ONCE AN ADDICT, ALWAYS AN ADDICT.

On 31stJuly 2016 I had my last alcoholic drink. I gave it up after seeing myself on CCTV falling off a bench in front of Charleville Lodge and being helped up by a guest of the hotel. I had been using alcohol to medicate my crippling shyness in social situations, but I also found it handy to escape my inner demons. Demons I am not at liberty to talk about publicly, but ones I will be addressing personally.

After giving up drink it wasn’t easy to socialise, and the way I dealt with it initially was by eliminating any social encounters. I just wouldn’t go out. This was sustainable up to a point, but when invitations to social events started to come in, being ‘dry’ at these events was difficult, to put it mildly.

When I was living in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1999/2000 I would smoke weed on regular basis. In fact, it was pretty much every day. I guess the attraction to weed was the same as that of drink. It would allow me to temporarily take my mind off other pressing issues. It would allow me to escape.

As our social media following started to grow, so too did the invitations to events. It was the night of the 98fm Best of Dublin awards on 23rd May 2017 when it all got too much. I was determined not to drink on that night. I had been off booze for 9 months at that stage. We went on to win an award that night and I decided to try find some weed. I got stoned that night which made the celebrations a bit more fun, and the mouldy drunks around me more bearable.

While I didn’t have another joint for a number of months after the awards night, I had registered in my mind the fact that weed was a viable alternative to booze on nights out where everyone else was getting pissed. This made me happy. My days of being a hermit were over.

From then on, I could go to any events I wanted, and all I needed was a pre-rolled joint in my pocket, which I’d take drags from whenever I needed to. This, however, was not always so straightforward. It meant I needed to (a) get my hands on some green and (b) roll a joint (which I was atrocious at doing).

It was at one particular event in February 2018 where I was introduced to a new ‘vice’ which would go on to become my best friend. It was a THC Vape Pen which I commonly refer to as ‘The Pen’. THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis. Smoking a THC pen is just like smoking a joint. After a drag or two you get stoned. If you take a good blast it gets you high as fuck.

A standard THC Pen

The beauty about the pen was that everybody thought I was just vaping an e-cigarette. Everyone thought this pen, which I’d smoke anywhere and everywhere, was legal. It is, of course, legal in certain territories such as California and Amsterdam, and I have no doubt it will be legal here very soon, but the legalities of my new best buddy were pretty irrelevant. At some events I didn’t even need to go to the smoking area to take a blast from my pen. In bars or clubs where vaping was allowed, my pen was welcome too. Little did they know what was in it.

I didn’t realise the dangers of the pen at the time. It just felt great and I had no worries. The pen allowed me to be at peace. However, while the pen brought me to a good place, the day after was not so good. Indeed, the next day was arguably the same as a drink-induced hangover day. I found it difficult to get out of bed. Once I did surface, I was irritable, groggy and cranky. I would shout at people. I would lose my temper. I was horrible.

One of the biggest issues associated with smoking a THC pen is that of accessibility. With a joint you need to grind the grass, roll the skins, put in the roach and light it. A pen doesn’t need to be grinded, rolled or lit. It’s there waiting for you, wherever you are, at any time.

As long as the pen battery is charged and there is juice in the tank (THC oil), you can get stoned. Your mood can be altered. You can escape. This behaviour is highly addictive.

At first I would smoke the pen only at events. Then I realised that my new best friend would allow me to go to more than the odd event. I was now able to go to bars and night clubs. Slowly but surely I was doing it at home. Mostly on my own (as Jason wouldn’t let me). Then it got to the point that I’d feel so irritable the next morning, that I’d take a drag from the pen on my way over to work. Why wouldn’t I? It was there in my pocket, ready to go.

When I say I took a drag the next morning, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, if I had smoked the night before, I usually wouldn’t be up the next morning. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed until the afternoon. My rising time would vary from 3pm to 7pm. Indeed I remember one particular day where I was in bed up until 11pm. This was obviously not one bit healthy, but it was a sign of what the pen was doing to me. While I would be the life and soul of the party the night before, I’d be a depressed mess the next day.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen me snap in nightclubs, and I’ve no doubt you probably asked yourself ‘is he back drinking?’ or ‘is he on something?’. The more perceptive amongst you will probably have noticed the absence of activity on my social channels the following mornings/afternoons. This can all be attributed to the pen.

During the summer of 2018, I was on the pen a number of times a week. When you saw me in the George, I was on the pen. When you saw me dress as the Pope or Sister Margaret, I was on the pen. When you saw me at any events, I was on the pen. When you saw me act the gobshite on Instagram doing Q&A’s late at night in my house, I was on the pen.

As Summer became Autumn, I was doing the pen more and more. In the month of December, I was doing it virtually every day. I became reliant on my pen. I was completely addicted. So much so that if either the battery or the tank ran out, I would become frantic. I would exhibit addictive behaviours. All I’d care about is how I was going to get my next drag. I couldn’t rest until I’d get my fix and I’d do whatever I could to get it. If I didn’t get it I’d became a horrible person. I’d shout at Jason. I’d bang my hands on tables and doors. I was just a complete prick.

The other downside to smoking THC is it gives you the same desire to eat your body weight in junk food as a traditional joint. After an evening on the pen, there were times where I’d order two separate just-eat/uber eats deliveries. Having the ‘munchies’ on the odd occasion is one thing, but when you have it every day you’re going to become a fat fuck, very quickly. My motivation to go to the gym or long walks with my dogs went out the window.

I soon realised that there were various strengths of pen battery that could be used to smoke THC. When I wasn’t getting the high I needed from the standard strength pen, I bought what I called a ‘rocket’ of a battery in the Ilac Centre. This gave me up to ten times the strength of pull that the standard pen would give. The standard pen would produce a small cloud of smoke, this one produced a fucking cumulonimbus.

My Rocket Blaster

Even though I was getting a more potent high from my new rocket blaster, in the week leading up to Christmas, this wasn’t enough. I was smoking it every single day and was actually becoming immune to the effects. I needed something stronger and I organised an old friend of mine – a bag. The guilt was so strong the next day that I decided to give up everything. This was Thursday 20thDecember, 9 days ago. I spent the full day in bed. I couldn’t face the world.

