On this day 365 days ago I didn’t see a way forward. I looked down at the motorway from the grass verge and flirted with the idea of running onto the northbound carriageway.
Earlier that day I’d drank a bottle of Irish Whiskey. Most of it hidden in a travel coffee cup whilst sitting in a hotel reception area. I’d driven 269 miles from my home in the North of England to the outskirts of London to watch my football team in their biggest match of the season. If we beat Wycombe Wanderers we’d be promoted from the Third Division back to a league we were much more familiar with – the Championship. In my lifetime I’d never seen us win at Wembley (I’d been three times before and always came away after watching us lose) but this time it felt different. There was a feel good factor about the football club and us fans were confident.
Anyways, I travelled alone and that was intentional. I was 15 months sober after leaving a psychiatric hospital and in that time I’d enjoyed an upturn in my family life, mental health and physical fitness. It hadn’t always been easy to stay sober but this was one of the happiest periods of my life. Period. I had the idea that I could drive to London, attend the match then stay overnight. Easy.
It all went wrong from the moment I got up at 4am to start the trip South. My anxiety was through the roof and I had 3-4 hours ahead of me driving down a motorway on my own. Just me and my mind.
I shouldn’t have travelled but hindsight is a wonderful thing. As a football fan we want to see our team play at the best stadium in football – Wembley. The fear of missing out is massive. I chose to risk my sobriety and mental health over football and the risk didn’t pay off.
I got to my London hotel which was based at Services not far from the stadium. I bought whisky and initially the anxiety subsided as I made the decision to have a drink to help me get through the day ahead. What I hadn’t factored into things was that I was 458 days sober and my first drink was straight whiskey.
I still find it difficult to recount the finer details but I remember drinking to a point that I was not steady on my feet, the anxiety returned ten fold and I was reluctant to head across to the match. I thought I was going to be sick at one point and a member of the hotel staff had to check on me in the reception toilets because they saw me head in there and not come out for a long time. I returned to the reception area and carried on drinking the whisky from my travel coffee cup.
Things eased for a bit once I’d made the decision not to head to the game – the anxiety lifted and was replaced with self-loathing. I ended up befriending a Sunderland supporting coach driver who had ferried a load of fans down to the game and was waiting at the services until full time to make the long journey back North. He initially checked to see if I was ok as he saw me in a Sunderland t-shirt but obviously I wasn’t at the game! We went for a walk near the hotel because it was such a warm sunny day and I didn’t see the first half of the game. We headed back to the hotel for the second half but they weren’t showing the match on the hotel TVs so we sat down in reception and I put the match on my phone. At least I watched us win promotion with a fellow Sunderland fan despite the ridiculous and depressing scenario I found myself in with a match ticket still in my pocket and the game going on just a few miles away.
Fast forward a number of hours later and the coach driver was gone. I’d finally been up to my hotel room and slept a little. I woke up feeling so low and disgusted with my behaviour. 458 days down the drain and I’d missed the match. Fuck it. I’m a failure. I’d be better off dead.
I headed outside. I could hear the traffic flying up and down the motorway at the back of the hotel car park. I headed over and looked over the fence at the sloped grass verge and speeding traffic beyond. I was there a long time and had a lot of internal battles but I’m still here today 1 year on to share this with you.
And that is massive.