Tom is frantically looking for somewhere where he can wire his pictures back. He’s ducking in and out of newsagents and garden centre cafes, hoping someone will be kind enough to lend him some wi-fi.
It’s 7.06am. The first edition will be off the presses in a matter of minutes. I have already sent my copy through. So now I am watching him, hoping he’ll stay in one of those shops long enough to suggest he’s made deadline.
I lean against the battered old Ford, take a drag of my cigarette, and look towards the ASDA before gazing round the empty car park. As soon as he’s wired back we’re getting coffee. And boy, do I need it.
The air is chilly but bright. January. It’s cold at the moment but it could get out later. You can never can tell this far north. I close my eyes and inhale. This tab will either see me right or it will make the drive back to Aberdeen disgusting. I’ve managed to hold off asking Tom to pull over so I can throw up. But I’m not sure how long I can last.
Just six hours ago, I was stood at my kitchen counter, in my tiny stinking over-priced one-bed flat, looking at an empty gin bottle through a screwed up eye.
I don’t know how I’m even standing, let alone up at 4.30am for an early shift. 15 minutes to get ready and a steep walk up Midstocket Hill enough to sober me up in time for the 5.45am headlines.
But isn’t this what journalists are supposed to do?
I had started early. The early shift means out at 2pm, and that means into the Spar by 2.30pm if I’m quick down the hill. £4.99 later and I have my first hit. But it’s piss-water and only lasts 45 minutes once I’m home. Maybe 50 minutes if I pair it with a shop-bought sandwich.
Then you try to hold off, because you don’t want to binge. And your body is so attuned to it now that it barely wets the sides. But, shaking in the hallway, telly not shutting up the noise, you cram your boots on. You’ve already changed out of your suit (always in case you have to go to court) and so the boots get caught in the hems of your trackie bottoms.
A quick spritz of perfume and a mint sorts you out before you head to the other Spar. The one just around the corner. Because you can’t buy two bottles of wine from the same supermarket in the space of an hour and a half. Because then people will judge you. People can’t know this is how you’re spending your afternoon. Because you know, in your heart of hearts, that it’s not okay. But right now, it feels like the only thing that is.
And once that one’s gone – it’s a bit cheaper in the nearer Spar – you look in your purse and there’s no cash left. You deal in cash because that way you’re not reminded of it when you see your bank statements. And cash is as fleeting as it can be. And you lie to yourself that once that tenner’s gone that you won’t go and get another.
There’s no way you can go to the same Spar twice. You plan your drink-buying. You take a big bag so no one can see you carrying your loot. And you pull your hood up when you walk past the Spar you went to in the first instance. And you make snazzy conversation with the cashier to prove that you’re a normal person, that you’re not hiding anything, and you are absolutely, absolutely, not drunk already.
But it gets to 5.30pm and the day is empty and ending. All you’ve done is swig and watch SpringWatch. Like a caged animal you need to prowl and FFS just do SOMETHING.
So you go for a walk. But you prepare for the walk by throwing some mascara on. because you know, despite everything you tell yourself it is not going to be, that you will only walk so far before you walk into a pub and order a pint.
You try to plan your walk so you avoid pubs. Because you know you can’t walk past one and not go in. But there’s only so much of that you can do in Aberdeen, and when you finally reach the Albyn, you stop.
Just one. So you’ve done something with your evening. It’s 6pm now, you’ve just got out of work you lie to the barman. You sit outside and smoke alongside your glass. You make conversation with anyone who will listen to prove you are normal and that you don’t do this every day.
Sometimes people, dark people, will offer you another. Will keep you chatting. Because they can see what you can’t and they want you to join them and their friends because of the things you might do them for later, once you’ve had another few glasses.
But you keep moving. You never stay in the same place for too long. Because that’s dangerous. You walk all around the city. You help with pub quizzes. You do karaoke. You scrawl the wrong number in highlighter, ripping a page from your pad, down for some letch at the bar just to get him off your back.
You have to keep moving and hope your next one will be the last one. Because otherwise it will only stop when closing time comes.
Closing time does come. You manage to sweet talk the last one into giving you a cheeky half after the bell. “It’s been a long day,” you tell them. “Surely you can do me this favour? I need it.”
As you sit and nurse your final baby you begin to panic. You don’t know what you will do next. Because it’s only now that the fretting and the dread and the shakes have stopped and you finally feel soothed. That is about to be snatched away from you by licensing laws.
So you nurse and you curse. You know what you’re doing but you convince yourself it’s living because it’s the only thing you know. It’s what you were brought up with. It is what you were fed as a wee’en. It is what nourishes you.
You’re frightened of what will happen when it stops. So when you get home you crack open the gin you’d bought to pretend you had a drinks cabinet. Like you’re in Mad Men or something. But it’s only supermarket own brand on a wonky IKEA bookcase.
You have no tonic so you water it down. And you water it down so much you get through a bottle.
