Posts Tagged ‘friends’
Last New Year’s Eve, I had a bad case of the flu. I was miserable, lonely, broke and ill. I called my friends at 11am and told them I wouldn’t be joining them and put down the phone feeling gutted.
Any normal person would have chalked it up to a case of bad luck and germs, watched movies in bed, grabbed a pizza and an early night and woken up on New Year’s Day one step closer to feeling better.
What did I do? I went to the shop, bought a bottle of vodka and got drunk.
I’ve never drunk normally. I regarded people who enjoyed ‘just the one glass of wine with dinner’ as freaks — although I envied them totally. For me, it had one purpose: oblivion. It made everything go away, and once I had it inside me, there was no ‘off’ button until my money ran out or someone broke the front door down to stop me.
At 3am, a brick smashed through the bedroom window and landed on the bed. It wasn’t personal, most likely the antics of some drunken idiot trying to prove himself to his mates. Ironically I judged him.
I woke up, not knowing for a moment what had happened. Broken glass covered the duvet and I cut my hands to ribbons tearing back the bedsheets and trying to figure out where I was. Still pissed, and with a bitter wind now blowing through my bedroom, I went into the living room, downed half a bottle of Jack Daniels and knocked myself out till morning, comatose on the sofa in a bloodstained blanket.
So it should come as little surprise that as I sit here typing this, hangover-free on January 1st — having spent New Year’s Eve eating ice cream and watching movies with my boyfriend — that comparatively speaking, 2012 is already off to a rollickingly good start.
2011 began as it was to continue for the next six months. I started off the new year drunk, lonely, frightened, in debt and with a hole in my soul ten times the size of that in my bedroom window.
February saw me relapse again, nine bottles of vodka over four days. The police broke in. I can’t even remember being taken to hospital.
I managed to stay dry for three months till it happened again. I had tried so hard, but I was merely abstaining, not dealing; and it was scarily easy to give in and pour it down my neck again. As I opened the bottle I even felt a sliver of excitement. Another week lost from my life, another empty bank account and another bunch of cuts and bruises to add to my ever-growing collection of scars. All of which I have no recollection of getting.
I was losing my friends, the respect of my family, and clinging onto my job with bloodied fingernails. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I’d felt something close to self-respect.
All the while I was playing out a life in public that everything was okay. But then, I guess that’s what the disease of addiction turns you into: a liar.
I truly mean it when I say I wanted to get better — or the next time I wanted to die. That was the choice. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I stopped trying to do it on my own and I got some real help.
I found a way. The irony is, I can’t tell you how I did it. I won’t. I’m not going to stand here and advertise a method of getting and staying sober. What if it ends up not working for me and I have a public fall from the wagon? I could destroy someone’s faith in a solution that might otherwise have worked for them. But what I will say is this: for anyone who’s listening, you can’t do it alone. You’ve probably tried already and it’s failed.
A month after I got myself cleaned up good and proper, the handsomest man I’ve ever known turned to me and said “I’d love for you to be my boyfriend.” He had wanted it for a while, he just needed to know I was getting sober for myself rather than for him.
Two months later I left my job. At the time I was riddled with fear, but by this time I had managed to accrue some cash in the bank. I took four months off work and threw myself into getting better.
In October I sent my first invoice for my new business, Thesaurus Rex Copywriting, to one of the world’s biggest software companies.
But most importantly, I no longer see fear or apprehension in the eyes of the people I love. I don’t have to feel that disappointment emanating from my friends and family when I’m found, paralytic, wild-eyed, thin and covered in god-knows-what after going off the radar yet again.
Destructive behaviour comes in all forms and can go to different extremes. Not everyone with alcohol problems drinks the way I did. It can manifest itself in drugs, booze, risky sex, even work and fitness. The drink and drugs just make the noise go away. The sex is a temporary validation.
My world this January 1st is a million miles from where I was last year. I have a loving boyfriend whom I fully intend to marry, a roof over my head, money in the bank, a buzzing new business. I’ve just been ranked in the top 50 most influential LGBT people on Twitter (in fact, it’s for this very reason I’ve chosen to share my story). All this has come to me since I got sober and started participating in my life instead of being a victim to an illness.
The best thing I did in 2011 was for myself: I saved my life. I finally saw how little I valued ‘me’ and I did something about it. And I’m full of gratitude to the people who helped me.
Life has changed, and if you’ve read any of this and are thinking “This is me. This is how I feel” then I promise it can change for you, too.
