This is the start of my very first blog.
The subject of this blog is alcoholism, and in particular, my alcoholism, and what I am doing in my life to combat this sickness.
The purpose of this blog is twofold:
First and foremost – and I make no apologies for this, even if it does seem to go against AA principles – is that I find it cathartic to write about my problems, and further, that there may be folk out there who may read my blog, maybe offer encouragement, and by so doing, give me the strength and determination to continue along my chosen course.
Secondly – and this is certainly in keeping with AA principles, there may be many alcoholics out there who will be encouraged, inspired (dare I hope for such a thing?), and even learn (Oh my God I’m getting too cocky by half!), from my ramblings.
I sincerely hope – whether I succeed or fail miserably – that you, dear readers, may derive some benefit from reading about my life and exploits, as it pertains to my ongoing attempts to stop drinking.
There is one point I wish to make clear at the very outset. The very nature of my story necessitates that I have to be extremely discrete when writing about the people I encounter and interact with in my quest for sobriety. This means that you must take it as ‘read’ that all names and any information that could lead to discovery of those to whom I refer, will be fictionalised, in order to protect their anonymity.
So please, no speculation on anyone who is mentioned, as I can assure you that in all likelihood you will be way off the mark, as I am quite inventive.
But for me, Mobi, I will be an open book, and accept that as the price I pay for writing this blog.
Pattaya, July 7th, 2009.
It is ironic, (or maybe divine guidance?) that I am starting a blog on alcoholism on the first day of Khao Phanzer, or Buddhist Lent, the time of year when Buddhists, and even some ‘farangs’, try to refrain from alcohol for a period of 3 months.
Today I have been sober for 12 days. This isn’t the first time I have tried to stop drinking, but I sincerely hope it is the last. All previous attempts were carried out more or less on my own, using my own ‘will power” to stay sober, and as I now believe, all these attempts were destined to fail, sooner or later.
On this, the first day of my blog, some background to my life of drinking is in order.
THE “DEVELOPING” YEARS
I am not exactly sure how old I was when I first tasted alcohol, but I suspect I was in my pre-teens when my father handed round the Christmas glasses of cheap Spanish wine, at our rented flat in East London. I recall with amazing clarity, not the drinking of the wine, but the buying of it. It was such a tortuous, frightening and traumatic process, as was more or less any event that was somehow connected with my brutal bear of a father.
He knew this cheap off license, a couple of miles from where we lived, and he sent me to buy the wine, with strict instructions on what to buy, and how much to pay. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. The prices had changed, and when I returned home, with the wine and the incorrect change, all hell broke loose. Not only did I and the whole family suffer from a raging abusive father, but he went back to the off license and physically assaulted the poor shop owner, and, not being satisfied with that, smashed in the plate glass on the front his shop. This was not an uncommon occurrence in those days, when my life was totally controlled and dominated by my father.
Enough to drive any unsuspecting child to drink, you may think. But in spite of my almost continual fear of violence and intimidation, I was strong in other ways. I think abused people often find an inner strength to somehow survive and the thought of getting drunk was totally alien to me. If I had been a child of the 21st Century, then maybe things would have been different, but in those far off days of the early 1950’s, England had barely recovered from the Second World War, and alcohol was neither easily available nor cheap enough to draw me into alcoholism at such a young age.
So we had the obligatory wine with our Christmas lunch, a totally miserable time of year for the whole family; what with being fed some scrawny, undercooked goose that my father had picked up from the butcher just before he closed at half price, some sweet, warm cheap Spanish wine and all to the accompaniment of a mean and cruel man who never let up with his irrational temper tantrums.
My next memories of alcohol are being taken into the local public house with my father and elder brother when I was around 15 years old, and being given a pint of draught beer, which I found the most foul tasting liquid I had ever experienced. But I didn’t dare not drink it – after all, my father was there to make sure I was a “man”, and could take my drink.
I left school when I was 16, even though I had been fortunate to go to a grammar school. I was looking for some elusive independence from my father that working full time may afford me. But of course nothing much changed. Most of the meagre pittance that I earned working as an articled clerk to a Chartered Accountant in the City, had to be handed over to my family to pay for my “keep”.
I was a lonely person in those days, but did keep a few friends from my school hood days, who I would see occasionally. Over the next year or two, by doing a paper round as well as my full time job, I managed to save up enough to buy the cheapest most ramshackle jalopy of a car you would ever see, and it used to become a regular occurrence to take out my friends on a Sunday evening to one of the pubs scattered across the Essex countryside, where we would ‘down’ a few pints of beer in time honoured tradition.
I was the start of my love/hate affair with alcohol, although I didn’t know it at the time. I think even in those days I was fast developing an unhealthy ‘taste’ for it, although I was still a long way from being a fully fledged alcoholic.
I recall the first time I was really drunk – I guess it was the first time of literally thousands. I was probably around 19 or 20, and was still working as an articled clerk and was paid a pittance. (My servitude was 5 years). I was auditing the books of a major motor dealer in the East end of London and was in their offices with a junior colleague, a couple of days before Christmas. (It’s weird how Christmas seems to come up again and again along my path to alcoholism). We were busy ticking their account books with our nice bright red pens, when the office manager came into our office, sporting a large bottle of scotch, and invited us to join him in a Christmas toast.
I achieved several ‘firsts’ on that cold, miserable, December day. It was the first time I had tasted scotch; it was the first time I had become totally intoxicated; it was the first time I had driven while in a state of extreme intoxication, (I remember to this day driving home, hanging onto the steering wheel, and moving at about 10 miles and hour – weaving all over the carriageway – it was a miracle I didn’t crash, or get arrested); it was the first time that I puked my guts out; it was the first time that I had gone to bed and the walls and ceiling of the room went round and… round…. and …round; and it was the first time that I woke up with a hangover.
