I’m in my early 50s – I had a professional career for 24 years, and a family. I’ve struggled with alcohol… over the last six years it’s been especially difficult. I’ve always drank alcohol because I’ve struggled with confidence issues and esteem… low self-esteem. That was because of some family relationships, and also some other relationships when I was younger. As I got older I felt I wasn’t assertive enough.
I’ve had a faith from being about 10 years old – when I was in the choir at the Church of England church just up the road and, for me, I knew that there was always something bigger and better than me – out there. But at such a young age I couldn’t grasp it, I couldn’t get it yet… You have to go through life’s trials and challenges to, kind of, get the bigger picture, and see God’s greater plan, you know?… the design He has for you. For me, the evening church services were amazing, the 6.30 services, and on a day like today the sun would be streaming through the stained glass windows, and it was… so weird – in a good way I mean – it was so tangible you could almost touch it, and it was just the feelings I had that were associated with this great and powerful thing…
The period where I drank in a very destructive manner for six years… I’ve had to learn to forgive people. What I’ve come to realise is that… in this life, and it’s personal to everybody I guess, we can really hurt each other, as people – even as Christians. And… it’s about letting go – trying to come to a resolution if we can, in whatever way they’ve hurt us – but if we can’t, it’s about letting go and forgiving the person or the people who’ve hurt us. Otherwise it completely enchains you, it enslaves you – you’re in shackles, imprisoned in your resentment, your bitterness, your anger. And it just creates a whole vacuum of emotions, that – if it’s not already – will explode like a volcano erupting.
I used to attend SASS on Abbeydale Road and one of the workers there recommended Drink Wise, Age Well. The group that I attend – we’re all over 50, and I think it makes a difference… without being ageist. What I’ve come to realise about Drink Wise, Age Well and the facilitators is that they’re very empathic, they’re very compassionate, it’s a very non-judgemental place, and for me primarily it’s a very safe space, where you can explore things that maybe you haven’t explored with other people before. I feel comfortable in the small group – people let me say what I need to say without interrupting which is really good. The people in the group are more mature… We have an element of understanding – we share the same common bond. It’s a trustworthy setting – confidentiality – and for me it’s been educational, informative, humorous… For me, it will be the one thing, coupled with my church activities, that will keep me abstinent.
The other thing I want to say is because of the personal trauma that I went through which I don’t want to talk about because it’s still too painful, my drinking did increase really heavily to the point where I was binge drinking two or three bottles of wine several times a week and… in the space of four and a half years I took a lot of overdoses… to try and deal with the pain of what I was going through. I was told by the medics at the Northern General that I could have lost my life seven times… they said, ‘you took a potentially fatal overdose’. The first overdose I took was in January 2012, and in February 2014 I remember completely having a meltdown one night and drinking very heavily. I was very emotional, very upset and unsafe in myself – not safe in my own skin – and I took a cocktail of tablets, and a friend was that alarmed they phoned the ambulance, and the paramedics came and asked me what tablets I’d taken. I gave them the packet, and they were so concerned they didn’t even give me a right of refusal to go to the hospital. Immediately they said ‘You’re coming to hospital, now. This is very serious – you’ve taken enough tablets to kill an elephant.’
And that night – it was a very busy night at the hospital – and I remember feeling just totally inadequate, and ashamed, guilty, because there was no room in the cubicles, a lot of us were put out on chairs on the corridor and I felt like I’d taken up somebody’s space just being sat on that chair, and eventually I got ushered into a cubicle, had a small wait before a doctor came, and he was talking to me and said ‘What’s happened tonight, what’s brought you in here?’. And I was talking to him and all of a sudden I just didn’t feel well, everything was going black, I was dizzy, I just felt weak and unwell, and I collapsed on two chairs at the side of me at the hospital. Unbeknownst to me my blood pressure had fallen to a dangerous level, and also the amount of medication I’d taken had affected the rhythm of my heartbeat, and afterwards I had to be wired up to a heart monitor for 24 hours.
