes, I know it is cliché. Weeks went by where I suffered from persistent headaches and sweats became the norm. These were not the first challenges I would have to face. I quickly realised my whole outlook on life would have to change, if I was to conquer this. The overly confident persona, I consistently exert, would have to be left in the past with the pints of Guinness. That persona led me straight to the pub within eight hours of leaving the hospital- not to get my fix, I only drank lemonade. But simply to say I was fine and that my friends and family needn’t worry. A subsequent condemnation by my GP followed. An almost reprimand for my stupidity. The advice, was rest.
This was rather a necessity than advice. The headaches continued, despite my confinement to my bed. The constant high temperature and sweating had no rest bite. Sleep was virtually impossible, without an ice pack- which in my house was ice cubes in a kitchen towel or garden peas, but at some point, my Mum would need them for dinner. The pain was infuriating. It makes you question why you are doing it. Why stay sober when the pain is worse? You begin to contemplate whether it would better to go back to it, consciously you know this will solve the problem. Suddenly, one day, gone. That consistent headache vanished. The horrible heat of the Welsh July- like anyone has said that before- suddenly felt regular, a jumper becoming a necessity. The anguish. The pain. The crippling exhaustion. All became worth it. Three years of hangovers, misery and sadness, a figment of the past. The path ahead was bright and full of optimism; this time it was no mirage.
A year and a half later, I sit here writing this sipping a non-alcoholic beer- try one they will surprise you- I recount that experience with mixed emotions. The naivety of how I was, astounds me, still to this day. The refusal to accept my problem, leaves me angry at my nineteen-year old self. It stunted my growth as a human being, blocked my aspirations, crushed my dreams. For what? To enjoy a night out slightly better? Pointless.
Then, again was it? I understand mental health better. I have a greater understanding for addiction. I know I can get rid of it. “The courage to change the things I can.” Courage. It is so important. Whether it be yours or the people around you. By no means was it easy. With mates and family support it certainly felt easier. That arrogance I had before would have made it impossible. The support network I had, kept me socially active, despite being sober in a world of drinking. They helped me see a councillor to help me control negative thoughts and anxiety, but most importantly; was there for me when I needed them the most. The sobriety coin promotes ‘I’, in my case I see no I it was ‘we.’ We had the courage to accept the things that we can change. Without the ‘we’ the gold coin I find so precious, would be still waiting for me on the outside of the abyss.