Living on the Same Planet but from Different Worlds
By Harry C.
We all live on the same planet but we all come from different worlds! No doubt someone said this before but it truly is my conclusion today.
We’re all different. Immense variables in our lives and in our capacity to comprehend and communicate are all part of our unique human condition and contribute to our differences, one to another. We’re all out of step with some other group, some other culture, even some other viewpoint, our senses bringing awareness of the fact of our ‘difference’, us and them.
I grew up in the tenements in Glasgow, the youngest of three, all of us affected by Elky’s alcoholism. Elky, my da, all 5 feet 1 inch of him, usually heard before seen when returning from the pub, and almost every weekend in life. A classic example of the ‘wee man’ syndrome for sure.
Tired from playing, I’d be awakened as a young child in the ‘room and kitchen’ that was home. As an older child in my Primary School years, 5 ’til 12, I’d wait at the room window with my ma, looking to see him appear and see how drunk he was as the men from the pubs spilled out at closing time. She’d consider how much time we had to evacuate the home before he would arrive at the door. It could take him an eternity just to climb the flights of stairs from the ‘close’ entrance to our door, two storeys up, muttering or singing as he went. The ‘close’, the common entry to the tenement homes and floors above. We’d often have to stand in the outside toilet that was on the half landing and shared by the three families on our floor. I learned to hold my breath there as he passed outside the toilet door and headed up the last stairs to our door.
We couldn’t be in the house if he came in drunk and belligerent. Even barricading ourselves in the room didn’t work as he’d once taken the hammer from the coal bunker and attempted to break through the door panels. Jessie from the flat below would often hit her brush of her ceiling when the arguing became too loud. Sometimes the dreaded ‘knock at the door’ came: rat-a-tat. Shaming.
Tired as I often was, we’d walk the streets or huddle somewhere if it was raining or too cold. We couldn’t allow the shame of being found commandeering the toilet if our neighbours came calling. We’d return after a time and listen intently at our door for tell tale signs that wee Elky was still awake. Silence was critical to gently turning the key and creeping into the room, undiscovered, shallow breathing and gentle steps. His snore from the living room was reassuring; asleep.
Much more happened, much more affected me, my inner world was fearful, shameful, anxious. I found ways to cope with my inner world. I ‘knew’ none of this but felt it all in my childhood and adolescence. The emotional growing pains from childhood to my adolescence were scarring in my sense of self, the differences becoming obvious to me, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. My secrets from coping with my feelings became contained within.
“I won’t ever drink ma, that’ll never happen to me.” I recall telling my ma this in my early youth. But coping with ‘feeling different’, ‘feeling less than’ and my core belief about me from within that fuelled these feelings: ‘there’s something the matter with you’, brought me to face my profound fear and dread of alcohol as I approached my eighteenth year in my world.
We were two tall gangly youths, Eddie and I, childhood friends and classmates, both almost eighteen and neither of us having had our first drink. We were kindred spirits in some ways although there was no drunkenness in Eddies home. Nice people, nice family. We were excited, albeit anxious too as we entered the Pippin. I doubt either of us could have done it without the other. Two pints each, we later skipped across Duke Street, neither of us apparently drunk, neither of us fearful. My only fear was would my ma smell the beer off me. She didn’t.
In my world, I had been greatly and directly affected by someone else’s alcoholism. I was not an alcoholic; I’d never ever drunk alcohol, never even liked the taste of it in the few sips I’d tried in my childhood. Yuk! Irn Bru was far tastier to my tongue back then.
But that night in the Pippin a path was set that was to lead me to the greatest love affair in my life: my love of alcohol. The sound of the men in the bar, the smell of the booze and smoke in the air, the conviviality. A place where the men gathered. A right of passage to join the men, to be a man. And that awful tasting booze, but that changed!
I changed my life after that night. The Pippin became my local, Eddie didn’t join me, the local young guys became my buddies, wine and parties flowed, women and fumbling came with the parties, conk outs and black outs came too. But the great deal was being made by me: I was prepared to have alcohol do to me for what it did for me. I was seduced beyond recall. Now I was an alcoholic, or was I? It never occurred to me in those early years to stop; I could stop if I wanted, I just didn’t want to.
