Being in recovery gives us a great deal of time to reflect.
Making sense of a myriad of jumbled memories becomes par for the course in so many of our lives.
Taking the time to write these down can be a therapeutic practice that many employ as a vital weapon in their recovery armoury.
Much of what we have posted of late has been about peoples experiences of their recovery, their addiction or both. All good. But today it’s an equal pleasure to present the musings of Simon, who has contributed a selection of his writing.
In “It’s not about the drink” Simon takes us back down his memory lane. It’s a joy to read, with so much that will resonate with us all.
And here’s the thing, quite literally, it’s not about the drink!
In his writing, Simon is trying to make sense of the background to his personality and the influences on his younger self. He looks honestly at the elements of his life that impacted on him directly and his reactions to these experiences.
I figured it would be a cathartic exercise as well as an opportunity to just write. I wanted humour running through without trivialising anything. Even in the darkest, most dehumanising times and perhaps even because of them the flicker of humour was still within me somewhere.
Simon explains further: “I think this underrated resource kept me going when a part of me wanted to die. A sense of the absurd and a skew comic perspective kinda let me know there was something more. God, as I understand, or don’t, has given me just enough to place me where I now am.”
Simon wants to examine his sensitivity and the things he found significant as a child, those things which perhaps had a hand in his addiction or contributed to it and ultimately facilitated his recovery. A deep and lasting paradox beyond which he cannot see is the fact that the very behaviour which nearly killed him many times, has, through a transformative grace, given him life and a message to pass to others who might receive it in their own way.
Simon – Thank you for getting in touch, and for contributing your writing – that’s ultimately what we’re here for. Cheers!
It’s not about the drink.
By Simon Measures.
I think it started with Pam Ayres. Would have been 1977 when I lived in Whitstable, Kent. Pam was everywhere during this time. You couldn’t turn on the TV or radio without Pam doing her poetry. So ubiquitous was Pam and so not wired up right was I, that Pam Ayre’s face had become a working part of my mind.
I experienced a vivid hallucination of her face in the corner of my bedroom. I was 4 or 5 at the time and I can see still see the west country poetess smirking down at me. I was to hallucinate quite a lot for varying reasons a little later in life.
I lived in Spire Avenue at this time with my Mum, Sandra and my Dad, Eddy with no brothers or sisters as I was an only child. Dad’s real name was Edwy which is the Welsh spelling of his name. I think he changed it because no one in England was realistically going to get hold of the “w” in his name. It just sounded odd.
I have a few distinct memories from my time there between the ages of three and five. Adam and Jamie were friends. Adam dropped me onto a red ants’ nest, or so he said, after giving me a piggy back which sent me into an apoplexy of fear and whaling. Jamie fascinated me for a while by using the word “property” as part of a retort to a man who had decided we shouldn’t be making a camp in the fields out the back. Jamie had said “it’s not your property”, which I thought was lovely and mystical and a bit confusing. I pondered over the word “property” for ages; it would have been too simple to just ask what it meant.
I started school in September of 1978 in Herne Bay where we had hastily shifted. We moved to Spenser Road. A really long road. I’m going to go out on a limb and say possibly the longest road in Herne Bay. Starting school was a nightmare.
So highly strung and scared was I that I found it nigh on impossible to let go of Mum at the school gates. And if I did I would run back time and time again before finally giving my Mum enough time to leg it round the corner so I had only the railings to cling on to.
My first year class at Herne Bay Primary was an education. The teacher was a Miss. Hickford who I remember looking absolutely ancient. I was convinced she must be nearly dead so decrepit was her appearance. She was probably 50.
Now there were two things I could not accept in particular. Firstly, the letter “X” was all wrong and unnecessary. I was very firm in my denial of this “X’ character and having carefully checked the alphabet freeze displayed along the classroom wall I could see I was right and that this imposter should of course be the letters “c”, “k” and “s” put together. Secondly all the kids were talking about someone called “Big Ben”. Big Ben this and Big Ben that, it appeared as though these kids were trying to exclude me from being a part of their scene. What made it much worse is that Miss Hickford was complicit in this move against me.
She may have been on death’s door but she could still find the energy to work with the others to make me look and feel bad. These two anecdotes, typical of my thinking, will give you some idea of what sort of kid I was – not wired up right from the outset.
There was another attempt to crush the wisp of self-esteem that still remained the following year in Mrs Dale’s class. I went to a lot of jumble sales with my Mum on Saturdays. In fact nearly every Saturday was one long round of jumble sales, me and my Mum. Almost invariably there would be an entrance fee of literally anything between 5p and 10p. A price Mum clearly considered worth paying as it gained us entrance to the practically endless tat festival that was the Herne Bay jumble sale scene.