The following weekend was not fun. Both the THC and the cocaine were leaving my system and I found myself in a very dark place. I was screaming crying in Jason’s arms and at times felt there was no reason for me to go on. On the Saturday night my parents asked me out for dinner. I went with them but couldn’t really speak at the table. I was absolutely horrible towards my parents and stormed out of the restaurant for no real reason (in their minds).

Everyone suffered as a result of my pen taking. My colleagues at work. My family. My dogs. The poor dogs would not get the exercise they deserved as I’d be too down to walk them. The person to whom I’d like to apologise most, however, is my partner Jason. Jason, I’m sorry to have put you through my shit. Thank you for supporting me. Words cannot really express how much you mean to me.

I have been clean now for 9 days, and my mind is getting back to normal. I think at this stage I realise that no mood altering substance is for me. Any substance that alters your mood can be highly addictive. I still haven’t had a drink since 31st July 2016, 2 years and 5 months tomorrow, but I simply replaced one addiction with another.

For any other alcoholics in recovery who wonder if smoking weed might be an alternative, I’ve learnt that (for me) it’s not. In my opinion, once an addict, always an addict.

Why Did I Write This?

I wrote this bog entry (that’s not a typo) for two reasons. One – to help any other recovering alcoholics who might be considering smoking weed as an alternative to drink. Two – to help myself. I feel by writing this I am sharing my story with friends/followers. If you guys know about this, I’ll be less inclined to pick up a pen again.

The date I gave up alcohol will forever be etched in my mind – 31/7/16. I’d like to remember 20/12/18 as the day I finally gave up substances.

I hear everyone talking about New Year’s Resolutions. I have many resolutions that I’d like to fulfil in 2019, but I know if I continue to smoke THC, none of these will be achieved. So, my only real resolution for 2019 is to stay clean. If I can stay clean, no other resolutions are really relevant. My life will be back in order. I’ll be back on track. That’s the only resolution I can ask for.

Tomorrow I am going to throw the one pen and cartridge I still have into the Atlantic Ocean. I’ll be sharing this event on my personal Insta story.

Update

Here is a video in which I destroy my last THC cartridge, a symbolic gesture marking my freedom.

Why I Gave Up Drink – Part Five

Escapism

People often tell me that there was some underlying reason for my excessive boozing. Maybe they’re right. If there were reasons why I needed to escape, I can only really think of two that might apply. Sexuality and Social Anxiety.

Sexuality

I was never really proud of being gay. In fact, you could probably say that I was always quite ashamed. For example, even to this day I would struggle to hold Jason’s hand in public. I’m not one bit proud of this.

I went to a private, all boys, rugby-playing school. You could not be gay in an all boy’s school. You’d be bullied to a pulp. I guess this is why I don’t necessarily come across as gay. I had to conceal it for 12 years of school. Being straight-acting comes easily to me.

Sometimes I wish I were a ‘Julian Clary’ kind of gay. If I were overtly camp, I’d never need to ‘come out’ to anyone. They’d already know. Unfortunately that’s not the case and ‘coming out’ is not just a once-off obstacle I had to overcome one winter’s Sunday afternoon sitting around the fire with my family, it’s an ongoing, never-ending process. Every single new person I meet (who doesn’t know me) would (probably) think I’m straight.

I never came out as such to my parents. I didn’t have the strength. My sister, Elaine, did the coming out for me. I am the only boy in a three-kid family. I have a fairly sharp memory and I remember my dad telling me how I was the only kid capable of carrying on the Stenson name into the future. I also remember him speaking of a gay man in a derogatory tone of voice one night we were in Spain on a family holiday.

Given dad’s expectation for me to bequeath the Stenson name to future generations, and his intolerance of homosexuality, I always procrastinated when it came to the big ‘coming out’ day. I was also able to construct a very robust heterosexual ‘shell’ around me. The shell was so solid that not even my closest friends were able to see through it.

However, as Freud would tell you, life is all about sex. Everyone needs a bit of ‘who’s your father’. Even priests. While I dabbled in the world of heterosexual sex, it never really did it for me. I needed my sexual partner to have meat and two veg. What better way to crack the shell? Break a bottle on it. A bottle of booze.

In my early to mid-twenties I would go out with friends on the piss, with the intention of cracking the shell. I would be out with my mates, having the craic, dancing away, loving life, but when I reached a certain level of ossification, I’d become Casper the ghost. I’d disappear.

My disappearing would mean I’d have reached a sufficient level of drunkenness to have the courage to walk into a venue where there’d be gays. It started off in venues that were gay-friendly or that would host weekly gay nights. If you were seen coming out of a bar that is usually straight, you wouldn’t be found out.

Then, in time, I graduated onto ‘pure’ gay bars and clubs. It became a regular thing. Every night I’d go out, I’d disappear. It was a sexually thrilling experience. Dangerously thrilling and highly addictive. A bit like the feeling you get when someone tells you that you can’t do something, and you do it, multiplied by a thousand.

Looking back on this practice which dominated most of my early twenties, I can’t help but think that this was actually quite dangerous. I’d be going into bars, half cut, talking to complete strangers, putting myself out there, for anyone to do with what they will, but most importantly, I was embarrassing the shit out of myself. I’d be ‘that guy’ hounding everyone, falling all over the place, saying things I shouldn’t, and always on my own.

Social Anxiety

On social media I come across as an extroverted, confident and sociable kind of guy. The reality of the situation is that I am hugely shy and have always had significant issues with social anxiety. In a group of people, I usually find it very difficult to converse. I will cower away in the corner and let everyone else speak. I’ll observe everything but say nothing.

Jason and I are asked for photos on a regular basis these days, and it is not at all uncommon for people to tell me two things when they meet me. (a) I’m a lot shorter than they expected and (b) I’m a hell of a lot quieter in real life. I sometimes feel people are a little let down when they meet me in person. They probably expect me to shout ‘OKAY’ at them and dance around the place like a madman.

