(The correct response from you, according to the meetings I've been to, is "Hi, Gregor!”)
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I’ve got a few things to share that I hope will help some of you out. I promise not to preach – no one’s here to judge you… but I hope you don’t judge me in return.
I’ve got a little story to tell… and I’m opening up in the hope that it’ll help someone else to turn things around.
I’ve always loved a drink. And – in the interests of being completely honest – I’ve always been very fond of recreational drugs as well.
I spent my youth ‘secretly’ getting all different kinds of bent out of shape. I’ve struggled with opiates, fell in love with amphetamines, consumed enough pingers to fuel a two-year cruise ship holiday with an entire NRL team… and I’ve drunk far, far more than my fair share of whiskies and beer.
I’m not bragging. I’m just setting the scene… I’ve got a problem.
Before I became a father, my wife started telling me she was concerned about my desire to get messed up all the time. I couldn’t have a ‘quiet beer after work with the boys’ without thundering through the front door four hours later in a state of messy disarray.
I was together with my wife for ten years before we got married. In that time, she helped me to kick everything but the smokes and the drink. I still dabbled from time to time – but when we started to talk about having kids, I was faced with a choice…
I had to break up with my dealer, or break up with my wife.
So – my apologies to Alan… and I hope you’re still enjoying the house I helped pay for.
But I didn’t stop drinking. It was, without doubt, the hardest thing to stop.
Drinking was a huge part of my life. I felt like I couldn’t relate to people without it – and I felt like I couldn’t write without it. And that meant that I couldn’t earn money without it. But I promised my wife I’d cut back, and become a responsible drinker.
That’s why, after our incredibly drunken wedding – there’s no way on earth someone from a Scottish background like me could marry someone who’s half Irish, half Polish without the guests drowning in alcohol – I tried my best to knuckle down and get sober.
It lasted about four weeks – before our honeymoon came off the rails in Versailles, France, because I’d had too much to drink. Again.
The cruel irony of that is that we spent another month in Europe – reasonably happy, despite that horrible, drunken argument.
The even crueller irony is that the night before that fight, in a luxury hotel room overlooking the Versailles Palace, was – mathematically – the night our first born was made.
When she told me she was pregnant, I celebrated by getting drunk.
Let’s skip ahead…
Lots of stuff happened between Blake arriving in the world, and my wife announcing she was pregnant with our second little boy.
I was still drinking – but by then, it was in secret. I’d started hiding booze around the house, and finding excuses to go out to the garage to ‘find something I need to get the TV working properly’.
For most people, that should be sounding alarm bells. For me, it was just a way to cope. I was working my arse off, trying to help make ends meet – and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge I had a drinking problem.
Things got steadily worse and worse – until one night I got so hammered my wife found me blacked out on the couch at 6:00 am the next morning.
It was (among a few other things that won’t be shared here) the final straw. The trust had been broken too many times. I was done – and I needed to move out.
Five tedious and difficult months later, after I’d tried every conceivable way of putting it off, I did – and that’s when, despite me feeling like this was the worst time of my entire life, things got even worse.
Not dawn yet
Without someone beside me to tell me that I was heading out of control, I veered off course faster than a toddler playing Mario Kart.
Within a month, I was drinking a bottle of whisky a day.
Within three months, I was drinking two bottles of whisky, every day – from the moment I woke up to the moment I blacked out.
I was working from home, and still able to write – but I was spending more on booze than I was on rent. Something had to give… and it did.
“I need to go to rehab and I don’t have enough money to pay for a taxi.”
One morning, I woke up in the hallway of my house. The only thing I was wearing was vomit. It was 11:00 am – and I was three hours late picking my kids up to drop them at daycare and school.
I rang my wife to apologise – and she made it very clear that I was about to lose any chance of having the kids stay at my house, ever again.
I stewed on that for a few hours – and steadfastly refused to drink my problems away.
By mid-afternoon, I was in very bad shape physically – so I rang my best mate Chris, and the conversation went something like this…
“Hey – I need a favour… can you come pick me up and drive me to hospital?”
“… of course! Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I need to go to rehab and I don’t have enough money to pay for a taxi.”
