This week’s guest blogger has chosen to remain anonymous, but has nevertheless submitted a powerful, vulnerable, and honest account of living with not only addiction, but also undiagnosed ADHD.
I was around eight years old when I first came to the rather rueful conclusion that I was different to the other boys and girls running around in the playground. I was entirely disinterested in football (unless I was the referee) and I could see absolutely no virtue in tree-climbing, hopscotch or any other childhood game. It just wasn’t my scene.
Now the library, that was where it was at. Rows and rows of books to devour, stories to absorb. I had a ferocious appetite to learn everything. I learned to read at two and by four was comfortably rattling through my elder sister’s ‘Famous Five’ books. The teachers largely let me be; I was scoring 100% on every test, but it was clear that I was marked out as ‘different’ from an early age.
It all started to fall apart for me when I passed my eleven-plus. If the truth is told, I only did it for my mother, but pass I did and went off to the grammar. Suddenly I wasn’t the smartest lad around, but crucially I had to find my own way to lessons. I had to navigate a large campus, going to different parts each day. I just could not do it.
Being an all-male environment with the emotional repression that comes with it, plus hormones were starting to kick in, I started to disengage from the process. I was labelled a troublemaker, none of the teachers approached me in any kind of a pleasant way, so I wouldn’t give them the time of day. Angry outbursts were commonplace. I got a reputation with the other students as incredibly easy to wind up, and they did just that, as young lads do.
Internally, I was panicking. I could understand the subject matter of the lessons (when I attended), but I could not remember for the life of me when any homework was due. I lost everything, lunchboxes, rugby kit, you name it. I thought I was different at primary school because I was cleverer than the other kids; here I was with my intellectual peers (mainly) and I was markedly different from them, too.
I put a face on, acted out a character for them. For a while, I got my kicks trying to ‘out-weird’ people. Jesus, I was bored. Then came the booze.
The school at that time was located over the road from the University. A hop, skip and a jump away from the Union. I was tall and in those days I had hair, which flopped over my face – it was always packed, so I got away with standing at the back of the three-deep bar and pointing at my beverage of choice. I was never refused service. I was fourteen years old.
By God, I loved it. For once, I could calm my racing brain and exist in the moment. I was confident, witty. It certainly led to my first skirmishes of trying to chat up the girls (all at least four years older than I.) I’d turn up for afternoon lessons having had a few pints at dinnertime and cause mayhem with the teachers. If I was argumentative sober, it was amplified fivefold when in drink.
I passed my A-Levels (just), and I could not wait to get out of that school. My results were a lot poorer than everyone but myself anticipated, so I couldn’t go to the universities that were marked out for me by the teaching staff. There was also a pregnancy scare that I was trying to keep under wraps, so when the door opened I bolted. To Scotland.
Eighteen, vaguely handsome and bright. I had a hell of a year in Glasgow. Ridiculous amounts of booze, but by now I’d upped my late teenage habit of weed and was getting involved with local coke dealers. We’d have full-on raves, I was the DJ. I had an encyclopedic knowledge of record labels, vinyl releases, bpm etc so I had a role, a purpose. Everyone was banging loads of ecstasy, raving all night then straight to the pub at 11 am to drink away the come-down.
I couldn’t keep going at that pace. My weight dropped to seven stone and I started to owe money to the wrong people. Glasgow is a tough city; she can chew you up and spit you out with ease. I clocked that early enough and respected it enough to pack my bags and flee back South of the border before anyone got killed.
I pitched up in Newcastle and for a while just got my head down, tried to make a go of things. I got a job working with adults with severe learning disabilities that I absolutely loved. I was still drinking every day, it wasn’t a question of ‘shall we go to the pub’, it was ‘when are we off to the pub?’ but I could manage a hangover no problem back then and be at work after a late session smelling of roses.
Then I fell in love and everything changed.
I was twenty, she was twenty-one. We were both faces on the house/techno scene and she took my breath away. We moved in together swiftly (on the pretence of saving money) and set up home together. The problem was, we both loved getting absolutely off our tits.
