WHEN alcohol has its hold on you, you can think of nothing else.
That was the experience of John, a recovering alcoholic who developed a chronic drinking problem after starting on cider in his mid-teens.
John remembers himself as a shy teenager who clung to alcohol as a way to help him blend in in his peer group.
As a 15-year-old, he felt awkward and had insecurities that disappeared when he had a drink.
“I started off on flagons of cider and the alcohol took away the insecurity and I felt part of the gang,” he recalls.
“But over the years, I became so dependent on the stuff that I was drinking 24/7 at the end.”
He continued: “When something has that much of a hold on you, you think of nothing else. You become so selfish and you don’t know anything else because it has such a hold of you.
“It takes away your soul, it takes away everything. You have nothing else in your head.”
He is now almost three years sober, after going to Tabor Lodge and Fellowship House, and after care from the Tabor Group.
“My life has completely changed,” he says.
“I had been living abroad and, when I came back home, I could not believe all the services that were available in Cork.”
But he says family support for him was crucial and was one of the reasons he returned to Cork when he finally realised he needed help for his drinking.
“Good support from family is as vital as treatment,” he says. “It is a massive part of recovery. I was very lucky with my family.”
When he came to a point when he knew he had to get help, he described it as reaching a fork in the road.
“I knew I had one of two roads to take — if I kept going on the road I was on, I would be dead,” he says. “I was so lucky to take the other road and get my family’s support.”
Coming to the realisation that someone has a chronic drink problem is not the only step that needs to be taken to start on a life of recovery, according to John.
“Being done with drink is only 10% of it. The other 90% is changing your mindset and your thinking and understanding how to live the rest of your life.
“I am at AA meetings all the time, and what has been a massive thing for me is the building of trust again with my family.”
He adds that recovery is a daily process.
John says that for many years, he was a functioning alcoholic who was able to keep down a job in a different country.
“The determination that eventually helped me to give up alcohol was the same determination that helped me to function and keep doing my job,” he says.
But he acknowledges that he was homesick and lonely while abroad.
On regular return visits to Cork, he remembers dropping his bags at his family home and heading off to pubs to help feed his addiction.
As time progressed, his working life was also affected by his drinking.
“I would have gotten up in the morning and had a drink first thing,” he says.
“Any time of the night, I could wake up with sweats and have a drink.
“It would be cans of beer, bottles of vodka, anything I could get my hands on. I was literally topping myself up all the time.”
In a foreign country, he says now that he felt very isolated from his family and he knows that his drinking was tough for them, despite living in different countries.
And he recalls that he had also alienated friends, because his drinking was the only thing that mattered.
“I remember one morning, looking at the mirror and realising I was in an awful way,” he says. “I realised that I need to come back home and get the help of my family.”
Now, he continues to avail of AA, which has changed in nature due to the Covid-19 social distancing restrictions.
As a result, he now takes part in zoom calls with his group.
He says: “It’s fantastic to be able to do that.”
He is well aware that there are many families who are becoming more aware of problem drinking by a family member during the Covid-19 lockdown, explaining that any cracks that are there can become exacerbated by the current situation
He also says there is a big need for men to be able to communicate, to help them reach out for help.
“Most of the problem in my life was that I couldn’t communicate properly,” he explains. “I learned how to deal with that properly in recovery.”
He added: “I can’t push it enough that communication — the lack of it — was one of the things that destroyed me.”
He urges anyone who has a drink problem to reach out for help.
“A lot of people are embarrassed to say that they have a drinking problem and their pride gets in the way.
“You would be amazed when you say the words, how much of a weight will have been lifted.”