You just have to ask for help, and it will be given.
Happy new year. x
“I told you I was trouble,” Amy Winehouse sang, “You know that I’m no good.”
For me, that’s the most poignant lyric she ever wrote. It sums up the mind of an addict. You see, it wasn’t a brag; it was a mixture of ‘keep away’ and ‘help me’.
How do I know? Because not so long ago, I was Amy Winehouse.
For most addicts, there’s a constant presence on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that somehow, you’re ‘less’ than everyone out there. Your thoughts go round like a washing machine on high-speed. The noise in your head is constant, loud and harsh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rich and famous popstar, or Mary Taylor in Islington, homeless and sleeping rough in a shop doorway; it’s that same mindset. Alcohol and drugs are merely the medication.
Addiction isn’t fun. Addiction isn’t “Let’s go to the pub and get pissed and have a right laugh” or “Let’s get fucked on drugs and get up to mischief”. Addiction is lonely, terrifying and insidious. Oh, sure, you start out like everyone else, a few drinks here and there, a dabble or two in something a little harder. You don’t realise when it stops being fun, but it does. Suddenly you find yourself alone in a room, afraid to go out, because ‘outside’ is too damn scary.
So you take that hit, and for a short while, the noise stops. Peace through oblivion. Then you come around and the noise starts again, louder this time, and coupled with the anxiety, fear and terror that come with withdrawal. So you take another hit. Sweet, blessed relief. And somewhere in the back of your mind you hope you don’t wake up from this one. You’re nothing but trouble, you see. All you cause is pain and worry.
I read a fantastic blog by Russell Brand today, in which he said:
“When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phonecall. There will be a phonecall. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make — it must be received.”
The problem is, addiction is the only disease in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it. Lock an addict away and they’ll be looking for an escape, or biding their time and playing the ‘yes, I’m fine now’ role until they’re alone again. I’ve had people in the kitchen pouring drink away while I’ve been climbing out of the bedroom window on my way to buy more.
I’ve been a day out of hospital after being found in my flat, hours away from death, and already I’m figuring out where I can get hold of some gear. I believed the booze and drugs were giving me something. In fact, it was the opposite. They were hollowing me out, alienating my friends and family and slowly stripping me of all that was real and good.
Sadly, all the love and support in the world wasn’t going to help Amy get better. She was trotted out on stage at every opportunity to make money for her record company. She didn’t have the luxury I’ve had of anonymity, of being left alone so she could get better. Contracts had been signed and albums were due. Her star had to keep shining, and all the while the press were snapping at her heels, waiting for her to fall again.
I can’t imagine anything more frightening than the whole world waiting with bated breath for me to fuck up, then posting it on YouTube when I do.
Yesterday evening, people shut down Facebook and Twitter on their computers, still in shock and disbelief at this tragedy, before heading off down to the pubs and clubs for a well-deserved weekend blowout.
Mary in Islington sits down in her shop doorway, begging for a few coins to get a can of beer. Just a little something to help take the edge off. You might have seen her last night, she may have come up to ask you for some change, desperate and devoid of pride, but like a lot of people, you probably looked away, annoyed and uncomfortable.
Sunday morning rolls around, and half of London wakes up with a hangover. Some might even still be going. iTunes seizes the opportunity to promote Amy’s albums on its homepage to make some cash, and somewhere in Islington, an ambulance arrives to take away the body of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway.
And all over the world, recovering addicts wake up and pray to a God they’re not even sure exists for the strength to stay clean one more day.
The world carries on. Then somewhere, a phone rings.
You know those people who always seem to say the right thing? Those serene individuals, calmer than Buddha, who wait patiently while you witter on like a blithering idiot, then promptly sum up every feeling, every emotion, everything you’ve been trying so desperately to verbalise in one, simple answer?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people.
Ironic isn’t’ it? I mean, I’m a writer. Words are like, my thing, you know? But talking isn’t. Oh, sure, I can construct perfect paragraphs, sizzling sentences and compelling copy, but ask me to talk without a crib sheet and I fly off on a million different tangents, tripping over my words and getting so caught up in what I want to say, I never actually manage to make the point I originally intended to make.
It’s probably why I chose to make this my living. Ask me to write what’s in my head and I’ll give you an articulate, well-structured piece of copy. Come to me for advice and I’ll serve you up the verbal equivalent of a really fucking bad first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ‘closed’ person. I’ve done the I-am-an-island thing and I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and nowadays I like to think I’ve found a happy medium concerning what and with whom I share things.