Needless to say my father was distinctly unimpressed, and you can imagine what happened, for the day had not yet arrived when I would escape from his control.
The five years were finally at an end, and although I failed my final exams, I still managed to get a well paid job in the oil industry, for this was the “swinging sixties”, and jobs were aplenty.
I went to work in the company’s prestige offices in Berkeley Square, and I earned the princely sum of 20 pounds a week – a positive fortune to a poor east end lad, who rarely had more than a quid in his pocket in his whole life. So I started to live life ‘on the hog’. My new work colleagues helped me to break the chains of my previous life, and it wasn’t long before I was frequenting the pubs and clubs of the west end, and I even joined Playboy club on Park lane which was the ‘in’ place to be in those days. The influence and control of my father had finally started to wane; many is the time that I didn’t get home till dawn on a weekend, and within a year I had rented a room in Bayswater and moved out – although I was still so terrified of my father that I virtually had to do a “moonlight flit”.
So booze was becoming an important part of my life. We would drink at lunch times, and we would drink after work. Sometimes, when we were ‘burning the midnight candle’ in the office, we would go out and get drunk at 5 p.m. and at around 7 p.m. we would return to work, pissed, but still able to work.
A feature of my life then, and for a great many years to come, was that I was able to imbibe large amounts of alcohol, and still manage to work and hold down high pressure jobs.
After a couple of years, I became emotionally embroiled with a girl from New York who had been working for me as a temporary secretary. I was so besotted with her beauty and ‘New York charm’, that when she returned home at the conclusion of her contract, that I promptly quit my job and followed her over there.
Much happened to me in New York, but the romance collapsed and I ended up by moving to Montreal in Canada, where I was first incarcerated at the border on suspicion of being a US draft dodger, and then got into trouble with the authorities by trying to work without the proper visa, (shades of Thailand). Anyway, that is all another story, but suffice to say that booze kept me in good stead during this difficult and emotionally draining period of my life.
I suppose that most peoples’ lives contain ‘life changing’ coincidences, but whether or not that is so, it is certainly true of my life.
I had rented a nice apartment in downtown Montreal, I had beaten the Canadian immigration service, and was about to start a well paid job. I phoned a friend in London from my Oil Company days and told him what had happened and where I was located. Within 24 hours the oil company had contacted me and offered me a new position in Nigeria.
It didn’t take me long to decide to accept the offer, and within days I was winging my way back to London, and thence onwards to Lagos, Nigeria.
So to a new life, a new experience in a West African Country which had recently become independent from Britain, and was at that time immersed in a bloody civil war.
In all, I spent over 3 years in Nigeria – Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri – and had many adventures, including being one of the first westerners to enter the secessionist Eastern region at the end of the war, being thrown in jail and beaten up for being drunk at a road block, marrying (and eventually divorcing) a Nigerian lady, and many more…. But they are not the subject of this blog.
Suffice to say, my drinking habits in the hard bitten ‘wild west’ of the oil exploration business became more entrenched and I could stand my booze with the best of them, and still report for work the next morning.
After Nigeria I spent over 3 years in the Arabian Gulf – principally in Abu Dhabi, but also in Oman, and Dubai. More adventures, more bloody noses and black eyes, more jails, and a lot more drinking. For the first 2 years of my time in Abu Dhabi, I lived in a caravan in the desert – one of literally hundreds that made up ‘base camp’, which at that time, was the largest centre of population in the country. There were no women, but all the beer you could drink. So we worked a 12 hour day, and as the evenings cooled down, we’d sit outside our porta camps, downing dozens of cans of beer and throwing the empties into the sand and at the mangy wild dogs that circled the camp. Every day we would pass out drunk, and often fights would spring up, for no real reason, other than alcohol, frustration and boredom. Strange to tell, this is one of the fondest memories of my early adulthood. For there, in the desert, I discovered a camaraderie I had never found before, and I could drink as much as I liked, every day. Eventually we relocated into the fast developing Abu Dhabi city, where I started to drink more than ever, and as was becoming my custom, spent the odd night or two in the local jail after drunken altercations in the only night club in town.
It was during the period that I was in Abu Dhabi, that I made my first forays into Thailand – The “land of Smiles”. In fact, my introduction to Thailand had come some years earlier, when working in Nigeria, as one of my drinking friends had recommended that if I ever had the chance, I should definitely give Bangkok, and in particular, Patpong, the ‘once over’ and he had even written down the name of his favourite bar for me.
So it was that when working in the Middle East in the early seventies, that I started my 36 year ‘love affair’ with ancient Siam, and those oh so beautiful and captivating ladies. I used to take a round trip flight to Bombay (now Mumbai), and thence another round trip flight to Bangkok, as this was the only way of flying to Thailand, other than going via Europe.
My R & R in Bangkok consisted almost entirely of drinking, whoring, sleeping, drinking, whoring, sleeping, drinking….. for 3- 4 weeks, and then back to work in the desert. Not very cultural, but there again I was a hot headed young lad who had spent the past few months in a desert devoid of women, and with only hard drinking oilfield men and camels for company!!
Does anyone remember ‘Thai Heaven’?
(However, I do recall being taken to the Rose Garden on one occasion, and on another, made a very long journey by non air conditioned taxi to Chiang Mai, in the company of a lovely young lady, who insisted on stopping every hour or so to eat. It took two days to get there and another two to get back to Bangkok. I think we spent one night in Chiang Mai.)
From the Middle East, I moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. This move was to become ‘little piece of heaven’ and, I regret to say, more than a chunk of my descent into what became my ‘alcoholic hell’.