It is not the first time for me to give up drinking. I find myself in the similar position to many smokers over the years – it’s not a problem giving up, it’s staying off the cigarette that’s the stickler. I have tried it in my halcyon days around the turn of the millennium. It wasn’t too difficult as I substituted drink with pills, nicotine and caffeine. I thought I was an alco then, but wasn’t too bothered about the ramifications of swapping one vice with another. The idealist in me back then thought that necking ecstasy and going to parties was a much purer form of enjoyment, much more worthy than going to the pub three nights a week and talking absolute drivel.
I went back to Ireland and ended up in Greece for six months and it was here that my love for booze really took good shape. I lived on an island called Kefalonia, outside a town called Skala. I was a barman, and I spent my days lazing, painting, drinking and writing. Most days I would meet up with my boss and friends Rob and Tanya, have a few beers and head to work in the evening. I would have a few vodkas on my break and after work would head out. My drinks of choice were rusty nails (scotch and drambuie) or Harvey wallbangers (vodka OJ and Galliano). These are potent, electrifying drinks. I had plenty of accidents on my moped where I could have been killed. I had plenty of blackouts, waking up in strange bushes, roadsides and houses. I had a wild time though.
When I left Greece and went back to Ireland I was mentally drained. I had a few quid stashed away so I took it upon myself to head to India for four months to clear myself out. I remember one night I ended up in the Himalayas at a party on the side of this mountain, miles away from anywhere else. I had been drinking for the first time in six weeks, was off my brains on opium and was trying to find an acid which I had dropped on the ground. As I was scouring through the grass I looked up to see four really tall men with white beards down to their toes come on. They had big wobbling elongated heads. I was flipping out and I left the cafe area to get some air. I got to a clearing and stumbled over falling into some bushes. I took out my pipe and filled it with some opium and proceeded to smoke it up. As my mind cleared and lifted I looked around. Two feet behind me was the edge of a cliff which dropped down thousands of feet. My balls shrank and I rolled onto my belly and crawled away towards the party again. I went teetotal from everything except for a little charris after that.
This all happened when I was twenty seven. I headed back to Ireland and decided to get a job and be closer to my family, my Dad in particular who was getting sicker. I started playing football again. I had a vision when I came down off the drugs in India and it was of me playing for Dublin, a childhood dream of mine. I wanted to tell my story from drugs and drinking to glory. I had spent a few weeks in India getting really fit, doing yoga and training hard on my own. I had a plan. I wanted to go from doing opium in the Himalayas to lifting the Sam McGuire Cup – the trophy for the winning team in Irish GAA. A part of me wanted to be able to write this story. I wanted to show people that you could go from zero to hero if you put your mind to it.
I got quite close to achieving my dream. I remember meeting various people when I got back from my travels and telling them that I was going to play for Dublin. A lot of people looked at the dyed blond hair and stoned looking eyes and thought “I think Lenny’s losing it”. But the call up came and I had a few chances and played on the panel for three years, winning two Leinster titles, but coming up short in my quest to win the number one jersey or win the national title. I was kept out of the team by the best keeper in Ireland Stephen Cluxton, so I took it with the grace that someone who twelve months previously had been on heavy drugs and drink can. I enjoyed the moments for what they were and cherished my time spent in that dressing room.
I am reminded of my story today because it is the NRL grand final here in Sydney. The Roosters are playing the Dragons in the bruising sport that is rugby league. The piece that fascinates me is that Todd Carney, a member of the Roosters team is a recovering alcoholic who twelve months ago didn’t have a future in the game. At twenty two he was given an ultimatum by his team – give up the booze, get well and be part of something special…or go your own way in life. He chose the former and is now in the precipice of greatness. His story is one of a triumph over the destructive forces of alcohol. You can turn your life around when you give uup drinking. It gives you strength, happiness and clarity.
I wish him well today.