The Paul you see on the Snapchat is me, but it’s an amplified version of me. I think it’s vitally important for people to be themselves online. Honesty is key to doing well. No one likes the online influencer who is gorgeously made up every day with the bedroom looking as perfect as the body 24/7. People see through that shit. It’s fake. People can much rather relate to influencers who have their good days and bad. Those who have their struggles. Their worries. It humanises the whole experience.

I guess I’m a bit of a performer at heart. Indeed, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Not hotel management. Fuck that shit. I seem to have this strange ability to ‘turn it on’ when the camera goes on. I am a different person while still being me.

Drink had the same effect on me as the camera. It ‘turned me on’ too. In fact, given my acute shyness, I needed drink to be able to engage in conversations on nights out. I also needed it to numb my anxiety. Especially in gay bars. Gay bars, while they are said to be safe havens for gay people, with no fear of judgement, they are actually the most judgemental venues you will ever enter. There is a huge emphasis on looks on the gay scene. You’re often judged on what you’re wearing, what shape your body is in, who you hang out with and so on before you even open your mouth. It’s an extremely bitch-eat-bitch environment.

I liked going to gay bars in my late twenties to early thirties, but needed to be locked before I went in. This is not just because I’d be ashamed to be seen walking into a gay bar, but because of the superficiality and fakeness of the gay scene in general. You’d be standing there chatting with your mates but your internal dialogue would be going ninety. Who’s looking at me? How do I look? Is my tummy sticking out in this shirt? Is my hair ok? I need another drink … would be phrases going through your mind all night until you silence the voice inside your head with liquor.

Working in hotels was also a huge driver to drink for me. Given how certain customers can carry on in hotels, you’d need a few stiff ones just to be able to do your job. Especially in five star hotels and definitely when the customers themselves have drink onboard. Hotel guests often think they can be as much of an asshole as they want to waiters, because at the end of the day, you work in hospitality. Hospitality is about being warm and friendly. Smiling is what you’re paid to do. No matter how rude the guest is, you will smile. You will take so much shit, because that’s your job.

Finally, I often wonder if my adoption has anything to do with my social anxiety. As a kid I would stand at the bus stop on my way home from school and, as a double decker bus would pull in with a full upper deck of faces looking down, I’d always think to myself that there’s a distinct possibility that my ‘real’ mother could be one of those faces. Or maybe my sibling? Maybe a birth cousin? Is there someone on that bus who thinks I look very similar to them? The same would happen when walking in busy places. Grafton street for example was difficult. I’d always walk on one side or the other. I’d never walk down the centre.


The Final Part of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted on Sunday

Why I Gave Up Drink – Part Four

Fired From The Merrion

My fourth year placement wasn’t as liberal as my time in Switzerland. It was in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin so I was living at home with my folks. Weed was not an option so I had to settle for drink. I always much preferred weed. After a joint I was in a good place. I didn’t need drink. The highness I reached was very satisfying. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother going to the bar if I had smoked a joint on a night out. My ideal mix would be 3 pints, then a joint. If no joint was available, I’d keeping drinking until I reached the same level of high I’d get from the mix. In other words I’d black out.

One evening during my fourth year placement I went out for drinks with mates. A friend of ours had momentarily come home from America. I fancied her. I was actually kind of obsessed with her. Her awesomeness intimidated me to the point that I’d have to be pissed drunk in order to be able to even talk to her. I’d be speechless around her otherwise. That was a very long night. A night of extremely heavy drinking. I got home at about 4:30am and needed to report for duty in the hotel at 5:30am. I somehow managed to order a taxi to pick me up at 5:15am.

I decided not to go to bed when I got home. Instead, I just laid on the couch for the 45 minutes available to me. I fell unconscious and was awoken by the taxi driver calling my phone. I didn’t have time to have a shower and was just as drunk when I woke up from my mere forty winks as I was when I got home from town.

When I got into work I put on my uniform, grabbed my pager and staggered up to the Private Dining department where I was supervisor. This was probably one of the most unenjoyable jobs I have ever had in my life. It was boring as hell and oftentimes demeaning. Private Dining was effectively conference and banqueting, but because it was a 5-star hotel, such common words couldn’t possibly be used to describe the department. They were by no means pompous enough.

There were about 8 different Private Dining rooms. Only when functions were taking place in these rooms were there any humans to be seen in them (apart from the staff). For a large part of your day, you’d be setting tables, polishing glassware, folding napkins, all in empty rooms. Some of the staff were good craic, but others were just plain fucking boring.

When guests would enter these rooms, there was always a fair chance they’d be people of the wanking variety. In 5 star hotels, you have two types of guests. Those with money and those who pretend to have money. Interestingly enough, those with money are usually very pleasant. For example, Liam Neeson would come into the room, shake your hand and treat you like a person. He was one of my favourite guests.

Guests who pretended to have money would be the pricks who’d click their fingers at you. They were in the hotel to ‘be seen’. They wanted to ‘be seen’ to have money. They want to ‘be seen’ to be important. In actual fact all they ended up ‘being seen’ to be was complete wank stains.

On that morning we had a group of American guests coming in for a private breakfast at 6am. There were only about 15 of them, but every single one of them was a head-wrecking arsehole. The coffee wasn’t hot enough. The buffet didn’t have enough sausages. They wanted cream instead of milk. Sweetener instead of sugar. Nothing was right for them. The worst part of it all was; they never fucking left. I was still steaming drunk and urgently needed to help myself to the Full Irish breakfast buffet, but I couldn’t. They were still all sitting there, shiteing on about kissing some rock in Blarney. Between their incessant complaining, their continued inability to leave the room so I could gorge on sausages and bacon, and the significant amount of intoxicating liquor still circulating around my bloodstream, I decided “I’ve had enough”. I threw my pager on the desk, staggered back down to the locker room, took off my uniform and walked out of the job. I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t have given a flying fuck. I walked down to Grafton Street and got my own Full Irish in Bewley’s.

