11 April 2024

Finding community with our Armed Forces Programme: Graham

Two individuals in formal attire stand at a train station; one holds a wreath of red poppies and the other displays a medal and a ticket.
The only way that I could get on top of it was to have a drink – I stopped drinking beer and started drinking vodka to subdue the anxiety.

Graham, 51, Cornwall

Graham's story

When did it all start?

Graham began his career working in the Armed Forces, joining in August 1987.

“After leaving the army, I experienced quite acute anxiety, and I sought counselling for it instead of medication. I received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - which worked - but all the way along, I carried on drinking. Looking back, I can see that the drinking was ramping up, always. It was the go-to: if something went wrong, you drank. If something went well, you drank.”

The CBT helped to keep Graham's anxiety at bay, along with regularly pursuing his hobbies, including mountain biking. However, four years ago, Graham’s eldest son suddenly passed away.

"It was a very traumatic and sad time, but looking back on it now, I didn’t deal with it and continued to work solidly. I was away from home, three to four nights a week. There was a lot of drinking which masked and delayed the grief – I buried it, and only now have I started to deal with it.”

This period of Graham's life coincided with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Graham suddenly found himself locked down at home, and his drinking escalated.

“I started making excuses as to why 'it’s okay' to have a drink during the day. This went on through lockdown, and it just got worse and worse until I was at a point where I’d stopped drinking for enjoyment - the depression and anxiety was really high. The only way that I could get on top of it was to have a drink – I stopped drinking beer and started drinking vodka to subdue the anxiety.”

What support did you seek?

Concerned for his wellbeing, Graham's partner helped him find a rehab centre. He checked in for 28 days. It was at this point that Graham had a 'lightbulb moment'.

“I thought rehab was brilliant, I started eating properly again, and I completed all the courses – including meditation. It was an amazing experience because I didn’t miss alcohol – I was drinking cups of tea like they were going out of fashion."

To aid Graham’s recovery, his partner contacted WithYou, and spoke to Mark Thomas, WithYou’s Armed Forces Coordinator.

“My partner spoke with Mark, and he was amazing – he was very understanding and keen to help us. I was then assigned a Recovery Worker called Alan, who is also ex-forces, which really helped. Mark was so supportive and good to talk to. He encouraged me to go along to a session with ex-veterans. I really enjoyed listening to other people’s experiences, and it made me realise that we are all in the same boat.”

What is life like now?

“Since then, I've attended any function that Mark has offered me, which has spurred me on to help even further. There's always different things going on that I can be involved with. I’ve recently signed up for the defence gardening session at the Eden Project, which I’m really looking forward to. I really want to work for WithYou and help others who have gone through similar experiences.” 

At WithYou, Graham was able to find community and connect with like-minded veterans and people. His story reminds us that it's okay to ask for help, and the positive impact doing so can have.

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