ASC Presentation 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 end. 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 get there? 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 school leavers. 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 friends. 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 night before. 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 ones did. Numerous jobs were lost due to lateness and absenteeism. Non- payment of rent and rates led to eviction. The breakdown of a long term relationship.
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 to 1. 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. Decision made. 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:
Medication: 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 there. Now the deterrent Antabuse. A potentially dangerous drug if taken whilst drinking. Prescribed to me whilst dependently drinking with obvious consequences. 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. Referrals: 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. General concerns: 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 name, Cared! 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 afterwards.
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