After breakfast, I got on the 46A bus and headed for RTE to find a real job, but that’s another bog entry entirely. When I returned to my house, sobriety kicked in. A realisation of “what have I just done” hit home hard. I hid in my bed. My parents weren’t home. My phone had died as I hadn’t been able to charge it the night before. As it charged and life returned to the device, there were notifications by the second. The phone wouldn’t stop beeping. My voicemail was full to capacity with calls from various levels of management in the hotel. The house phone was ringing intermittently too. I wasn’t going to answer it obviously. I didn’t want to deal with the world. I couldn’t face the music.

I heard my mum come through the front door but didn’t alert her to my being in the house. Soon after she returned, the phone rang. My mom answered. She was in the hallway so I could vaguely hear what she was saying. I remember the words “no, Paul is not here, he’s at work” followed by, “he’s not at work?…what do you mean?… he got a taxi to work this morning…”.

Then I heard my mother coming up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. She was going to come through the bedroom door and whoever she was speaking to was still on the other end of the handset. She peered into the room, to her surprise she saw me lying in the bed. She proceeded to hand me the phone, to which I responded, non-verbally, with body language which, if translated into written words, would read “no, no, no…I’m not here…tell her I’m not here…PLEASE MOM”.

My mom was both confused and worried in equal measure. She didn’t have a clue what was going on. So, in the absence of knowing what to do, she all but threw the phone in my direction. I couldn’t possibly answer, I was too ashamed, so, I did what I felt was the right thing at the time, I pressed the end call button. My mum tried to establish what the hell she had just witnessed. I couldn’t tell her. I went back to sleep and covered my head from the world.

This all happened on a Friday, I spent the whole day and night in bed. On the Saturday afternoon, I surfaced but was still full of guilt and shame. I couldn’t leave the room, never mind the house. I was not due back to work until the Sunday but hadn’t made contact with the hotel since walking out. On the third day I rose again (in accordance with the scriptures) and built up the courage to call the hotel to tell them I’d be ok to come back to work that morning.

When I rang, I asked to speak to my manager. She wasn’t there. Instead, the Food and Beverage manager answered. I decided to play it casually, not to mention, or perhaps somehow play down the anarchic event that took place merely two days prior. I said something along the lines of “hello Marianne, it’s Paul here, eh…just to confirm my shift starts at 11 today?”. The F&B Manager replied along the lines of, “Paul I think it’s best if you come in to talk to HR tomorrow”.

As you can probably guess, I was fired from my job the next day. Below is the actual report the hotel had written on the incident.

This wouldn’t have been such a major deal if it had been a standard, full time job, but don’t forget, this was my fourth year college placement. I was representing the Shannon College of Hotel Management. My dismissal would need to be communicated to the college. I wrote to the college telling them I had been let go and they summoned me to a meeting in Shannon. I drove down for a meeting with the director and deputy director of the college. As I had let down the college in an act of such gross misconduct, I was suspended from the college for a year. I was advised that I could appeal the decision to the disciplinary sub-committee of the College Board.

Letter of Suspension from General Smyth

I’ll never forget one question the director posed during that meeting. He asked me if I “had a problem with alcohol”. He said he had been made aware of the ‘various cocktails’ I would drink on a night out in Shannon Knights. How would he have known about this? I’ll never know the answer to that question. Of course I strongly refuted the claim that I had a drink problem.

I could handle being fired from The Merrion, but the news of my suspension did not sit well with me. I wanted to graduate with my mates. I couldn’t be left behind to graduate with a different year. I thought I’d be in a stronger position to appeal the suspension decision if I were reinstated in The Merrion so I wrote a cute, hand-written letter to the General Manager of the hotel apologising for my behaviour and asking for my job back. After various meetings in which the management established that I wasn’t a total head case, they gave me a second chance. How wrong were they (about the head case bit).

My cute letter of apology. Look at how gay my handwriting was.

The main condition of my reinstatement was that I’d be located as far away from other human beings as possible. I was stationed in the switchboard office which was a room the size of a coffin located in the basement of the hotel. There was little to no human contact. I had to answer phones. All day. I liked it, but it was boring as fuck. However, as I needed to prove myself, I did the best job possible and within three weeks I was moved up to the reception desk as receptionist where I was nearly fired again for carrying out a 999 prank call a matter of weeks later.

My 999 Call Letter

After a disciplinary sub committee hearing in the college, the board decided that my suspension would be lifted subject to my fulfilling a number of criteria. I’d have to pay €300 to a charity. I’d need to receive 8 weeks of counselling. I’d need to have a squeaky clean file in the Merrion until the end of my placement. I’d need to make regular calls to the Head of Hotel Management letting her know that I was behaving myself. I felt a bit like a criminal signing on at the Garda station every week. There were one or two other conditions that slip my mind, but no matter what they asked me to do, I did it. I really wanted to graduate with my classmates and nothing would stop me.

As part of our degree, we had to submit a thesis in August of the following year in advance of graduation in November. There was a very strict deadline. It needed to have physically arrived at the college no later than 6pm on Friday 21st August. Even if you had posted it before the deadline, but it didn’t arrive until the Monday, it would not be accepted and you would not be able to graduate.

I did what Paul does best. I procrastinated. I left it a whole year to do the thesis and started a few days before the deadline. I was getting a couple of thousand words done a day but left a fair chunk until the very last day. I had an appointment with the thesis centre to have it bound at 11am on the Friday and then a friend was going to drive down to Shannon with a number of theses to hand in just before the deadline. I was up all night on the Thursday working away on the thesis and must have written a good ten thousand words in that one sitting. At about 7am I had no more than an hour’s work to do. The content was there. It was now just a matter of formatting it all. At that point there were many different windows open on my computer. Most of them were MS word documents from which I was copying and pasting. To tidy up my work space, I proceeded to close down the unnecessary windows. I got myself into a rhythm of pressing the X then clicking no when asked if I wanted to save my work. Pressing the X, then no. The X, then no. X, then no.

