My name's Pete Jackson. I write a Radio 4 series called Love in Recovery, set in Alcoholic's Anonymous starring Rebecca Front, John Hannah, Sue Johnston, Paul Kaye, Eddie Marsan and Julia Deakin, and based, in part, on my own experiences. In the run up to our Christmas special (Christmas eve 11pm) I was asked to write a series of three blogs, detailing what Christmas was like as a recovering alcoholic, and I instantly thought of a neat way to approach the task.
'Christmas past' would be all about the stresses and heartbreaks of a Christmas spent in the throes of addiction. 'Christmas present' would be about the difficulties of remaining newly sober during a festive season in which it seemed like the only people not entirely plastered from morning till night were small babies and me, and 'Christmas future', which would be about all the Christmases to come. Christmases I was confident I'd spend happy, contented and, most importantly, sober.
I've had to have a rethink.
I've been sober for six years now, and for the most part, I feel in control. I can go to parties, I can sit in pubs, I can have friends over and watch them down wine and laugh and tell drunken stories, and never once feel the urge to drink. But then sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, clean away the empties and catch a smell of stale wine and fag butts in my nostrils; or when I walk past some poor old drunk in a doorway, and see him raising a bottle of something awful to his lips; sometimes - when I least expect it - I'm crippled with want, with need.
I can split my adult life into two very clear, and very disparate sections. First, there's the drinking years, in which the more isolated, unhappy and unwell booze made me, the more I needed it, wanted it, and drank it. And then there's the sober years, in which I've managed to build a career, convince a wonderful woman to marry me, have a beautiful son. Years in which I've been happier than I ever thought possible. Than I ever thought I deserved to be.
So it's easy, in a pub, or at a party, surrounded by merry drinkers, to be rational, to think about my life now, and how happy I am, and think about what sort of an idiot I'd have to be to throw it all away, to take a massive step back and trade it for the difficult life I've fought so hard to escape. It's a simple defence mechanism. But I still have to remember to deploy it. And when I don't? When I'm not expecting to be confronted by drink- just walking down the street - or when I'm simply clearing up from last night's party? The sudden urge to down every last dreg of leftover, fag infused wine - or wrestle the bottle of Thunderbird from the wino's hand, almost takes my breath away.
Alcoholism gets in deep. And it doesn't ever really go away. Like a virus that lingers in your system, ever ready to rear it's ugly head and shout 'Oi dickhead!! Remember me?!'
I've thought a great deal about my own alcoholism, and alcoholism in general whilst writing Love in Recovery and it's an endlessly complex, slippery, frustrating and fascinating subject. I think about who I am now, having come through the other side. I know that in my early days of drinking, before it really took hold of me, I was fun, and exciting, and wild - and I'm none of those things anymore (ask my wife). I know that in the latter stages of my drinking I was troubled, and lonely, and deceitful and disloyal and a massive cause of concern to those that cared about me - and I'm not really any of those things anymore either. Now - I'm just some bloke. Some bloke with worries and concerns and pressures and responsibilities. And that's enough for me.
I'm very thankful for that. And I appreciate that I've been very lucky, that other people have it a great deal harder than me. And their strength, and their bravery astounds me. But I know that none of us can ever get too complacent. Too comfortable. Too confident. Because none of us know when we might hear that voice - 'Oi dickhead! Remember me?!'
The Love in Recovery Christmas special airs tonight at 11pm on Radio 4. The series is produced and directed by Lucky Giant's Ben Worsfield.