How I beat alcoholism and depression by songwriting

Tom Cridland
Sep 2 · 16 min read

By 2017 I used to drink too many alcoholic drinks almost every day. I was binging on jaigermeister and cheap lager and expensive pina coladas as often as I could. Now I drink 20 herbal teas per day. I’ve lost a lot of friends but I know who the real ones are and I know how unbelievably lucky I am to have an angel like Debs to look after me and to try to look after back…… and the best part? I genuinely don’t give a toss what anyone thinks about my choices.

Chapter 1: 20 STELLAS

The first time I thought about giving up alcohol was in December 2015. It was following a 3 day bender, which encompassed getting blind drunk at a Simply Red concert and then continuing drinking solidly for a further 2 days to the point where I was throwing pint glasses over my head and dancing around on the street like a cross between Brent and Willy Wonka, whilst singing “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. The 3 day bender hadn’t satiated my appetite for extreme discomfort, so, on Bender day 4, I decided to wash down Sunday lunch with a few pints and some Aperol spritzes. This then descended into buying a crate of Stellas, drinking them in my kitchen, getting thrown out of The Slug in Fulham Broadway and then running around Eel Brook Common screaming and rolling around in filth on the grass.

Monday came around and I still thought I could handle the pace, so, after vomiting into the street outside Tesco, I headed to the pub in the afternoon for Bender day 5, where my strange behaviour dumbfounded my friends. I got home and groaned for days claiming to have alcohol poisoning. When I described drinking the crate of Stellas, that alone completely shocked people, let alone the rest of what I’d poured down my gullet. I called a friend and told them I’d give up booze forever. 4 years of even more ridiculous dumb shit followed, 4 years of dumb shit that nearly caused me to lose everything…

Chapter 2: BOARDING STOOL

A story that pretty much sums up my school days: during my first few weeks at boarding school I consumed so much free refill Coca Cola at a school outing to the cinema and Nando’s that I shat myself and then shat the bed. The foul smell was noticed from the corridor by a future member of Made In Chelsea who was 4 school years above me. I had luckily just disposed of the turd covered sheets into my laundry bag when he came into my room to enquire “What’s that funky smell Cridders?”. My best memories at school were discovering so much amazing music for the first time with (my few) friends, from Queen to Led Zeppelin, from to Nine Inch Nails to Metallica, from Daft Punk to Dr Dre.

CHAPTER 3: PISS, PT 1

I had the best time at Bristol University, where I met the love of my life, Debs Marx, and so many wonderful friends, whose personalities, humour and kindness I treasure and will forever be etched into my soul.

Sadly, however, I struggled with my weight and my alcohol consumption from day one, regularly making a fool of myself at social occasions, saying unrepeatable, offensive nonsense to people who had done nothing remotely aggressive to me. If you are one of those people and are reading this, I apologise unreservedly.

When intoxicated at Uni in Halls I broke down the door of the communal lavatory, smashed the glass noticeboard, locked myself out of my room with Lionel Richie at full volume, ate more portions of cheesy chips and Domino’s than it would take to transform any good man into a hog but most often ended up crying over a dustbin, with some hapless, kind friend left trying to comfort me.

Perhaps my lowest moment at University was arriving back from a night out so drunk that I thought mine and Debs’ bed was a loo. I dropped trou and started urinating on my side of the bed, waking up Debs. She tried to get me to the bathroom but it was too late and the bed was sodden. I then continued urinating on the floor of the bathroom.

The next morning, I woke up and immediately cried to Debs, “Why is this bed wet? What have you done to it?”. Sadly there is no photographic evidence of this charming memory so, instead, I am writing this chapter of the story with a photo from another happy occasion where I had once again soiled myself in a a kebab shop beneath it.

CHAPTER 4: DRIVING

My inability to get engaged with anything but pop music has resulted in embarrassment and failure in a number of different contexts, such as the ordeal that went into me passing my driving test. I failed my first 5 tests, over a span of several years.

On my sixth attempt, I devised a cunning plan. I looked up the test centre in the UK that had the highest pass rate — Malton in Yorkshire — and, despite the fact it was hundreds of miles away from home, I booked a driving test there with an instructor who I had never met and thought this was all extremely bizarre. Despite these great lengths to “hack the system”, I failed yet again following a long day travelling up to Yorkshire from London and it took another two years for me to pass on my eighth attempt.

