Coming back from Rock Bottom

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| This is the 371st story of Our Life Logs |


I was born in 1990 in a small town in the west of Scotland as the middle child. Our parents split up when I was 10 years old, and I didn’t have much contact with my dad until I was 21 and became a father myself. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack.

I got into a lot of fights at school because I stood up to my bullies. Coming from a conservative town, no one cared to learn why I didn’t have a dad. They just judged my siblings and me for it. My mom worked hard to provide for us, but we didn’t have much money for extra luxuries. This brought laughter and ridicule when people would see our free school meals and hand-me-down uniforms. I learned early in life that if I wanted something, I would have to earn it myself.

So, when I was 12, I started a yard work business with my brother where we gardened, cut grass and did any other odd jobs someone needed done. Eventually, we saved up enough to purchase a van so that we could work further afield.

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On top of the yard work business, at 17, I took on extra work in the evenings as a kitchen assistant in a pub. Initially, I was just washing up and chopping potatoes to make chips. But when the assistant chef was off sick one night, they asked me to step in as there was no one else to do his job. It was chaotic and stressful, and I had to learn fast, but I kept up the pace and worked my hardest, wanting to show what I was capable of. At the end of the night, the chef said that I had done well and gave me a tip. I was over the moon and immediately decided I wanted to become a chef. It felt like my calling.

Then, my life took a turn.

It started out innocent enough. On the way home, I had bumped into an older cousin and told him my great news. As I legally wasn’t allowed to drink yet, I gave him money and he bought us a bottle of whiskey. We swigged it as we walked along, chatting about life. Although I didn’t really like the taste, I liked how the whiskey made me feel. As the warmth filled my veins and brought a tingling to my toes, I felt happy and confident, like I could do anything. He invited me to a house party and that night was the start of my alcohol addiction. 

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Two days later, the assistant chef quit his job, and I immediately volunteered to take over his position. This was my golden opportunity to improve my life. I left the yard work business to my brother, knowing he had it under control.

Unfortunately, being in a pub environment meant that I had access to alcohol, my newfound love. Even though I was underage, there was always a colleague who would buy me a drink at the end of a shift. Sometimes we would host a party or wedding, and there would be left-over drink that I would take.

When I first started drinking, it was just for fun. However, I soon realized that I was drinking to get rid of feelings I’d harbored since I was a child. When my parents split up and my dad walked out of my life years ago, it had left a massive hole, and a lot of emotions. Something that I never completely got rid of.

Being underage, seeing how I could get my next drink became like a challenge. I thought that when I turned 18 and could legally buy alcohol myself, the novelty would wear off.

But it only got worse after I turned 18.

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After working for two years, I became a qualified chef. I would sleep all morning, then get up and go to work long hours from the late afternoon to the evening, then party all night, and repeat the cycle the next day. Around this time, I met the mother of my children. We had gone to the same school but had never really paid each other much attention. However, we hit it off straight away after meeting at a party.

My girlfriend was studying accounting and had a group of friends who wanted to do something with their lives. Being around them was a good influence at first. It made me see the rut I’d gotten myself into, and I tried to cut down my drinking, keeping hidden just how often I was buzzed.

After being together for a year, we rented a small house together near where I had grown up. It was only then that my girlfriend realized how drunk I was getting…every single night. She found it annoying and told me to cut my drinking down. Later, she became more worried and told me I needed help. I started to worry too. When we went out with friends, I was often the one encouraging people to do shots and was regularly so drunk that I couldn’t walk properly.

Things went from bad to worse. I realized that alcohol had become something I needed. It wasn’t fun anymore. Without a drink in my hand, I was quieter and more stressed. Alcohol was a sure-fire way to help me relax and feel like myself—the person I’d come to know. As my heavy drinking continued, my girlfriend had trouble coping. She threatened to throw me out several times, but each time I begged her to take me back, and for some reason, she always did.

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In 2011, my girlfriend fell pregnant. It wasn’t planned and came as an unwelcome surprise to me. Regardless, I knew I had to face up to my responsibilities, even though I wasn’t quite ready to be a parent. I didn’t want to be like my absent dad. I wanted to be the kind of dad my child deserved, so I decided to stop drinking. I knew that my life depended on it.

Deciding to quit was a monster of a task because even weening myself off slowly was impossible. I could never have just one or two drinks. Once I started drinking, I wouldn’t stop until the end of the night or until I was thrown out of the pub for being drunk and disorderly. But I knew it was what I had to do.

I managed to stop drinking entirely for two weeks by throwing myself into work and keeping away from my old friends. Each night I was happy to go home to my pregnant girlfriend, but I was still a bit overwhelmed, like I was too young to be tied down.

