It’s normally mid-December as I celebrate my ‘birthday’ when I reflect upon my time at Farm Place. I came out in late February 1998 though so this as good a time as ever to revisit the old country house in Sussex where things somewhat changed for me.
First some context. From the moment I started drinking regularly with my mates at the age of 16, I drank more than everyone else. Eventually I drank more drink, more often, more secretly, more over I didn’t know why. There were ten years between admitting I had a problem and going into Farm Place. In that decade I attempted numerous traditional counselling options. I saw a Sikh psychiatrist who told me that my addiction was a lion roaring in my belly and I could control it; I went to the local county drugs and alcohol service who were on trend and sought to prove I had been sexually abused as a child; and I spent time with a lovely Japanese lady who taught me to wind down my car window and throw my stresses to the wind before driving home. About all they ever did for me was make me drink harder, faster, and sooner.
Anyway, to get to the grist. I was off sick from my job as IT Manager at Fitzpatrick Contractors Limited with a ‘bad cold’. Of course, no-one wore that but it was what it was. My boss, Penny Fitzpatrick, called me and said she wanted to come over and see me. Clearly she was bringing my P45. Frankly I didn’t care.
When Penny arrived that evening, what she actually had with her was a prospectus for Farm Place, a 12 Step Rehab Clinic in Sussex. We’ll skip then to Tuesday 16th December 1997, when with a can of Guinness in my hand (not my first of the day), one of my engineers drove me to Farm Place with my suitcase in my hand and left standing in the plush entrance hall suitably decorated for Christmas.
Things began with being checked-in. And there was something I should have mentioned earlier. At home – where I still lived with my parents due to pissing every penny I earned up the wall – we shared our personal space with numerous animals including several neighbours cats. That is, to be precise, the several cats of a neighbour rather than the cats of several neighbours! Sherry (such irony) had a vicious little streak and didn’t much like being handled. I, when drunk, didn’t much care for common-sense so needing love before committing myself to rehab, I had tried to pick Sherry up for a cuddle. The outcome was all four claws wrapped around my left arm leaving behind gridiron of red streaks as she rappelled to the floor.
So back to the check-in and the question about whether I had ever considered self-harm. I answered ‘no’ because it was the truth but the nurse spent an inordinate amount of time staring at that left arm.
And then checked-in, I discovered Tuesday night was film night. I didn’t feel in the mood for a movie so I took myself off for a bath and an early night. I soon learned that film night was not optional and over the coming weeks I learned the joys of Days of Wine and Roses, Less Than Zero, Postcards from the Edge and Leaving Las Vegas.
Even so, the routine I discovered the next day was not too trying. I was of course dosed up on Heminevrin and trying not to throw up on people I had just met so it was pleasing to find myself in a lounge talking to a young man writing a pantomime. Mark was British but had lived in America a long time. His interest in the pantomime was waning fast. Which is how, whilst Jonesing like fuck, I find myself rewriting Cinderella on a 12 Step Programme in a country house in Sussex with a Portuguese alcoholic; several British and American junkies; an Irish co-dependent; a Greek anorexic and a other assorted misfits like me!
It was a surprising success. My cast were delightful – even those from countries where the concept of pantomime was unknown. Somehow, after years of drinking myself into a pit of despair where I believed I was a failure; quite hopeless; untalented, I had in less then a week become the author of Farm Place.
I think we performed to a cast of tens on Christmas Day. Our fellow addicts, some staff, a few family members. I was ecstatic. Another seven weeks of rehab was going to be a doddle.
Then I woke up Boxing Day and the gloves came off.