It’s past midnight. You’re up in four and a bit hours. But you don’t sleep. You just pass out.
Rudely awoken by the alarm later that day and you’re not withdrawing yet. The kicks and shakes and tremors won’t come till mid-morning. You’re still drunk enough to manage the first burst of the shift. Not that anyone will be able to tell unless they smell it on you. Because it’s now that the only way your body functions is when it’s been pickled.
It’s when there’s nothing in your system that you go to pot.
You haven’t time for a shower so you spray more perfume and hope it covers the stinking night sweats. You clean your teeth three times and swill them out with concentrated orange juice. Because grapes and barley don’t give you the vitamin C you need.
So this morning’s house fire, up in Peterhead. You handled that with aplomb. You weren’t quite sure where you were, but that’s North East Scotland for you. You know your copy is clean because you concentrate extra hard to make up for the fog in your brain. The subs always love your copy. It’s so tidy. And any literals are just down to speed and iPhones. You made it a good 10 minutes before we’re off stone. You’re fine.
It’s just the drive home you have to worry about now.
It’s a few days later when I sit my deputy editor down in a separate room and tell him I’m an alcoholic.
I’d rung my other boss at home the night before. He’d stayed on the phone longer than he should have. I am amazed that he answered in the first place. I hang up. Our call lasted 18 minutes.
I’d rung my mum. Explaining to her I’d found myself at the bottom of a barrel as much as I was at the bottom of a bottle. She listened. She told me it would be okay. I sobbed as I confessed to her what an awful, ruined little girl she had as a daughter.
I left a voicemail for AA. I got a nice voicemail back of a lovely Scandanvian lady who would meet me outside a church hall the next evening to introduce me to people and offer me orange squash and biscuits. I only went to one meeting. One was enough for me.
My deputy editor was just pleased I wasn’t pregnant. He was pleased I had told him. He was not expecting that. I’d been doing well with a run of decent splashes and had seemed so on top of things. “That was the last thing I expected,” he said. Like TinTin, looking confused.
I couldn’t tell him about the baby I had lost. Probably through my drinking. Or about the dad that didn’t want to know.
But this wasn’t his fault. I’d been on this path a lot longer than since that horrible lonely night in the bathroom with nothing but a clump of bloody tissue and a bare lightbulb to tell me what hadn’t happened.
Work looked after me so damn well. He’d have to tell the editor, but that was okay. I was safe. They made it easy enough for me to talk when I needed to. And secure enough to admit when I’d had a blip. They made me brave enough to get my GP to write “alcohol withdrawal” on the sick note. They were marvels. Supportive, compassionate marvels.
Surely alcoholism can’t be that unusual in a newsroom.
My friends thought my decision to go dry was a social experiment. Like when I’d been a lollipop lady for the day, or auditioned for X Factor for a feature. They were good friends, and looked at it more with curiosity than anything else. They never questioned me.
My GP weaned me off. I couldn’t go cold turkey straight away. It would probably kill me. He referred me to a local charity. A drugs and alcohol partnership on Dee Street. And I got partnered with a counsellor – friendly, understanding, soft and gentle Christine. She saw me every Saturday morning for a year. Saturday mornings so it wouldn’t interfere with work and so I wouldn’t binge on a Friday night.
My GP put me on Campral once I’d been dry for a while. It controlled the cravings. No more sitting on a 8.40am bus desperate for a glass of cheap wine. He put me on Propranolol to control the anxiety.
I blipped of course. Who doesn’t? I turned up at the crisis house in Aberdeen at stupid o’clock at night, crying on the doorstep that I just didn’t know what to do. But they invited me in, sat me in an arm chair, made me a cup of sweet tea and listened. They listened through the night. Until 2am. The point where I finally felt safe enough to go home and not hurt myself.
It would rear its head of course. By this time I had a housemate and would smuggle in bottles and hide them down the side of my bed. Or I’d come in as brazen as morning wood and pretend that two bottles of wine and Joni Mitchell after work was as acceptable as a glass with dinner.
But gradually it got better. Every Saturday morning Christine would listen for an hour. To everything that was built up in my head. She peeled it back, softly and gently. Until she unpeeled so much that I started to see the concrete block in my head that causing me so much pain that I wanted to throw my life away.
The day I didn’t need her anymore we both just knew. The sun was shining outside and it was January. I talked to her, as I always did, refreshed. She had cracked open the beast in my head and she had built me back up.
We get to the end of our 50 minutes. She smiles at me. She normally does, but this smile is different. A year since I had first walked into her office.
“You don’t need me anymore,” she says in her quiet, confident lilt.
“You’re right. I don’t… Thank you.”
“Just promise me one thing,” she says. “Promise me you’ll write.”
I nod. I hug her. I turn and I wave. And I walk up the street in the cold, brisk, January in Aberdeen sunshine.
To Christine – the woman who saved my life.