I grew up in a British seaside town called Burnham-on-Sea, where I spent my childhood visiting The Pavilion—an amusement arcade filled with games like space invaders, pinballs, and slot machines. At 7 years old any money I had was wasted there.
There is no doubt in my mind that the excitement of the flashing lights, but more importantly winning money, gripped me immediately. I remember being obsessed with wanting to go back and try to win more, even at that age.
My childhood was difficult. I had a strained relationship with my father and learned at a very early age to stay out of his way, as did my two older sisters. I felt our home was always a tense environment, with me never being settled and often left wondering what I had done wrong.
I remember being upset and fearful for over a decade and did not understand why things were as they were. I felt very different to other children and did not understand the way that other people “ticked.”
I started drinking regularly at the age of 11 or 12. Having seen my own father frequent pubs and bars, I think it was a case of wanting to feel grown up. I emulated what I knew and started going to my local pub with my friend, Tim.
As I already stood over six foot five, I had no problem walking into bars seemingly unnoticed. In the 1970s in my small coastal town, it seemed there was no interest in stopping me drinking in pubs. On arrival I would buy a pint of lager, a whisky chaser, a cigar, and a pickled egg, as all those things were on display behind the bar.
I would drink most weekends and I would always get drunk. Even at that age, I already knew that drinking to oblivion was the goal. I longed for that warm woozy feeling to slowly come over me, as I drank up to six or eight pints of beer a night, plus an equal number of whisky shots.
From a young age I constantly longed to be out of the house, so I worked several jobs for pocket money. I would caddy at Burnham and Berrow Golf Club, have multiple newspaper rounds, and even worked in a mushroom farm as a picker. This gave me all the money that I needed for my weekend drinking.
My parents would often find me drunk. Once, when I was 11, I bought some cider from a local brewer with some school friends and my father called the police. The police called the school, and they in turn outed my friends. I was ostracized from that day forward and bullied at school for the next five years.
Using alcohol to cope with social anxiety
As I reached my teenage years, I realized that alcohol helped me cope with my social anxiety. Once a few drinks had “warmed me up” I was no longer shy. I felt more humorous, relaxed and I could chat to girls my age.
Evenings were all about escaping how I truly felt inside, which was entirely centered in fear. It also became quickly apparent to me that I didn’t own a “stop button”.
I was always drinking more quickly, in greater volume, chasers, shots and cocktails. I quickly learned to identify the heavy drinking gang in any bar that I frequented.
At 18, I found casinos. I was a student and spent much of my loan on drinking or gambling. At times I had no money for food and would go hungry for days. The only way I managed to live through four years of university was to sell things or borrow money. I ended up colossally overdrawn at the bank.
By the time I was in my twenties, I was drinking heavily every weekend. On a Friday we would go to our local pub and I would drink around ten pints of lager and the odd shot. Then do it all again on Saturday.
These were the moments I lived for. Drinking and feeling alive at the weekend, when my anxiety could be kept at bay. I still suffered because I didn’t entirely know how to behave “normally” around people, but once I had four pints, I was relaxed and funny.
Fortunately, I had realized that I could not drink at all during the week as my career was suffering. My first job was as a software engineer working on military weapons systems. The work was enjoyable, and I believe I was at the pinnacle of such work, but I would miss so many Mondays due to “sickness” that I was given a serious warning. Fearing I would lose my job, I got into line quickly.
My drive to succeed professionally meant that I at least still held the power of choice over alcohol, but I more than made up for it on the weekends.
Arrested for driving drunk
But by the time I reached my late twenties, the consequences of my weekend binges soon caught up with me after I was arrested for crashing my car while drunk. I was lucky to only lose my driving license and be given a heavy fine.
From here, the blackouts began. Over the next eight years, blackouts would happen quite often. There might be a few occasions a month where I could not remember getting home, what I said, did or where I’d been. These moments were kept secret, because the consequences of drinking were becoming very real.
Without my license I could not easily get to work, so I quickly moved jobs and went to live in Switzerland as a freelance technical project manager.
Suddenly I was earning about £100,000 ($123,540) a year, which enabled me to truly indulge. After working hard during the week, I would fly home every weekend to Camberley in Surrey, buying champagne and flashing my cash to my friends.
After three more years of heavy drinking, I was headhunted to work in New York City as a senior IT consultant. I may have been in a different country, but I was the same man. I was still heavily drinking heavily on the weekends in Greenwich Village or Whiteplains, where I lived.
In 1991, at 31 years old, I came back to England. By now I had a senior position at a large pharmaceutical company, a wife and two young children. I was still functioning at work, as I still wasn’t drinking during the week, but weekends were always blowout binge drinking sessions.
Worsening gambling habits
As well as my drinking, my gambling was worsening. My mistake was to come 14th in the world series of online poker in 2004. At 39, I imagined I was a professional gambler, but I was just another loser.
Two years later, my career had really taken off and I was working as a senior consultant within the banking industry. I lived in Hale in Cheshire, but flew to London every Monday and home again on Friday. By now I earned a great income, but drank and gambled away more than I earned every month.
