I’ve struggled for many years as a beer enthusiast and a sufferer of Depression to try and correlate the two. Whilst I’ve written about the two in different ways, I’ve never really considered how the worlds collide on a consistently balanced knife-edge. Either one could take control at any moment and kill me but both are defining characteristics of Mark Johnson.
I want to finally explore how it is to be a Beer Enthusiast and a Mental Health sufferer; to explore how the two can live together. I want to look at the ways they’ve destroyed people but also at the way they’ve saved lives, the way it saved mine. The media perception of the two removes the humanity from the stories that I want to return. There are unhappy stories but there are many happy ones to coincide.
I have positive personal stories but I have to begin with the most private story I’ve ever told.
I am the beer enthusiast I am because of my Dad.
I hear a lot of blogger’s stories about the moment they became a “beer enthusiast;” the moment they switched from macro lager to everything else. I never had this moment. I was brought up on real ale, nitro stout or, occasionally, keg bitter if it was all that was available. My favourite drink in my youth was actually Guinness or Murphy’s Irish Stout preferably. Whilst the Guinness came from my mum, the Ale all stemmed from my Dad who would talk to me about good beer and good pubs from around age 16.
After first leaving home at 18 all I wanted to do in new areas was find real ale where I could and lovely old pubs with real fireplaces and snugs. From the first moment I sat in my own place I wanted to find my potential new “local.” It was the real ale drinker’s life and it was all I ever knew. From legal drinking age I was attending beer festivals with my Dad or joining him and his friends for explorative journeys to dig out pubs and cask beer wherever we could, often with the Good Beer Guide accompanying.
These days out – and an unfortunate support of Huddersfield Town – were how me and my Dad bonded. It was all we had in common, but they happened to be two of the most important aspects of my life. The enjoyment I had from these days made me ignore and deny something I’d known to be true long before I was eighteen.
My Dad was an alcoholic.
His attitude towards good pubs and good beers didn’t change or waver on those days out, but it was away from these that soon the house was filled with cans of Strongbow Super and bottles of vodka. I’d come home every couple of weeks to see an increasingly desperate situation. Yet everybody was too scared to say anything. We let it get out of control between us as a family with the subject only finally being approached from the first hospital admittance.
It never improved from that moment. As we were continuously told by every sector of the NHS, alcoholics can only be given help if they want it. My Dad didn’t want to give up the drink. Nearly ten years went on of collapses, hospital visits, false promises, crushing realisations and hurt. I moved back home under various circumstances and didn’t want to leave my mother on her own anymore.
I wish I could tell you he was just an embarrassing drunk. I wish I could tell you he just came home stumbling about a lot. I wish I could tell you he was just angry sometimes. I think that is the perception people have of living with an alcoholic. That would be a wonderland in comparison. If that were the case I’d never have seen my Dad naked or soaked in his own shit or his own sick or his own blood. I’d never have spent 3.am on workdays scrubbing blood from carpets before it stained whilst my mother accompanied him to the hospital. I’d never have been calling ambulances to pick him up from the middle of the road whilst neighbours watched on. I’d never have heard him begging for alcohol from my mother at 4.am because he couldn’t cope without his little nip of vodka.
I’d never have lost my temper and beat his face to a bloody pulp myself.
For those unsure, I’ve written about my Dad several times on this blog before. I’ve just always used the pseudonym “Steve.” Every post – this one – or this one – or this one – that included mention of this alcoholic Steve was about my Dad. It was a horrifying life and all but one of those posts was written before the night in December 2013 that truly changed everything.
I was getting ready for a night out with my then girlfriend. I was dropped off at my house by a friend to quickly pick up my keys so he could give me a lift to the train station afterwards. He waited for me in the car outside. I walked to my parent’s familiar back door to find it wide open. One shoe was outside; the other in the kitchen. Clothes were strung about the house. Parts of the floor were covered with sick, blood and human faeces. The house was in total darkness and I fully expected to find a body in every corner I turned. I meekly kept saying the word “Dad” over and over again, thinking only of the corpse I was to find.
But nobody was there. I stood by the bathroom that resembled a nightmarish horror film scene and realised that there was nobody, dead or alive, in this house. I walked dumbstruck to my friend’s car and told him I didn’t need a lift anymore. Maybe the vacancy of my face told him not to ask questions as he left. I stood in the doorway for an indeterminate amount of time wondering what to do next. I really didn’t know what to do. Eventually – whether in two minutes or two hours – a face I didn’t recognise came down the driveway and spoke to me. “Are you Mark? Your Dad is in the hairdressers down the road. He walked in there… naked.”
