By Natasha Todd
Shaking and blurry eyed, I reached for the bottle of vodka stashed beneath my pillow. I kept one there every night, so it was always in my reach.
It was December 2011, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I glanced across at my alarm clock… It was 4am.
Unscrewing the bottle top, I let out a sigh of relief as the liquid hit the back of my throat. ‘Much better,’ I thought to myself dreamily, before tucking the bottle back in its safe place. Then I drifted off to sleep. There was no denying I was a full-blown alcoholic.
Back in 2007, I was laid off from my job at Lancashire Prison, and my drinking slowly spiralled out of control. At first, I’d binge after a bad day, but two years later and no job in sight, I started drinking because I was bored.
A couple of heavy sessions a week, turned to a heavy session every day. By the time I realised what was happening, it was too late – I was an addict. If I didn’t drink, I would vomit and fit. It became easier to function drunk.
My sons Michael, 19, and Richard, 33, were distraught. ‘Please don’t drink today, mum,’ they pleaded with me. ‘You’re killing yourself.’ ‘I won’t, boys,’ I lied.
I tried getting help, but tablets to suppress my drinking only worked for a few days. After washing them down with alcohol I became immune to them.
Doctors suggested rehab, but I didn’t see the point. I knew I’d fall off the wagon the minute I checked out. The more useless my situation seemed, the less I tried to resolve it, and soon I gave up caring. My eyes were yellow, I vomited blood and all my nerve endings shrivelled. I could walk on glass, cut my feet and not notice I was hurt until the blood
Even on the brink of death drink was the only thing I cared about. I couldn’t think about anything else. Even in the middle of the night. ‘Time for a trip to the shop,’ I grumbled, when the bottle beneath my pillow ran dry. I pulled on some clothes and stumbled down the stairs, calling my dog on the way.
‘Cassie,’ I cried out, groggily. Moments later she appeared in the kitchen doorway. ‘Walk time,’ I grunted. Cassie had been in the family for ten years. My ex brother-in-law couldn’t look after anymore so I offered to take her in. She was only meant to stay for a couple of months, while I found her a home. But sitting on my lap one day with her adorable puppy eyes, I knew I wouldn’t be able to part with her.
I was a lonely alcoholic and Cassie was my best friend. With Cassie by my side, who needed a man? As I stumbled to the shop around the corner, she stayed protectively by my side. Even when I stopped to get my breath back, Cassie waited patiently on her lead. By the time we reached the shop I could barely stand – until I had my first drink.
Standing in the shop doorway, I took a swig from the bottle of vodka. ‘Aaah,’ I smiled, patting Cassie on the head.
I swigged from the bottle all the way home. Back home, I spent the rest of the day in an intoxicated blur, like every other ordinary day. The more I drank, the better I felt, and before I knew it, I’d finished the whole bottle.
‘Time for bed,’ I slurred, as Cassie watched me leave the room. It was around 1am when I headed upstairs. What happened next is a blur but I remember waking up face down on the floor. As I came to, I realised I was blind in one eye. I felt numb as I tried to pick myself up. ‘I must have fallen down the stairs,’ I thought as I stumbled over to the
mirror. As I stared at my fuzzy reflection, I was stunned.
There was a gaping hole in my face where my right eye ball had once been, and I could see the bone sticking out. What had happened to me? But as I stared at the bloody mess, instead of horror, I felt a strange sense
of relief. In that life-changing moment, I knew my alcoholic days were done. ‘Thank goodness for that,’ I thought. ‘I can’t go to the shop looking like this.’
Walking into the kitchen, Cassie was sitting at the back door. Wrapping a tea towel around my head, I noticed blood smeared across the sofa and walls. Had Cassie done this? I pondered. Before I could try and make any sense of it, Michael walked through the living room door.
‘Drunk again last night?’ he spat, walking straight past me. ‘Yes,’ I said, calmly. ‘I think I need to go to hospital,’ I said. Suddenly, his face turned pale and his eyes widened in horror. His mouth fumbled for words, but he was speechless.
Instead, he ran to a neighbour’s house for help. About fifteen minutes later the ambulance arrived. I was taken to Royal Preston hospital, where doctors explained what had happened. It seemed that when Cassie had failed to wake me, she’d nibbled too far. Meanwhile, surgeons battled to rebuild my face. Although I could initially see out of my left eye, the operations left me blind in both.
Cassie had to be destroyed. I was devastated. Nobody told me until after the deed was done. I didn’t blame Cassie because she’d saved my life.
After two years of living in darkness, I heard about a specialist in Brighton. ‘He makes corneas out of teeth,’ the doctor explained. ‘You can’t possibly expect me to believe putting a tooth in my eye will help me see,’ I laughed. But I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give it a try.
After a couple of months of consultations, I was booked in for the procedure, and much to my surprise, it was a success. In December 2013, I saw my two grandchildren’s faces for the first time in two years. I was overwhelmed with emotion.
‘You two are getting porky,’ I teased, as tears welled up in my left eye. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the one I lost. Since the accident, I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol, and I never will again. I know some people will be surprised and shocked to hear me say this, but I’m glad my dog ate half my face. It stopped me dying from alcohol.
I feel lucky to be alive and even luckier to have my sight back. I now want to help others with alcohol problems, just as Cassie once helped me. I plan to dedicate my life to it.