During this time, I also managed to get back in touch with my dad, who made up for his decade-long absence by assuring me that I’d be a good parent and helping me out. But the trapped and angry feelings still boiled in my veins despite his assurances. Everything felt like too much. I was both excited and terrified about having a kid. On top of that, seeing my dad again, while a happy meeting at first, was bringing back a lot of the dark feelings I harbored about his disappearing act. The only way I knew to get rid of these feelings was to get drunk, and just like that, I was sucked back in.

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A few months later, my son was born. I couldn’t stop staring at my perfect little boy, but was scared to hold him as he seemed so fragile.

That night, I went out to celebrate and got so drunk that I fell out of a window. I can’t remember why I was climbing out of the window but ended up in hospital. The doctors fixed me up and gave me a leaflet for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I kept the leaflet but didn’t get in contact with the organization. Instead, I left it in my bedroom drawer and kept drinking.

The first year of my son’s life passed in a blur. I was even drunk as I watched my son take his first steps. My girlfriend eventually had enough of me and didn’t want me around our son in my drunken state. I agreed with her but didn’t know how to quit drinking.

She briefly moved back in with her parents. But she knew about my childhood and how losing touch with my dad had massively affected me. She didn’t want the same thing to happen with our son, so we got back together.

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After two years, we had another boy. My second son was harder to look after, he cried a lot, and my girlfriend was struggling to cope. We often argued during those first few months.

It wasn’t long before we had completely fallen out, and after a night out drinking, I came home to find that she’d changed the locks. She wouldn’t let me in. I pleaded with her, and then got angry and spent hours banging on the door. Eventually, she called the police, and I was taken to a cell to sober up. 

When I was released, I had nowhere to go. I ended up sleeping in my car, on friends’ sofas, in hostels, and even spent a few nights sleeping rough in a local park. I became depressed as I missed my sons. I felt like such a failure.

Soon my drinking ruined other parts of my life and I hit rock bottom. I lost my job. I had no money, no home and no family to turn to. My own parents didn’t know what to do. I often ate at a soup kitchen for the homeless in town. They tried pushing me in the right direction. They helped me find counselling which helped my self-esteem, but I still couldn’t stop drinking.

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After counselling, I went to my ex-girlfriend’s house one day and banged on the door, praying she’d let me see our boys. I expected to be ignored, but instead she opened the door and handed me the AA leaflet. “Stop drinking, and then you can see them” was all she said before closing the door in my face. I was angry and thought, I’ll show her. I screwed the leaflet up and put it in my pocket before walking away.

The next day, I phoned AA.

I knew that if I wanted to be part of my sons’ lives, I would need to prove that I had changed, that I was worth another chance. I started attending their meetings regularly, and eventually I stopped drinking. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. In the first few months I was constantly thinking about alcohol. In the past, I’d used it to drown out strong emotions I didn’t want to feel. Now, I had to think of a safer alternative.

I started by exercising or going for a walk if I felt like drinking. I knew that my life depended on getting sober, that I wouldn’t be able to see my sons if I didn’t, and that too was a motivator. I always kept a photo of them in my pocket and whenever I felt like drinking, I would look at it.

It took me a while to convince my ex-girlfriend that I was off the drink and ready to be a dad. About one year after I had stopped drinking, I was able to see my sons again. By then, my ex and I both felt confident that I could stay sober. I didn’t want to reconnect with them and then disappear as I knew how much that would upset them.

My children are the reason I stand and breathe today. I’m so happy I can now be part of their lives and teach them things like fishing, swimming and riding a bike. I hope I can continue to be a good dad well into the future as I don’t want them to make the same mistakes as I did.

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I am now a recovering Alcoholic, 18 months sober, which I am proud to admit. I realize that it’s still a journey that I am on, and I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy with how far I’ve come. I am currently working part-time in a café, avoiding anywhere that serves alcohol, as the temptation is still there.

I’m thankful that I’m not the person I used to be, a person who couldn’t cope with his emotions. Through my addiction journey, I have learned to never take family for granted and never be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. Society expects men to be tough and keep their emotions hidden, but if I had done so, I would still be in that dark place, away from my family. Most of all, I’ve learned that I’m resilient. If I could come back from rock bottom to a happier life, anyone can. Maybe I never needed alcohol to get by; the resilience was in me all along, just waiting to be tapped. 

 

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This is the story of Mark McLean

Mark currently lives and works in Scotland. To cope with his dark emotions, Mark turned to drinking and rapidly became an alcoholic. His drinking cost him his job, his home, and almost his two sons. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, Mark managed to stop drinking. Mark is now a recovering alcoholic, 18 months sober and proud. He has rebuilt a friendship with his ex-girlfriend and is back in touch with their sons, who are six and eight years old. Mark volunteers at the soup kitchen where he once ate when he was homeless. Although seeing the misery on their faces reminds him of his past, he is grateful that he can now help others. Mark spends as much time with his sons as he can and encourages them to work hard at school. He enjoys the bliss of having a laugh with them now that he’s sober and happy.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on June 27, 2019.

| Writer: Abigail Latham | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

 

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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