There I was, yet again, in another drunken stupor. Trying desperately to numb out a series of events that almost destroyed me. I tried to suppress the sheer panic I felt due to the relentless onslaught of my mental illness. Abandoned by people I loved, alcohol became a substitute for real love.
Oh the evil irony. Here I was, a desperate man in a desperate world, using and abusing alcohol. Yet, instead of relieving my distress, the drink nearly extinquished the fading remnants of my dignity. In my all-consuming state of loneliness and despair, I thought that alcohol would be my best friend. It had become my worst enemy.
The phone rang. It was my doctor and he sounded most concerned. My ex-wife had, in one last gesture of concern, voiced to him her fears about my condition. My doctor arranged to come over and check me out. Upon his arrival, it was obvious to him that I was very ill.
During the previous three weeks I had nothing to eat. Everyday for those three weeks, I drank three, two litre bottles of cider. My only 'nutrition' came from the cider. My life had lost its purpose. I decided that it was best that I should die. For here I was, a man trapped in a small English town. No friends and the only real Family I had here had started a new life.
The ambulance arrived and I was stretchered out. Severely bloated and severely jaundiced I was rushed to North Staffordshire Hospital. It was the 18th of June 1998. This would be my fourth alcohol-related trip to hospital. What was happening to me? I have never been so scared.
In that first week in hospital I nearly died. I faded in and out of consciousness. Never had I experienced such a state of surrealism. It was almost like I had become a part of everything around me. I felt like I was everywhere and nowhere. My whole being was on the verge of major changes.
At the end of the first week my ex-wife and my nine year old son Tristan came to visit me. They would be my only visitors. For they were going off to Vancouver with their new Family unit. It was time for my former spouse to introduce her new man and their son to her Family in Canada. The emotional pain I felt upon them going was raw and deep.
At the end of the first week I received one ray of hope that would sustain me for the duration of my hospital stay. My Mother, so far away in Vancouver, had been informed of my situation. She managed to get through to the ward's reception. I was placed in a wheelchair and I painfully made my way to reception. Barely able to speak, I received comfort and reassurance from my Mother. I discovered within me a new resolve. I was going to challenge my issues, for I realised, maybe just maybe, my life could have a meaning.
So for the next five weeks I lay in bed, knowing that I would have no visitors. All around me patients were surrounded by visitors. I heard the laughter, I witnessed the tears. Yet people did not seem to notice me. In a ward so full of humanity, I was so alone, so isolated. The tears streamed down my face. My tears went unnoticed.
Yet through all my isolation and loneliness I grasped a new positivity. I had time to think, time to evaluate my life. I began to realise that I am a well-meaning, sincere human being. I had been suffocated by a negative environment. It was time for me to understand that I could make my life better. So during those five weeks in hospital I searched for inspiration.
Inspiration came in the form of my dearest friend Rob. Rob had died two months earlier in Vancouver, he was only 44. I had been distraught over the fact I could not attend his funeral. I took some comfort in the knowledge that my words of respect for him were read in his eulogy.
Lying in my bed, I looked out the window and stared at the trees. Every leaf on every tree became the spirit of Rob. It was a awesome experience, for in my mind I heard Rob say: "Gary, it's not time for you yet. Buddy, you're gonna' make it."
Slowly, at times painfully, my life has improved. When I left hospital, I left as a new man. No longer shackled by the evil irony of my alcohol abuse. Understanding that my mental distress was only a small portion of who I am. I left with a great sense of relief. Now I would try to live my life with positive anticipation instead of negative speculation.
Yes, I had a near-death experience. Yet at the same time I had a 'near-life' experience. For I had not been near-life for all too long. Life was passing me by. I tired of being a spectator. Although, still baring the wounds of a sad and traumatic past. I shall continue, undaunted, to embrace a more positive life.
I have not had a drink since the 18th of June 1998. I neither want nor intend to have another drink. I am liberated. That is so powerful.