This is a brief account of Allen’s relationship with alcohol. It’s raw, unedited and told in his own words. Thank you, Allen, for allowing us to share your story with the wider community.
When did you first start drinking?
My first drink was at the age of 14. Some family friends were over from Canada and we went on a camping trip to Loch Lomond. We were in a bar and I had about 4 or 5 pints. The following morning, I woke in my sleeping bag to find myself covered in puke, I couldn’t stop being sick. I needed a cold drink, something to stop me feeling like this. Jim took us to the ice cream van and I just stood outside puking my guts up. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience as you can imagine and for some, it would have been enough to put them off for life.
By the time I was 15 I was saving my weekly school dinner and pocket money. I and a couple of other lads would bunk off school and head to the local pub to spend our savings. We’d choose a lesson we really didn’t like, chemistry or something similar, and off we’d trot to the Three Pigeons pub. All was well except for one day we marched in only to find two teachers in there. We were told to go back to school immediately!
We thought all was OK until the following day when we were called to the school office. Both my friends were called in individually, given the belt followed by a call to their parents to let them know what we had been up to. Then it was my turn. I got the belt. It hurt, just as it should have, but no phone call. The teacher knew my dad would kill me if he found out and I was needed for the school football team who were playing a semi-final later that week – phew.
I think, knowing what I know now (and I know it’s up to the individual), but I would say my dad was an alcoholic. At the age of 13/14, I started to be aware of just how much he drank. He was constantly going out boozing, coming home and abusing my mum. I’d often have those daydreams about running away – where I’d imagine myself going down to Millets shop and getting a dingy, a sleeping bag and sailing to an island on Loch Lomond.
I left school at 16, got into music, got a guitar and strummed along with other more talented people. We just hung around, go to the Polish club, play pool, drink coke and have fun. Alcohol didn’t seem an issue at that time, but by the time I was 17, I’d found my first real girlfriend. I got a job working in a distribution centre and she worked in the same place. Over time I’d exchanged my group of friends for a girlfriend and nights out in pubs and clubs in Glasgow city centre.
She was a bit more ‘streetwise’ that me and it wasn’t long before I was being offered sulph. I didn’t want to do drugs, let alone snort this shit – besides, I had a broken nose so didn’t fancy it. I was told I could simply put it in my drink – so I did. I have no real idea what it was, it was probably speed but could have been anything really, everyone just called it sulph. [I tried coke later in life, but it never seemed to have any effect. Like a typical addict, I tried two lines, but it wasn’t enough, so I’d try 4 or 5. It seemed a waste of money really – so alcohol became my ‘drug of choice’]
I’d watched dad physically and verbally abuse mum to the point where I’d had enough and one day I stepped in. We exchanged a few punches before mum stood in the middle to stop the fight. That was the first time, but not the last.
My relationship with my girlfriend fizzled out and we broke up. Home life was awful. I hated being in the house. Dad would go out and we’d be on tender hooks not knowing what mood he would be in when he got back. I’d had enough and one time when they were on holiday I marched into town, through the doors of the Army Careers office and signed up.
We’re in the Army Now
I met my first wife while in the army. Army life was good. I really enjoyed it and for the first time in my life, I felt I was good at something. I got promoted from Private to Lance-Corporal and then Corporal. We had our first child and things were going well. I travelled a lot; Canada, New Zealand, Norway and other places too and did tours in Northern Ireland, Mogadishu, Belize, Bosnia and in the Gulf war.
In the army, we’d be in situations where we couldn’t drink, deep in a jungle for three weeks for example. But we made up for it when we got back. I’d binge as if I was trying to drink the three weeks I’d missed out on. I’d find myself angry and I’d snap at anyone, I’d want to fight, even if I knew the odds were against me and I’d get my head kicked in.
I always said I never wanted to be like my dad. Maybe I saw my dad in others – those who made me snap, others who were a trigger, they were just like him. At the same time, this was turning me into him – a person that, at one point in my life, I thought I wanted to kill.
I at least thought things were going OK. My wife was from a good family, well educated, and I think she only got with me to rebel against her family. I think she thought I was beneath her. One day she gave me an ultimatum. I wasn’t spending enough time with her and our son, so it was them or the army. I left the army to save my marriage.
