Thursday 18 July 2019

This is the longest that Shane has been sober since we met - and he is happy

Victoria Mary Clarke on life with the newly sober Pogues singer Shane MacGowan

Detox: Shane MacGowan stopped drinking during a lengthy hospital stay, according to partner Victoria Mary Clarke Photo: Steve Humphreys
Detox: Shane MacGowan stopped drinking during a lengthy hospital stay, according to partner Victoria Mary Clarke Photo: Steve Humphreys

Victoria Mary Clarke

I almost burned the house down just now. The whole place was full of smoke and I couldn't figure out how to get the fire alarm to stop. I need a drink. But I can't have one.

Or, at least, I shouldn't have one. My partner Shane is off the drink and I don't want to jeopardise it. So I sneak some red wine in a teacup.

They say that when people win the lottery, they suddenly have new problems that they hadn't thought of. Shane not drinking has always seemed a lot less likely than the prospect of winning the lottery. Drinking has been as much a part of who he is to me as his laugh.

In the same way that most people need to eat in order to function, Shane has always needed to drink.

Most people who drink do so when they are not at work - because they wouldn't get away with drinking at work.

Shane's work and his drinking have always gone hand in hand. The songs that he writes are more often than not about people who are drinking - sometimes as a way of celebrating, sometimes as a way of drowning their sorrows. Nobody in the songs is ever having a latte or a Coke.

Shane has been a singer all his life, singing in bars and clubs and other venues where people go to drink and have fun. If anyone is not drinking, it is unusual in these places. The people in the audience drink to relax, to be sociable, to be confident, to celebrate, to commiserate. The people in the bands drink to get into a good mood and to have the extra confidence needed to be performers.

So the drinking has not just been a recreational activity, his whole career has revolved around it and, indeed, been both enhanced and simultaneously inhibited by it.

People tell me that they would not get involved with someone who drank too much, but when we first met I was only 16 and I didn't notice that Shane drank. Probably because I drank a vast amount myself, and everyone we knew drank. We drank every night, all night. In my teens, I could drink a whole bottle of whiskey without even getting a hangover. I thought nothing of starting the day with a tequila and grapefruit. And at the office where I worked in London, lunch was typically a gin and tonic and a sandwich. After work, everyone went to the pub - every night.

And so, it took some time before Shane's drinking went from being just a normal part of life to being a problem.

The main problem was not being able to go anywhere that there wasn't a drink, like just going to the beach or to the park. There were mood swings too, and there were fights. But, in the early days, most of our friends had worse mood swings and worse fights. Shane also took a lot of drugs, and as the effects of the drugs became more unpredictable and more disturbing, it was difficult to see which of the substances was the most problematic.

When he answered the door to me after having missed his flight to the United States to open for Bob Dylan, and there was blood pouring out of his mouth because he had eaten a Beach Boys record, it looked as though it was the 100 tabs of acid that were the problem and not the gin and tonic. And when I found him on the floor with a needle in his leg, the drink was not the first thing that I worried about.

Whatever it is that you get used to becomes normal. And, unless you have exceptional self-control, I don't think you can choose who you fall in love with.

You can choose how you behave. I don't have more than a couple of glasses of wine, but I never want to. And I am very fond of yoga, drinking green juices and the great outdoors. But you can't choose how other people behave.

Trust me, I have learned this the hard way.

For many, many years I pleaded and threatened and schemed and begged Shane to take care of his health, to cut down on the drinking, and all the rest of it. Gradually it became clear to me that while I might have some influence over these things, I did not have any control.

I had to learn to concentrate on making my own life the best that it could be, and on minimising the impact of his choices.

That was until one day a few months ago. Shane went into hospital with an excruciating pain in his hip. It was compounded by pneumonia, and the result was a lengthy hospital stay and a total detox. No drink. There was not even a mention of drink. This continued after he got home.

This is the longest that Shane has been sober since we met, and we are getting on very well. I would not have dreamed that it was possible for Shane to be happy and sober.

Our great friend Gerry O'Boyle runs a pub and loves it - without ever touching a drop - so I do know that it is possible for people to enjoy a social life without booze. But it is still an unexpected surprise for me that Shane has got this far and still retains his sense of humour. Shane's manager used to call him Judy Garland - after the tragic, talented alcoholic singer.

Anyone who has ever known an alcoholic knows how destructive and depressing, not to mention terrifying, drink can be.

But that doesn't mean we are all equipped with whatever it takes to control our drinking. So anything could happen.

We just have to take one day at a time. But isn't that what everyone has to do?

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss