TRCH

Pat Tobin

9 December 11 words: James Walker
"My father considered himself to be a 'professional drinker' which meant he'd consume as much as possible while conscious"
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Pat Tobin is an Irish immigrant who moved to St Anns in the 1970s as a young child where he suffered years of sexual and mental abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. Inevitably, Pat became an alcoholic and eventually ended up being sectioned. But it was becoming a father himself which would dramatically change his life.

You came to Notts from Ireland….
My father left to find us a home but the little fecker never returned or stayed in touch with my mother so she packed us all up one night, grabbed as much stuff as she could carry, and came in search of him. She found him after six months and we stayed with my grandfather but he couldn't cope with us all in a small flat and practically threw us out on the street. We ended up in the missionary in the east end and the nuns, god bless 'em, got my father a job at a printers in Notts, and us a house in the St Edwards Parish in St Anns. It was 'little Ireland' really as there were quite a few other immigrant families already there. But despite being settled, my father soon began to continue his heavy drinking. He was later diagnosed with chronic alcoholism and schizophrenia.  
 
How did you settle into your new community?
The kind of lads I grew up with were virtually all descendents of Ireland in some shape or form. We loved our football, our boxing, our being chased by the police through the maze of back streets or stealing cars that didn't get us that far. We grew up within an atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust as the 'troubles' began to hit the British mainland through the IRA bombing campaigns. It was never off the news - and of course we watched them all, Panorama the lot. The Irish problem was as familiar to me as The Osmonds. 
 
How was life in St Anns?
It was a permanent, perpetual wasteland as it was being rebuilt and reset to be redeveloped in the early - mid 1970's. There was always a building site to split your head open on or a new sewer section to get stuck in while playing "Run Off." It was a brilliant place for a child's imagination as the old allotments were still ripe with fruit in the summer holidays and there was always a dumper truck to start-up or a den to construct out of scraps of torn carpet before arriving home late for a cold Sunday dinner and a bollicking. 
 
You describe your dad as a 'psychotic entertainer' as his drinking led to a mixture of fights and fun. How did you cope with this? 
I enjoyed drawing to escape from the troubles of the household and soon established an inner world to protect me from what was happening around me every day. Looking back now, this was the beginning of a kind of creative escape that later expressed itself through art, music and poetry. It helped me feel like a child and escape the abuse. 
 
Was your father ever sober?
My father considered himself to be a "professional drinker" which meant he'd consume as much as possible while conscious. He was proud that he was never out drank by man nor beast. His crazyness became his trademark in the local boozers and he was a master of the banter, like Lenny Bruce with venom. He was very intelligent but extremely troubled. He had a great general knowledge but couldn't hold down a job or support his family. Despite the problems, he was the best entertainer around. I wanted to be like him but it nearly killed me in the process. I never really knew him sober and I was the same for over 20 years.  
 
Tell us about your drinking…
Nobody screwed the drink into my fist or nailed me to a bar. I drank excessively on a continuous basis so as block out the abuse which took place throughout my early life. The rage came out in drink and fights. When the adrenalin pumped it was the only time that I felt truly alive. As If I really existed. Alcohol was also a release from the strain of poverty. I felt a kind of dignity in being the first in the pub and the last to leave. I had an enormous thirst that simply couldn't be quenched by any amount of drink I could consume within one day. So I continued on to the next and so on. I could go out to the shops and end up in a caravan park in Skeg by the same evening without knowing how or why I had gone or got there.
 
You've tried therapy to deal with your problems…
I've tried the lot from Gestalt to psycho-dynamic psychotherapy. But it was acupuncture that was the most bizarre. This fella stuck needles in me tabs and burned little resins on the end while practicing tae kwon do Kata's around the table. Then he would nip off and check his messages on a dating website! He was from Chilwell and into carp fishing and womanizing. But out of them all, ISAS is the one that helped transform my life and I will always be so grateful for that.
 
How did ISAS help change your life?
Incest & Sexual Abuse Survivors is based in Newark. It was during this time that I first began to keep a journal which eventually materialized into The Moon's Last Gasp. I never intended writing a book, it just amassed itself in paper form and scribbled notes and brief lines of what might be considered "poetic" prose which had began to accumulate. It's been a creative expression which eventually helped release the knots and unblock the years of alcoholism and severe mental health issues.
 
You were sectioned at one point. What was it like? 
It was a bit like living in a cartoon one minute and Gormenghast Castle the next! I remember one exercise session where they had us playing five-a-side football, which sounds good on paper, but with paranoid patients it was surreal. You can't play 'one touch football' when nobody wants the ball because that means possession and responsibility. When someone played a through ball everyone started tying their laces. 
 
Other than banning sports, what improvements can be made to mental health services?
It needs to be better regulated to produce highly-trained, enthusiastic ward staff who actually give a shit. I found it lax, uncooperative and antagonistic. The staff hung about like vultures waiting for something to kick-off so they could swoop down and use their 'restraining techniques.' There have been odd exceptions but they were few and far. The cleaners were just as bad. I remember one guy off his head on drugs sat down on the toilet and they just moped around him like he wasn't there. 
 
Do you think you’re alcoholism helped perpetuate your schizophrenia?
Yes and No. I think in real terms I was schizo-affective by the age of 5 even though it took until I was about 26 to be diagnosed correctly. During the drinking period I was having loads of blackouts which I think was my brain's way of shutting itself down to let me rest after days & nights of mania. But the alcohol also helped to subdue the shear electricity that charged throughout my body. 
 
You’re a father now as well…
Being sober means managing my mental health better and realizing what life is and how good it can be. I've done some questionable things but if I can manage to turn it around now for my son, Finn, and be a better father to him than mine was to me then I'll have repaired some of the damage.
 
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Given the tough subject matter of your book, how have reactions been?
The book and my family haven't really gotten to know each other yet. I don't think they approve really, but it's not about them. It's about my relationship with my father and how I saw it. But maybe it's the subject matter they don't care to be reminded of. All I know is I'm sober now and I can remember what happened with a clear head. I'm trying to deal with it and they'll have to do the same. Old "friends" find it difficult to cope with me because I've turned things around while they're still boozing in the same pubs on the same days with the same people. 
 
Would you recommend therapy?
I would definitely recommend therapy for someone who is willing to invest in themselves. You can't just turn up and expect a fix like a health spa or a tyre change. You get out of it what you put in. 
 
The Moon's Last Gasp, £14.99 is available from Chipmunka publishing.
 
 

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