It was in September 1983 when I returned to the UK to start a new life with wife No. 4 plus daughter. We set up home with my mother in East London, and initially, it was pretty hard to get my feet back on the ground, as unemployment was high and we were in the middle of a recession. One employment agent told me that he couldn’t help me as I had been out of the country for too long.
However, within a few weeks I was able to secure a temporary position with a firm of city insurance brokers and as time went on the position became permanent and I started to earn a halfway decent salary.
The money was sufficient to pay the bills, buy a nice little second-hand car and even save for occasional luxuries such as the occasional holiday, but it wasn’t enough to fund my propensity for booze.
But budding alkies are nothing if not creative – especially where booze is concerned – and it wasn’t long before I became a dab hand on the homebrew front.
My storeroom at home was always jam-packed with very strong homemade beer which I got stuck into every night when I returned from work. Only 2-3 pints were sufficient to provide me with a lovely little buzz, and as the evenings wore on, I invariably fell into a semi-drunken stupor on the couch. I never stopped at just the first 2-3 pints…
After a couple of years of getting my accounting feet back on the ground I resolved to find a better job and following a number of interviews, I managed to secure a prestigious position with a medium sized insurance company based in the heart of the city.
I joined them just at the right moment, as during the next 15 years, I masterminded a series of ambitious mergers and acquisitions which transformed the company into one of the largest insurance/reinsurance European conglomerates which had a truly global reach. As the head of finance, my position expanded along with the company, and by the time I took early retirement in 2000, I was earning a high, 6-figure salary, along with some incredibly high-performance bonuses.
My life was transformed, and I lived to work. I globe-trotted the world, from Eastern and Western Europe to Australia, to the USA and even South East Asia, managing the finances of our vast business empire and always on the lookout for further acquisitions.
It was during this period that I managed to perfect the art of – ‘maintaining’ -working while drunk or severely hung-over. When in my London office, a typical lunch would start at 1 p.m. and often wouldn’t finish until 4 p.m. On occasion, the ‘lunch’ lasted well into the evening.
Some lunches were genuine business lunches, where I could probably be excused for some of my excesses, but others were just an excuse for a drink. For these, I would commandeer staff to go drinking with me, or on the odd occasion, I would even go out drinking alone. These non-business liquid lunches were plain and simple piss-ups.
Then there were the evening business dinners or failing that, yet more piss ups with office colleagues, or, as with lunches, I would just drink alone in one of my favourite city pubs.
I should add that no matter what my condition was, or how severe my hangover the following morning, I was always able to function to a relatively high degree of expertise and efficiency.
After only 3 or 4 hours sleep, I was always at my desk by 7 a.m. in the morning. This meant that I did a straight 6 hours of work before the magic lunch ‘hour’ came along, and most days, I would put in several more hours from around 4 p.m. till 8 or even later, before returning to the wine bars or pubs to continue my drinking sessions.
If ever there was a case of burning the candle at both ends – this was it. On my frequent trips to Europe or beyond, the drinking would start on the plane, (or even in the departure lounge) and rarely stopped until I landed back at Heathrow a few days – or a week or so – later. But again this didn’t mean that I wasn’t working – I most certainly was, but I was almost always in a state of inebriation or recovering from the D.T.s.
I was very strong and at the height of my powers, and I could do more work drunk or hungover than most people could do sober. Who knows what I might have achieved if I hadn’t been a slave to alcohol?
Even though I knew that I was drinking far more alcohol that was good for me, it didn’t really occur to me that I was an alcoholic. I always believed that I could stop anytime I wanted to – but I never wanted to…
My home life was miserable, with a controlling wife who was determined to turn me into a compliant husband – with the apocryphal “‘er indoors who must be obeyed”. My solution was to spend as much time away from home as I possibly could. Indeed, I used to dread the weekends I had to spend at home – they were the worst time of my otherwise exciting life.
I reasoned – as many alcoholics do – that my home life was the root cause of my heavy drinking and if I could somehow find a way to be happy at home, then I could easily cut down on the booze.
Of course, nobody can keep pouring booze down their gullets, average under 5 hours a sleep a night and work in a highly stressful environment indefinitely. Something had to give and by the time I was in my mid-fifties, my health started to deteriorate.
I had been an insulin-dependent diabetic since the mid-eighties, was massively overweight, had high blood pressure, and dangerously high blood sugar levels. Both my cardiologist and diabetes specialist told me that if I didn’t do something to change my lifestyle, I wouldn’t make it into my sixties.
Scary stuff, and to cut a long story short, my beloved wife, who had been carefully sorting away my high earnings for well over a decade, somehow persuaded me to ask for early retirement on the grounds of ill health.