At least I went to see Elton John & The Elton John Band live in Newcastle after my Malton disaster (if you refer to CHAPTER 3 — PISS, PT 1, you will see that I celebrated failing my driving test yet again by soiling myself in a Tyneside kebab shop after Elton and the band’s excellent concert). I was so embarrassed that the ingenious scheme had failed that I lied to Debs’ parents and others claiming that I had passed. This fake victory lap has been short lived though, as Debs’ mother has been most confused at how exorbitant insurance premiums are for someone who supposedly passed in 2014.

CHAPTER 5: JOBS/WORK EXPERIENCE

To be honest with you, this is all I can remember off the top of my head that demonstrates my disengagement with work that isn’t songwriting and entrepreneurship. There are probably additional ludicrous things people can recall.

At one of my work experiences at a London brokerage, kindly arranged by my father, I ran into a friend near Pret and went off with him for a boozy lunch. I was discovered asleep in an empty office later that afternoon.

At a separate work experience at a law firm I felt so miserable that I ran away from the office, without telling anyone and then declared myself unwell for the rest of the week.

My final “job” before I finally had the balls to do anything entrepreneurial, a rather unfortunate tenure at an accountancy firm, lasted a pathetic 6 weeks. Frankly, I only didn’t leave earlier because I was pretty much immediately sent on an audit to Slough and given my own office at the client, where I was able to crack on with season 2 of Boardwalk Empire in peace.

During this time I also ran way from work to go to the pub. I was at one of my lowest ebbs, turning up home from nights out when Debs was leaving in the morning for her course at London Business School. On one occasion, I ended up at a friend of a friends’ house passed out, face down on the landing outside the bedroom of the friend of a friends’ parents (with them in it). In almost every office, classroom or lecture theatre I have ever set foot in, I have always been that weird, silent outcast, who doesn’t bother and who is sat there daydreaming about The Beatles.

I have some incredibly intelligent, disciplined and hard working friends who are thriving in professions I couldn’t last a day in. Somewhere along the line a screw in my head was loosened I guess.

CHAPTER 6: ELTON

I am an extremely obsessive, compulsive person. I have already mentioned how much I love The Beatles. When I get obsessed with music it’s not just about the song but about how it was made, the harmonies, the lyrics, the story of the personalities behind it. Dewey Finn/Ned Schneebly would be pleased to learn that I devote a signification portion of each day to rock appreciation and theory.

Elton John is my favourite solo artist. I have attended over 30 of his concerts, like a football fan would go to games. Due to his celebrity, the quality of his music and showmanship is overlooked and it is a disgrace that his band aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame yet. His drummer, Nigel Olsson, is a wonderful, dear friend of mine and Debs’. The more I got drunk every evening, the more I felt like it was my right to turn off music other people were enjoying at whatever event I was at and stick on a performance of Elton and The Band’s latest rendition of “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting”. Uber drivers can’t have liked this masterpiece as much as me on full volume, as my Uber rating plummeted to 3.6. This fandom evolved into endlessly performing those this song clad in some novelty glasses at karaoke bars. That karaoke has evolved into writing, singing, recording and performing professionally.

When I got sober I made it my resolution to leave behind Elton Tom and return to being Tom Cridland but the Elton John Band will always be one of my favourites of all time.

CHAPTER 7: PIG

At one of my very lowest moments, I got so plastered after a dinner of hog roast that I decided to bring a pig’s head on a night out with me, in a taxi and on a bar crawl of Lisbon.

When denied entry into a club with the hog’s head, I hid it under a bench. Upon my leaving the club, two people were sitting on this bench, so, keen to recover my prized possession, I said “Excuse me” and got it from its hiding place. They duly screamed incredibly loudly.

We’re only half way through the story…things are going to get even worse.

CHAPTER 8: PISS, PT 2

On a trip to Los Angeles, as my drinking problem worsened, a colleague and I had a rather entertaining time drinking on our hotel balcony. Things, however, soon predictably turned incredibly uncivilised and the front desk soon called to ask us to turn down the Dad Rock.

We ran out of beers so I decided to take a bottle of Johnnie Walker from the mini bar without looking at the price. We drank half of it but I then discovered it cost $200. In my catatonic state, I decided it would be a good idea to urinate back into the bottle and put it back in the mini bar. Fortunately, Debs guessed what I had done the next morning and made me pour it down the sink.

CHAPTER 9: EATING

The way I used to deal with my restlessness and constant need to be doing something was by eating and drinking as much as I could possibly cram down my throat during my waking hours.

