JPJ's Story I had a typical upbringing for a child of the fifties in rural Wales. Bought up on a farm about a mile from the village with the chapel as the centre of our social and cultural life. My only other form of entertainment apart from the chapel was the radio. As a child I felt I was different and an outsider, not belonging to the others somehow. Living a mile from the village added to this as I didn’t play with the other village children after school or on the weekends, and only rarely during summer holidays. I always wanted to fit in with the other children but something was stopping me and holding me back. In my early teens I mixed a little more, but only in a small gang where I felt comfortable. I was a child full of fears, but it would have been a weakness of course to share or even mention them to anyone. Although this seems like a sad and lonely childhood, on the whole it wasn’t, and I look back at the time as a happy one.
Attending chapel was obligatory nearly every Sunday, I didn’t feel any spiritual pull nor did any light come into my daily life by attending, and the hard stuff, alcohol, was loudly and roundly condemned from the pulput. Those from the village who went to the pub were condemned in our view, and we would look down on them. The pub’s name was the Lion Hotel, and I believed the word Hotel meant “Hot hell”. On dark cold and wet winter nights as I passed the pub on my way to the “band of hope” or the seiat or a children’s meeting, the bright lights and the sound of laughter and fun that came from the pub appealed to me, something attracted me, it scared me slightly, and I daren’t mention this to anyone of course.
One Christmas when I was in my mid-teens, I was spending the Festival in South East England, this was at the start of the sixties, attitudes were beginning to change, and the youngsters there would have some beer to celebrate the Festival. I was offered some, and, shy and scared, I took half a pint, what an experience ! That was the worst thing to cross my lips ever, it was worse than asipheta and wormwood combined, and I failed to drink more than a mouthful. Within a few nights I was introduced to a sweet red drink, this was good, but better still was the effect, an inner warmth and at last I felt I belonged, I shed my shell, I was one of the gang, in fact by the end of the night I was dancing madly to Elvis Presley. Of course the morning after the boy was back in his shell, but I had discovered life’s elixir, the answer, this was the way to enjoy myself.
That was the pattern from now on, going to dances on Saturday nights and forcing myself to drink beer, and smoke cigarettes as well, and arrive at the dance before the end having had enough drink to ask girls to dance to the Beatles or Stones. Arriving home after everyone had gone to bed, so they didn’t smell drink on me. The following morning , back to chapel and Sunday school with a conscience and a big head. I didn’t like this feeling of guilt, I had to give one of them up, and once my feet were free, I became an atheist of conviction, calling myself a reborn atheist. Nothing could stop me now from giving myself entirely to my friend and support – alcohol.
I went to University, but the work was secondary to enjoying myself and drinking. I wasn’t dependent on drink, but I did pride myself in being a heavy drinker. If I didn’t have enough money to have a bellyful of alcohol, I didn’t see the point of going out, one or two was of no use. After dragging myself through college, I set my sights on a career in the entertainment world, I believed, and still do to a large extent, that this industry understood and applauded heavy drinkers, that’s how it was in the seventies, and I went for it with enthusiasm.
My career developed quite successfully and I was earning good money, this of course gave me free reign to drink, and alcohol still had the desired effect on me. I didn’t see anything wrong with my life, I thought everyone else was doing the same as me, looking back this was far from true, I was looking for a like-minded crowd. All my friends were marrying and starting families, this wasn’t an obstacle to me, I couldn’t maintain a relationship, I was unfaithful, undependable, and thought of nobody and nothing except myself and my destructive needs. Feelings or love towards a person or family or acquaintance didn’t exist, anything spiritual of that kind was repugnant to me, if I had my friend alcohol it didn’t matter about anything or anyone.
I think I hit rock bottom spiritually years before I did physically and mentally. I continued to drink heavily, believing there was nothing wrong with this, but gradually I started to realise that everything wasn’t alright, the fears I’d tried to drown had started to learn to swim, and they were flooding me, I was trying to drink more to keep them at bay by knocking down vodka at six in the morning, or locking myself in the house with spirit bottles. I somehow still managed to work and tried to hide my drinking as best I could, but it started to tell on my health, and I underwent dangerous surgery, again in my view it wasn’t alcohol’s fault.
In my last days of drinking, I really was in hell on earth, drinking day and night to keep the demons away, and although still an atheist, I would quietly pray for salvation but I had to sink lower before recovering. I was now drinking day and night and in need of help, I phoned a close friend, I knew he’d been sober for a while, he came over within minutes, and I was taken to an AA meeting, I started to get stronger after a while, and I realised that the twelve steps of AA is a programme of recovery with a spiritual basis, I saw the word God on the walls, and I ran away for my life, back to the bottle. This didn’t last very long, and soon I had to be carried nearly unconscious to a treatment centre that was run on the spiritual principle of AA.
I was now completely beaten, and was willing to do anything to get better, and ready to listen and consider recovery was possible through faith and a belief in the spiritual life, and that there was a power greater than myself that could help me if I asked for it, call it God if you like. I had failed by myself, that was certain, I certainly needed help from outside, at the beginning I put my faith in the AA groups and in my friends who were trying to recover like me. As the days turned into weeks into months into years of sobriety, my mind cleared and expanded, and I started to accept and believe there was a spiritual power watching over me, and He now rids me of my fears and insecurity, if I hand everything over to his care. Sometimes the dark clouds of insecurity plague me, that ’s when I know I’ve taken the reins, and that is very dangerous.