How alcohol almost cost me everything
Sharing my story for Alcohol Awareness Week comes with a certain amount of pride but also trepidation. But - just like many of the issues I have overcome - I’ve learnt that the thing that makes you feel the most vulnerable will often be the best for you. So, here goes…
How could a reasonably successful 30-year-old, with a wife and child, end up in rehab uttering the words: ‘My name’s Paddy and I’m an alcoholic.’
I had a flat and a car and a job, and I did not sleep on park benches. Yet here I was, staring down the barrel of a life without the most socially acceptable drug man has created - more importantly, the one thing I couldn't live without.
I thought I was fun Paddy. I thought alcohol was just a part of what I did, what we all did. Now I was faced with the possibility of never having a drink again; I genuinely thought I'd never laugh again, and thought my life was over, such was the importance I placed on alcohol. The truth is, my life was over as I knew it, but different isn’t always worse: it turns out that life is infinitely better sober than I ever thought it would be.
Where I once was fearful, I now have self-belief. Where I had self-hatred, I actually like myself today. Where I thought the world needed to see a tough (manly) outer image, I now show vulnerability. The fact is sobriety has changed me for the better.
Every meaningful relationship that I lost because of my drinking I now have back. I’m a better employee, friend, son, husband and father. I am less selfish, more considerate of others, less fearful and lot more honest. But it wasn’t always that way….
"Alcohol had always been my solution"
Ever since I was a teenager, alcohol was the cure to my social anxiety and the ‘gold standard’ in having fun. It was also the cure to unhappiness and emotional pain.
I grew up in an alcoholic household where I dealt with a depressed alcoholic father and an increasingly alcoholic mother. My solution to this was to drink. It released me from the pain, but also gave me the most fun. Consequently, I glamourised it, looked forward to it, and made my life revolve around it. I became an expert in pub sports, and at every available opportunity I wanted to drink. To me drinking = fun and I’d had enough misery.
As a young property professional, drinking was a part of the culture, and I loved it. I knew I drank more than most, but I did not think it was that much of a problem.
Clearly for some of those around me it was. The reality was alcohol did not love me: I was not a very nice person when I was drunk. Insanely argumentative, stubborn and totally self-centred. Whilst I was never a daily drinker, more of a binge drinker, I did take a drink in the morning on occasion to steady the hand. More importantly, for this alcoholic, I drank to get drunk, socially of course…. but I loved the effect alcohol had on me and just wanted more of it.
"I prioritised drinking over everything"
In my late 20s it started to impact my relationship with my wife. Even when my son was born, I prioritised drinking over them. It’s something I’m ashamed of but I now know it was the disease of alcoholism - the one disease that tells us we don’t have it.
It was around this stage in my life I had several conversations where people suggested I drink less. However, in my experience, telling an alcoholic to drink less has as much success as telling someone with depression to be happy.
I simply dismissed it and used every excuse to avoid those conversations. If you’d grown up the way I did... if you had parents like mine…if …if if…. The truth was, I was in an unhappy marriage that was falling apart and the best and most effective anaesthetic to emotional pain, for me, was alcohol.
I went to my first rehab at 30 and my second at 33. I was not ready after my first stint, but I learned three valuable lessons - the quantity of what I drank never mattered. It was how it made me feel. If drinking is costing you more than just money, the chances are you have a problem. If you have to control it, the chances are it’s out of control.
Between 2010 and 2013 alcohol and my unhealthy relationship with it cost me a marriage, access to my son, almost losing a job, cost me friendships, relationships, self-esteem, pride, honesty, peace of mind. It is, as a great friend of mine says, one of the best asset strippers around. Yet while alcohol was stealing all this from me, it was still the most precious thing in my life.
"I felt like a failure"
For the next few years, I struggled to stay consistently sober. I’d have periods of sobriety and happiness, but relapses would always come, and they would come in secret, alone in my flat, each one seemingly worse than the last. The irony was I’d always thought of an alcoholic as someone on a park bench yet my flat became MY park bench and my head became my prison.
I wasn’t honest with people that I was struggling with not seeing my son, that I felt I had failed as a father. I could never admit I hated feeling different because I was divorced - again, I felt a failure. My work suffered. Above all my mental health was taking a battering.
There were times I’d go to sleep and hope I wouldn’t wake up. I never really wanted to kill myself (I came too close once) but I did not want to carry on living the way I was living. My life was built on sand and mentally I was spiralling. I was trying to keep up appearances of being sober and being happy on the outside, but I was totally crumbling on the inside.
The greatest regret I have is that I did not get honest earlier. A lot of my emotional pain could have been avoided if I’d been honest sooner. So, if this is YOU, please, please ask for help!!
Eventually I did… I began to talk about the pain I was in from my divorce and not seeing my son. I discussed the fear of never being able to drink again. I got honest. I got well. I got sober. Since then, I have done a lot of work on myself through therapy and a 12-step program which has been invaluable in untangling a lot of my old belief systems created in my early years.
"Now I've learned I don't want or need alcohol to cope with life"
In sobriety… I have remarried and have two young daughters and they have never seen their daddy drink. I’m proud of that.
Life still happens though. I lost my mother to a short sharp cancer battle. We all experienced Covid, which saw me lose my job and become a teacher to my four-year-old (evidently, I am not a patient teacher!). Through it all I have learned that I do not need or want alcohol to manage my life or my emotional ups and downs.
I have good days and bad days like everyone else. When it’s bad, I sometimes want to block out the pain, but I have learned much healthier ways to cope with pain and that is a real blessing for me.
I always will be an open book about my struggles and my alcoholism. Alcoholism is a mental illness, but many people don’t realise that. You get some who say, just stop drinking! I believe it’s misunderstood and there still exists a definite stigma around alcoholism/addiction and mental health.
Addiction not only destroys the addict, but the families and friends around them, there is no respite, it destroys everything in its path. That is where I feel a responsibility to smash that stigma and help others realise that by addressing these issues head on, you can have a far happier and healthier life.
Becoming an ambassador for LionHeart is part of wanting to live more positively. I look at life and my role in it through a completely new lens now, and I hope my honesty will help other people.
My advice to anyone who reads this piece and finds it resonates with them is to ask for help. Call me, reach out to me on LinkedIn, get in touch with LionHeart, they really do have the most amazing services on offer for anyone who is struggling.
Contrary to what I used to believe, asking for help will be your greatest strength and not your greatest weakness.
Paddy Phillips MRICS started his career in the media industry before moving into real estate and becoming a chartered surveyor. He now specialises in asset management and has worked with big corporates and start-ups alike. Paddy is one of the LionHeart mental health ambassadors
- Need support? Call the LionHeart support team or email email@example.com
- More from the blog: Alcohol, anxiety and how secrets keep you sick