My father drank every day and would let me sip beer as a child. Sometimes my sister and I would be left in the car while our parents were in the pub but we were happy because they brought us raspberry and lemonade. We did not feel abused but of course that could not go on today.
When I was twenty-four I got a job as an intelligence officer – top secret security clearance. Worst recruitment decision ever. They would find that out later alright. I made friends with two guys, Martin and Trevor, and the latter became the only proper boyfriend I ever had. The three of us started having lunch in a pub and I usually had several double brandies with ginger ale. When Trevor dropped me I fell apart (he couldn’t take all the frosty silences). This was made worse because I had to face him every day in the office. One night he was on caretaker duty; I got drunk and went into the building as far as the internal door which had to be opened from inside. Trevor took me inside whereupon I cried, screamed, begged, threw up and generally carried on pretty appallingly. He had to tell the bosses but they did not kick me out. They should have.
A few weeks later I was drunk at home and left a lit candle by my bed on a cardboard box. I awoke to find my bed on fire. My flatmate who had just bought and done up the flat had to call the fire brigade and drag the burning bed outside. My contribution was to move my car away so it didn’t get damaged. When my flatmate went on holiday, I tried to kill myself in the flat with the antidepressants I had saved up. I took them with alcohol but did not die. I had to leave the job after that of course.
That surely sounds like someone with a drinking problem but no. I took up really serious drinking when I was nearly thirty and living in London. The problem was that I did not know when to stop. I would cause trouble by getting bolshie or cracking on to some guy that was not interested in me. A good night for me involved dark rum, red wine and very strong lager like Carlsberg Special or Merrydown Cider, brews favoured by London gutter-dwellers.
Because I drank most nights, it was not uncommon for me to go to work in the clothes from the day before and arrive at 2.00 pm. Once there, I would be throwing up and having diarrhoea. The only reason I got away with this was because I had a tough job and was very good at it. It was the competitive conference industry and in the season I would work every day for months. Notwithstanding my many failings, I did have a strong work ethic which ensured that I never missed a deadline. For a few years in London I also worked for BBC radio as an external temp. I managed over those years to go from job to job and more or less keep my not so secret vice. I was skilful at coming up with stories as to why I was late or often sick.
One day I went to an interview drunk. I was so drunk I was not able to work out that I should have postponed the interview. Even worse, it was a second interview at a London film company, an industry I had been trying to get into for years. Often I would have complete black-outs which made me panic about what I might have said or done. Judging by others’ reaction, I acted somewhat weirdly. Sometime I would tell people I had a terminal illness to get attention. (A long time after I read about Munchhausen’s but my dalliance did not turn into full-blown syndrome.) Sometimes I sustained injuries from my drink-fuelled activities.
The only thing my mother did for me was to appear in a dream. I had returned to New Zealand and after she died I bought her car. Now I was drinking and driving on a regular basis. Exactly five years after her death, I had a dream in which we passed each other in the street. As per her normal treatment of me, there was no smile or acknowledgement. But a few yards along we both turned and looked at each other.
The next night I was drunk at home and wanted more and I knew where to get after-hours grog. I drove to the bar and parked between two tall concrete planter boxes. When I went to leave, the car moved at some speed, back and forth several times between the two planters. The car stopped when its back end was up where the plants were. The pub people were very good and did not call the police. The car was a write-off. I knew that I was lucky the car had not let me leave the car-park and get on the road and involve other people. I still tell people that the car behaved just like the one from Stephen King’s book and film Christine.