Drugs

My Wasted Years as a Teenage Alcoholic

For years, a typical Monday morning would see me covered in my own piss, sick and vodka.

by Jakob Engberg Petersen, as told to Lars Jellestad
Apr 29 2016, 1:41pm

Jakob Engberg Petersen during a drinking spree in the early 00s. All images courtesy of Jakob Engberg Petersen, unless otherwise indicated.

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark

At 25, a typical Monday morning for me would involve lying on my living room floor in a shitty little flat in Nordvest, on the outskirts of Copenhagen. My hands would be trembling, my heart would be pounding a mile a minute and my face would be sweating bullets. I'd feel so hollow and so ashamed, but the only way I could imagine feeling better would be downing six Harboe Bear Beers and a bottle of wine in the £2 price range. I'm 34 now, and I can look back on almost 20 years of alcohol abuse that utterly wrecked my teenage years and my twenties.

I had my first sips of alcohol when I was about 12 or 13, and I knew immediately that it was right up my alley. I thought it tasted alright but especially the effect it had on my brain was something I could work with. It turned out my friends felt the same way too. At this point we were also constantly smoking weed, skating, tagging and doing mushrooms. Growing up as a bunch of brats in a small town, it was either that, football or tinkering with mopeds. We weren't into football or mopeds.

I'd been living alone with my dad from the age of nine, until I was 17. Our relationship had always been more that of friends partying together than of father and son. So instead of having a proper father figure in my life, I had a friend who let me drink what I wanted and do what I wanted, while at the same time introducing me to the wonderful world of cannabis. When I was 15 and went to a new school, he packed my lunch for the train trip and tucked a little handful of buds in there as a surprise.

Jakob (left) and friends

It wasn't until a couple of years later that someone told me I had a drinking problem for the first time. I was probably around 18 or 19, when my girlfriend at the time carefully hinted that I should try to get some help. I didn't think it was necessary at the time, although I had made a perfectly regular habit of kicking off the day with four premium Tuborgs for breakfast, and had subsequently been expelled from a few schools. One by one, the friends I'd had started focussing on school and internships. They disappeared from my life, and so I surrounded myself with like-minded people, who also wouldn't think twice about knocking back a bottle of off-brand vodka on a Tuesday night. But I gladly did that without any friends present, too.

At 17, I moved to Copenhagen to get a fresh start but of course the exact opposite thing happened. I tried to study one subject after the other but it did nothing for me except increase my student loans, which I blew on booze and drugs. My mum also helped me out with some money and I lied to her about where it went. She knew exactly what was going on but was overcome with guilt about having let me move in with my father when I was young, and giving me money without asking questions was her way of compensating.

My dad's dead now but I've been so angry with him for years. The older I got, the more I could see how terrible his influence on my life was. My sense of self-pity always went exceptionally well with drinking.

Drinking was something I did because I felt like shit.

In my early twenties, I would 50 to 60 drinks on a weekend day – cutting down to about half of that in the middle of the week, to achieve some small level of functionality. At that point, it had become pretty clear that I was an alcoholic, and I was on a pretty rough Antabuse treatment – a drug that keeps you from drinking by adding some nasty side effects to alcohol intake. To compensate, I went all out with hash and pills. But if you really want to, it is possible to drink while taking Antabuse – and I really wanted to. Your head swells up, your heart starts pounding, you feel nauseous, you have trouble breathing and get red splotches and prickling sensations on your skin. But in the end, the alcohol subdues the nervous system to such a degree that you no longer feel the allergic reaction.

I always thought that I just needed a couple of months on the medication and then I'd be ready to drink responsibly. But every time I ended a treatment, it just got worse. The hardest step was actually realising and admitting to myself that my drinking was beyond my control. I had this false idea that I would some day learn to regulate my alcohol intake but that was only because I wasn't brave enough to address the actual issue: Drinking was something I did because I felt like shit. If you stop once and for all, you have to confront the demons that are the root of your problem – and you have to confront them sober.

It wasn't in my power to sober up, even though it was costing me dearly on a lot of different fronts. I've had three long-term relationships, and they all got screwed up by alcohol. When I was with my second girlfriend, I took anti-depressants and combined them with alcohol, which resulted in a strange kind of self-harming behaviour that involved smashing bottles against my own skull and giving myself black eyes in front of her. Then there were all the times when she would come home and find me lying on the living room floor in a puddle of my own piss, puke and vodka.

I almost died twice in my life. Once was at a techno festival where I collapsed and woke up in the hospital. The other was during a Jeff Mills set at a club in Copenhagen, where I overdosed on GHB and an ungodly amount of liquor. My heart stopped and I was resuscitated in the rain in front of people queuing to get in. I woke up at Copenhagen University Hospital the next day with electrodes all over my body. I remember spotting a plastic bag that contained my pants – which I'd apparently unconsciously peed in while the paramedics were reviving me right there on the sidewalk. The doctor warned me, but to no avail: I got pissed again that night. On less exciting nights, I would just sit at home with the curtains drawn, drinking by myself, a bawling mess of snot and tears.

When I was 31, I got into a school for sign writing. I had spent six or seven years on and off Antabuse treatments but when my girlfriend at the time left me, I relapsed. That clashed with my apprenticeship because my withdrawal was so bad that I wasn't able to do precision work with my brush. I loved learning to do signs and genuinely wanted to finish the course, which slowly made me realise that I actually had a desire to live. I knew, deep down, that I'd have to make a clean break and sever all ties to alcohol. I had a string of relapses the first year in between Antabuse treatments and was still smoking joints every day but in August of 2013, I sought help from various support groups and gave up alcohol, smoking and hard drugs entirely. Today, the most potent drug I do is caffeine.

Jacob today. Photo by Sarah Buthmann

It would be an understatement to call it a turning point. Most people saw me as a giant fuck-up that would often be found lying on the streets in a drug-and-booze-induced coma, and I definitely feel that people who witnessed what I was like back then have some respect for the fact that I have gotten on my feet. Of course, they're the ones I don't talk to anymore but since then, I've gotten new friends who drink and do drugs far more moderately. I can easily go out with them without feeling tempted to drink. And honestly: I have just as much fun when I go out, and I'm often the happiest and most energetic person there. But reaching that point took a lot of time. A close friend of mine also sobered up, and he's been a big help in easing me back into the night life.

I don't miss being intoxicated. I feel better – spiritually, physically and socially. Today, clarity is by far the most rewarding feeling for me. I can't promise that there won't come a day – after I've brought some kids out into this world and have grown a rugged beard – when I'll secretly smoke a joint in my tool shed. But I have a strong feeling that I'll never drink again.

Jakob Engberg Petersen just opened his own sign writing business, called Copenhagen Signs.

If you suspect that you or someone you know might have a drinking problem, please contact Addaction.org.uk.

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