I can’t recall my response or what my following actions were. The next time I caught myself I was already outside the hairdressers with a pile of his clothes in my hand. I didn’t understand how I’d reached there. They showed me to the back room where they’d covered him in the cloth they stop hair going down your back with. They’d made him tea and were speaking to him softly. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel shame, disgust, tearful, anger… nothing. I helped clothe him and was even caring as he repeatedly tried to wear his sock as a glove. The paramedics came and it was only as they put him in the back of the ambulance and asked whether I was coming that I knew how I felt. “No, I’m not going anywhere with him.”
I didn’t want to call my mother but I had to. She was in Liverpool. She told me to continue with my planned night out with my then girlfriend, who was actually angry with me that I was late, even after I explained.
That relationship lasted less than two months after the incident. I don’t blame her or my Dad for its collapse, but the two were synonymous in its demise. She told me that her mum had said I’d become “rude and moody” in the final few weeks. Rude and moody as I watched my father return from hospital with more broken promises. Rude and moody as I watched my mother’s heart break for the hundredth time. Rude and moody as I scrubbed the dried blood and shit from the landing carpet. Rude and moody as I relived the moment entering that horror house each and every day. Rude and moody as I found the first hidden bottle of vodka after the return from hospital when we were promised he would never drink again. Rude and moody as I tried to cry myself to sleep every night. I didn’t though – I didn’t cry, nor did I sleep.
I didn't cry, nor did I sleep.
I didn't cry, nor did I sleep.
I stayed for a long time for my mother, but after wanting to commit suicide for 8 months I had to remove myself from that scenario. We don’t speak anymore, my father and I. He’s sorry and repentant and misses his family but he is still a heavy drinker and is still hospitalised regularly. He can now use the excuse that he drinks because his children and wife don’t speak to him but after 10 years I finally realised he would have drunk regardless. We had to stop blaming ourselves and holding ourselves responsible, less it took our own lives. We had to live because there were three of us dying.
So I understand the importance of it every time I sit down to have a drink. My sister married and had two beautiful children. My brother found his own life in a different part of the country. I tried everything but still migrated back to trying to fix the broken. Eventually I had to look for it elsewhere.
I’m telling this story because it took me removing myself from the situation to truly understand what happened to my Dad. Or at least what I believe happened.
My Dad always suffered from crippling social anxiety (like his son.) He got lucky, married a good person and had three wonderful children. He was always well below his wife’s paygrade and came from an unfortunate time when all of his friends earned much more than their wives; therefore he felt inadequate. His job was cushy for a very long time but only came under threat when recession threatened. It was the first time in nearly forty years he’d had to worry.
To get him through social situations he had to drink. When work became an added stress he had to drink. Eventually he had to have a drink at lunch to get him through the working day. This led to a drink before work to get him through the day. This all became a dependency on alcohol, so quickly I don’t think he even noticed it.
That is why he could still have those days out seeking the best beer pubs and bars with his sons and friends – because he was still him. But away from that, he didn’t recognise himself. At times when he'd fiercely deny having had a drink even when we knew he had, I think there was part of his mind that believed it.
It cost him his job, his children and eventually his marriage without him fully understanding why that was happening.
It was, as alcoholism is, a serious Mental Health condition.
All the horrors I experienced afterwards were through his own health problems. It is why I stayed for so long trying to fix him, believing that it could be done.
I chose to save myself in the end, with my own Mental Health problems becoming too much. I’d have hurt more people by not being here than he ever did by his own actions.
I often wish my Dad had died but he has proved himself immortal. I never thought I’d share these stories before his own obituary but I find it prudent to share them now. If you ever feel you don’t have control over your drinking, if you ever begin to do it to guide you through every day, if you ever feel that you HAVE to drink for whatever reason that is, then seek the help you may need. It could really be the start of something serious that won’t just destroy your own life but all those around you who love you.
Whenever I wrote about Steve I always hoped it would be the last time. Whenever I wrote about my Depression I hoped it would be too. It is important that I keep coming back to it though for we were never individuals in this. We are not unique. I want to tell my story to help others. If they want to share along the way then I am all for it.
The next part of this tale is different. Being a part of the Beer community saved me from my own problems in ways I need to discuss. There are a lot of positives to be shared that I wish to, but it was important to start at the beginning and with the saddest parts of my life. I thank you for reading and for finally allowing me to share.
As I always say when discussing Mental Health, I can not stress enough how much every word of support means; how it is all memorised and savoured. When I've spoken of it before the responses have saved my life. It is the reason I know sharing to work.
If you are curious about the choice of heading picture it is because I don't own any pictures of my Dad in any form, but he did take this picture that happens to be of somewhere we went a lot as kids. Ultimately, I should be grateful that he was the one who introduced me into this Beer world that is now such an important part of my life, even if he abused it himself.
I always try to remember the Sunday mornings with my Dad playing with my electric train set on the living room floor. Whenever I write about his Mental Health, I always bring myself back to driving my Thomas the Tank Engine along with his Flying Scotsman. He was still a good man even if he isn't my Dad any longer.
Thank you for letting me share.