Quite a scene it was too; highly competitive, even cut throat in places. My main memories are anxiety and being squashed up against fierce, warty, bargain lusty women, none of whom appeared very sexy, which was a right let down. I recall the jumble sale experience as a sort of fearful, sneezy grey and browny green with old cabbage and menace affair. And dust. I’m not convinced Mum ever bought anything. I never saw any purchases.
I have my suspicions that it was mainly so she could vent spleen in a thrifty all female environment where low self-confidence was masked and temporarily transformed into retail hand to hand combat, where I was simply the decoy.
Yes, I was the bloody fall guy, and one Monday morning, a very dark morning in 1979, I’m dragged into school and what do I find on the inside of the classroom door? To my absolute shame and horror, a clipping from the local newspaper had been cruelly blu-tacked to the glass pane. A photograph of me looking confused taken by some arse of a local reporter with some such headline as “Local boy is all in a jumble”. Yes, a picture of me, hard prima-facie photographic evidence that I go to jumble sales with my jumble sale addicted mother.
Proof, if proof be needed, that I am clad head to toe in second hand shit and that we can’t afford to go to normal shops and pay normal prices. My deep sense of inferiority was now confirmed both to myself and to the entire school. The clipping seemed to stay there for an unreasonably long time.
My maternal Nan and Grandad featured quite heavily in my life around this time. Grandad’s name was Jock (Jack in fact) and Nan’s name was Nan. I later found out it was Christine but I never once heard this mentioned. They seemed to come round to our house every weekend when we were in Whitstable and this tradition continued now we were in Herne Bay. We’d have fish and chips all of us on Saturday afternoons around 5. That’s me, Mum, Dad, Nan and Grandad. I loved it because I loved fish and chips and I loved Nan and Grandad being round. I mainly remember that Grandad smoked heavily which I thought was very good and I was fascinated by the cigarette packets.
He smoked Player’s Weights, a filterless monster of a cigarette with a naval heritage.
In the late 70s and early 80s it was still perfectly OK to smoke anywhere except operating theatres and the idea that smoking around children was a bit off was still largely regarded as mad lefty jibber jabber. Grandad took this tolerant climate to an extreme and would blow smoke in my face which I thought was an excellent wheeze.
He’d also do this fantastic trick with two fag papers stuck to his fingers, borrowed I assume from Dad, himself a committed smoker of Golden Virginia, involving a rhyme about two “Dicky Birds” and some rudimentary sleight of hand. I would be mesmerised and astonished by the disappearance of one “Dicky Bird” (fag paper) and the reappearance of another “Dicky Bird” (other fag paper) in another place and time (another finger). I would ask Grandad about it but he’s dead. He died in 2005 at the age of 88 having not smoked for around 20 years.
Nan was more of a background figure in the entertainment stakes but nevertheless provided a counterbalance to Grandad’s digital tobacco based magic by nagging him constantly about something or other, usually the smoking.
A sort of low level background nagging that had clearly become habitual and more or less meaningless to which Grandad would rarely respond. I was very aware of it and it always made me feel uneasy as I always suspected it was at least partly my fault.
Every single Monday we would have to write about what we did at the weekend. The only thing I liked that happened at the weekend was Nan and Grandad coming down from Rainham and having fish and chips. That was the highlight of every weekend for me. It was what always happened. Sundays were a day of dread where I was consumed with the thought of going back to school on Monday and Friday nights were spent on my own while Dad had David and Debbie, the Jehovah’s Witnesses round in the other room.
So Saturday was the only day I liked. Consequently that is what I wrote about – every time. It went unnoticed or at least uncommented on for a good few weeks until Mrs. Dale quipped very cruelly for all to hear while chuckling, that I might want to consider writing about something else and didn’t I ever do anything else on a Saturday. I responded badly to this criticism and went right off Mrs Dale. What did they want?
An account of my sense of impending doom that was my every Sunday or an essay on being bored in the front room on my own save for “Shine on Harvey Moon” on the telly as David and Debbie the Jehovah’s Witnesses tried to convince my Dad that he should believe what they believe,just as my Dad was trying to convince himself to be convinced of whatever it is these guys believe in.
I saw little of David and Debbie and the fact that “Shine on Harvey Moon” was on television offered little comfort. So I just skidded up and down the carpet in my socks for around three hours before Mum came back from her night job as a shelf stacker at Safeway supermarket. After which I went to bed.
Fortunately it wasn’t all alienation and separation as I had the good fortune to make two friends, Julian Whiddett and Nicholas Smedley. Mum would relish telling you if you asked her, that I came home from school more buoyant than usual and said, “I’ve met a nice boy with a pom-pom hat.” That was Julian. I had another friend as well, Paul, who lived on the corner just down the road. He didn’t go to my school but at least he was close and had a sort of very small activity shed. I say “activity shed”, it had a small static curtain and a wooden box with differently coloured lights in it, made by his dad Tony who worked with my Dad in a nearby factory where they were both boilermakers and welders.
I could only dream of my own activity shed.
