Three recovering addicts speak out about their long road to recovery
Every week there are 4,377 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in Britain. Fifteen of them are in Blackpool.
Alcoholism is a recognised health problem in the UK, and costs communities millions of pounds each year. That’s why AA exists – to help alcoholics make not only their lives better, but also the lives of all the people around them.
Three alcoholics who have told their stories to The Gazette agree that alcoholism is a family illness, in that it affects their loves ones.
All of them describe a time so dark that their families deserted them, but through AA they have turned their lives around and been reunited with the ones they love, be them parents, wives or children.
The first AA meetings in Blackpool were held in 1962, held by a local doctor from his garage on St Annes Road, South Shore.
The Alcoholics Anonymous Northern National Convention will be held at the Norbreck Castle Hotel on Queen’s Promenade, North Shore, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Tonight a public meeting will start at 8.30pm for anyone who things they or a friend or family member, might have a drink problem.
For details on AA in Blackpool call 0845 769 7555. People who think they have a problem with alcohol can call the Blackpool helpline on (01253) 792632.
‘I was just another suicidal drunk’
For John, the bright lights of Blackpool in an age where there was no business like show business completely devoured him.
What started off as a social drink became a toxin that cost him his wife, his business and his home.
He said: “I was a Blackpool lad, fresh out of school and starting a new apprenticeship.
“At the same time it was the birth of skiffle and rock and roll and I would play at the local pubs and clubs.
“In the 60s the entertainment industry was absolutely booming for the night clubs, cabarets and the summer season pantos and I was making a very good living on top of being an apprentice.”
But for John it was hard turning up for work hung over or still drunk from the night before, until one day the time came when he electrocuted himself.
“Most people would have used that as a turning point and cut down on the drink. My alcoholic decision was to get rid of the day job and I went full time into the wonderful world of showbiz. And it was.”
For several years, John was living the life.
He had nice cars, nice meals and a drink in his hand.
He said: “There came a time when drink started to change my personality.
“Instead of being the happy-go-lucky life and soul of the party, if someone mentioned how much I’d had to drink I’d get angry and aggressive. My friends started to back away and I started to let people down by breaking promises I’d made.
“I went from being able to stand up and perform in front of 3,000 people a night with not a care in the world to having irrational fears where I’d jump at the phone ringing or if someone knocked on the door.”
John’s family started to turn away from him out of love – unable to watch him destroy himself through drink.
When his wife threatened him with divorce, he went to his first AA meeting.
He said: “I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the programme – everything about it.
“There were people there who were like me. They had stolen money from their wives, as I had my own, and they’d too broken into their kids’ money boxes to make up the price of a drink. We were the same; we’d become totally irresponsible in order to live with drink in our lives.”
But despite the meeting, John wasn’t able to go a day without drinking.
Ten months later he was divorced, homeless and penniless.
“I was just another suicidal drunk in the doorway,” he recalls.
It was that day, he says, he hit rock bottom, and made a choice to go back to AA or face death.
He said: “That day I totally surrendered the life I had for the better. My wife is probably my best friend and I have several new friends at the fellowship.
“My son who was only 12-months-old when I first went to AA has seen me there for him through his life, and through university. That wouldn’t have happened if I was still drinking.
“I have never wanted or needed to drink in 32 years after 20 years of drinking.
“The AA is a life job, and now the only way I can cope is by passing on my experience to help others get through their own.”
‘I was sick of being sick, but didn’t function without alcohol’
Born in Blackpool, raised on Grange Park, Bill started drinking when he was just 12-years-old.
He drank for 35 years.
He said: “I’d just go down to the park with my friends, it’s just what you did.
“I destroyed every relationship that I had. I was never physically violent but I would mentally destroy them through alcoholism.”
For 10 years Bill, now 54, was in and out of psychiatric units as doctors tried to diagnose a mental illness, missing his alcoholism.
He said: “I was treated for all manner of mental illnesses – bipolar, manic depression, schizophrenia but it was alcoholism that I suffered from. The first time I was ever in hospital the doctor told me I was an alcoholic, but my parents wouldn’t believe it.
“I spent a long time locked up during my 20s and 30s, either in institutions or in prison for stealing.”
Bill had three trades, working as a butcher, a welder and paint sprayer. But unable to keep up mortgage payments he had four houses repossessed.
He said: “My dad had always been very kind to me, but he realised he was keeping me ill. I thought he hated me, but he loved me that much it was destroying him to see me like that. It was the same for the rest of my family. They had to let me go.
“I ended up homeless, living out of skips.
“I became an animal. All I wanted was to drink and I was stealing to get it. I thought I was evil – I even tried to commit suicide a few times.”
At 40, Bill was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes through his alcoholism, and suffered nerve ending damage so severe he describes himself as a cripple.
“It got to the stage where I faced losing my foot because it had developed gangrene through my drinking,” he said.
“I was sick of being sick, but I didn’t function without alcohol.”
He was at rock bottom when, aged 47, he attended his first AA meeting.
“I haven’t had a drink since,” he says.
“When I walked in I felt dirty and disgusted with myself, but the people there didn’t judged me. They identified with me and showed me kindness, and that’s what made me keep going back. I felt at home there. It basically helped me to turn my life around. My mum died last year, but I’m grateful that I got to spend the last seven years with her.
“My children are back in my life, and I am back in theirs. My lad is my best friend and he is proud of me.
“At AA if we can help alcoholics to go from as low as we were to turning their lives around to be where we are now, then we’ve done our job.
“Now life can throw anything at me and I wont need to drink.”
*name has been changed
‘When I was drinking, I lost everything’
“When I was drinking, I lost everything.”
The simple words which many alcoholics can associate with, but can be so hard to say.
Alan says he had a great start in life, which led on to a great career and a great family.
“Everything, really, was rosy,” he said.
But Alan was a drinker.
It started in college, and spiralled until, by his own admissions, Alan drank for oblivion.
He said: “I drank to medicate. And I drank to make life tolerable.
“I used it to make life OK and worth going on.
“Eventually I wasn’t able to get up in the morning without a drink, and I wasn’t able to sleep without a drink. And I would drink in between just to live.”
Through drink, Alan’s family turned its back on him, his friend’s didn’t want to know and he lost his job.
He added: “Most of all I lost my self respect and I lost any sense of identification.
“I became a bum; I was just another hopeless drunk.”
It was then, more than 30 years ago, that Alan realised he had a problem, but after drinking for 20 years he thought it was too late for him to change.
“I was addicted,” he said.
“But I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I knew I had to change.
“I saw psychiatrists, all sorts of doctors and nurses and social workers.
“Then I found Alcoholics Anonymous, and that’s when I started to get everything back.
“I realised that if it worked for so many other people, it might work for me, and it did.
“Not everyone is as lucky as I am, and the grave yards are full of people who reached the same point I did but weren’t able to turn their lives around.
“But if you reach out and ask for help, it’s amazing what happens.”
While he was in recovery, Alan says he got his family back. Then came his career.
“I was at rock bottom and I came out the other end thanks to the AA and its 12 step programme,” he said.
“Life is tolerable without drinking.
“Most people in my life don’t know I am an alcoholic, and I think that’s a miracle.”
Alan says alcoholism is a classless illness.
He explained: “It happens in the Royal Family, it happens to the guy living on the park bench.
“At AA, it’s not about stopping drinking, it’s about starting living.”