My name's Pete Jackson. I write a Radio 4 series called Love in Recovery, set in Alcoholics Anonymous and based, in part, on my own experiences. In the lead up to our Christmas special (11pm Christmas Eve) I am writing a series of blogs about what this most boozy of festive seasons is like for me, a recovering alcoholic.
In this instalment, I'd like to talk a bit about my first sober Christmas, and the four that have followed thus far. (I'm hoping, this year, to make it to sober Christmas number six, which sounds pretty easy I know; after all, it's not really that hard to carry on not doing something, especially when that thing will kill you. But- it's a little more complicated than that).
I got sober in September 2009, and spent that Christmas volunteering in a homeless shelter. I'd love to say that this act was selfless, born out of a simple desire to do some good; and that was part of it... Honestly...
I also couldn't think of anywhere else to go.
I had to avoid temptation. I had to avoid booze. Which, at Christmas, is a logistical nightmare. No parties, no family, and no friends. But the alternative, sitting in my flat, miserable, off license just across the road, had disaster written all over it. So - off I went to the homeless shelter.
There's another reason too. And one that I'm a little ashamed of. I thought it might be good for me. I thought that- if I spent this difficult time with people who had things infinitely harder than me, then it might strengthen my resolve to stay sober. A resolve that wavered constantly, even after the shakes had subsided, even when the physical cravings began to disappear.
In the show Love in Recovery, myself and producer Ben Worsfield always strive to make sure that no episode offers any easy answers, that each story is surprising, complicated and challenging- and it's not that hard, because, we're making a show about alcoholism. Which, for me, continues to be unrelentingly surprising, complicated and challenging.
In the homeless shelter, I met, talked to, and got endlessly thrashed at chess by, a pretty lovely group of pretty unlucky people. People who, for a million different reasons, had fallen through the cracks.
There were of course, a whole lot of drunks. A bunch of blokes who had either lost everything because of drink, or had turned to drink after they had lost everything - either way - it wasn't pretty (they were all wicked at chess though - or maybe I'm just rubbish).
And did it work? My selfish search for reassurance dressed up as charity? Did it give me a warm little glow inside and make me realise that, there but for the grace of god go I? Did I leave with a skip in my step?
No. Not at all. It made me think - I'm not that bad. So what if I drank every single day till I blacked out? So what if the only thought in my head when I woke up was 'where and how can I get drink'? And so what if, until I got it, my hands shook so much I had to keep them in my pockets? I'm alright! I'm not like these guys!
So maybe I should just get a grip, maybe I should just go and see my family, have a bloody drink. It's Christmas. And I'm not that bad!!
I was halfway down the road before I stopped. I wasn't going to see my family. I didn't want to see anyone. I certainly didn't care that it was Christmas. I wanted to get a whole lot of drink. And I wanted to sit in my flat, on my own, and get utterly hammered. And I'd gone to an extraordinary amount of effort to find an excuse to do so.
I went back in, head bowed, and continued to get thrashed at chess. And it began to dawn on me. It's bloody complicated, this getting sober lark.
Five Christmases later. I'm still sober. And it's still a struggle. And sometimes the lies that I tell myself to justify a drink are shockingly convincing. But I don't. I'm very lucky. I've got a family, a loving wife, a career, but the big lesson I've learned is to never start believing that I won't throw it all away, all of a sudden, for a drink. And if, in the future, you ever volunteer at a shelter and see me, destitute and bedraggled - at least let me beat you at chess.
The Love in Recovery Christmas special airs at 11pm on BBC Radio 4 on 24 December. The series is produced and directed by Lucky Giant's Ben Worsfield.