When it came to my most recent draft, which contained over 50% of the thesis, what do you think I did? I pressed X, then no. I had not saved my work since the night before and in two clicks of a mouse, I lost both my thesis, and my ticket to graduate with my classmates.


Part Five of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow 

Why I Gave Up Drink – Part Three

My Wake Up Calls

I had a number of wake up calls during my drinking career. While some of them drove me to abstain from drink, sometimes for months, others didn’t yield the same results.

The Leather Chair

I was out drinking in town one night in my mid-twenties (I think). On this night I didn’t manage to secure an after party as the point of being compos mentis had past long before I exited the night club, so I ended up back in my family home in Terenure. I imagine I was probably helped into a taxi and subsequently into my house as I wasn’t capable of making the journey up to my bedroom. I ended up sleeping on a leather couch in the breakfast room that night. Surprisingly my mom and dad, who were upstairs, slept through my undoubtedly noisy return home.

My memories of the next morning will haunt me forever. As I had drunk to the point of not being able to move, I hadn’t been able to make the bathroom during the night. I woke up with my trousers around my ankles. The leather chair under my semi-naked body was covered in faeces.

I had consumed so much alcohol the night before that it wasn’t my body clock that woke me up, it was my father. All I can remember is seeing my dad stand in front of me, in a state of shock. He was visibly upset. This sight will stay with me for the rest of my days.

I can remember him raising his voice at me. I think it was because he was panicking that my mum would soon come down and witness the sight he had just seen. A shouting match ensued. I can’t remember the exact content of our exchange, but I can remember one sentence I shouted at dad as I was going up the stairs to my room. That sentence, that I can still hear me saying to this day, was “can you not see I have a fucking problem, man?”.

I would love to say that I cleaned up the chair that morning, but I didn’t. My dad had to do it. I headed up to bed to hide from the world. I stayed there for at least three days. This was the type of person I was when alcohol existed in my life. A horrible, shamefully selfish person.

Chernobyl

A group of ten of us from the Rathgar & Rathmines musical society went to Chernobyl to volunteer for a weekend in April of 2011 and raise money for Chernobyl Children International. While it was one of the saddest experiences of my life, it was strangely one of the most uplifting too.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Chernobyl, it’s a city in the Ukraine that endured a chronic nuclear catastrophe when a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in 1986. The accident released radiation 200 times greater than that released by both atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Radioactive wastes continue to poison the environment and affect genetics of the people who live there. Thousands of children are born with serious physical disabilities.

Children who are born with such disabilities in Chernobyl are placed in orphanages. They are unwanted. We visited one such orphanage in a place called Vesnova which is in Belarus, outside the exclusion zone. It was a very cold institution and I don’t mean physically cold. The care assistants were, paradoxically, very careless. They’d show very little compassion when working with the kids. They would provide basic care. They’d ‘shovel’ food into the children’s mouths. They’d change their nappies, not when they needed to be changed, but at nappy-changing time. It was all very industrial, almost like a bell would ring at 6pm and all the kids would have to be fed (sometimes by force) their gruel within a 10-minute timeframe, then their nappies would have to be changed, en masse, at 6:30pm, whether the kids needed it or not. The workers resembled people you’d see operating a production line in a factory rather than people who were caring for disabled kids in an orphanage.

Here is a child in Vesnova with a nurse at the side. Pic taken by Brendan Galvin.

Every time a group of volunteers came to visit the orphanage, the kid’s lives would change momentarily. They would be in their element. For a few days, they would be loved. I’ll never forget seeing their faces light up when we arrived. It was heart-warming and acutely saddening, all at once.

While we were in the orphanage we weren’t allowed to take showers as there was a possibility that the water would be contaminated. This is the water the orphans drank every day. The orphanage was divided into various different wards according to the children’s ages. We visited each ward every day and sang songs for the kids collectively and then split up to hang out with the kids individually.

Ward 1 was particularly tough for me as it was home to the youngest orphans. It contained babies with deformities who were lying in cots. They were too young to speak. They had their full lives ahead of them. You would walk into a room containing maybe 20 cots, and there wouldn’t be a care assistant to be seen. Babies lying in their cots, most of them crying, others sleeping, in the presence of many other babies, but for all intents and purposes, alone.

The upstairs wards were a little more ‘fun’ in that there were orphans in their early teens. They were doing what all teenagers would do; mess. You could have the craic with these guys. Throw balls around, dance. We threw a disco for them on the Saturday we were there.

My favourite ward, however, was Ward 5. It was here I met my little buddy, Nastia. It is quite common for volunteers to develop a bond with one particular orphan, and for me it was Nastia. She reminded me a bit of me. Very cheeky. Very bold. I do not remember a minute of the time I spent with her where she didn’t have a smile from ear to ear. She used to smack me in the face. It was hilarious.

This is my buddy Nastia.

 

We stayed in rooms that were allocated for visitors. There was a communal bungalow where the volunteers would gather every evening. What do you think us Irish got up to after the kids went to bed? All I’ll say is games of chess were not part of the agenda.

Given our current location, the vodka was flowing as if it were on tap. We would have drink-fueled sing songs each night, but on our last night in particular we (I) overdid it completely. While I didn’t want to leave the bed the next morning, I had to. I wasn’t at home in my cosy bed where I could hide away from the world for days on end.

We were leaving for Minsk later that day but had an hour or two with the kids that morning. We were sitting in ward 5, very hungover, and a young lad reached out to me. I picked him up and sat him on my knee. I guess the kids must have realised that their time with us was limited and it was coming towards an end. I’ll never forget the next few minutes. I was sitting there with this helpless, severely deformed, young orphan, with little or no prospect of a good life on my lap, and all I could think about was my hangover. There was something not right. In fact this was very wrong. In a moment where I should have been giving all the love in me to this poor child, I allowed alcohol to interfere.

This is a pic taken on our last day of the trip to Chernobyl. On the left you can see me hold the young lad on my lap. I don’t know his name.