We didn’t know what we were going to do. I took a temp job at the Royal Mail. We move in with her parents until we got sorted.
I saw a job offer for an overhead power linesman, applied, got it, and that’s what I did for the next 15 years. It was a crazy choice of a job when you think about the reason for leaving the army. The job took me all over Europe contracting on various projects. The money was great, but being away from home so much, meant a lot of it was spent in the pub. I didn’t realise at the time just how much I was drinking.
A new chapter
After a couple of years into the job, there seemed to be nothing there. The relationship was empty, emotionless. I told my wife it was over, I wanted to finish.
I then met Rachel. Things were really good. We had a nice lifestyle, a nice flat, good holidays, a good social life and great friends etc. We took our time, enjoyed each other’s company and life around us. After 5 years, we were married.
When did drinking become a problem?
Who knows? Even when it was a problem, I never realised. My couch at home has an imprint of me where I used to sit in the same place, where I went from feeling pride and joy to feeling sorry for myself night after night, as I sank into a cesspit.
I always said that if I were to have more kids, I’d work closer to home. This worked out OK for a while and Maisie was born. As work started to take me away again, I was true to my word and quit.
I bought a sandwich shop/café and that was OK for a couple of years. I even employed my mother-in-law.
I was still drinking and would still get angry and fly off the handle. I remember one night, we were exiting from a Beautiful South concert and Rachel asked some guys if there was a local Indian restaurant nearby. They got a bit gobby and sleazy with her and I completely lost my rag and thumped one of them all around the car park. The police were called, but no arrests. There were a few times like that.
Rachel would enjoy a glass of wine, and I’d enjoy a can of beer (or cans of beer). She’d often tut as I pulled back the ring pull of the can – she didn’t like the noise it made. Perhaps it was her way of saying, you’re drinking too much. I still didn’t realise just how bad I was. I also didn’t realise just how bad things had got, the way I treated her and spoke to her. I was horrid at times, often raising my voice as if I was still in the army, trying to break in new recruits. I knew how to control and manipulate people just with my voice. I was abusing her and didn’t even realise. Perhaps now, I was just like my dad.
I sensed the marriage wasn’t going well and one day, I asked my mother-in-law how to make Rachel smile and happy again. Her reply; “perhaps she has the 7-year itch” was the biggest punch I’d received in my whole life. Here was this hardened ex-army, cable guy who was brought down by a pensioner.
One of the local businesses relocated their offices and off went a load of regular café customers. Our income declined so we decided to sell. We didn’t make a loss or a profit from the sale but I saw it as yet another failure for Allen. I’d been away from pylons and cabling for too long and I didn’t really want to be away from home again, I needed to work on my marriage.
I got a job with the Halifax but soon realised the marriage wasn’t going to work. It really was on the rocks and we were both people who couldn’t open up and talk. It’s amazing how long you put up with situations like this. We were sleeping in separate beds by the time I got a promotion into a managerial role.
By this time, there were two Allen’s – the one that went to work; “How are you Allen?”, “oh tickety-boo”, I’d reply. I was confident, everything on the outside was fine. The other Allen was completely depressed, it was a façade. This Allen would wake in the morning, every morning, convinced something would change. Rachel would come into the bedroom and say, everything is fine, it’s all going to be OK. Forget the last few years, let’s go back to how things were – but, of course, it never happened.
Back to the cesspit
Rachel had left, I was going away skiing with the lads for my 50th. I looked at the kitchen – I should tidy up. Rachel was coming round while I was away. We were selling up. I couldn’t let her see just what a mess I was living in. But it wasn’t just the kitchen, it was the whole house. It all seemed too much, I couldn’t cope, I sat in my ‘imprint’, stared at the walls and drank. The house had gone from my pride and joy to this cesspit.
I drank until about 4 am and sent a text to Rachel apologising for the state of the house. I thought perhaps she would realise that it wasn’t just the house that was a mess, but I was too. The reply was something along the lines of acknowledging I wasn’t well, hoped I had a great holiday and to get my head together. She didn’t know that I wanted to die, and I was dying inside for just someone to know, I thought someone, anyone, would realise just how shit everything was.