But something happened in the time that I’d collapsed on the chairs at the hospital, and I found myself back, kind of almost transported, if you like, back in bed, in my former home, and it wasn’t like a dream or a vision or an out of body experience – I was just there. And I just remember having these amazing, wonderful, beautiful feelings of warmth and security and assurance, and this amazing love that I just didn’t want to leave, and I was surrounded by bright light which I now recognise to be – I’m a million per cent sure – the light of Jesus. And it was just incredible. I just didn’t want to leave, you know… where I was at that instant. But obviously, I was still… crashed out on chairs at the Northern General Hospital… And when I came to, I didn’t know how long I was out for, I didn’t ask them, they didn’t tell me, and I just kind of saw doctors and nurses running at me with a trolley and they said ‘you’ve got to be on here now, we need to do tests, you’ve affected the rhythm of your heartbeat’. And I actually was shivering, I was shaking, I was… my lips were blue, I was cold, and there was… I just felt… I just remember… it was such a weird transition from having this amazing experience where it was all warm and light and safe, going back down into something that was dark and potentially painful and harrowing and scary. There was actually one sort of ﬂeeting moment when I thought… ‘I’m going to die…’ I actually… that crossed my mind, I thought, ‘I’m going to die’, you know?…
‘What I just experienced was Jesus and Heaven, I’m dying – I messed my life up.’ And I really truly believed I was going to die that night, and thanks to the amazing care of the medics at the Northern and the treatment, I did survive. I remember speaking to a chaplain that night who gave me his own little cross, a wooden cross, and the next day we spoke for about an hour. I just threw every single question I could at him, about God, about the world, about this broken world and how people can hurt you and everything. And he never faltered once, and he prayed over me, and I did survive.
I’ve always drunk alcohol from being sort of 19, 20, as you do – you know, you kind of go out with your peers, it’s a social aspect of drinking, you go into a pub, you have a laugh, you have a chat, you catch up with people, and it’s… The drinking that I experienced then was what I call the safe, contained environment, it wasn’t self-destructive, there was no… never any thought of ending my life back then, even though there were hurtful situations that I still had to come across. Basically it’s only the last six years or so that I purposely used alcohol… as a destructive weapon. I knew the damage it was doing to me, I know how it can kill you, I know how poisonous it is basically – and yet I still chose to go along that route of using alcohol. I actually wrote a poem called ‘Drowning in my Misery’ associated with what I’d been through and the alcohol, and I put something in it like ‘I find I’m with my friend again…’ That was the bottle of alcohol, always hiding behind the bottle. But obviously I realise that alcohol was a very destructive friend – I was using it as a coping mechanism – it’s a destructive and destroying liquid and it doesn’t make your problems go away, it just escalates them. The problems are still there the next day and alcohol… is deceiving. It changes your personality, and you begin to lose your identity. After what I’d gone though, I mean, I felt I didn’t know who I was anymore, but with using the alcohol it was like, you know, it was ten times worse. I was like a zombie most days – I just couldn’t relate to… anything normal in my life.
The only real advice I can give to people is if you ever find yourself really struggling with something, no matter how small it might seem to you at the time, is to talk to somebody that you can trust. Reach out – it’s important to reach out to other people who you know are not going to judge you. And I found that in Drink Wise, Age Well – I’m not judged, there’s a lot of compassion and empathy. And the encouragement that we get – the support is amazing.
I’ve been living in supported accommodation plus a detox centre for 15 months, and I’ve been abstinent for 15 months, and it’s been amazing. I was scared at first when it first got offered to me, you know – I said ‘No, no, no, I’m not going in’, but obviously God had other plans for me and the right time came for me to go in there, and it’s been conducive to my emotional health and my mental health. It’s not been an easy journey – recovery. It’s … I’ve had some real struggles, but I’ve hung in there and had a focus, and it’s the same hope that will be… I’ve had a hope and a faith and it’s the same hope that will be with everybody, hopefully, who’s had enough of their former life and can really make a fresh start. It can be achieved, it is an achievable goal – it won’t be easy but it can be done. I’ve now progressed so much – I’ve got myself a council property and I’ll be moving in shortly, which’ll really be like home to me. And the things that are going to keep me safe and abstinent are Drink Wise, Age Well on a Wednesday and the activities I’ve got in my church.