Between arriving at University at 18 and giving up booze at 26, I gained 30 kilos. At one stage, I had an addiction to eating two dinners. Normal dinner was at around 8pm and then a second of either a Domino’s or pasta with grated cheese and 10–12 fried bacon rashers on top would be at about midnight. Nights out drinking would involve guzzling thousands upon thousands of calories of cheap lager and alcopops and shots before “soaking them up” with pizza or fries.

My idea of a “detox” would be to order hot chicken from Nando’s with two sides of peri fries and garlic bread. I was intermittently on some sort of crash diet to combat my greed due to my irrepressible vanity but none of them ever worked. By the time I hit rock bottom, my self esteem was at an all time low as my Tom Cridland trouser buttons would pop off as I attempted to heave my sack of flab into them.

CHAPTER 10: DRUNK ON TV

I have appeared drunk on television a couple of times, simply due to drinking so much the night before. Perhaps the worst of these occasions was following an all day drinking session in Los Angeles. Following several old fashioneds at a hotel bar and a few cans of lager in the car, I thought it would be a good idea to go to one of my favourite restaurants for dinner, where I had a 9pm reservation. A colleague and I arrived at 7pm, and, barely able to stand, I attempted to swagger in and demand to be sat two hours early, despite it being peak time and this restaurant being a rather wanky establishment that likes to keep you waiting too long at the best of times.

They declined this request but, undeterred, I then proceeded to down as many Mai Tais as I could at the bar. This led to me being dragged out of the restaurant and flung onto the street onto the floor. I tried again and again to get up to hurl abuse at the doorman but kept on falling over. I then got into a taxi, in which I was mugged, and then literally crawled on my hands and knees back to my hotel, vomiting several times into the street.

We had arranged to set off at 3am to drive to Sacramento for a morning television appearance so, somehow, Debs and a colleague managed to resuscitate me and get me in the back of the car. I passed out again and woke up 5 minutes away from the television studio in Sacramento, immediately exclaiming “Where is my wallet? Where’s my phone?”. I called a colleague who was back in LA at the hotel and he checked with the front desk CCTV to try to track down the lost items. Sadly, they were nowhere to be found but they did discover, much to the hotel staff’s bemusement, that, having been mugged and having crawled back to the hotel covered in sick, I still managed to recover enough for a further midnight old fashioned and plate of calamari by myself at the hotel bar.

CHAPTER 11: KARAOKE

For about 4 years I developed a progressively preposterous addiction to going to karaoke bars for 8 hour drinking and Elton singing binges. I would drag whoever I was drinking with to karaoke, mostly against their wishes, and then demand to sing every song, treating people to Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting and Night Fever pretty much every time but then also as much obscure Elton as possible.

My favourite of all haunts was Cafe da Ponte, in the docks of Lisbon, where the unbelievably kind and tolerant, Tiago, who somehow remains a friend of mine, would permit me to behave like some sort of demented Elton John impersonating clown on speed.

On one occasion I literally sung about 30 songs in one night, including Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, which includes a 5 minute instrumental intro and is 11 minutes long. My seemingly bottomless karaoke appetite still not satiated, when Tiago was trying to close the bar up at 5am, I still started drunkenly screaming and hurling abuse too rude to write at him that I hadn’t sung enough.

Whilst Cafe da Ponte might have been the crown jewel of my karaoke memories, I have shrieked Bee Gees in a catatonic state far and wide, including dragging people to dive bars every night of a 6 week road trip across 22 states of the US. I was outraged that noone else seemed as keen as me to do karaoke every night.

CHAPTER 12: INJURIES, PT 1

The amount of injuries that I’ve had as a result of boozing is extremely difficult to keep track of.

There was the time I got smacked in the face with an ashtray in a Lisbon dive bar for using someone’s cigarette lighter without permission. Or the time I pilfered a bottle of Grey Goose from behind the bar of another dive bar and got lamped in the face as a result. Or, indeed, the time I got hit in the face with a cobblestone whilst stumbling around drunk (again in Lisbon) and had to have my eyebrow stitched back together in Addenbrooke’s. It’s been my fault every single time.

CHAPTER 13: INJURIES, PT 2

There comes a point for some people with things like drinking where the “fun” is outweighed by the negative impact it is having on your physical and mental wellbeing. For me that point came in 2012 but I continued getting hammered regularly for another 5 years.