Paul and his two brothers, Dave and Mark were extraordinarily fortunate and I was quite jealous because they had lemonade delivered by the milkman no less. This seemed globally beyond anything I could imagine for our poor lacking family. Mr Bacon was the brand of their lemonade; his jolly lemonade face was plastered all over the litre, or maybe two pint bottles that always seemed to be smirking at me in pride of place in the bowman’s cosy kitchen.
Paul was a tall skinny boy, in fact he was taller and just as skinny as me, which was pretty darn thin. Mind, I never really ever stopped moving about even when getting to sleep. I was big on running around, cycling on my little red bike, climbing trees, making camps and of course, setting fire to things when the opportunity arose, or when I created it. Also I’d do what came to be known as “head-rolling”. I should explain “head rolling” was the act of flinging one’s head from side to side prior to going to sleep for 10 hours, unbelievably. I did it with different frequencies, durations and levels of intensity often accompanied by singing or wailing as the mood took me, often to the annoyance Dad who was trying to sleep, especially as I crescendoed with singing turning into shouting at the top of my voice.
It was I reckon one of my first addictions. I needed to do it, partly because I had a practically limitless amount of energy, mainly of the nervous variety, fuelled by toast and Frosties and also because it was an escape, a distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, that for a lot of the time I just couldn’t handle.
I’m not sure who coined the phrase “head rolling”, or if it was a collaborative effort by me and Mum, but it was violent enough for Mum to take me to the doctor, who fortunately confirmed that I was neither mental nor doing harm to myself, since he’d had a friend in the army who did the same thing. I recall being relieved at that and so was my Mum. Looking back though I’m not sure it was quite the cause for solace we’d imagined. In fact, thinking about it now, I’ll wager that soldier probably had post traumatic stress disorder or some other deep psychological wound that was dismissed in the 50’s as harmless, “thrashing and fumbling about a bit” by the martial psychiatric community of the time.
Dr. Wright, the family doctor, quite a nice old gent I believe, nicknamed me the “snotty nose kid” as I was always being taken to him for some ailment or another obviously involving lots of snot. There were a number of medicines about our house, linctuses mainly and tinctures. One in particular was purple and gloopy and tasted like nothing I’ve ever tasted before or since.
I can taste it now. It wasn’t unpleasant but you wouldn’t want a dozen spoonfuls either. I never had anything really serious wrong with me and I’d say I was a pretty robust, scrapping sort of kid in many ways, just snotty a lot of the time.
Mind, living on a diet chiefly consisting of Ribena, no vegetables, no water and toast likely didn’t bolster my immune system too much.
It wasn’t my parents trying to malnourish me, just I was a picky eater and sugary carbs seemed like the way to go.
There was one hospital incident however. Dad was chasing me around the table in the front room apparently, and I caught my left ear on a corner of our unforgiving coffee table precipitating literally rivers of blood, which meant a swift repair at accident and emergency, where a legion of white coated characters held me down so I could be stitched up. I was apoplectic with distress. They did a good job on my ear though. Dad dislocated my shoulder as well, when I was two, by swinging me round. Were it to happen today, I’m certain social services would be called in. But it was the 70’s and anything short of publicly disembowelling your children pretty well counted as friendly banter.
Another more constant source of distress was the Honey Monster.
For the non-cognoscenti, this was a creation on the part of sugar puff sellers, (sugar puffs were and still are bits of wheat that by some miracle process have been exploded and puffed up to literally hundreds of times their normal size and covered in a sugar glaze) who invented this massive bear/man/gorilla type monster inhabited by, I imagine, a very large man.
He was golden in colour, a bit like a sugar puff was supposed to be and had truly massive shoulders and a gruff but kind voice. He had a white T shirt on with a huge H on the front and would run around saying, “Give me the honey Mummy!” Today he’d be tracked down and placed on a register. A greater cause for concern even than Honey Monster was his friend and associate, Green Uggy. I could have maybe handled Honey Monster on his own running amok but with Green Uggy in tow it was another matter entirely. I used to freak out big time whenever the advert came on the telly, cry and hide behind the sofa. Uggy wasn’t even identifiable as a huge mutated golden haired person. He was a blob of hairy green and I was very scared of him.
Another thing that I was both scared of and loved in equal measure was “torture time”. This was a regular slot allotted by my Father, to be started as soon as my Mum went out to work at Safeway stacking shelves for the evening. It’s not as bad as it sounds but it does sound quite bad. I’m pretty sure dad was mostly joking when he would adopt a Jack Nicholson-esque look and say “torture time!” at me. It’s funny as I don’t recall the specific torture methods he employed but they must have been very clever as he never left any marks. It was a kind of “torture lite” by today’s standards but wasn’t employed to extract any information, because I definitely would have coughed at the earliest opportunity had I had any information, which I didn’t. It kept us amused all the same.
About our author, Simon