What Was in My Handbag When I Got Sober….


I am flirting with 20 years of sobriety. ‘Tis a wild reality. I have been sober for as long as I used. Yes, the maths are sobering in themselves: I started when I was 11 and I am now 51.

I am thinking about this quite a lot at the moment. Since last year, turning 50 was a leap. I stand on a different page in my life, I am older, am I wiser? I am as yet unconvinced, but I am in the throes of divorce and may say that I had no idea what I was walking into when I decided it was time to end the marriage.

I have learned a lot, but now know that there is a long way to go on this curve, and finding it fun seems to be the hardest part. If I look at all that is plastered around me on my journey it is a collection of platitudes, so called great writers who cull and tease the words of others so they fit into the empowered new speak of the Me generations. The overall message seems to be that it is all perfect. I am failing if I cannot or do not find it to be so. The fine line between suicidal misery and getting out of a rut is never explained, expanded upon nor open to discussion in this high-speed life where misery is apparently optional.

I teach in Camden twice a week. I get off the tube and walk through an interesting melee of people and am always caught by the punks who hold up the signs for the tattoo parlours. Why punks holding the signs? I have no idea. Why do I look at the punks? Because I was a punk….. before they were a punk….. and as I hit 20 years sober I have met yet another rock bottom.

I do not drink, smoke, take drugs, eat any sugar and now, kicking and screaming to the altar of 24/7 consciousness, I cannot take another mouthful of caffeine in either tea or coffee without exploding in fury, irritation, stress and veins filled with sand. I have finally had to admit that I cannot take it any more. I have to be caffeine free. I do not want to be. I do not. Why can there not be just one last piece of comfort: A great cup of builders tea or a strong latte? Why not? It makes me furious.

But here is the oxymoron: I feel so much better it is just awful!

And so I look back at the punks and remember. I was up on stage at the Roundhouse when the audience ripped up all the seating at the Clash concert and threw it all on the stage. I had a Saturday job at Scissors in the Kings Road and had bright blue hair standing up on end in 1976. I went out with the man who started BOY in the Kings Road and aged 16 was regularly locked in the shop whilst the punks and the skinheads rioted outside in the street. I was at the Tubes concert when Fee Waybill jumped into the audience with a functioning chainsaw turned on, broke his leg and carried on the rest of the concert….

When I went to my first NA meeting in Dublin in 1991 the man who took me suggested I empty my handbag of all paraphernalia. 2 hip flasks (both empty), one large flick knife, a set of playing cards, a roll of poker dice, a razor blade, a bag of hash, some downers and a packet of Rizlas.

And now I cannot drink a cup of tea without loosing the plot? It is a disaster.