The incident began at a school reunion lunch. I was still at this “lunch” at 9pm, having been the only participant in a “drinking completion” that had resulted in me making such a fool of myself that I was shouting at an old teacher of mine to come on a night out to Mahiki with me. It must have been extremely difficult for them to get rid of me, as I had been ignorant to any hints that 9pm was a little late to still be at lunch, but they finally managed and, en route back to London, I tripped on a shoelace at Slough train station, falling down a flight of stairs and cutting open my face and legs. My knee had to be stitched by paramedics on the train, my trousers split open and were covered in blood, as was my face.

I only saw this as a minor inconvenience on my way to drink more in London but, sadly, I was also concussed so, between that and my catatonic drunkenness, my conversation was not at its most eloquent. Following an unfortunate pub session, most of which was spent in floods of tears, I decided to embark on a worrying nervous breakdown, which involved running aimlessly round Green Park, before, once again, stopping for more crying outside a public lavatory. I was accompanied back on the tube by a friend to Golders Green, where I arrived, to a door opened by Debs’ mother, covered in blood. I went upstairs to have the most painful shower of my life, during which I squealed like a stuck pig.

CHAPTER 14: TOOTH

Through the years of weight gain, alcoholism, eating disorders and relentless, feckless, shameless hedonism there has been one redeeming constant. I would like to tell a final anecdote to illustrate what I mean.

It may shock you to learn that all of my top teeth are fake. I ground my teeth at night when I was an anxiety ridden adolescent and this problem was exacerbated by the gargantuan quantities of fizzy pop that I drank, not to mention the fact I largely subsided on a diet of salt and vinegar crisps. When I first began dating Debs a “fake tooth” cracked and fell out so, to avoid her seeing my terrifying toothless smile, I insisted on being in complete darkness.

A year or two later another fake tooth fell out one evening, especially inconveniently as my Aunt was coming round for lunch the next day. Keen to avoid showing off my hideous toothlessness to her, I placed the tooth carefully on the side of the kitchen top, ready for the dentist to glue back in the next morning. Unfortunately, we had decided to have a rather raucous dinner party that same evening and, among the chicken carcasses, cigarette butts and empty lager bottles Debs kindly threw into the bin, she also disposed of what she thought was a lemon pip on the kitchen top.

She awoke to a tirade of abuse from me, asking where my tooth was. Within seconds she was rooting around a bin liner of rotting chicken carcasses and beer for it. She should have been giving me a slap in the face and telling me what an ugly bastard I am. I glued the chicken infused tooth back in before lunch with my Aunt.

Debs has encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing songs when almost no one else has and she has constantly stood by me, no matter how unacceptable or embarrassing my behaviour. If you too have someone wonderful in your life, I hope you don’t take it for granted like the self-obsessed pig I have been all these years. Songwriting saved my life by making me realise that what I was looking for has been right by my side through all these years of pointless addiction: Debs.

CHAPTER 15: FALLING OFF THE RAILS

Ever since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with pop music. I was so enthralled by The Beatles from an early age that I painted them in art classes and put on “concerts” for my parents where I played toy guitars and sang along to their records. My brother was roped in to join me as Ringo.

Getting lost in my own little world of Eminem or Nine Inch Nails or Prince was what would keep me going as a teenager. Then, unfortunately for my University housemates as well as those who don’t enjoy hearing Crocodile Rock’s chorus incessantly screeched by a drunk fool, I discovered Elton John’s music in my first year at Bristol. Elton’s ability to switch effortlessly between genres and make them his own is a huge inspiration, as are his showmanship and zest for life. Nigel Olsson, of the Elton John Band, is my favourite musician of all time and a dear friend — someone whose love for what they do and joyous self expression is contagious and makes the world a better place.
I constantly have musical obsessions: this year’s are Anderson .Paak and Earth, Wind & Fire. I can barely scratch the surface in terms of artists and bands I love in a post like this but the point is that pop music is my reason for living.

I couldn’t give a rat’s arse if anyone thinks I’m wasting my time pursuing this. I very much fell off the rails when I was too shy to even try music, so I’d personally rather not be an overweight drunkard, sitting in the corner at some party I couldn’t give a toss about humming the Pina Colada song to myself. No Jeremiah can stop me from giving this all I’ve got.

Discovering my songwriting ability has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I can’t wait for you to hear my songs, starting with Falling off the Rails.

Tom Cridland

Written by

You can reach my beautiful girlfriend/manager Debs👇 management@tomcridland.com

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