I drank for twenty years until December 1986. Relationship came and went, hurts came along with them, but my love affair with alcohol continued. A marriage and child came along and the promises of ‘never again’ were made but never kept. Drunk driving, police cells and courts, hospital beds, they all came along but still I was prepared to have alcohol do to me for what it did for me. I thought I could stop, I tried, often, I couldn’t stop.
My wife and daughter were gone again, months this time, far away to Montrose. I was in the pub every night, wakening on my floor or the couch most mornings. I saw only a blackness in my future, I returned to education, I became a volunteer to the handicapped, I called a minister who told me “Harry, you have no scruples, no morals.” Finally I called the Samaritans who advised me to go to AA. I didn’t go right away. My daughter got ill, they both returned, I got drunk, filled with hurt, jealousy, anger and unanswered questions, I attacked, I was charged by the police.
My last drink and drunk followed two weeks later. I was beat, promised to address my aggression and control my drinking, my wife returned. I took her out for a meal on the Saturday night, we were trying. I was walking on egg shells and when she ordered a cocktail I ordered a wee bottle of Tiger Beer. Ah, lovely. Dinner ordered in the lounge having our wee drinks. “And a bottle of Liebfraumilch with that. No, make it two.” Another Tiger later and ‘dinner is served.’ The egg shells were soon smashing as the drink loosened my tongue. A row ensued, she left, and I said “C’est la vie.” as the other diners looked around.
It’s the usual that followed that led me to phoning AA on the Monday, I thought they were probably closed on the Sunday. I came to AA on the Monday night; declined the kind offer of someone coming to my house to talk to me… ‘No thanks’. I’ve been here ever since.
I stayed sober and up came the fecal matter. Jealousy, control, anger, aggression, the fear of abandonment, the fear of failure, the self loathng, and always being fuelled by that core message ‘There’s something the matter with me. I’m not enough!’
I bed wet until I was twelve; part of the shame base. The threat of my ma leaving; part of my fear of abandonment. Seeking gratification for happiness; my gambling from aged eleven and the ‘joy of sex’, morning, noon and night with me, myself and I. Turns out I was ‘a child of trauma’. Seemingly the basis for many who find the release that only the compulsive or addicted can know. And all I thought I had was a wee drink problem!!!
I went to therapy, I helped start Adult Children of Alcoholics in Glasgow, then sent to Arizona and started Codependents Anonymous here. I went to University at five years sober to learn counselling skills and achieved a Diploma in Counselling. I did these things because my journey in recovery required me to address the experiences from my childhood and my codependency. My definition of my codependency is ‘Living my life from the outside in’. Empowerment is the answer I needed and integration of my ‘self’ to live authentically, as best I can ‘from the inside out.’
Planet AA has many inhabitants, dare I say, not all from the same World. I found a jacket of recovery that fits me just fine. It took time to ‘tuck it in here and there’ but it fits me just fine today. The programme of abstinence from alcohol is easy today, I know the value of living sober. I value the support and fellowship I receive and give in AA that makes my living sober easier for me. In my world today there is no higher power, no programme required by me for living my life, no sponsor to direct my life choices.
I couldn’t control my intake of alcohol, I got drunk a lot. I am an alcoholic but I don’t have a wee drink problem today, I live with this solution: I don’t lift the first drink, ever, and I am a member of the fellowship of AA, always!!!
Harry lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and is a regular attendee of both Secular AA groups there: Beyond Belief, on Mondays in East Kilbride & Tolerance Tuesday at Shawlands in Glasgow. Now 71 and retired, he is enjoying a life of fun with his partner of six years. The youngest of three, his 10 years older big bro is 51 years sober in AA in New York. Sadly his sister passed in New York at the end of his first year of sobriety. After University at five years sober, Harry found a new career lasting seventeen years in local regeneration in Parkhead, Glasgow, where he was born and spent his childhood. He loved ICSAA 2018 in Toronto, shared with Dante, his AA buddy of over 30 years.