We left the orphanage that day and I didn’t have a drop of alcohol for 14 months. Those 14 months were unreal. The best months of my life. He doesn’t realise it, and for all I know he may no longer be with us, but I owe those 14 months clean to that poor boy.

Unfortunately the disease crept back into my life. I was in Spain with my folks in June 2012 and decided that I had ‘done my time’ and that I could now go back drinking normally. On that evening I did. I drank a few beers. I enjoyed them. I didn’t get wasted. The problem was that I had ‘broken the seal’ and I was back drinking. The next weekend I went out in Dublin, this time with my friends. Again I tried my newfound skill of ‘controlled drinking’ and ended up blacking out. This behaviour continued again for years. The old Paul was back.

Tomorrow I will discuss one of the highlights of my drinking career; being fired from The Merrion Hotel on my fourth year placement, creating huge embarrassment for the Shannon College of Hotel Management, my family and myself. You can probably guess what the root cause of my dismissal was.


Part Four of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow

Why I Gave Up Drink – Part Two

An Evening With Schnapps

As a teenager I would have gone ‘knacker drinking’ once or twice. The most I would have consumed on these occasions was one or two cans of Budweiser. I was forced to cap it at two, not because that’s all I wanted, but because that’s all I could really afford. I was a teenager. I had no income. I had to rely on mom and dad.

The first time I remember getting ‘out of it’ was in my mid teens when my cousin’s husband brought a bottle of Schnapps to my parents from Austria. My cousin, who is actually my godmother, lives in Austria and is married to an Austrian called Johannes. The couple had come over to the house for a drink before heading out to dinner with my folks. I remember overhearing Johannes telling my parents that the drink was ‘very strong’ and to ‘go easy’ with it. They would’t dare have a drop of it before dinner. It would be a night cap kind of drink.

When I heard them talk about this dangerous but ever so exciting liquid. my ears perked up a bit like Pavlov’s dog hearing the gong. I said to myself ‘wouldn’t it be great to try this, even just the one sip’. Given that I had already broken my confirmation pledge by downing cans in Marley Park, the decision process was very short-lived. I was going to try some of this liquid magic, and that was that. It was just a case of waiting for the four grown ups to get the hell out of the house so my experiment could begin.

They left for dinner and I studied the bottle, wondering how I could have some without them noticing. It was a transparent liquid not dissimilar to water. My options were to drink a little and fill it up with water or drink a little and hope nobody noticed. I didn’t spend too much time contemplating my options however. I was much more interested in tasting the stuff. I poured myself a drop. I can remember thinking it was absolutely horrible. It was worse than cough bottle. It gave a hot sensation. It would make you wince and shake your head furiously to shake off the hideous taste.

After a few minutes, I remember feeling a sensation of lightheadedness. Suddenly the hideous taste was overpowered by a feeling of intense happiness. I liked it. In fact, I fucking loved it. I needed more and so I had more. No longer did I care about anyone noticing the missing fluid. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.

I can’t remember how much I actually drank that night, some twenty years ago, all I remember is bouncing around the house. My two sisters, who I was looking after, mustn’t have known what was happening to me. My next memory of the night is lying in my bed, in a pool of vomit, with my parents looking down on me in a state of complete worry and confusion. My memory of that night is vivid. My dad stayed in the room with me. He lay on the floor beside my bed for fear that I might choke on my own vomit while asleep. He left the light on in my room all night so he wouldn’t fall asleep.

I don’t really talk to my parents about that night, but I’d say it’s a night they’ll never forget. I have no doubt they knew they had a ‘problem child’ on their hands from that day.

My College Days

My days in the Shannon College of Hotel Management were some of the best of my life. I say days because I don’t really remember the nights. I made lots of great friends during my college days, but one of my best buddies was a fella called drink. Drink would help me socialise. I would use it to medicate my acute shyness. It would also get me places. It would make me popular. I could do things on drink that I’d be too mortified to do without it. For example, impersonate teachers, sing loudly, dance like a lunatic.

Sunday and Thursday were our big nights out in Shannon. We would come back to Shannon from our respective homes on Sunday evenings in advance of classes on Monday morning. To celebrate our ‘reunion’, we’d go down to the crossroads pub for ‘a few pints’. A few would invariably become ‘a rake’ and we’d end up in the only night club that exists in Shannon; Shannon Knights, familiarly knows as ‘Shannon Shites’ or just ‘Shites’.

Whenever I went to Shites I would be well looked after. My friend Sean had a part time job behind the bar, and he would always sort me out with my aforementioned ‘special’ drink. The sheer amount of alcohol consumed on Sundays and Thursdays would allow me to still be tipsy and inhibition-free in class the next day. As the day would go on, the hangover would kick in and I’d head back to the apartment to hide. I was still in my early twenties so, while hangovers were bad on occasion, the post-binge depression wasn’t as intense. We were in our early twenties after all. Everyone is invincible in their early twenties.

As part of our four year course in hotel management, we needed to complete two industry placements, both lasting a year. My first placement (Year Two) was spent in Lausanne in Switzerland. This was one of the best years of my life. Weed was legal in the German-speaking part of the country, so I would travel to Bern every week to purchase my bag of greenery. While the number of various lines of legal weed available was many and varied, my weed of choice was called Alpine Rocket.

The laws in Switzerland were pretty odd. It wasn’t illegal to possess the weed in Lausanne. You could carry it on your person with no fear of arrest, but if you were in possession of skins and a lighter at the same time, you were in trouble as it indicated the probability that you were actually going to smoke the stuff. I know, weird, but this is Switzerland we’re talking about.

I smoked weed every day in Lausanne. The moment I’d get home, I’d roll one, Iie on the bed, light it up and allow myself to pass into a magical space. Everything was so great after a joint. I’d call people back home and chat so confidently to them about shite over the phone. I was full of wisdom when stoned. So intelligent. The fact of the matter is that it was a fake reality.

The high I’d get from weed was so much better than booze, as there’d be no major hangover. I was highly addicted. This posed a major problem when I returned to Ireland for Year Three. It wasn’t so plentiful in Ireland so my crutch had disappeared pretty much overnight. I had to return to my old friend drink in order to medicate.