I returned home from skiing and it soon seemed obvious that nobody was going to talk about this. I simply couldn’t. I tried and tried, but every time I did, I got physically sick with it. I wrote letters, but on reading them back, it didn’t seem right or fair for anyone to read them. It wasn’t down to them, it was me, I was the one to blame for everything (even if I wasn’t). I’d rather blame myself than share it. I ripped up the letters and burnt them.
When things couldn’t get worse
For some bizarre and unexplained reason, I came up with a way to get noticed, for someone to challenge me, notice me and ask what was wrong. At the bank, I had the responsibility of auditing compensation payments. I would check my staff had paid the correct amount of money into the correct accounts. My checks were checked, and those checks were checked too. You would think, that if a payment ended up in my personal account it wouldn’t go unnoticed, I’d be challenged, I’d have to talk, I’d be able to get some help. I know now what a crazy, stupid idea it was. We didn’t need the money, I’m an intelligent man, but I wasn’t myself and was desperate. I couldn’t talk – it made me physically sick. I couldn’t even get this right, I failed again. The payment went unnoticed so I did it again. And again.
I thought that when I was caught I’d be having a conversation with my boss about my marriage, my drinking, my depression etc, but it was a “sorry to hear that, but our policy is to prosecute” – all I wanted was help. I didn’t want the money, I just wanted help, and now I’d made everything a lot worse.
In an interview at work in January, I was told I would be prosecuted, the court date would be 1st August 2017. That’s when I decided I’d had enough – I was going to kill myself. I thought that when people thought about suicide, they just did it straight away but I gave myself six months. I’d pay the bank back (that was easy, I hadn’t spent a penny), I’d make sure my daughter did well at school and we’d do the things that we always enjoyed doing together like skiing and rugby. I was going to see her do them and I knew there would be enough money in my bank account to pay for my funeral and to see Maisie go to university.
You live those few weeks out pretty structured, you take the kids to school you pick them up again, feed them, put them to bed and then you drink yourself into the oblivion stage, where you don’t even feel that you’ve drunk, but you’re putting that dent in the sofa, staring at the wall and just try to numb everything – trying to get to the end of your diary.
I did that, did all the things I wanted to do with Maisie. It’s a crazy (and I mean that literally) feeling, because you’re watching a person who you love most in the world, knowing they are really enjoying themselves, having a good time with you and you’re enjoying it too, but you know there’s an end to it, you’re still keeping a secret from everybody.
Then came the day before. The day before the date I had set to kill myself all those months ago. That was the first day in a long time that I was sober. I didn’t drink anything or take any tablets. I was perfectly clean for that day. I tidied the house, changed the bedding, made sure everything was as tidy as it could be. I’d made an excuse so that my daughter was with her mum and not with me. Told them I was away, at a meeting somewhere and couldn’t be home that day. I wrote a letter to my mum, telling her how I felt and saying sorry. I wrote a letter to my brother and I wrote a letter to my son, saying the same thing. I wanted my daughter to hear my voice, I always wanted her to remember me so I recorded a Dictaphone message and left it on the table with the letters. Any pension documents I had, I put those on the table too. I even signed the V5 document for my car, passing ownership to my ex-wife so that it could be sold no problem. Anything I thought was worth something to somebody, I put on the living room table.
I then got a piece of paper and wrote all my details on it, I wrote who I wanted to be contacted when I did kill myself, I wrote who I didn’t want to be contacted. I told them I didn’t want my mum to be contacted until my brother was there. I then waited. There I was on 1st August. I put the contact details in a see-through plastic folder and taped it to my arm. Whoever found me would know what to do.