But GOD, that talking thing. It’s like my thoughts trip over halfway between my brain and my mouth and what comes out is a tangled mass of arms, legs and the contents of the owners’ handbags. Ever seen a pile up in a cycling race? Yeah, that.
Take tonight for instance. I was on the phone with someone who’d had a bad day. A simple enough situation, but you see, he’s one of those people. The kind of person who can say in four seconds what you’ve been trying to say for half an hour. The kind of person who always says the right thing, and does so without having to try three different versions of it. Out loud. The kind of person I just wish I could be like.
Let’s just say he’s ‘special’ to me, and I wanted so badly to come up with some earth-shattering wisdom to solve all his problems and leave him comforted (and slightly in awe of my verbal dexterity), but all I managed were a few long pauses, punctuated by the razor-sharp “Uhm…yeah…well I don’t really know what to say. It’s like… yeah, cause uhm…”
You get the picture.
We began wrapping up the phonecall and saying goodnight. Inside I was feeling like I’d been utterly useless. Then, right before we bid our farewells, he said this:
“Thanks for listening to me moan. I really needed that.”
For this writer, sometimes I need to forget about words. Sometimes all I need to do is just listen.
Afterwards, I went into the living room where my flatmate and best friend of ten years was watching TV.
“Why is it that when I’m talking to him, I can never put into words what’s in my head? It just comes out all jumbled and I end up sounding like an idiot.”
“Because you’re emotionally invested,” she replied simply, “you’re not impartial so it’s harder.”
Yeah. She’s another one of those people.
I looked in the mirror at the red-eyed quasimodo squinting gunkily back at me and shuddered. Not because of my reflection — I’ve seen myself in worse states — but because I knew what this meant.
Now, before you start branding me a hypochondriac, I’m not so stupid as to think conjunctivitis is a serious condition. Fear of blindness wasn’t responsible for the quiet dread that crept over me as I crossed my bedroom and opened a drawer.
It was the fact that until the infection had cleared, I would have to wear what was sitting inside.
I hate my glasses. They have the ability to instantly transport me back in time to when I was a chubby, gawky kid with no real friends, constantly teased because he never quite fitted in. They were a constant companion right from the age of four, all the way up through my teenage years.
As soon as I put on my glasses, I’m transformed from a confident, strong-willed man, into a shuffling, self-conscious little boy again. I’m once again freezing to death on a school sports field, waiting to be picked last, because nobody wanted to have a kid with glasses on their team.
I have the most invisible pair ever: two frameless bits of glass held together with one piece of wire, with two longer pieces fixing them to my face, but to me they feel gargantuan. It’s like they weigh a ton as well, pulling my head down to my neck so I’ve got no option but to stare at the floor.
Going without them isn’t an option. With both my eyes boasting a prescription of -4.75 (that’s ‘really fucking short-sighted’ for all you non-optical people), I’d be run over before I even made it to the tube station.
At fifteen years old, after bludgeoning my mother into getting me contacts, she relented.
I stood in the bathroom, tongue out, eyelids stretched, fiddling with this slimy little bowl of plastic for ages, because I was damned if I wasn’t going to get this thing in my eye.
When I finally got them in. I looked at myself and burst into tears.
Most people take their own reflection for granted — but I’d never seen my own face clearly in a mirror.
Shuffling round the gym on Tuesday night, looking at all the hot guys with their spec-free gorgeous faces, it felt like I was back on that playground, looking at the bigger boys standing together in a corner, sniggering at me. Their voices shouting, “Oi! Are you that Su Pollard?” and “Look! It’s Timmy Mallett!” echoing round in my head like a cheesy flashback scene from an 80s movie.
Later that night, tired and sore-eyed, I poured out my misery on Twitter and posted a picture of myself as a bottle-ended nobody.
No amount of you-were-adorables or aww-how-cutes were going to make me feel better, until I noticed something: all the lovely folk of Twitter had begun posting photos of their own childhood di-glass-ters.
I suddenly realised just how many of my fellow Tweeters still wore glasses in their profile pictures.
These were gorgeous, confident men and women — proud of their bins. Were they shuffling around in the background, hoping they wouldn’t be noticed? Hell to the no!
The tweet that finally dragged me out of my needless self-pity and made me realise just what an idiot I was being came from @bishbashboshjosh, who said:
Okay, @guy_interruptd campaigns against the stigma about HIV, but needs therapy for wearing glasses?”