About 3 weeks after returning back to college, all the students in my year had to work at an event in Citywest. It was a VIP event so Citywest hired the best possible waiters in the business. In my station there was a group of important people from Brussels. My friend Barry was working the bar at the event and he sorted me out with some wine while we were working. Pint glasses of red wine. I got so pissed at that event that I spent more time chatting loudly and inappropriately to the Brussels folk ‘en francais’, than I did serving them. My classmates told me the group really enjoyed my craic and banter although I can’t confirm this as I can’t remember. Some time later I passed out and needed to be brought to one of the bedrooms in the hotel to sober up. One of my friends took over my station.

My Twenties

Tomorrow I will be posting the chapter called ‘My Wake Up Calls’ which will detail some of the more sinister events that took place during my drinking career. Here, I’ll briefly talk about some of the more amusing incidents that I remember from my twenties.

‘Oh, Mandy’

A few years after my Swiss placement, I went back to Lausanne for a weekend with two friends, Mary and Gillian. We spent the weekend doing a lot of what we would have done when living there: boozing. I was still in the closet at this stage but had begun experimenting with guys (provided that I was drunk enough). I remember losing the two girls one night, getting into a taxi and asking the driver to bring me to a gay bar. At that stage of my life, I would usually be far too embarrassed to do this. However, given the fact that I was probably at stage 10 of drunkenness, coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t have to say the word gay (I asked him in French), I was able to ask to driver to bring me where I wanted to go.

The man brought me to a place that resembled a parish hall where geriatrics would play bingo. There were middle aged men and women sitting around round tables with a glass of wine in front of them. Up on stage there was a band singing Barry Manilow songs. Perhaps this was why the driver associated the venue with homosexuality.

For those of you who don’t know him, this is Barry Manilow

It seemed like a private event. There were no guys there who were obviously gay, or my age, but once I saw booze flowing, I entered. Alone. My memories of the night are a little vague, but I do remember walking up on stage, uninvited, and harmonising to the band’s version of ‘Mandy’. There was no security, as it wasn’t a club as such, but as far as I can remember they let me sing with them, possibly because they didn’t know how to react to such an off-the-wall situation.

I can’t remember what I did next, how I got home or how the night ended, all I remember is how upset the two girls were with me the next day. That night will haunt me forever.

Zell Am See

On another occasion I was away skiing with my friend Aine in Zell Am See, Austria. Aine and I went out on the piss most nights but there was one night in particular where she was feeling unwell and needed to go back to the guesthouse. I brought her home and went back out myself. I was already well-on so didn’t feel any shame going to clubs on my own, but suddenly I felt an urge to go to a gay bar.

I hailed a taxi which resembled a dilapidated camper van and asked him where the nearest gay bar was. I can’t remember how exactly I said it, but I probably assumed the word ‘gay’ was the same in German. The man explained that the nearest gay venue would be in a town a good 45-minutes drive away. I was happy to travel, although I think I fell asleep for the journey. My next memory is waking up in a different town and the driver pointing over at what appeared to be a corrugated iron barn whilst uttering some words in German. It was daylight now. I got (fell) out of the car and walked over to the barn, but there was no life in it whatsoever.

The man then asked me to pay him and I reached for my wallet but it wasn’t there. The man had driven me 45 minutes to a corrugated iron barn, and I had no money to pay him. As far as I can remember the man brought me back to Zell Am See, but I’m not 100% sure. I don’t know if he was ever paid.

The next morning (afternoon) I woke up in my room in the guesthouse, but it was a little different to the day before. There was no door in the room. The entire door and frame had come away from the wall and was lying on the floor in front of the bed. I had obviously fallen into my room the night before, taking the door with me. Another typical night in my drinking career.

Bongo Man

Drink wasn’t always a negative force in my life. It sometimes highlighted my hidden talents. My uncle and auntie, who live in Spain, celebrated their 25th Wedding Anniversary when I was about 26. I happened to be in Spain at the time on holidays with my folks and decided to go to the event.

I am always a little uneasy at family events. Nothing a few (dozen) bottles of San Miguel can’t fix however. It was on this occasion that my extended family learnt a few new things about me. I thought I was Placido Domingo when it came to singing, I had a hidden talent for playing the bongos, and I was very fond of the drink.

This is what Bongos look like. They will haunt me for the rest of my days.

A band was organised for the event. After the meal, they set up on stage. I was dancing away on the floor with my mum and whoever else would (reluctantly) oblige me, and I spotted a set of bongos on the stage. I joined the band and played the bongos for the entire evening. As it was a family event no one really stopped me. It was probably too awkward to do so. It’s a day I look back on and cringe all the time. What a fucking embarrassment I was.


Part Three of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow 

Why I Gave Up Drink – Part One

Hi my name’s Paul and I’m an Alcoholic.

I never thought I’d hear myself say these words and I guess I’ve always associated them with weirdos who sit around in a circle in some dirty, cold parish hall that smells of damp, holding each other’s hands and uttering some strange, almost cultish chant in unison, but it’s actually true. My name is Paul and I am an alcoholic.

The definition of alcoholism is not being able to stop when you start. That’s me. I have no ‘off switch’. I’m an all or nothing kind of guy. That’s how I’m hardwired. If you put a packet of crisps in front of me, I will finish them. If I have one alcoholic drink, I will want another. Then another. Then another. In the words of Depeche Mode, I just can’t get enough. I would often go out for a civilised dinner en famille, have a few beers with my meal and then end up roaming the streets of Dublin at 4am, asking complete strangers where the after party is.

From a young age, my impression of an alcoholic was someone you’d see begging on the Ha’ppeny Bridge with a naggin of Powers hidden in their left lapel pocket, or someone who’d go to bed with a bottle of vodka on their beside locker, ready for their first sip in the morning. That is not the case. The fact is there are alcoholics in all walks of life. The cash register attendant in Lidl, the taxi man, the Board Level Executive, the Barrister, the hairdresser. Alcoholism can affect all these people. You don’t have to drink morning noon and night to be an alcoholic. I could go several weeks without a drink. You just have to fulfil the criterion that you’re unable to stop when you start. If you can go to Coppers with your mates on a Saturday night and stop after 3 drinks, you’re very lucky. I could not.

