For almost 20 years I stayed trapped in the same routine. I was a nightclub DJ surrounded by false friends, people who fed off the man hiding behind the clown’s mask I wore with a painted-on smile. I was caught in a downward spiral. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but alcohol had become my best friend.
Every day had become like a performance. I would wake up hungover and the first thing I would do is promise myself that today would be different. I would tell myself that today was the day that I would rid myself of alcohol and its self-destructive effects on my life. I would lie in bed in my pauper’s bedsit, light a cigarette and plan the future in my head.
I remember lying back, drawing on my cigarette and watching the cool blue smoke as it rose from my parched dry mouth. Sometimes, I would blow a smoke ring and watch it rise and disappear. As I lay there with my head pounding and the odd cough rattling through my chest, I would plan the day ahead. This would be my first day of sobriety. I’d tell myself that after this one last cigarette, I would get up, get dressed and rid my bedsit of any alcohol; something I had done on many occasions before, and that would be it, NO MORE! I’d change my drunken ways and from today forward the demon drink would no longer entrap me.
It was then that a great fear would hit me: I was close to the end of my drinking career and had slid down to the bottom of the barrel. My nights out DJing in the nightclubs and bars had ceased and my record collection had been sold. In fact, all I owned at that point was a single mattress and a portable TV. The good times were gone and friends were very few and far between. Except, that is, my good friend alcohol that had comforted me through many dark days and nights.
Lying there on my mattress on the floor of that single-room rented poor excuse of a home, I would start to feel scared. What would I do without the one thing that had been my best friend throughout everything? The one thing that had never abandoned me? The one thing I had been able to rely on when everyone else had given up on me? How could I possibly turn my back on my best friend? My friend alcohol never complained, never told me I was wrong and never chastised me. When I was down, it would lift me up. And when I was in a rare state of happiness, my friend would be there to celebrate whatever it was that had brought a smile to my face.
Alcohol kept me going, it didn’t hold me back, and it was the one friend who never complained. How could I leave it behind? What would I do without it? How lonely would I be if I tossed it to one side? I’d convince myself every morning that alcohol was my best friend. And at that point I would get up, get out of my poor excuse for a home and hunt down my next drink. Every morning it was the same battle: I’d try and convince myself to stop drinking but every morning the battle would be lost through fear of loneliness.
Ever since childhood, and eventually watching my father drink himself to an early grave, I had feared loneliness. I also feared the dark and being left behind. I suppose that’s why I always chose to be everyone else’s joker. If I could make people laugh, I thought, they would never leave me, people would always want me around. If I could make people laugh, I’d be accepted. All I ever wanted to be was accepted, and alcohol did that condition-free. There were no conditions, no questions asked, no dress code, no tests. It didn’t matter if I had a fast car, a small house or a large house, whether I was a company director or a man on the street, alcohol accepted me condition-free.
Eventually, after years of being trapped at a point where I couldn’t live with alcohol, or see a future without it, I came to a near suicidal event on the shores of the Mediterranean sea in Greece where I’d been chasing old dreams. I finally understood; I had my moment of clarity. I realized in a single moment that alcohol had not been my friend but rather an enemy within. I was in Greece sitting on a beach, seconds away from killing myself. I wanted to die but as I looked out into the water, I heard the voice of my children in my head and it made me smile. As I smiled, something akin to a wave of jealousy ran through my whole body. It was my false friend alcohol. Alcohol didn’t like the fact that I had had a fleeting moment of happiness without its help.
Then it hit me, alcohol wasn’t my friend at all. For years it had been deceiving me, lying to me, telling me that it was my best friend, when, in fact, it was my worst enemy. It hadn’t been there for me in my times of need, when my father died, when my family home had been broken and my children taken from me. It hadn’t stood by me when old friends had left me behind. It wasn’t my comfort at all when I had lost my dream and failed in my employment. It wasn’t my sanctuary when every good relationship I’d ever had was broken.
It didn’t comfort me when my father died, in fact, it was alcohol that had taken him away. And now alcohol was trying to do the same to me. It was alcohol that had held me back all my young life. It had sneakily crept into my life and killed every dream I had ever had, it had shrouded my life in darkness, it had turned me into everyone else’s clown. Alcohol had stolen my life from me; it was the false friend that hugged me with one hand and stabbed me in the back with the other. It was alcohol that had created the fear inside me for all those years and held me back, stopping me from living. It had taken away my education, my health and everything that was ever any good. And now, at that God-given moment, I had come to realize the biggest lie of all, alcohol was not my friend at all, it was my enemy. And from that second on, the war inside of me begun.
I returned to England and vowed to slay the beast within. I fought daily battles with the demon drink, some I lost, some I won, but slowly and surely the harder I tried, the more battles I won. Eventually, I admitted myself into rehab in 2001, and I am now in my 15th year of sobriety. I am free from the alcohol but very aware that its spirit still lies within, waiting for a weak point. Waiting to strike.
Since getting sober I have realized more and more just how the addiction of alcoholism feeds our fears. I wouldn’t even attempt the smallest challenges back when I was actively drinking but now in my new life, without the false friend holding me back, I have achieved amazing things. I have climbed mountains, walked across the Pyrenees, achieved multiple black belts in martial arts, studied for five years and re-educated myself to gain a degree in TV and film production, fathered my beautiful children and amended the relationships with my two daughters I had left behind, authored four books, one (my biography) is even a best-seller, written and made short films, appeared on national TV and radio talking about the disease of alcoholism, worked with young people to help them change their lives and escape the same specter that haunted me.
I have made new true and honest friends and left the old ones behind. No longer do I wear the metaphorical clown mask. If I want to laugh these days (which I may add is everyday), I don’t need to pretend, as I know that the happiness and laughter I feel now isn’t false at all. In fact, it’s a deep-seated happiness watered by good friends, amazing people and my love of sobriety.
As for my old friend alcohol, I am wary of it, but I am no longer its slave. I lived for far too long in its shadow, believing that I was worth nothing and chained by its deceit. No, now instead of being chained to a life of misery, I look forward to everyday living without fear, creating new adventures and living life to the fullest.
Peter Skillen is a UK-based author, writer, script writer, martial artist and life coach. In Peter’s spare time, he has a love for hiking and outdoor adventure. Peter is currently in pre-production, adapting his best-selling book The Twelve Step Warrior for filming in 2016. Check out his website here.