Often when I read or listen to other people’s struggles with addiction or their mental health there is a negative or traumatic childhood involved in their story yet for me it was the complete opposite.
I was born in 1986, the first child of a young, newly married couple in Northeast England. My younger brother arrived on the scene 21 months later. It was a working-class upbringing with loving parents – A Dad who worked fulltime during the week as a Scaffolder but spending weekends in the pub and a very present Mother who worked part time as a School Dinner Lady in our formative years.
I had plenty friends at school and loved spending time with my Grandparents on a weekend. I guess for a young boy growing up in the 1990s it was a very settled and comfortable upbringing.
We weren’t rich but we did better than a lot of my friends. I had the stability of a two-parent household and my Dad earned decent money. We had holidays, branded clothes and there was always plenty food in the house.
My Dad’s drinking was also a constant throughout my Childhood and it would regularly lead to arguments between my parents. He would have a few cans of beer every night after work which to me and my brother, was just what Dads did. It was on the weekends where we would see bigger issues though. He would spend Friday nights at the local pub and social club. Saturday afternoons would be spent between the betting shop and pubs. Saturday nights would either be the night both my parents went out together but more often than not, my Dad would be out and my Mother with us at home. My ‘Mam’ as I prefer to call her has never been a drinker and throughout my Childhood I can’t even remember her being drunk! She would have a ‘few’ but this would be infrequently.
My Dad was never physically abusive to any of us but he would be verbally abusive to my Mam if she challenged him when he was intoxicated. It was a weekly cycle but with me staying at my Grandparents most weekends I didn’t see much of the drunken Dad coming back to my Mam’s wrath.
I took little interest in alcohol myself as I reached my teens but to be honest it wasn’t really something we did as kids, not my social circles anyways. We were out playing football every night until it got dark and on occasions, we’d be in the nearby woods doing what boys did back then – building dens, rope swings and lighting the odd fire. This was the late 1990s and early 2000s when mobile phones, the internet and social media were not what they are today. Sure, I played video games but preferred to be outside with my chums.
I started exploring alcohol around 16-17 years old but initially the taste put me off. My Dad was still drinking in the house during the week and going out on a weekend so I would be allowed the odd ‘shandy’ or can of beer from him, but I wouldn’t say I was that bothered. The taste was very ‘meh’.
It wasn’t until I went to Sixth Form College and started mixing more with girls and the older Sixth Formers who would have been 18 years old (the legal age of drinking in the UK) that I realised this was the natural social step to take. I drank through peer pressure and to fit in. Going to pubs and clubs made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to that person who missed out when all my peers were doing it. I quickly realised that it was cheaper and less anxiety inducing if I drank in the house or at a friend’s place first before going out. That way I’d be intoxicated before stepping foot in the establishments and my limited cash deposits would stretch further.
Like most people my age I became a weekend binge drinker very quickly. Studying, working and being a lazy teenager was the monotonous pre-curser for a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of drinking in our kitchens if our parents allowed it, house parties, pubs and more often than not a night club. I often wonder how I afforded it thinking back but let’s remember I was living at home pretty much rent free, had a part time job in a Supermarket to fit around my studies and this was also when alcohol was still cheap. I remember one local establishment on a Thursday night offered a pint of lager for 60p between 10pm-12pm. A pint costs £5+ in most city centres these days!
The relationship I had with alcohol from my late teens and throughout my twenties was in my eyes, normal. I think back to how much I used to drink and the things I did (which included fights, stealing traffic cones, losing things and ending up in hospital after a fall or being so intoxicated) and it makes me shudder but at the time it was funny and nothing out of the ordinary. Stuff like that happened to everybody. It was just part of drinking. I’d grow out of it.
The thing is, I didn’t grow out of it. I got married in 2012 and my first daughter arrived in 2015. I wasn’t going out drinking as often now I was married because I had a mortgage and bills to pay and the cost of going out was going up year on year – certainly at a faster rate of what I was earning!
Drinking in the house became my new going out. I started drinking during the week and what started as a few bottles of beer out of the fridge on a Tuesday and Thursday became every night of the week. I’d still go out most Saturdays with my friends and before long, I was doing what I always said I wouldn’t do. I‘d turned into my Dad. I’d come home drunk. I’d let my wife down. I’d break promises. I’d be hungover on days off work when I should have been doing fun family stuff.
