When I was little my Dad took me to London Zoo. I walked through big Art Deco gates, holding hands with my Dad, I was wearing a duffle coat like Paddington Bear and my ruby red mittens hung below my cold hands from a string that looped all the way around my back. I could see the heads of giraffes munching leaves and hear the roar of a lion in the distance. We approached the chimp enclosure where these languid apes sat slouched over logs picking at each other’s ball bags. There was a huge sign on the fence that stated very clearly,
‘Do Not Feed the Animals’
Dad got a packet of Chewits out of his shirt top pocket, undid the sticky wrapper and chucked one into the cage. He had that cheeky grin across his face,
‘Watch this kids’
The ape picked up the sweet and threw it into its mouth. It started chewing, a lot.
Then a sound resonated around the zoo,
‘kaa, kaaaa, kaaaaaaa’
The monkey was choking. It’s eyes protruded from the sockets like the top of hard boiled eggs. The Chewit lodged in its throat.
Dad’s expression swiftly changed to total panic,
‘Time to go kids’
He had not moved that fast since he won the 400m dash at the Surrey track and field championships in 1953. We were shoved out of the ornate gates, into the car and were on the M4 heading home before morning tea. I hoped the chimp didn't die, I imagined it swallowing the sweet and then finding the packet and finishing them off. Even if he had nearly karked it, it was worth it for those few juicy moments. Animals are funny like that, not thinking things through, repeating the same old stupid behaviours.
Thinking about that story now I realise that I am that chimp! - I have been my whole life - An out of control ape grabbing at a substance that I know will make me sick, pushing through crowds to get to the bar before closing time in order to throw a shot down my neck, choking out the kebab I devoured just hours before. Even if I felt like death afterwards, hungover: knowing this liquid treat was killing me, my hand would still be reaching out for another dose, desperately grabbing, wanting more, as soon as the storm had passed.
'Hair of the dog anyone?'
I remember reading a book about giving up smoking that described being addicted to nicotine as like having a monkey on your back that you were constantly trying to keep happy by feeding it bananas. I can relate to this analogy. The monkey is annoying, yes... but we are friends, I don't mind him living on my back, picking at my nits. If I'm bored we can get up to mischief together; smoke cigars and reminice about jungle music. He's a reliable buddy and to be honest, I don't mind his red bulbous bottom, it's impressive and very shiny.
I finished the book and stopped smoking. Refusing to feed my furry beast for about 24 hours.... then he got hungry. He scratched me, nudged me and chatted in my ear so I gave in, gave him what he wanted, anyway, I didn't want to cause us to fall out, I was used to having him around. He knows me and I trust him.
I am exactly the same with booze. No matter how good my intentions I could't help but feed my habit.
I didn't have the tools or support to stop. Where was my monkey friend when I needed him? Fact is I needed something new, I needed help.
After I sought therapy and quit drinking 18 months ago I realised that 25 years of heavy drinking was comparable to giving a gorilla a piggy back, all day every day. A burden that was affecting my life, ruining it instead of doing what it promised. The disco lights had faded and all that was left on the dance floor was some fag butts and the heel of my shoe. The flirty dancing was gone and the lights were exposing all of my flaws. I was a mess. Drinking had taken its toll and that big gorilla was slowly weighing me down. Eventually I had to put him down,,,, no, not euthanise him! Geez!, he was just fucking heavy!
Putting down the drink and saying goodbye to my best friend was the hardest yet most rewarding accomplishment of my life. I didn't need him anymore. I missed him, I still do... but our relationship had turned toxic and his breath was repugnant. I set him down and wished him well. His body swayed and his knuckles dragged on the floor as he disappeared over the horizon...
Farewell my mate primate. Hello Sunday mornings.
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This is me learning how to do Christmas sober. Challenging. I will write about that soon.