When Alan was told he had just eight months to live if he didn't stop drinking, he took on the monumental task of giving up alcohol without any help or support. Now he feels a changed and powerful man, but he and sister Fran are still haunted by the stigma he experienced. Thank you for telling your story, Alan and Fran
Alan: I’d been drinking since the age of 25 even though I didn’t like alcohol. It started as a pint on a Saturday night, then Sunday too and then every night. Five years ago I started drinking 24 hours a day and was spending £40 a day on alcohol – it was embarrassing going to the shop to buy it. I had a breakdown in 2012 and have never been able to work since, but being signed off sick was basically an excuse to spend more time drinking. Before I knew it, I was addicted – I was having it through the night, through the day, on cereal… but I’m happy to say I’ve given it over now.
Fran: It was horrendous and each day was different. The way he treated the family was unbelievable and it tore us apart, my poor mum probably got the brunt of it, because that’s who Alan is closest to. He had forgotten about it by the next day, but we hadn’t. At some point each of us wanted to slap Alan really hard but we weren’t going through it. If he had something to eat it was a miracle and then he was a bit more sociable then. We’ve had such arguments at times. I haven’t liked him, but I always loved him.
Alan: I’ve experienced so much stigma and became unemployable. More and more was coming at me, like ‘Don’t go near him, he stinks of alcohol’, ‘Don’t employ him he’ll nick all the money out of your till’. Ignorant people say that who are no better or worse than yourself. Everyone has their problems so who has the right to talk?
Once when I was in hospital on a detox a nurse went to the gentleman’s toilet and there was pee all over the floor. She blamed me for it and said all drinkers are liars. I confronted her and she said ‘I didn’t say that, I was talking about somebody else’. I know what I heard.
Medical staff would say I'm taking a hospital bed away from someone with a serious illness
Medical staff would say to me: ‘You’ll be back and back and back. Your type always are’ and ‘Here we go, another alcohol related one. You’re pouring drink down your neck and taking away a hospital bed from someone with a serious illness’ – I’ve had that more than once. And a doctor once said ‘You are a stupid man, you don’t listen to anyone apart from the bottle. Give yourself a shake and sort it out’.
Well, if I could do that I would have. How many thousands of pounds was he paid to tell me that?
The police are the worst, they bang you up and then let you go, as if that’s going to help. I would drink to recover from prison and end up back in there. The police were regulars at this house and Fran even asked me if I was going to get a Christmas card from them.
I felt like I was being judged all the time. It made me feel small and dirty and made me want to drink. How dare they? They don’t know my life, so don’t judge a book by its cover. It became a daily thing so I hid in my bedroom and didn’t go out.
Fran: The stigma makes me so angry. Anybody could go through what Alan did. Rather than just saying “Ugh, he’s an alcoholic” think about why he did that. Alan’s right, it was his fault that he drank the alcohol, but there’s a whole story about what he’s been through.
We need to stop the stigma, I feel really strongly about this. The more people are aware of it, the more the stigma will go away.
Alan: When I look back I disgusted myself, nobody was pouring the alcohol down my neck – so I suppose I was giving myself stigma too.
On November 18th last year the doctor in the hospital told me I had to stop drinking or I’d be dead in eight months. I could see someone taking that the wrong way when they’re weak and vulnerable, because they think they’re not strong enough to stop, but everyone is. I was already reducing how much I drank when I was diagnosed with cirrhosis, but on the morning of that appointment I drank three litres of cider just to get me there. When the doctor told me, the first thing I thought was 'My poor, poor mother what’s she going to say?' And then I thought 'Thank God I don’t have to drink any more'.
I realised I either had to take my own life or get better and I chose to get better. I’d been through about four or five detoxes with a charity, but all of them failed, so I decided to do it by myself. I had two bottles of cider, one opened and one not. The option was there if I wanted a drink, but I didn’t and threw them away after two weeks. There was no support available apart from my family and I have got the best family ever. I did a lot of it for them, but most importantly I did it for me.
All kinds of dangerous things happen to you when you’re coming off alcohol, like seizures. It was very hard work. I was a mess – kicking and screaming – but I took every day at a time. I’m still sorting out the mess that alcohol left me in with the way I spoke to people and the things I did to people – the borrowing of money and never giving it back.
Sometimes I think if I started to cry I wouldn’t ever stop.
Fran: We all do, as a family. I have moments where I do it in private, but then I put my big girl knickers back on and away I go. I support Alan as much as I can and worry about him all the time.
Alan: I’ve had so many failed attempts to stop drinking and I would tell people to keep trying to find their own. It doesn’t happen overnight, and if it doesn’t work one way then just try another until you find it. I’ve still got people who will cross the road to avoid me and it makes me feel the size of a thimble. But then I think: ‘Hang on a minute Alan, you’ve become a powerful man’.
I physically hate the thought of alcohol now and can’t stand it on people and for a long time I just relied on water and orange cordial. Fizzy bottles make me feel sick at first until I realise there’s just a soft drink in it.
Fran: Since the day Alan found out he had cirrhosis the family has worked as a team. It’s been a massive learning curve and it’s brought the family more together. It’s been hard at times but everyone is on the same page now and our elderly parents have been amazing.
Alan: One day I feel stronger, the next I spend all day in bed. Now when I say I want to go to the shops, my family thinks it’s for alcohol, but walking to the shop where I used to buy my cider makes me physically sick.
Walking up the aisle where the alcohol was really upsets me and once I fair wanted to grab a bottle and just undo everything I’ve done. My achievement was not picking it up. I had the choice and the power not to.
I now have weekly drains in hospital which remove about eight litres of fluid from my tummy. I’m wheelchair-bound but can get around using a walker, the doctors and nurses have very kindly got me a hospital bed for my bedroom – they’ve been magnificent with disability aids.
Alcoholism catches up with you so soon and don’t take the attitude that you’re immune to dying because nobody is.