I started drinking late morning on a Sunday to ‘pull myself round’ after a skinful on the Saturday. Again, I’d always said I’d never do this but I was now plastering over what alcohol was doing to me with more alcohol. Our second daughter arrived in 2019 and nothing changed. I was working full time and being a loving husband and father in my own eyes but I lived for alcohol. Any opportunity to have a drink would be taken whether that be a trip to the Cinema, a mid-week birthday meal of a relative, football matches, work trips, out shopping with my wife, the theatre, a music gig, christenings, weddings, funerals and even if we just ordered a takeaway. Wine with pizza, beer with curry. Standard.
When the Pandemic hit the UK in Spring 2020 I was very quickly mobilised to work from home full time and due to schools and nurseries closing too I was working late into the night so I could care for my children on mornings whilst my wife, a key worker still had to go to her place of work each day. I started drinking whisky after I finished work each night to try and switch off and kill the feeling of anxiety that was building in my stomach and chest every day. The pandemic continued and so did my drinking but I kept it from my wife as much as I could because of the shame I had of not coping with this new life of isolation.
It wasn’t long before I was hiding bottles of alcohol around the house so I could have a drink whenever I wanted and in my mind at the time I wasn’t harming anybody because I was using the booze to medicate my mental health condition which in turn allowed me to function better for my family. How wrong I was.
By Winter 2020 I was in a dark place mentally and my drinking was now just a part of my day to day. I didn’t enjoy alcohol anymore; it was a medicine to me. Unfortunately, the medicine wasn’t doing the job it used to do so I needed more. Here I was with a great job and a wonderful family, yet I was blind to it all because of my own one-track mindset of drink to survive.
It was on 17 February 2021 when it all came to a head. I had a mental health episode and mixed with alcohol and the over-using of my anti-anxiety medication I suffered what has since been described to me as Dissociation. I left my home bare foot in nothing more than a vest and shorts (it was a typically dark, cold Winter evening in Northeast England) and ran towards the nearby woodlands. I don’t remember any of this but an altercation with police officers trying to help me followed and I was sectioned under the UK Mental Health Act later that night.
Bear in mind that even up to this point I’d made little effort or desire to give up alcohol. I wanted to sort my mental health out but I was ignorant to the impact alcohol was having on me mentally. I look at photos of me from then to now and you can see in my face that I was bloated, bleary eyed and clearly unhappy.
I try not to use the term ‘rock bottom’ but at the time I saw it as that once I was hospitalised. Initially I was confused, scared and unmotivated about my future but it ended up being an opportunity for me to reflect whilst spending a lot of time in isolation – something I’d never experienced.
After a few weeks of detoxing, working on my mental health plan and agreeing to explore alcohol addiction programmes I was released back into the community.
So what happened next?
The 17th of February 2021 will forever be the date I entered recovery. I didn’t want to go into hospital or give up alcohol at the time but on that date I complied and walked into hospital because I was broken and knew I needed to do ‘something’. I managed 458 continuous days of sobriety from that date and saw over time an improvement in my mental health, self-love and relationships with my family and friends. The problem was that I was white-knuckling it. I wasn’t attending AA or working any other programmes. I relapsed in May 2021 (albeit I only picked up on two days in a 6 day period) but the desire to continue drinking was no longer there. I had picked up in a panic due to some increased anxiety – something which I may not have done if I was working a programme. So I reset, didn’t dismiss my 458 days of banked abstinence and started going to AA. It wasn’t for me though. The people were nice but I couldn’t connect with the content. I looked into alternatives and found Rational Recovery. This programme was born in the 1980s and introduced me to AVRT (Addictive Voice Recognition Technique). It wasn’t well known (certainly not by NHS professionals I spoke to) but after picking up the book about it I immediately connected with what I was reading and how I could change my mindset towards my addiction.
I have used AVRT ever since.
I now dedicate time to both reading, applying, and writing about AVRT on my Blog ‘Happy Daddy’. It has worked for many including myself, but it doesn’t have the mainstream exposure that AA has. I want to continue sharing my journey with others in the hope that it may work for them too.