“… shit. I’ll be there in ten.”
Rehab is for quitters
I rocked up to the emergency department, explained why I was there and that I hadn’t had a drink for six hours.
I was shaking all over. I was crying. I was in pain.
They took me inside, checked me over – and left me on a bed. Chris hung around until I sent him home. I didn’t want him to see what happened next.
It was awful… but they kept me under observation for a few hours until they could find me a bed in the rehab unit.
I got wheeled down there in a wheelchair, because I literally couldn’t walk. I was hallucinating wildly – and my limbs simply wouldn’t behave themselves at all. I was in desperate trouble.
About ten minutes after I arrived in the rehab unit, I got doped up with more Valium than I thought a human could consume, to stop me from dying.
Sudden alcohol withdrawal is potentially deadly – and I’d gone from 2.5-litres of whisky a day to nothing. Another stupid move on my part.
The next couple of days were a blur. Valium in the morning, then breakfast, followed by Valium and some lunch, more Valium and a movie on the TV before dinner with a Valium chaser.
Three days into that cycle, I called my wife and told her I needed to see the kids.
“How come you’re locked in here, Daddy?”
The rehab unit I was in held about 18-20 people, some in single rooms, but most of us in shared rooms.
I was in there with ice addicts, heroin addicts and other alcoholics – most of whom were there because they were facing a choice between this, and jail time.
The front doors to the ward were locked 24 hours a day. Once you’d been in the unit for three days, you could ask for a 30-minute walk outside. Other than that, you’re locked down good and proper.
On my second day in the unit, I learned that it’s possible to get to the local pub, down three drinks without raising suspicion from the bar staff, and get back to the hospital within that 30 minute timeframe.
I made the sensible choice not to see if that was actually true.
During the stint in rehab, my wife was very supportive – and when I asked her to, she brought the kids, and a ‘picnic lunch’, when she came to visit.
They arrived at the agreed-upon time – and I was out of my mind on Valium. A shambling idiot in front of my kids.
My wife and kids had been given a once-over by the nurses to make sure they weren’t carrying any contraband. They were ushered into a room with a few chairs and a table – with a direct line-of-sight to the nursing station – where we could have our little picnic.
I looked at my kids. I looked at my wife. And I realised how badly I’d f—– up.
My boys were extremely nervous – completely understandable considering they were visiting dad in a hospital ward, where every other patient was withdrawing from alcohol, or ice, or heroin…
Blake even asked me why the doors were locked… and had I done something bad?
But the heartache in my wife’s eyes was the worst. The kids were afraid – she was just desperately, horribly sad.
I cried myself to sleep that night, and the next, and the one after that.
I’d built myself a prison. It was time to escape.
My path to (relative) sobriety
I’d love to be able to say that was the end of this story – but it’s not.
I fell off the wagon again around Christmas time – and shortly after that, spent a very fun evening being driven to hospital to be told my pancreas had shit itself and I had come very close to dying.
That brought a lot of things home.
I spent five days in a hospital bed, thinking about my kids.
I thought about all the times I got drunk while I was supposed to be minding them.
I thought about all the times I’d woken up feeling like shit and been an angry, horrible dad to them.
I thought about all the times when things could have gone so horribly wrong, because I was too busy drinking to be a father.
I hit absolute rock bottom – and I’m lucky my boys still love me at all.
What I can say is this: I wouldn’t have survived if I didn’t have my children, my now ex-wife, my family and her family, and my friends to support me.
If I could change anything in my past to have made things turn out different, it would be to have been honest with myself, and sought help well before it got to the point where I was going to die.
… I made you a promise at the start of this that I wasn’t going to preach – so I won’t.
Instead, I’ll just ask you to ask yourself a very simple question.
“Are you being the best dad you can be, or do you need some help?”
Help is very, very close at hand.
You can call the AA helpline at 1300 222 222 or visit their website to find a meeting near you.
You can also call Mensline Australia at 1300 78 99 78 to speak to professional counsellors who specialise in men’s issues. These guys also offer anonymous support via live chat.
It’s up to you, though. Please learn from the mistakes that I made.
Your kids will thank you for it.