Hmm…well, erm…. Yeah. When you put it like that.
So I’ve decided that tomorrow (well, when I get some money anyway) I’m going to harness my inner geek.
I’m going to take that self-conscious little boy by the hand, march right into Specsavers, (because apparently a lot of people regret not going) and get myself a funky-chunky black pair. I’m going to grab my four-eyed counterpart by the bollocks and be an out and proud speccie.
Well, some of the time, anyway.
The next morning, I dressed in a crisp white shirt and grey suit, and strolled to work with my bespectacled head held high.
Standing at the counter, waiting to pay for my usual breakfast roll, the woman behind it looked up, blinked and said, “Oh! It’s you! I’ve never seen you in your glasses before! You look really handsome.”
“Thanks.” I beamed.
And as I walked out of the cafe, smiling to myself, I thought: Maybe I’ll keep these on for a couple of days after my eyes have cleared up.
I can’t quite describe how it feels to be standing six feet from Annie Lennox, as you have your photo taken by one of the world’s top fashion and portrait photographers.
The fact that I was doing it for an amazing cause made the whole experience even more special.
This year, The Body Shop has teamed up with UNAIDS and photographer Rankin for a global World AIDS Day campaign called Be An Activist. It showcases activists of all ages and races, from all walks of life, from popstars and CEOs, to your average man on the street, like me.
In a world where treatments are improving and AIDS is becoming less of a killer, sadly, people are becoming more complacent. Ignorance is high. Lack of education is a constant problem, and as a result, infections continue to rise.
This is why I’m so honoured and passionate to be a part of a campaign which reinvigorates the message that HIV is always out there, and it doesn’t discriminate.
Arm yourselves with the knowledge to protect yourself and make safer decisions, and let’s end the stigma surrounding HIV — and hopefully one day, eradicate the virus itself.
Below is a transcript (and a shaky video!) of the keynote I delivered (along with my best mate Emma) at the campaign’s press launch on 29th November 2010.
World AIDS Day is on December 1st, and I urge you all to stand with me and wear your red ribbon with pride.
I am proud to be an activist. Join me, and be an activist too.
Every morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do after throwing the alarm clock across the room, is go to the bathroom, where I carefully place two bits of plastic onto my eyeballs so I can see properly.
Yes, I’m short sighted. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, you wouldn’t know unless I told you. But yep, I genuinely can’t see my hand in front of my face without my lenses.
Being short sighted isn’t my fault; it’s just something that happened to me.
An hour later, before I leave the house for work, I tip four small tablets into my hand and knock them back with a glass of milk. To help my immune system cope with the effects of the HIV virus.
So there’s two things you wouldn’t guess from just looking at me. But only one of those things has the potential to change the way I’m perceived by other people.
We’ve been brought up to believe HIV is ‘unclean’ and that the people who carry the virus are somehow lesser beings, to be feared and ostracised. But I’m not, I’m innocent, I’m just like you.
I’m the person who gave you his seat on the tube. The guy who smiled at you when you bumped into him because you were walking along engrossed in your phone. I work with you, I cross the road with you. I’m not locked away in some dark corner of a hospital, gaunt, dying and covered in lesions. Every day, you come into contact with HIV+ people — you just don’t know it. And we’re not evil, we were just unlucky.
I hope one day, World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on the past and feel grateful that we live in a world free of stigma, a world where people can go about their lives without feeling they have to hide their status. I hope it becomes a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease, and to thank those who developed treatments, and maybe one day even a cure.
Being an activist doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It doesn’t mean you have to march in a parade with a banner. You don’t have to stand behind a lectern at City Hall and deliver a speech. It can be something as simple as pinning a red ribbon to your jacket as you make your way to work. It’s an act of compassion towards a fellow human being. It says, “I’m with you on this’. Because after all, ten thousand voices whispering can be a whole lot louder than one person shouting.
I’m so proud to be a part of this campaign, to stand alongside such inspiring people and finally put a face to HIV. I hope that by sharing my story, I can empower people to take control of their health, get tested regularly and protect themselves from this virus.
I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m not afraid to be honest. And I will carry on holding my head up and fighting on behalf of those who live in fear so that we can finally end stigma once and for all.
My name is Kristian Johns, I’m HIV positive. And I refuse to hide, because I shouldn’t have to.
The exhibition at City Hall runs until December 7th 2010
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’ve got a fantastic bunch of friends, and we love each other dearly.
