I went to see my children last Sunday, the first time I have seen them for eight months. I have two children; my daughter, who is fourteen and a son, aged nine and I love them both dearly.
They live quite a distance from me now, about three and a half hours by train and, as I no longer have a car, getting to see them is not easy nor is it cheap. The rail fare alone is £55.00 and with it being so far away, to get a decent amount of time with them means staying overnight as well so all in all an expensive exercise when you are living on benefits.
This time I was lucky. The local Community Mental Health Team paid for my rail fare so all I had to cover was the hotel and food for the two days that I was with them. Even so, I still only just had enough and knowing that I had no spare cash should anything go wrong played on my mind for much of the time. I am more used to travelling with the attitude of anything I have forgotten I can buy when I am away. Not anymore!
The visit really was a challenge for me in a number of ways. Firstly, I was staying in a hotel, a situation that, in the past, would have led to some all-day drinking sessions. I stayed at a Premier Inn. It is by no means luxury but if you pay in advance, but pretty good value for the money nonetheless. No frills or room service but a good-sized clean and comfortable room and a bar and restaurant attached to the hotel as well.
I have spent many drunken days at Premier Inn. The convenience of a pub and a bed within easy staggering distance of each other were, in the past, too good an opportunity to miss so it really was a concern that I would return to old habits.
My other concern was that spending some good times with my children would lead to a bout of depression afterwards. The last time I saw them was around Christmas and the moment I shut the door after they had gone I just sat down and cried.
But, I did it! Not a drop passed my lips the whole time I was with them and a good time was had by all. We did all the things a normal father and his children should do together. We played, we laughed and I didn’t fall asleep in the early evening leaving them to fend for themselves in front of the TV. It was, I worked out rather frighteningly, the first time I had spent with them in their entire lives completely sober and they loved the sober dad.
I also achieved another milestone after they had left. Once their mother had picked them up, after a moment of natural sadness and a few stifled tears from my son, I sat down outside the hotel almost expecting my mood to plummet. But after a while, I was amazed to find that I felt fine. The memories of the fun that we had had and the anticipation of the next visit were all I could think of.
I also treated myself to a couple of beers. Shame on you, I can hear some cry. But, just like a normal person, I wanted a rest before I began my journey so I had a couple of beers and, even though I still had cash left to spend, I stopped there at the two, got on the train and didn’t get drunk.
So, over the period of just two days, I proved to myself that I can have fun without drink and that It is possible to drink without getting drunk. Both important lessons for a man whose goal is still to be normal and not to have to live the rest of his life as a recovering alcoholic. I know that I will always have to be wary of it and be aware that I may never be able to really get over it but at least I now know that an occasional drink is possible.
It is amazing how practical and straight talking that children can be. They were quite open in their questions about my issues. Adults tend to be embarrassed and shy away from any discussions on the topic of alcohol as though the mere mention of the word will drive me onto relapse.
The very first thing my son did, in a very matter of fact manner, was to check my arms for any fresh scars. I used to self-harm. ‘Good boy’ he told me, ‘no new ones’.
Sometimes I feel really guilty that my children have had to grow up with any knowledge at all of such things but then other times I think ; is it really such a bad thing that they understand what can happen?