I divorced my first wife as I was “unhappy”. I lived apart from my sons, which only added to my sense of failure and loneliness. At 42, I was now starting from zero again.
Shortly after my divorce in 2007, I found cocaine. My weekends were drink and drug fuelled indulgences and I barely managed to hold onto my job. So, I decided, there was only one thing for it. I would quit my job and gamble everything on starting my own company. I put £110,000 (please add U.S. figure) on my credit cards to start the business. This was make or break time.
Within 12 months, the company exploded in terms of success, and I quickly became incredibly rich.I was now able to indulge myself in any way I chose. The problem was, I didn’t make good choices.
Continued alcohol addiction
Addiction is an insidious and progressive disease. Alcohol had become so woven into who I was, that my whole professional and personal life centered around alcohol. After 35 years or more of drinking, I was constantly running away from life. Too scared to live and too scared to die.
There are many horror stories from my days of active addiction, but one memory stands out. During my second marriage—which would later fail due to my addiction—I left my home after an argument.
I drove away drunk and in a rage. I ended up in a police chase, including a police helicopter. I drove at over 100mph through the backstreets of Manchester with my car lights off. Eventually I abandoned the car and found a hotel room.
The police kicked in my hotel room door at four in the morning. I told them I wanted to die. Given that statement, they took me to a mental health unit. For my own safety, I was locked up against my will for four days, and I was terrified. I eventually managed to leave but drank again within 24 hours. I needed many more rock bottoms before my life would change.
By 2012, I was drinking daily. Drinking three or four bottles of wine a night until I blacked out. I would repeat this seven days a week. I would drink to celebrate and drink to commiserate, and almost every day there was a reason to drink. Sometimes when there wasn’t a reason, I would pick an argument with my wife, so that I did have a reason.
The following year I went through my second divorce, which only added to my misery. I made a serious attempt on my life and it is a complete miracle that I did not die. The divorce, my poor mental health and a feeling of hopelessness, took me back into rehab for the second time in 2014.
The same year, I met my third wife and we married in 2015. I managed to hang onto being sober for over a year, but the truth was I was miserable. Recovery is about change, and I did not put the action into changing who I truly was. I was a ticking time bomb. In 2015, I relapsed, and it took another four years of hell before I would find the courage to ask for help to finally stop drinking.
Quitting alcohol for good
The final rock bottom, which I am lucky enough to say I survived, came after I had temporarily split up from my current wife and was living on my own in an empty house. I called my two eldest sons to come and visit me as I couldn’t bear to be alone.
I proceeded to get insanely drunk, emotional, and bought some cocaine. I made them watch me take it and told them: “You won’t be a man until you know how to do this”. They left and I was mortified.
My life had become so wretched that I hated who I was. I could no longer function as a sane human being. I caused chaos and carnage to those I loved but was unable to stop drinking. I felt I had passed the point of no return and finally lost the power of choice over alcohol.
I planned to take my own life. But before I did, I heard a voice, which I believe to be God. I was told to call the local rehab. Within 48 hours I was an inpatient.
The truth was, this was my third residential rehab stay in a decade. Ten years of failure, but the clinic didn’t turn their back on me. Neither did my wife, who fully supported me. Without her love and strength, I don’t think I’d have survived.
During this visit to rehab, I listened. I found hope, education and the fellowship of like minded addicts and alcoholics, who held my hand throughout the process. I threw myself into recovery as I knew that “David Version One” was finished. I needed and wanted to find “David Version Two.” I needed to learn new ways of thinking and new approaches to life.
My sobriety date is September 18, 2019. I was given the gift of desperation. I believe that some people can be told, and others have to find out for themselves.
After over a decade of hell, I finally knew that this was it, and that if I didn’t do everything I was told, I would not survive another relapse. The biggest surprise to me was that it was true. Recovery is possible and that if we follow what millions of others have done before me, we do recover.
I started to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily and then I volunteered at the rehab. Eventually, I began to work one-to-one with addicts and alcoholics who needed my support and now I dedicate my time to working with these individuals.
Lessons I’ve learned
Today, I am a professional sober coach and companion, providing bespoke one-on-one coaching for individuals who feel they cannot stop drinking, taking drugs or gambling.
When I am a sober companion, I live with my client, and we work intensively every day for 30 days. For some, this is preferable to going to stay in rehab. I believe that recovery is one percent putting down the drink or drugs and 99 percent changing who we are. I believe we must undergo a profound change in our attitude to life, ourselves and others.
When I reflect on my journey, I realize that little David, the boy, was lost. It took him 50 years to find himself. In doing so, I have found a life beyond my wildest dreams, where I have the three most important things close by—my wife, my children and my sobriety. Without my sobriety I would not be able to keep the other two. My life now has a purpose.
If anyone is questioning their relationship with drinking, I would inquire that they ask themselves: “Is alcohol my friend?”
If the answer is no, then reach out and connect with AA or other recovery organizations. To begin, we must begin, and we can’t do it alone. I have finally found the “real David,” who I am proud of.
David Golding is a sober coach and the founder of Sober Lifestyle Coaching, which anonymously and confidentially supports and mentors’ clients in recovery. You can visit their website here.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek editor, Monica Greep.
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