or how I used booze and dope to get me by although booze is a powerful depressant and not exactly helpful to one subject to long periods of clinical depression and cannabis is a good cover for hypomania – I might have been thinking manic thoughts but being stoned was a powerful way of keeping me in check so that I did not actually do anything. Booze was only a serious issue for the last ten years, before then drinking was kept in check by my work and the lifestyle that meant I was driving a lot. I bailed out of the Czech Republic (the six years there were also included much drinking and drug abuse, but that’s a whole other story ) in 2000 to end up on the sick. I was drinking more or less continuously since then until I went into rehab in 2006. By the time I stopped I was drinking 6 cans of strong lager a day, a level that was bound to cause permanent physical damage very soon. The detox before rehab was as a psychiatric hospital inpatient for a week on Librium, home detox was not an option as I live alone. Detoxed I immediately joined a rolling group at the now closed MacGarvey centre in Wells. I travelled to and from the centre by NHS funded taxi, evenings and weekends were filled with diary and life story writing and phone calls to and from other group members. Most of the work was in a group, size varying as members came and went: the treatment was 12 Step based coupled with practical advice on how to avoid putting ourselves at risk – it’s much simpler to avoid risk temptations than it is to show how tough you are by joining a group of people in a pub while clutching a pint of orange and lemonade. And anyway drunks are at best boring. I had only been there two days for alcoholism when the group leader ‘suggested’ that I introduce myself by saying ‘I am an alcoholic and addict’. I even had a small packet of skunk to get me through the night when I first came out of hospital and off the Librium. For the first two months I was scared that a random drugs test would catch me out but fortunately, although breathalysers were used at least once a week, I was I think four months in and clean before the first drugs test. Mac Garvey was unique as far as I know that participation was open ended unlike the usual thirteen week model. People finished when the staff decided that either an individual was ready to go it alone or that the group could not do any more for an individual. At six months I became one of the latter and ‘asked’ to leave. No matter, I did not pick up and slowly regained my physical health and reached three years clean and sober. I followed the advice I was given and went to every AA and NA meeting I could get to and found fellowship with a a disparate group of people whose common aim was the desire to stay sober.
The received wisdom says “100 meetings in 100 days” which is what I did using the local bus and train services. The meetings I went to were mostly all in the area covered by what is known as the Wiltshire Intergroup where I met many fellow alcoholics in various stages of recovery. After a while I was being offered lifts to those meetings I could not reach by public transport. as I heard others share the experience, I began to understand that I was no longer alone!
The only requirement for membership of AA is the desire to stop drinking. My daughter was very supportive and let me borrow her car whenever she could so that I could get to as many meetings as possible. I was being a holiday home for a succession of dogs at the time, of course they came with me and the various meetings wondered which dog I would appear with next. Dog minding was an essential part of my recovery as I recovered my physical strength and fitness. All good for almost three years and I had the confidence to re-enter the workplace .I worked for about six months as a taxi driver (the process of getting a hackney licence was a great test of patience), but overdid it and went down into a very deep depression. And then I relapsed, started with a few tokes at an outdoors party, bought my own skunk, then could not get hold of any so I started drinking again to the point of the DTs which I’d never experienced before. A friend took me to Turning Point in Wells where I was advised to have a physical check up so that they’d know what they were dealing with. My GP came out to see me (I was in capable of getting to the surgery) saw how ill I was and arranged an ambulance admission to the Royal United Hospital in Bath I was detoxed with I think Librium again then discharged. The same friend that had taken me to Wells collected me from Bath and brought me home and kept on eye on me. But right up until the end of 2009, I Isolated and hid away from the world. But I did not pick up and I was getting support from the CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) the psychiatrist tried me on different regimes of anti-depressants; I was getting ready to ask for ECT, to agree to anything that might end the depression. I got through Christmas/New year OK then one day in the first week of January, I was not depressed any more not the next day nor the day after that. Nor now. I think that is due mostly to my acceptance that I suffer from Bipolar Mood disorder. In just the same way I’d had to accept that that I was an alcoholic/addict, I had to accept that I am bipolar. Certainly those around me have noticed a dramatic change as I re-engage with the world after spending most of my time asleep or wanting to be asleep again. For me bipolar is a condition to be carefully managed just like alcoholism and addiction.