When I was growing up, my parents were separated but dad wasn’t really in the picture; he regularly cancelled my visits to see him and I got the message that I wasn’t wanted. I was sent to various boarding schools. When I was held back a year at 14 because of my poor academic record, my resentment caused my rebellious side to start to appear. Until this point I’d had a relatively normal childhood, although I’d been smoking since I was 9; but then I discovered alcohol. My girlfriend at the time had a problem with alcohol too. At 14, we would save up and get alcohol and cigarettes from a garage in the village. As I got older we had more money and the drinking got heavier.
At 19, when it was time to leave the school, I was still drinking. Outwardly I seemed quite conventional – what people saw was quite a bright young man who had passed his O levels with Bs and Cs. People didn’t see the other side of me – that behind the scenes was chaos and what kept me going was the drink.
I got a job as a potter’s apprentice – but this also meant I had money and could drink to my heart’s content. I drank cans of strong lager – bingeing at weekends with a couple of litres a day. In the end, the drinking meant I lost my job, eventually finding a new one as a food warehouse distributor. I hadn’t been there long when I met a woman. We got on really well because she was the female equivalent of me: she was an alcoholic as well. We moved in together and the majority of our money went on alcohol. Each day, we’d start drinking early, mainly ‘gut-rot’ cider in three litre bottles.
We had a baby daughter together, but my drinking was getting heavier and we were unable to pay the rent for our bedsit. My manager kindly let us rent a vacant flat he had, and we stayed there for four years until he also gave us notice we had to leave. By this time our relationship was incredibly rocky; our drinking got heavier because of the worry about where we were going to live. When the deadline came we were homeless. The council put us up in very basic emergency accommodation for three years, until eventually we split up and she went with our daughter to live with her mother.
My mum and brother came to help me clear out the flat. It was typical for an alcoholic – messy, dirty, not washed-up, food stains etc. It was then that my mum must have realised I had a drinking problem, but I was in denial. By this time I was drinking at 8.30am – before I even went to work. I used to arrange to work first thing in the freezer to try and sober up. I still I didn’t think I had a problem though.
All this culminated in me getting the sack – as I was putting other’s lives at risk. I’d become homeless and lost my job. For a while I got back together with my girlfriend, but our constant arguments – all caused by my drinking problem – meant I ended up drinking even more to try and blot it all out. We were given another emergency flat; I was still unemployed and just about managing to take my daughter to and from school when I had to. I still have guilty feelings that I didn’t provide enough for her. I did as much as I could as a father being a drunk. I love her so much – and she was solid and reliable at a young age though I fear she had to grow up very quickly. She had to cope with a lot – she had two alcoholic parents. She’d be unsure on the daily basis where we would be and for years there was uncertainty about where we were living.
Meanwhile the arguments continued and I became quite aggressive. I do remember man-handling my girlfiriend at one point because I felt like I wasn’t being listened to – I grabbed her wrists and was shaking her. She called the police who came and put me in a cell in the police station. I began to get withdrawal symptoms – after 24 hours I was shaking quite a lot.
After that I was referred to a support agency for alcohol and drug users. I started to drink less and my confidence started to pick up. For the first time in a while my girlfriend and I were communicating properly and we realised we might need to separate. It all ended the day my daughter came back from school one day and found me unconscious. She tried to wake me up and then when she couldn’t, she phoned my mum and said “can you come and save dad?”
Even though I was still in denial my mum knew there was a problem; I was still drinking at all hours. I gradually began to see that she was right. My life had got as low as it could. My mum was watching her son dying in front of her. I began to realise that I was wrecking other people’s lives with my addiction. I had to find a way out – I needed some sort of help. Mum suggested going into rehab and I agreed.
Rehab was incredibly tough; it took me a year to battle my addiction. I learnt to tell myself each morning that I didn’t need a drink yesterday so I didn’t need one today. It was a day-by-day discipline; I still do this even now. Completing the rehab programme was one of the best things of my life – a real achievement.
My step-mum told me about Emmaus Oxford and it made sense to me that joining Emmaus could be a way to keep off the booze; a continuation of my treatment. I had an interview and two weeks later, moved in. It felt like home and it still feels like that after eight years. It isn’t so much the physical building but the people. Your work colleagues are also your family and friends.
The culture of being kept busy really helps me to stop drinking; every morning I wake up sober, knowing that I will be doing something that I like doing. I’m so proud that I’ve now been sober for 10 years. Whilst I’ve been here I’ve been on training courses and built up skills. I have worked on the vans, delivering and collecting donations and also enjoy serving customers on the shop floor and assisting in the office.
I hadn’t seen my daughter since my recovery started but since I have been at Emmaus this has started to change. We’re back in touch and meet up occasionally; she’s training to be a nurse. I told her that I felt guilty about the past and she told me not to worry.
I’ve realised that until my dying days I’ll always be a recovering alcoholic but I feel that I’ve got to the end of the road. My mum says I’m a different person now – at last she can have a relationship with her son. Most importantly, I’ve stayed sober. I’ve done a lot of running away in my life; Emmaus has given me stability and hope for the future.