Peter Major’s story
Crumpled and unconscious, I was retrieved from the gutter. When I awoke I was in St Helier’s Hospital, Carshalton. I was dazed and confused. A doctor told me that I had been brought in by two policemen and had been unconscious for hours. The last thing I could recall was coming down in a lift from my flat and walking into the open air.
It was July 1999 and I had just made a serious but unsuccessful suicide attempt; the third attempt in just over a decade. Each time I had been rescued and each time I had felt angry to be alive when all my desire was to end the pain and despair of my life. I told the nurse at St Helier’s that only a HigherBeing could have rescued me and that only Someone more powerful than I could save me from alcoholism.
As on the previous occasions, the toxins had been pumped from my stomach. My inner organs were damaged by gallons of gin, rum and vodka I had consumed for over 45 years! However am I still alive?
Drink and sex
I discovered alcohol at about the same time as I faced up to my sexual orientation. I had grown up with a brother and sister in a normal, loving but strict family in a small island community in Scotland. Alcohol was never in our household apart from one bottle of port wine which my mother purchased at Christmas each year for visitors. Like many fathers of his era, my father was somewhat distant, never showing emotional affection. Nevertheless, he was a kind and caring person but I found it difficult to relate to him on a personal level. His word was law and he was certainly the BOSS in the household. He told me later in life that he had never found it necessary, on any occasion throughout my childhood, to hit or smack me as a means of correction for any misdemeanours.
I really loved my mother with what could be called today ‘a mother fixation’. When I began to earn money, I only dreamed of the time when I could afford to take her on a long holiday when the two of us would be together.
She had been my comfort in my teenage years when I suffered intense isolation. My peers and I met during our many church and Boys’ Brigade activities, but as they grew interested in love relationships, I felt frighteningly different. They paired off and I lived a solitary life. I hated my first job after leaving school and felt inferior when in the company of my peers.
I began National Service in 1949 and it was then that I first tasted beer. I hated it and wondered how anyone could enjoy it. My older sister, 25, died suddenly of meningitis in 1950 and one year later my mother died of thrombosis, aged just over 50, leaving me desperate and despairing. I felt I had never expressed to her how much she meant to me. I wept with such intensity at her funeral that I vowed never to weep again. I had a feeling of being internally shattered. I have seldom shed atear since that memorable event and have certainly never experienced a feeling of the same intensity and emotional upheaval. Perhaps the nearest I ever got to experiencing that emotion again was when I had to arrange and witness my dog ‘being put to sleep’ in 1991, after 15 years of devoted, loyal companionship. Perhaps I had transferred that feeling of love to that wonderful animal.
By the age of 20 I had lost my dearest family members, discovered that I could not contemplate a sexual relationship with a woman and that my longings for sexual encounters with men could never lead to a relationship because homosexual practice was illegal at that time.
First steps with gin
After National Service in 1953, I became a Company Leader for the Boys’ Brigade and a commissioned Officer in the Territorial Army. To me my home no longer existed following my mother’s death and instead I made use of the Officers’ Mess virtually every evening, often by myself. Although I learned later that my father was proud of my achievements, he never expressed his feelings in a personal manner and therefore the distant relationship continued. In the Mess I first experienced gin and tonic, but although I did not enjoy the taste, I soon benefited from the waves of relief from pain circulating in my head. Thus began my friendship with the bottle which would eventually lead to my uncontrollable addiction to alcohol. I was not born an alcoholic but through practice, I certainly grew into one. Alcoholism has been described as a physical, emotional and spiritual illness and perhaps I suffered from all three conditions.
The pattern of my life
During the mid fifties and sixties I was beginning to realise my potential as an administrator and youth worker. I had so hated school, having been tormented by a harsh schoolmaster we had all thought of as a ‘queer’. His critical, disparaging comments, and the way he would speak of me: “the boy with adenoids will now stand up and read a passage to the class”, led to my under-achievement, convincing me that I was not intelligent. I believe that the said teacher adopted a sadistic approach in order to cause me embarrassment when I lapsed into hesitancy and stuttering, because he was well aware of my shyness and lack of confidence. He appeared to derive pleasure from his remarks whilst I endured discomfort. Fortunately my class mates did not share in his display of enjoyment and I was never mocked or bullied by my peer group. I did not tell my parents of these incidents.
My aptitude for learning only developed and improved when I left school and it was a proud moment for me when I was able to stand up in front of a church congregation and read a lengthy passage from Revelation without any hesitation.
The subsequent tests I underwent, including Adult IQ tests for both Education and Hospital Administration revealed that I was above average intelligence possessing the necessary skills to take on a good career.
The pattern of my life began then; good prospects, good careers, responsibility posts all lost to alcoholism. I kept my drinking reasonably under control as I trained to be a full-time youth worker. I dabbled in homosexual encounters but could form no loving relationship. One prospective partner with whom I had a relationship for eight months, put me under pressure, challenging me: “Don’t you know what love is? “ After serious thought I had to reply, “No, I don’t think that emotional feeling now exists within me.” At this time and with some reluctance I ended a long platonic friendship with a girlfriend as the close friendship was interfering with my drinking habits and intruded on my secret love affair with the bottle.
