Essay: Writing It Out, Or After The Alcohol

May 26, 2018

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It’s gone midnight. I’m sat at a table. I have a blanket draped over my head and the laptop I am typing on. I am shivering as I type. Under the blanket it is too warm, but the sweat on my face and back feels cold. I am writing a story about a man who is hiding something from his wife, but the story seems to suggest that the wife knows. The dialogue is stilted. There seems to be little bumps in what is said, hinting at something buried underneath. Plastic flowers stuck in the soil to pretend everything is alright, that everything is as it should be, that the man didn’t say those awful things to her the night before, before he punched his fist through that glass door, before she had to take him to the hospital because the cut was too deep and wouldn’t stop bleeding, before she sat waiting for him to be stitched up and she couldn’t help but cry, because, this is Christmas Eve, and the kids are still at her mother’s, and they should be at home, all of them, together, like a family should be, and this is wrong, this is wrong.

But, that was then, and this is now. I still can’t be sure of why I started writing, but whatever the impulse was, I’m convinced it did something for me that nothing else could. How to understand what was happening to me back then? Of why I became this other person, this gobby, unfunny drunk that chose drunkenness again and again over love? It took me until my mid-thirties to stop.

I quit drinking, quit my job, quit my life that was. I was unbelievably lucky. My wife and kids stuck by me. I went to college. I needed to start again. At college, a tutor took me to one side, told me that the stories I was writing were good, asked if I’d written before. No. He suggested I read Raymond Carver, and I did. Everything changed with that first story I read. Why Don’t You Dance? Simple language, simple storytelling, a weight under the surface that said everything without saying it, a man selling too cheaply the contents of his house, his life, a yard sale but not, and I understood.

I went at my studies, my reading, my writing, with an energy unlike anything else I’d done up to that point of my life. Excepting one thing, that is. Drinking. But now, I wasn’t smashing things up. I was making things. And I wrote, and I wrote. And the more I wrote, the better I began to feel. Under that blanket, I started in a rotting orchard, all around me blackened fruit, these rancid apples of f**k-up and regret. One by one I took them from dry-dead branches, these moments of past, re-imagining them, using the feel of these dank uncomfortable objects in my hand to make something other. Yes, the pie was sour and stank bad. Yes, it was highly unpalatable. But. It allowed me to start again. And under that blanket back then, these remnants of sickness coming though fingers and pores, I was beginning to understand.

And yes, the cost of this cure is that some people will step back from you, alarmed and disapproving that someone would want to write about such vulgar happenings, but here’s the thing, a thing you know if you’ve been there: addiction is not pretty, it is not a 7pm soap opera of sanitised oh dears where cause and effect lead to a comfortably packaged resolution by the ad-break, it is a single track Dantean hell of down down down, dragged seemingly unstoppable by a devil who looks just like you, as all around sings a demon chorus repeat of it’s your own fault, you chose this, you chose this, because, that’s how society works, a shrug-culture judgement because this is what’s instilled into us, that scrubby tramp sat on a street-corner asking for change: there because he wanted that life, that smack-head lass selling herself down a dim-lit back-alley: there because she wanted that life, you chose this, you chose this… well, no, because you DID NOT choose this, it tricked you with escape to a pretend better, a pour or prick of instant fake happy, to quell whatever dark thing houses itself within you through no ask of your own… Listen: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

I write because making is better than destroying. But sometimes, you have to destroy to make. And no, I don’t mean you have to comply to that oh-so romantic notion of the messed-up writer. Don’t believe it. Do not buy into that much-vaunted lie of Bukowski role-model. Because those that wear this ideal as a badge have not read Bukowski widely or deeply enough, or have even considered for a moment where he came from: the brutal father, the ostracising, the not fitting in. Read him again. For every poem of the glories of drunken creation there are six about loneliness, sadness, isolation, darkness. And these poems are the ones. The truth-tellers. The voice of outsider. Of someone who didn’t seem to have any choice the matter, pushed out from the in-door at the very start. Is that what you want?

I do not drink alcohol anymore. It didn’t suit me. It separated me from what I was, am. And in writing it all down, in writing it out, this fiction of a truth to tell a truth, I got me back. I kept my family. I kept me. And now? I smile at the devil that took me. I thank it. I am very proud of my first novel. Without living the life I’d lived I could never have written that book.

Switch off the voices. Shut out the naysayers. Do what’s right for you and make something.

Do you hear what I’m saying? I won.


Dean Lilleyman is the author of Billy And The Devil, published by Urbane Publications. Go to for more information.

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