So when, one of our group, Lisa, discovered she had thyroid cancer earlier this year, it hit us all like a warp-speed bowling ball at an unsuspecting stack of pins.
Lisa treats her body like a temple. She’s a fitness addict and personal trainer, who spends most of her life in the gym, whether it’s training herself or helping others achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Lisa and my other friend James had got together and decided to launch a fundraising campaign for Children with Leukaemia — planning to run both the London Marathon in April and the New York Marathon in November. At the time of the London one, they’d raised a staggering £3000.
Lisa had found a lump in her neck in February and was in the middle of a barrage of blood tests and biopsies to find out the cause. But being the trooper she is, she pushed it to the back of her mind as she went into her final phase of training for the event, which she finished in a very respectable 4h 59m.
Here she is, fresh as a daisy at about mile 20:
Four weeks later, she was in hospital having the right side of her thyroid taken out — her biopsies had detected abnormal cells.
The irony was worthy of an Alanis Morissette lyric. She’d run the Marathon to raise money for cancer — with cancer.
To say this was a smack in the face is an understatement. Lisa dedicates her life to the pursuit of fitness and health, both in herself and in others. Can you imagine how it feels to have the body you’ve worked so hard to take care of and keep healthy, suddenly go renegade on you? It’s like the ultimate betrayal.
Lisa’s also self-employed, and couldn’t work for her entire recovery period — ergo, the cancer screwed not only her health, but her income as well.
And it didn’t stop there. Six weeks after her first operation, she was back in again to have the other side of her thyroid removed, after the tissue from the first op showed not one, but two different types of cancer. Six weeks after this, she underwent a week’s worth of radiotherapy treatment at the Royal Marsden, during which none of us could visit her. She also had to isolate herself for nearly a week after she was discharged, while the radioactive isotopes broke down enough to let her have human contact again.
A while ago I wrote about the reality of having HIV. I was with Lisa for most of her hospital appointments, and suddenly found out what it must have been like for my friends and family when I was diagnosed.
Here I was, shoe firmly on the other foot, being slapped around the chops by the harsh realities of cancer. This time it was me watching a friend go through something awful and knowing I could do fuck all to change the situation.
The people from Macmillan Cancer Support have been there for Lisa throughout, giving invaluable advice and support, and even arranging money to help cover the rent she could barely afford while she wasn’t working. In short — they’ve been a godsend.
Despite her (and our) joy that she’s finally in the clear, Lisa’s gutted she’s not able to run the NYC marathon. The hospital’s said it would be silly to put her body through a gruelling training programme and a 26.3 mile run when it’s still recovering from such an ordeal.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. James is still running in New York, and is continuing to raise money for Children with Leukaemia. And swooping in to run in Lisa’s place is our dear friend Simon. He’s like the proverbial knight in shining armour (or in his case, glittering spandex *sniggers* *ducks*).
Not content with completing Berlin Marathon just a few short weeks ago, he’s decided to also run NYC for Macmillan in a show of support for Lisa, and, as he’s only just taken on the challenge, he’s got a way to go to hit his target.
Now, I’d like to think I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t ask for much. This isn’t one of those blogs that exists solely to flog a product or service, or gain marketing leads. But I’d like to ask something now.
Please sponsor Simon and James. The New York Marathon is less than two weeks away (November 7th). Their links are at the bottom of this post, and even a couple of quid would be brilliant (but save some cash for sponsoring me for London next year!)
Cancer can strike, anytime, anywhere, as my group of friends found out all too easily. People don’t start thinking about things like cancer till we, or someone we love, is staring it in the face. But here’s a little factlet for you: Did you know that around 80% of postmortems reveal active cancer cells? Food for thought, no?
It’s charities like Macmillan and Children With Leukaemia that help people survive not just the physical, but the mental impact of the disease.
So next time you see someone huffing and puffing their way around the park, take a second to consider why they’re putting themselves through it. In most cases — as well as trying to better their distances or time — they’re probably also facing another challenge of raising £2k or some other massive amount for a worthwhile cause.
And as James said to me at the weekend: “Every time we runners get an email through saying we’ve been sponsored — even if it’s just a few quid — it feels like it’s all worthwhile. When you’re doing a 15 mile run in the freezing cold after a hard day at work, it’s so motivating and heartwarming.”
So come on, people, let’s all dig out a few quid to support those who are running for other people’s lives, eh?