Good morning, my name is John Allen and I’m here today to give you a
brief account of my years as an alcohol dependent.
I hope to be able to give you some indication of how I believe it may
have all started the treatment I received and my eventual recovery.
Now every good story has a beginning, middle and an end. The
beginning and the end are the easy bits but you’ll have to forgive me if
some of the middle is a bit hazy. I intend to talk for about 10 minutes so
if I miss anything or if there are any questions please speak up at the
I think that if I had to pinpoint the day when I finally understood that my
life had totally spiralled out of control and that alcohol was all that
mattered, was the morning that one of my many past employers came
knocking on my door.
I was working in the engineering industry at the time and any lateness or
absenteeism was usually dealt with by the usual fabricated phone call.
So a personal visit from my boss took me by surprise.
Even more surprising though was that he hadn’t come round to get me
out of bed, bollock me and make me get to work, he had purely come
round out of concern.
I remember letting him in and ushering him into the living room. The
look on his face spoke volumes.
The room consisted of a manky sofa, which doubled up as my bed, a
stereo and a coffee table. On that coffee table and strewn around the
uncarpeted floor were countless bottles and cans of white cider. Some
full, most empty.
Sighing he delved into his pocket, pulled out a tenner then said “is this
how you live? Get yourself down the shop, get a tin of soup and a
couple of bread rolls, you must be starving. See you tomorrow?” The
last part was more of a question rather than a statement. With that he
left. I lost that job. One of many.
Now most people, you’d like to think would have reflected on that
morning and would have done something about it.
Unfortunately though this was to prove to be one of many unheeded
wake up calls. Things got a lot worse.
The question I keep asking myself is how did that all happen? How did I
I was a normal lad that had a normal childhood, with a normal education.
A normal lifestyle really. I grew up, in a normal suburb of Bedford and
the norm on leaving school was to get a job immediately; the job market
wasn’t that bad at the time so this didn’t prove too difficult for many
Paying your way wasn’t too difficult also. Everybody still lived with mum
so a few quid for bed and board didn’t break the bank. This left quite a
considerable amount of disposable income for a fresh faced 16 year old.
We considered ourselves fortunate where we were brought up, it was
very community spirited where we lived. Everybody knew each other
and most people got on. I was lucky enough to have a good circle of
As children we grew up with the pub culture. Parents would frequently
be in there. Older brothers and sisters. Everybody socialising and
having fun down the local. As kids we’d always be looking through the
window and aspire to be like those drinking.
So inevitably, when we reached 16, this was the thing to do; this is
where the fun was at. Finding a pub that served 16 year olds was easy,
most did it. Most still do.
So this is how I remember it starting:
Friday and Saturday nights to begin with.
Then Saturday dinner times crept in to stave off the hangover from the
Then before all day opening was introduced, a few pubs in town had
license to open all day Saturday, so of we’d go.
So now it’s Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night. This
then led to “hair of the dog” Sunday dinner time. The beauty of this
though was that the pub would close at 2pm and everybody would go
home for Sunday roast, relax and prepare for work the next day.
Then came the all day opening. Whose idea was THAT?
Skip the Sunday roast in favour of the “all dayer”. No work Monday,
hello the “Monday Club”.
I think we all know where this is leading.
As you can imagine this slow, and I mean slow, progression into all day,
every day drinking took its toll.
The health issues didn’t surface immediately but the financial and social
Numerous jobs were lost due to lateness and absenteeism. Non-
payment of rent and rates led to eviction. The breakdown of a long term
All this seemed to be happening at a snail’s pace with me having no
feelings for others, no remorse, no worries of consequence. I just didn’t
care. I just enjoyed drinking, socialising and having fun.
I didn’t even notice that I had started cracking open cans as soon as I
woke and that breakfast had become a fag and a glass of Frosty Jack.
Suddenly I wasn’t going to the pub any more. I had no job and money
was becoming tight. It didn’t matter though, I could drink all day every
day on cheap supermarket drink, and that’s what I did. All day every day
for God knows how many years.
I think that’s a close enough summary of how it all started and slowly
progressed …….it was all very hazy.
There was no underlying reason. There wasn’t anything missing in my
life. It wasn’t a cry for help. There wasn’t any deep rooted sinister
reason for it all. No cause for counselling. I just enjoyed drinking, but
slowly it became a major problem.
Anyway, somewhere amongst all this I accessed alcohol treatment.
I didn’t do this through choice. Another of my many employers
recognised my problem and gave me an ultimatum. Get help or get lost.
At this stage I was drinking at every opportunity. I had stashes of cans
everywhere. In my van, my tool box, my coat pockets. I was drinking
everywhere. On scaffold, operating machinery, drink driving….I was
finding pubs in strange towns that would open at 6 in the morning, they
weren’t hard to find.
Jobs were getting scarce now, so to appease him I agreed. He gave me
the name and address of a service and off I went. Day one of a very long
period of my life.
I spent the next 2 years using this service. I know it was 2 years because
I remember them discharging me saying that treatment couldn’t be
indefinite. Strange that! I didn’t know you could timetable recovery.