The final push to rock bottom
I drove to Scammonden Bridge, it must have been 3 or 4 in the morning, I can’t remember exactly. I parked up, got out and I looked over the edge. The motorway below was like a landing strip, it was so brightly lit. I knew the bridge wasn’t that high, but I could have been on top of the Empire State Building as I looked down. I still went over the other side of the barrier. It was busier than I thought it would be so I phoned the emergency services to ask them to stop the traffic. I didn’t want anyone else hurt, didn’t want to land on somebody, didn’t want to cause an accident, make cars swerve and cause a pile-up. I just wanted it to be me. I’m telling the person to stop the traffic, but the traffic was still there. There were gaps in it, big gaps. I started to look for them. When I saw a gap, I started pushing myself. I tried so hard, pushing as hard as I could, but at the same time, something was pulling me back. Something was preventing me from tipping over the edge. There’s someone speaking. I don’t know why, but I’d left the phone on, still had to my ear. I blurted out my life story in what seemed like seconds and he’s telling me I wasn’t a failure, he’s telling me to think of my children, that I had a lot to look forward to. I told him I’d cocked everything up. Everything I touched turned to shit. I’m still pushing myself and pushing myself, and still, I won’t go over. I climbed back over the fence and started shouting at the phone, telling them I’d even failed at killing myself, can’t even do that right, something so simple as pushing yourself off a bridge. I couldn’t do it. But I so wanted to. I didn’t want to be here. I went back over again but just couldn’t do it. The next thing I knew I had two police officers with me. They helped me back over and into the safety of their patrol car. At that point, I just cried and cried and cried. I was at rock bottom (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Road to recovery
Eventually, I told them I didn’t want to be here, I wanted to die. Everything I loved was being taken away from me, my marriage was away from me, my house was away from me. My head was hurting, I was tired, constantly tired. I don’t know why, but that’s when I felt just how tired I really was. I suppose that was the start of the recovery part of my life.
Luckily the police were the people who started the ball rolling, telling my family exactly what was going through my head and how I was feeling. I went with the police to the Calderdale Royal. I saw someone from the crisis team who sat with me for a few hours while we waited for a psychiatrist to see me. The psychiatrist spoke with me and asked if I would volunteer to go into a psychiatric unit until they deemed me safe for release, which I did. I was released into the care of the community mental health team two weeks later. My key worker and the mental health team got the ball rolling with Calderdale Recovery Steps and putting me in touch with The Basement Recovery Project and counselling.
At the Basement, I think that’s when I realised, well, I have a mental illness, but I also realised I’m an alcoholic. I didn’t even know. I didn’t know up until then how much I depended on numbing myself with alcohol. You don’t see the effects, you don’t realise how much is down to alcohol. I was never falling down, staggering all over the place, didn’t have fits or seizures. I was a “functioning” alcoholic. Yeah, I was functioning, but I was also misfunctioning, dis-functioning if that makes sense. You don’t realise what’s happening to you. I keep using the word numb, but you’ve numbed your brain, you’ve given it an anaesthetic – for that period when you’re on your own, you know you’re in a dangerous place, and there’s no worse place to be than inside your own head. When you’re there that’s when you need to numb yourself. When you’re in close company, you don’t need the alcohol so much, you feel safe. You’re still too freighted to talk so you just act ‘normal’.
When you come here, you realise, if you’re like me, that you’re an addict, you’re an alcoholic, you can’t be a normal drinker. You can’t be a normal drinker because you just don’t have one. You have what’s in the house. When you’re obsessed with numbing the pain, you’re never going to address the issues. Luckily, with the TBRP Recovery Programme, I’ve learnt so much. I’m now abstinent and I intend on staying that way, to stay sober and do my best to get on top of my issues or even beat them. My family knows about them too now. My daughter knows to a certain extent but doesn’t know everything. She doesn’t need to right now. But she’s switched on, knows I have issues and she’s a big help for me. Now that I have a clear head, I can think of her, think of her feelings. I need to show her that I am better before she finds out what I did, I don’t want her worrying that I may do it again.
And that’s where I am right now. I’ve used the time in my recovery to realise that I do have a lot of good things in my life, a lot of brilliant things. I’ve used that time to let the people who are important in my life to know they are important.
Why go public?
I agreed to be filmed for the TV programme [Grayson Perry’s Rite of Passage, a Channel 4 documentary (Episode 4 – Coming of Age)] and share my story for many reasons I guess. If I could change the past, I probably would, but all I hear from people here is that when you come out the other side and into long-term recovery we become “better than well”, and that’s my plan. No mapped out 6-month plan though, this is “one day at a time”. I know how I felt for so long and yet I didn’t know where to turn for help. If just one person sees, reads or hears my story and says, “that’s me” and gets some help, or if someone sees me and says “that’s Allen” we never realised he was that messed up, and then recognise someone else who needs help, then I’m glad to have shared it.