Our fridge was always full of cans. Bottles of cheap scotch started to appear. Our rather liberal approach to drink and drug consumption meant that we always had a collection of randoms on the sofa who obviously weren’t going to say no to a ‘can and dram.’ I found myself finishing off cans in the morning en route to work. Now I knew there was a problem, but I didn’t care. I hated myself that much for my inability to be like everyone else that I genuinely could not give a fuck if I got run over.
Jobs came and went, largely behind a bar or waiting tables. I was totally unmanageable.
We lasted three years. I can’t remember a sober day during that time period. What I do remember is thinking that if I go dry, she’ll think I’m no fun to be around and do one. I was still acting a part. My self-esteem was zero, there was no way I was going to expose my true self, what would she want to stay for?
We split up and I went home. I was in an absolute state, emotionally, physically, everything. It took me six months to get out of bed. I was distraught that our relationship was over, for I really did love her (still do, in a fashion) but I was sobering up properly for the first time in years. I needed to get a job, quickly, and ended up advising people of their welfare rights for the Council part-time.
I was spotted quickly by the powers that be. I was, and remain, excellent value when working with vulnerable people. I have the ability to make people feel like they and I are the only two people on earth and that what they say is of the utmost importance. I don’t even have to try and act, it comes naturally.
My colleagues, however, that was another story. They thought I was aloof, I had a reputation for being lazy and uncommunicative. I also absolutely hated being told what to do. I know nobody likes this, but for me, it’s quite primal – I will stand people down. Nobody orders me around, nobody.
There was also a fairly well-established drinking culture at the building I worked in. I tried my best to fit in, to have the ‘odd drink’, have a laugh and all the rest of it.
Except I can’t just have the ‘odd drink.’ One becomes ten. Ten becomes scrapping. Scrapping becomes resisting arrest. I hold convictions relating to alcohol and drugs. I’m not proud of this, it is just a statement of fact. Work was suffering, I made some catastrophic choices romantically. Still, my brain whirred on and on. The doctors were prescribing me all sorts for depression, but nothing worked. Not even the booze, anymore.
I was rescued by a woman. She’s a no-nonsense Ulsterwoman and she, for all intents and purposes, saved my life. I was having seizures when in drink, I ended up in A&E a few times.
“It’s the drink or me.”
I’m still married to her, twelve years later. I’ve been largely sober during that time, apart from a handful of episodes of absolute carnage. She’s still here. We have two sons.
She knows it’s a battle between the drink and me. She knows how much I love and hate it in equal measure.
She also knows that I have been fighting with one hand tied behind my back my entire life.
Last summer, after I was fired from my dream job after only eleven weeks, I tried to end it all. I went to a local ruined castle that I used to play in when I was small, necked a month’s worth of medication and downed a bottle of scotch. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would no longer be able to provide for my children and I sincerely believed that they would be better off without me.
In the chaotic cloudiness that followed me waking up hours later (I was bitterly disappointed), I was hospitalised, checked over and discharged. The doctor was staggered that I’d survived.
Nurses came and went into the house. Psychiatrists came round. Then my wife blurted out: “I think he has ADHD.”
She had been reading up on the symptoms as she suspected our eldest of exhibiting some traits. She read out the list and said “This is you. This is 100% you.” She must have been persuasive, as I was referred to the local ADHD clinic and bingo. Diagnosed as predominantly inattentive ADHD. I was started on medication and my life transformed.
I will always have to battle the drink, I accept that. The diagnosis does go some way to explain my relationship with drugs and alcohol though.
Children with ADHD–IA (my type of ADHD) show a different impairment profile than do children with either ADHD–HI (hyperactivity/impulsivity) or ADHD–C (combined traits)(Barkley 1998; Milich et al. 2002).
Children with ADHD–IA typically exhibit sluggish information processing, academic problems, and social neglect (e.g., they ignore or are ignored by their peers). Conversely, children with ADHD–HI or ADHD–C exhibit deficits in behavioural response inhibition that often result in careless mistakes, impulsive rule breaking, and conflict with peers and adults. (Smith et al, 2002.)
I never want to drink again. My brain may hinder me from the get-go. I know now, and that’s OK. My self-esteem is up, I’ve accepted that I’m different. It’s taken thirty-eight years, but I got there.