These 2 years weren’t the best 2 years of my life and had it not been for
the support of my sister I don’t know where I would be today. It seems
such a shame that she wasn’t offered any support. Support I know was
out there but never offered to her. Support she could have done with
because I know that my family went through hell.
She supported me through the two detoxes that were given to me. The
detoxes that were in an inappropriate psychiatric environment. The
detoxes that after a brief period of section and a period of over
medicating would allow you to leave the premises at 9am providing you
returned by 10pm. The detoxes that let you take this medication out with
you and expect you to be responsible enough to self medicate during
this vulnerable period. The detoxes that gave me a mental health
assessment whilst I was withdrawing and highly medicated and wrongly
diagnosed me with anxiety that kept me as an out patient for a further 2
years. The detoxes that were eventually denied me because 2 detoxes
was the maximum and that the 2 beds available had now been reduced
The knowledge that planned alcohol detox was now unavailable to me
was to define a large part of the rest of my alcohol treatment.
This was to be the start of many emergency admissions to South Wing.
13 I’ve been told. Emergency detox due to severe withdrawal resulting in
fitting, some unintentional and some intentional.
Emergency treatment that involved intravenous rehydration, thiamine
and vitamin supplementation, anti-biotics, endoscopies, colostomy
bagging, steroids and eventually a Zimmer-frame.
Emergency treatment that revealed physical damage such as a torn
stomach lining, a split lower intestine, gastritis, pancreatitis and
irreparable liver damage.
A severe drain on NHS resource and a severe STRAIN on the patience of
my consultant and his staff.
It was however, the final of these 13 admissions that made me make the
conscious decision to quit drinking for good.
For all the key work that had gone on previous, for all the pleas from
family and friends and for all the diagnoses from medical professionals
it was one thing and one thing only that stopped me drinking.
Something I could see and something that was tangible.
Someone once told me that some people have to hit rock bottom before
contemplating giving up drinking. I had reached this and still persisted.
So it was when I woke in my hospital bed one morning and I thought
that I had peed myself that I made this decision.
I pulled back the covers and attempted to get out of bed. Crunch, I then
fell to the floor. During the night my legs had ballooned so rapidly that
the skin had split and were now weeping. The muscles had diminished
and I could no longer stand.
Prior to this life had become tiresome. Drinking and the endless hospital
treatment had become mundane and monotonous. My day consisted of
drink – sleep – drink – sleep. I didn’t eat for weeks on end. Every time I
drifted into sleep I would pray that I didn’t wake.
But oh no! Him upstairs wasn’t going to let that happen. In my eyes he
was going to consign me to a wheelchair for the rest of my days.
So here I am today. The ex dependent drinker. The ex service user being
asked to comment on my experience of the treatment system and what
would have made a difference to me.
Well it is impossible to storyboard it so from here on in this account
now becomes a list. This list is not exhaustive though:
Let’s start with the sedative Librium. You can either not get it at all or
you get it in abundance. The alcohol treatment service wouldn’t
prescribe, my GP prescribed 60 10mg tablets at a time on repeat
prescription, Weller Wing over medicated with them and prison under
medicated with them. The only people who seemed to get it right were
staff at South Wing. Seemingly correct dosages but if not more on
request. I think you’ll agree that there’s not a lot of consistency of care
Now the deterrent Antabuse. A potentially dangerous drug if taken
whilst drinking. Prescribed to me whilst dependently drinking with
Finally the inhibitor Acamprosate. A drug that is only effective after
weaning. Again prescribed to me whilst dependently
drinking and not at the optimum time at detox.
On arrival, day 1 at the alcohol treatment service I was signposted to, it
should have quickly been recognised that the pathway to abstinence
was one I wasn’t ready to take at that time, therefore a referral to a more
suitable agency should have seemed more appropriate.
Then subsequently, once my 2 year stint was over the referral to the
following service was shambolic. I was given the name of the agency
and the street it was on and told to make my way over there. After going
to the wrong address and then finally explaining who I was to a person
at the right address, no one had heard of me or was expecting me. Not
even a phone call had been made telling them to expect me. I don’t know
how long it took for my records to follow.
One on one key work:
For 2 years I constantly felt like a naughty schoolboy in the
headmaster’s office. The only reason I continued with this was to
appease my employer at the time, probation and my family.
Detox in Weller Wing:
Just to recap, held in a totally inappropriate environment, a waste of
time and resource.
Detox in South Wing:
Painful but medically correct. The only failure here though is any follow
up. No one from the services visits and as with Weller Wing if rehab is
not for you there is minimal aftercare.
Large gaps in between appointments. Failure to recognise why
dependent drinkers may miss appointments. Lack of outreach.
I refuse to end this little presentation on a whinge and I apologise if the
last bit seemed to be a bit of a rant so I am briefly going to describe the
final service I used:
Compassionate, sympathetic, tolerant – even when I appeared abusive
or aggressive, able to come to see me – either in hospital or when I
couldn’t make appointments, long term treatment – no cut off point, I
had to discharge myself, support for my family, no pressure to become
abstinent or enter rehab. Basically they did exactly what it says in their
Oh! And by the way, they played a major part in facilitating the start of
an amazing alcohol abstinence group. For more details see me
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