My employers could hardly refuse – given that they accepted they were the main reason for my bad state of health – and at the age of 54, I duly retired on full salary until my 60th birthday when my generous pension would kick in.
We bought a lovely bungalow out in a picturesque village in the heart of the East Northamptonshire rural countryside, and settled down there to enjoy an idyllic retirement – or so wife No. 4 thought. Unfortunately for me, clever wifey now had me by the goolies, and there was little I could do to stop her ‘lording it’ over my entire waking life.
I soon developed the habit of cracking open my first bottle of wine by mid-afternoon, and by the time I crawled into bed at 1 a.m. you would probably find at least 3 empty bottles in the lounge, along with maybe a half-empty bottle of scotch.
Divorce followed less than 2 years later, along with a generous divorce settlement which handed over 50% of my total worth to wife No. 4. Never mind, there was still plenty left to see me through, and within months I had hightailed it back to my old hunting grounds in Bangkok.
If I thought that moving back to Thailand and re-establishing my old friendships of 20 years previously would have a beneficial effect on my drinking consumption, then I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The bars of Bangkok, followed a year or so later by the bars of Pattaya, proved an irresistible allure, and by the time I was wedded to wife number 5, I could no longer deny that I was a fully-fledged alcoholic. There was no way I could bring my drinking under any kind of self-control.
At least my years of working in London, and before that working in Nigeria, the Middle East, Jakarta, and Thailand meant that I was obliged to exercise some sort of control over my drinking. But once retired and free of wife No. 4, there was absolutely nothing to stop me drinking from morning to night. In fact, I rarely started drinking before midday, but there were times when even this self-imposed rule was broken – especially when the only thing that stopped me feeling like I wanted to die was to imbibe the proverbial ‘hair of the dog’.
It wasn’t until I returned to Thailand that I started to entertain the possibility that I might be an alcoholic. I recall browsing Mr. Google and found those websites where they ask you a series of questions about your drinking habits and if you answer ‘yes’ to 3 or more out of 10, then in all likelihood, you are an alcoholic.
In my case, I couldn’t find a website where I could say ‘no’ to even one of their damned silly questions! But I did nothing about it. My life was a crazy, topsy-turvy existence and I was lurching from one ill-fated love affair to the next and for most of that time, I was drunk. On one day I would drink to celebrate my latest female conquest, and the next day I drowned my sorrows when I found out she was cheating on me or had ripped me off.
I finally became sufficiently infatuated with one particular woman to tie the knot and make her wife no. 5. I then proceeded to spend a sizeable chunk of my hard earned money on the construction of a palatial home in Pattaya.
It was at my self-styled ‘Mobi-Mansion’, where I dreamed of settling down and become the happily married man with a gorgeous wife – the best that money could buy – with my faithful dogs around me, that I had always yearned after. I wanted to live the good life in a tropical paradise.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. My wife was unfaithful from day one. She had the annoying habit of popping out to do a bit of shopping and returning a week later, badly hungover and wearing a clutch of gold and diamonds that had clearly been bought for her by some rich admirer.
Apart from her infidelities – which were more than enough for most marriages –she was also a terrible binge alcoholic. When she got drunk, God help anyone who crossed her path. She was destructive both of property and anyone who happened to get in her way – usually yours truly. It soon became apparent that we had a marriage that was conceived in hell.
There were numerous occasions when I ended up in hospital after a night’s drunken brawl with her, and I continually had to replace furniture, glasses, plates etc. to say nothing of the iPhones and the like having to be fished out of our swimming pool.
I was now in my early sixties and it was during this period that not only was I drinking more than ever, but I was also finding it harder and harder to ‘maintain’ – to give that outward appearance of being relatively sober.
I wrote off two cars and nearly died when I fell into my own fishpond in the middle of the night headfirst. I couldn’t move, and if the houseboy hadn’t heard the commotion and come to my rescue, I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
I finally accepted that my drinking was totally out of control and for the first time in my life I realised that I had to do something about it. I knew that if I didn’t stop drinking, I was heading for a wretched and early death. I was still hopelessly besotted with my unfaithful, violent alcoholic wife and the only thing I really wanted to do was drink myself into a drunken stupor every day. It wasn’t an attractive prospect.
As I have now written over 2,000 words of text, I have decided to expand my “drinking saga” into a three-part treatise, as I don’t wish to shortchange the process I subsequently went through that slowly but surely gave me my life back.
So in my final, (I promise), part three, I will relate my descent to ‘rock bottom’ and how I found a way out.