06 March 2024

The power of knowing you're not alone

A smiling man wearing a black jacket and cap stands indoors, with a blue WithYou notice board visible in the background.
Drink first, myself second - everyone else came last. 

Phil, Darlington

Phil's story

Where did it all start?

“When I was 14 my mum sat me down telling me my dad had died. That was hard, but being young I didn’t fully understand. On my 15th birthday, he was buried. 

“That’s when I started smoking (tobacco) and drinking. I was starting to rebel; got knocking around with the wrong crowd. Drinking was a big thing - especially at that time when I left school. Got myself into dead-end jobs just to pay for my nights out. I was out Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I just thought I was one of the lads, thinking it’s ok, it's acceptable, it’s what we all do. But I would always go that one step further. I just thought I could handle more - but clearly not.

“That went on for a few years. Then I met my first partner, got married, and started to slow down my drinking a little bit. But then when I was about 27 my mum got poorly, and the drinking came back into my life. She died a year later, and I just went off the scale. There’s pain and then there’s that - what do you do without your mum? I was always my mum’s blue-eyed boy."

Phil, standing up, wearing a cap and looking out into the distance

What happened next?

“I started skipping work to go to the pub all day until I passed out or they refused to serve me. My then-wife kicked me out. I could understand why she did what she did. But even then that wasn't enough to stop me drinking. It only fuelled my drinking even more because I had no one to answer to. No parents or wife to tell me off. No kids in the house.

“It really had a grip on me. It doesn't matter what was put in front of me. Drink first, myself second - everyone else came last. Then I met Anne-Marie, my partner. She reached out for help from WithYou. I knew I would need them at some point. I went to STRIDE for the first time and Anne-Marie stood by me every step of the way."

What support did you seek?

“I was invited to do the 12-steps course. Work gave me the time off as they knew it was going to change my life. Steps 1, 2, 3 of the programme encourage you to find your higher power - something bigger than yourself. Then we got to step 4 and that's when you have to delve into your life - secrets etc. This loneliness from my childhood continued to adulthood; had all been lifted.

“Life’s going good at the moment. I’m back to work. I haven’t had a drink for over 200 days. Now I’m looking to start volunteering to give the message of hope, that alcohol dependence and drinking isn't the be-all and end-all. If you can do it socially, then great. But no need to go over the top. It’s not going to achieve anything.”

Phil with his partner Anne-Marie (left), laughing and smiling

Phil, what’s your message to others who may be experiencing challenges?

“Reach out for help. It may be hard but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Seek help and listen to the experts. You are not alone. It’ll put your life back on track and you’ll think, why didn't I do it sooner?

“I used to make arguments just to justify my drinking. There are still daily challenges but it’s how you react to those challenges. I still go to groups now - hopefully, I can be that shining light for those newcomers. You have to be open to change. If you're closed, it doesn't get you anywhere.”

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