Some weeks ago I took to Snapchat to explain to people why I didn’t drink. The reaction to the story was overwhelming. Followers were messaging me in their droves thanking me for sharing my story. I was receiving hundreds of messages of support from people in similar situations to mine. I decided to write this blog post in case I can help even one more person who is struggling with alcohol.

We have a very serious problem with drink in Ireland. We like to brush it off because ‘we’re Irish’. It’s what we do. The French drink wine. The Germans drink beer. The Italians drink coffee. The Irish just drink. We are sometimes even proud of how much we drink. It’s a mark of distinction for us Irish. The reality is that drink is ruining (some of) our lives.

I gave up alcohol on 31st July 2016. This is my story.

My Many Stages of Drunkenness

Pint 1: With every sip I’d get a buzz. My eyes would start to glisten. My smile would start to grow. Conversation was still slow, but it was warming up. I knew that the evening (day) ahead would bring joy.

Pint 2: The buzz would get more ecstatic. I’d find myself so much more relaxed. More able to converse. I’d now have less fear of judgement.

Pint 3: I’m happy now. Chatting away like mad. In actual fact what I am saying would appear (to me) to be very intelligent. I am great craic.

Pint 4: I’m nearly at the point where I’d have a cigarette, but not quite there yet. You can’t stop me talking. I’m feeling great. I matter to the world. I have an opinion. I have a strong opinion. I need people to hear it. I’m making people laugh. I’m cracking jokes. I am the business.

Pint 5: My feelings of increased intelligence would now manifest as feelings of increased superiority. I was right. No matter what words I said, I was right. I now enjoyed engaging in conversations of the intellectual kind. Conversations that would push boundaries. I needed to talk to people, as many people as possible, and show them how amazing I was. I am so proud.

Pint 6: I need a cigarette. I also need to get out to the smoking area to smoke it, but more importantly, to talk to others. I would appear to be the most confident, extroverted gob shite in the world. I need to be seen. I would be speaking to many people, but listening to hardly any. My mother always told me that when she saw me smoking “I was anybody’s”. This is probably the stage where most people would stop.

Pint 7: I am completely at ease. Maybe too much. Dancing like a twat is now on the agenda. I am on such a buzz that I don’t want to stop. I am coming across as an arrogant prick to many people, but I don’t see this. How could I? Shots anyone?

Drink 8: I am probably not drinking pints anymore, but it really depends on the circumstances. I want this buzz to intensify. The venue is getting busier. I am going to be surrounded by more and more people. I need more courage. I need more confidence. In college I was known to order double vodkas in a pint glass with Smirnoff Ice or some other form of alco-pops as a mixer. The mad man was emerging.

After drink 8, I’d want the buzz to intensify so much (I’d want to get so out of it) that I’d look outside of the boundaries of drink to assist me. I’d be looking for weed, cocaine or pills. If I had a good meal that evening, the food might have soaked up too much of the alcohol for my liking. As my inhibitions would be gone, I’d have no problem asking strangers for additional help. In fact, I’d probably come across as a bit of a lunatic asking every Tom, Dick and Harry in my vicinity to help me get a better buzz. I was relentless in my quest to find oblivion. Even though I was already well on, I can still remember nights when I’d keep asking (pestering) people for drugs. That memory would make it through my alcoholic amnesia. That’s how desperate I used to be.

I can’t really write too much about the ensuing stages of a night out, but I do have memories of standing outside nightclubs asking strangers where the after parties were. I wouldn’t want my high to end. I would want my escape to continue for as long as possible. My friends would have gone home long ago. I’d be on my own. I’d come across as a complete weirdo. Unable to stand. Sometimes unable to speak. On the many occasions where I’d end up going home with total strangers, it was probably because they felt sorry for me, they wanted to take the piss out of me, they wanted to take advantage of me, or all of the above. I have memories of waking up in houses all over Dublin, most of the time not recognising the people in the house as I’d have no memory of the night before, how I got there or what I had done.

I remember one morning waking up in a house in Dublin 8, naked on the bed, with an older man helping himself to me. This is one incident I remember, countless other similar events could have happened, I just don’t remember them.

The Paul who drank between 1- 5 pints was such a great guy. Such a laugh. So sociable. If only Paul could have stopped after 5.

The Morning After the Night Before

After a heavy session, I would not be able to leave my bed, never mind my room and certainly not my house. There would be no point. Indeed, there’d be no point to life anymore. I would hide in my bed for up to 3 days. I wouldn’t be able to answer my phone. I’d ignore my nearest and dearest. I’d be very ill. I’d hoover up takeaways but would not be able to hold them down. My work would suffer. My family would suffer. My life would suffer.

If drugs were involved, the hangover would be so much worse. My head would be in a complete mess. I can vividly remember two separate occasions where I didn’t see the need to carry on. On one occasion, when I was sitting at the table of my parent’s penthouse apartment in Terenure, waiting for my French grinds student to arrive, I questioned how exactly I would die if I were to throw myself off the balcony. Would it be quick? Was there a chance I would survive and live on in a wheelchair? Who is to say that if it weren’t for my propensity to vacillate, that the deed would not have been done. On another occasion, after a Gala ball on a Saturday night, at which I took herbal ecstasy, I was driving on the Rathgar road and didn’t think I could go on. I was feeling worthless. I called a close friend of mine and explained the situation. She calmed me down and I was okay. This event took place the Wednesday after the Saturday night session. Four days later. Such was the insidiousness of herbal drugs from hemp shops.

This is the shit drugs did for me, ladies and gentlemen. Drink was bad enough. Combining them was extremely dangerous. I am 37 now and I have no doubt that if I continued along the treacherous road of drink and drugs, I might have followed through on my instincts by now.


Part Two of Why I Gave Up Drink will be posted tomorrow.