This week (19-25th November) is Alcohol Awareness Week. This is a week where we want to open up conversation about alcohol and the harm that it can cause, and let people know that there is advice and support out there – whether you think your drinking is a problem or you just want some tips on how to cut back.
Tim*, aged 45 and from south Telford has been kind enough to share his story with us, in the hope that it will help others too. Please note, this article contains strong language.
* names have been changed.
My first foray into alcoholism started at the very young age of twelve, although at the time I had no idea what I had started. It was a night I had stayed at my Grandparents and had woken up early in anticipation of being on the TV that morning. For some unknown reason, I decided to have a quick drink from behind their bar in the front room. One glass of cider led to another, then I tried the Vodka and the Brandy. As a result I passed out, and had to be put back into bed in a drunken stupor.
This is my first memory of my drinking. It is obvious to me now, that even at that early stage, I couldn’t just stop at a couple. I continued to drink throughout school, but it wasn’t yet a problem for me. Even though I had alcoholic parents who drank every day, they were surprisingly strict when it came to their children drinking. Although I do recall a few occasions where I would get my hands on alcohol and I did drink excessively.
It wasn’t until I left School and started to attend college that the gloves came well and truly off. I felt like I had been set free from being a child and I could now make decisions of my own- and boy did I!
My version of being an adult was to take full advantage of my ability to legally drink. My drinking soon grew out of control and I was asked to leave college. I managed to get a job at the local factory but instead of calming me down, I had more money and more access to alcohol. My drinking moved up another level.
Being raised by two alcoholic parents, the environment I grew up meant that it felt normal to have a drink after work every night. Be it at the pub or at home, having 5 or 6 pints after work was the norm for us. At the weekends this significantly increased and I could often be found asleep under the table of a pub or club. Quickly my life was becoming unmanageable.
At the age of around 21, when my life should have been just beginning, I felt like I was in an unending downward spiral. I was only just about holding on to a relationship, was increasingly late or absent from work, and was always broke. It was at this point that I decided I needed to do something. In my great wisdom, the thing that I decided to do was drugs.
Needless to say, this was a bad move.
I managed to last in my job for a couple of years longer, but my relationship continued to deteriorate and eventually my partner left me. That was the catalyst for me to say ‘f**k it’ to everything – I felt like I had nothing left to lose. My drinking got worse again- drinking spirits more regularly- my drug intake increased, and I eventually got sacked. No job, no girlfriend and no money!
I was still living with my parents and managed to find sporadic work through agencies. I carried on getting by the way I always had done- mostly unhappy, anxious and depressed. I had no self- confidence or worth but I blamed it on everything except the alcohol, even though deep down I knew I was an alcoholic.
When I was 26 my step father died. Cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver due to his drinking. Looking back this would have been a good time for me to reconsider my own drinking habits but I thought that I was invincible- it wouldn’t happen to me; I’d be ok.
Mum was devastated. In fact, most of the family were, but I was unmoved. I saw his death as an opportunity to carry on with my life without the interference of a step-father I didn’t like and was more of a hindrance than anything else. Mum became my new drinking partner and it was around this time that I started drinking in the morning in earnest. I had always had a drink in the mornings on and off, but now I couldn’t function without a one.
Drinking dependently, with my mum, carried on for the next 7 years. Within this time I mum had an accident so I had to quit my job and become her carer. This was my opportunity to drink all day without interruption. Without work to bother me, I’d get up, have a drink, head to the shops for more drink for me and mum and a bit of food shopping and then home to carry on drinking. This was my typical day.
By this time, my best mate Steve* (who I’d known from the age of 13) was spending a lot of time with us. Also an alcoholic, he spent a lot of time at mine drinking and nothing much else.
As time passed by, my health and my drinking went from worse to worse. One stint in hospital led to another. It was the same for my best mate and mum, in and out of hospital. I would come out having detoxed (I was physically dependent on alcohol which meant I needed close medical supervision to slowly remove the alcohol from my body, known as ‘detoxing’) but it wouldn’t be long before I’d pick up a drink again. I didn’t know any different and there was little support. I became resigned to this being my lot in life and that I would eventually die from alcoholism.
One day Steve came to see me. He’d not long got out of hospital with pneumonia, and he told me that he had been accepted for a placement in a detox followed by six months in rehab in Coventry. My emotions were mixed, nothing like this had been offered to me so I was angry. I completely dismissed his chances of stopping drinking- we’d both said it time and again that we wanted to stop drinking but had always failed. There was no reason this would this be different!
Anyway, off he went. I was sceptical, laughing and joking that I’d see him in a couple of months to carry on where we left off. When two months passed by and he still wasn’t back, I went to visit him. He looked well, was happy and was still not drinking. I was shocked. I was still drinking and found myself to be quite resentful that he was not.
I remained convinced that Steve would be back soon and we could all have a laugh about him drinking again. But this didn’t happened. Six months later I went to visit him again and he was looking really healthy, was still happy and was moving in to supported housing in Birmingham. I was shocked. I felt a confusing mixture of happy for him but also resentful of him. Most importantly though, this was my first example that somebody in my situation could change.
I was depressed, lonely, and a burden to myself and all of those around me. I had brothers, and they were all healthy and happy – the exact opposite of where I found myself. I had nothing at this point except for the drink. Steve inspired me to do something about my own situation, although even the thought of change was frightening and I didn’t know what to do.
I went to see my alcohol worker to see if I could have the same chance as my friend, but the answer was that no, the funding had gone and they were no longer sending people to rehab. Now I was ready, but it felt like nothing was available.
Luckily Steve knew somebody who was setting up dry houses in Telford, which are homes for people recovering from drug or alcohol problems where alcohol is not allowed in the house at all. Often the dry houses will provide treatment too. I met the directors of this new project and was thrilled to be accepted into the scheme. I had to wait three months but I was willing to do whatever it took so that I could change my life, like my friend did. By this point I saw change as a necessity – and it was looking like it was going to happen!
I eventually moved to Telford and into a dry house. My journey of change was just starting. I went to my first ever Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on my second day. I found it terrifying and didn’t look up from the floor for the first 20 minutes. When I did, I saw the people who were sharing their stories and that they all sounded similar to mine. There were people there who were five years sober, some three months sober and even people who were twenty odd years sober. This made me wholeheartedly believe that the changes I wanted to make were possible.
Among all the things that were said to me that night, a few things have really stuck with me. One of those things was to ‘keep coming back’. You must keep going to meetings and keep learning from others. I committed myself to doing just that, and with support from the project I was in, other projects around Telford, Narcotics Anonymous and the new friends that I made, I am now in my fifth year of sobriety.
I now have a full- time job with the project that I joined when I first came to Telford. I’m married, I have a son and I live a very fulfilled life. I still have my ups and downs but I know what to do. I talk to people who know how I’m feeling because they’ve been there themselves.
For me, I knew I had to change my whole life, but I didn’t know how or whether it was possible. Thankfully for me it most definitely is, and I managed to do it. I can even help other people who need what I needed back then.
I knew for a long time that change was necessary, I just didn’t think it was possible. I know now that it is and it is happening all around me.