I escaped to mainland Britain and took up a post in a Boys’ Remand/Assessment Home. However, the spasmodic and dominating urge to drink in an alcoholic manner continued over the next twenty years even though I was well aware of the consequences – namely: a period of extreme sickness before regaining temporary recovery –‘cold turkey’ – extremely unpleasant. Job losses were punctuated by spells in hospital, some good and some bad experiences of detox and rehabilitation programmes. In attending AA meetings I never experienced the feeling of being part of or belonging to a so-called ‘Home Group’, nor did I seek the support of a ‘Sponsor’ – a fellow alcoholic who had maintained sobriety over a lengthy period of time through following the AA programme. On reflection perhaps the latter may have been beneficial.
My organs gradually succumbed to the poison and I had three hernia operations, two prostate operations, treatment for severe pancreatitus (both chronic and acute) and a severe Aneurysm operation in 2002 which could have been caused by my excessive drinking. I now require a handful of multi-coloured pills every day, just to keep alive.
In despair and in self-contempt I made three suicide attempts followed by psychiatric assessments in a hospital.
The Higher Being steps in
I began my story here by recounting my third attempt early in 1999. I had managed to hold down a job in hospital administration and had bought a pleasant flat in south London. A new neighbour moved in and we struck up a promising friendship. The promise turned very sour as I witnessed his drug addiction and unsavoury, violent visitors who came daily to his door. They played loud music as the drug parties took place and I was threatened with violence on several occasions. One evening I found the noise and fear unbearable. I took all my sleeping tablets, medicines and gin and vodka. I passed out hoping never to see the light of day again.
The Higher Being who had saved my life twice before and had somehow provided me with good jobs along the way, had stepped in again. I do not know in what terms to describe what happened next; the drunken hallucinations of a mad man, (because I was certainly on the verge of insanity), a visitation of God or some other psychological phenomenon. All I can say is that I have never felt the urge nor the need for alcohol since that day in 1999.
I was amazed to be alive. The hallucination took place in my sitting room. It was extremely vivid and will always be remembered. On my left was an evil ‘less than human’ apparition who faded in and out of sight. My head was filled with the sounds of beautiful singing, like an angelic choir. Then came sounds like a roaring aircraft and severe thunderstorm. I visualised people leaving the earth. I was convinced it was the end of the world. I recognised an elderly lady who had befriended me over many years. She was being lifted from the earth and was calling for me to come with her. The beautiful music now filled my head. It was led by a woman soprano to whom I called out, asking her if I could come too. She replied, “Sorry, you are too late.”
I could smell smoke and visualised the block of flats on fire. I fled my flat leaving the door closed on the chubb lock. The next thing I knew was that I was waking up in bed in St Helier’s Hospital.
As I slowly recovered, I was told that I could not be released without a psychiatric assessment. This proved me to be of sound mind. I was released and returned to my flat to discover that it had been burgled; all my gold jewellery had been stolen. However, after all I had come through, I knew God was on my side. I sold my flat as soon as I could and moved to a sheltered housing scheme in Kent. God was for me and my new life began. My beautiful, quiet flat overlooks the central garden. Now retired, I soon became involved in the Residents’Association, overseeing the care of the gardens and liaising with the Housing Association and local authorities with quite a degree of success for improvements to be carried out to the building. On occasions the correspondence and administration involved feels like a full time job. The responsibility for the funding of the Association which had also been delegated to me, has become a burden over the past 5 years, so I hope to resign at the next AGM. I shall continue, however with other aspects of the work. I have greatly enjoyed organising the social activities. The shy, withdrawn hermit-like man I had become, has organised trips to the theatre, matinee performances in London, coach trips to Rye, Eastbourne and Hastings and to rural towns. I have attended a Courage Retreat and some of the discipleship meetings and even joined a Christian charity trip to Romania in 2003.
My health, of course has greatly suffered. There is a current advert in the press announcing “I shouldn’t be here!” That’s how I feel. Only a Higher Being has kept me alive into my mid-seventies. My digestive system functions badly and I am prone to other infections which sometimes make daily life difficult. I cannot but be amazed at the change in my lifestyle. Until January 2004 I had also smoked about 20 a day. I was free of alcohol so I joined the Buddy scheme to help conquer the addiction to nicotine. I have not smoked since then.
In spite of the destructive pattern of so many years, I have maintained some precious friendships. The elderly lady in my ‘vision’ was actually the matron of the Remand/Assessment Home where I had worked. We had a sort of mutual support relationship after she retired but I never felt I was part of her family. In practical terms, she looked after my pet dog as I felt it unkind and unfair to leave the dog in my flat while I was at work. In return I worked on her garden, did her shopping and liaised with her family and neighbours during her final years. She celebrated her 90th birthday with over 100 guests and died before her 91st.
The Manager of the Remand/Assessment Home who’d had to sack me for the second time because I was unable to go to work following a drinking session, became a good friend. We meet regularly as two retired gentlemen and enjoy meals, visits to the opera and holidays together. He introduced me to Courage two years ago and so I tell my story as an encouragement to others.
(Peter’s story as told to Sheila Longman)