I'm Pete Jackson. Six years ago, in late September, I quit drinking. It wasn't my first attempt, not by a long stretch, but I hoped (and six years later I'm still hoping) that it was my last.
My previous attempts at sobriety had varied in length; the longest was three whole days, the shortest was about a minute or two (the strength of my convictions crumbling swiftly between the proud and defiant disposal of one bottle of wine down the sink, and the meek and tearful opening of another). But all these attempts had one thing in common. They had failed.
This time would be different.
When you quit drinking, you need to fill the terrifying void that drink leaves behind. Whereas previously I'd fill this void with, variously- thinking about drink, wishing I could drink and then, invariably, drinking; this time, I decided to start writing, scribbling down all sorts of nonsense, using my quite shaky left hand to steady my very shaky right hand, which then caused the combined shakes of both my hands to work up through my body (If you happened to be in North London about six years ago and saw a skinny, pale bloke trying to write while vibrating like a tuning fork.. Hi- how's it going?)
All this shaky writing, alongside meetings and support, helped keep me on the straight and narrow. It also led to me eventually putting together a sitcom pilot, which then led to me meeting producer Ben Worsfield, which led to us making said pilot for BBC One, then chatting about other ideas, among which was a comedy drama set in Alcoholics Anonymous, and inspired, in part, by my own experiences. And so we made Love in Recovery for BBC Radio 4.
We managed to attract an amazing cast: Sue Johnston, Eddie Marsan, Rebecca Front, John Hannah, Paul Kaye and Julia Deakin, and we strived to make a show that was funny, but also honest and unflinching. It's a tough thing to get right, as it couldn't just be about drink. But then, no alcoholic's life is just about drink. It's always seemed a shame when people as complicated and as vibrant and as troubled and as nice and as awful as anyone else get labelled and defined with that one word. Alcoholic.
My point is that anyone can be affected by it, and the problems that led them to drink, are often the same problems faced by anyone else. There's an endless number of people that could find themselves in an Alcoholic's Anonymous meeting room, each with an endless number of stories. Sad stories, bleak stories, heartwarming stories and surprisingly funny stories. Which makes AA a great place to set a comedy drama.
We got great reviews for the first series (which aired in Jan 2015) and were then recommissioned for a second (due out in the new year). I was also asked to write a Christmas Special, which comes out this Christmas Eve. I know an AA meeting might not seem the most festive of places, but where better to explore the meaning of Christmas, than with a bunch of people having to redefine what this period of boozy merry-making means to them?
For me, Christmas as an alcoholic was complicated. Given that, alongside goodwill to all men and crying over adverts, the festive season also traditionally includes endless parties and wine for breakfast in what is, essentially, just one long white-knuckle binge for most of the population, Christmas is a great time for a habitual drinker to hide, to feel normal, just for a bit. A time where my family and me could engage in a shared conceit. I'm fine. Everyone's at it. And as long as, with every downed glass, every morning drink and every stumble we just kept repeating 'Hey. It's Christmas', then no one had to think too hard about what was staring us all in the face.
But Christmas ends. And all of a sudden, you're exposed. Like a vampire as the dawn breaks. Forced to scurry back to your small, dank and dark crypt of a life. And it's a relief, in a way. As a drunk I had a wonderful ability to romanticise my own weakness and pain. No one else gets it. Look at all the Christmas boozers, all the part-timers, with their kids and houses and jobs and hobbies. Who in their right minds would want all that?.. Well- me, as it turns out. But as we'll find out in the next instalment of this blog- It's not as easy as all that.
The Love in Recovery Christmas special airs at 11pm on Radio 4 on December 24th. The series is produced and directed by Lucky Giant's Ben Worsfield.