“When I was drinking, I loathed myself – now I’m very proud of who I’ve become”

“One morning, at the end of a drinking binge, I’d spent all my money, maxed out my credit cards, it was hot outside, but I couldn’t face going back to see my girlfriend or family to get some rest,” says Andrew, a 43-year-old business executive. “I went to my car parked in the underground parking lot but realised I couldn’t drive as I could barely walk. I sat there, wanting to be alone and isolate myself from everyone and everything.

“Then I cried and cried and contemplated ending my life – but realised I didn’t have the courage or the means to do it. If I’d had a gun in the car, I would have probably used it on myself.

“That was one rock bottom I had that was caused by my drinking and the way I lived then, but there were several others – including watching my girlfriend and mother cry because they didn’t know what to do and their love for me didn’t seem to be enough to stop me doing what I was doing to myself.”

It’s frequently unfathomable like this to people who care about someone drinking too much. But likewise, as Andrew explains, the person drinking often doesn’t know why they do it or continue despite vowing never to touch another drop.

“I always made excuses before about stopping and I blamed everyone else, especially those closest to me. I thought I was going crazy as I really didn’t want to go out on another bender but found myself doing it over and over again anyway.

“I would often come into the office with virtually no sleep, and sit at my desk physically ill from the binge, hands shaking, avoiding eye contact with my colleagues, hoping that if I kept to myself long enough no one would notice…”

Growing up, Andrew had seen his parents drink especially at parties they had hosted. He’d also experienced rage and constant criticism, particularly from his father.

Andrew started drinking aged 11 – “to escape my life and change the way I felt”. Aged 18, he also used illegal drugs for the first time, starting with marijuana, then ecstasy, ketamine, psychedelic mushrooms, opiates, and finally lots of cocaine. He realises now that as he got older, he also used relationships, sex, eating and work in the same manner.

“My aunt was the first person who showed they were concerned about my drinking, that was when I was just 18,” says Andrew, now settled on the Costa del Sol near Marbella. “I brushed that off as nonsense. But looking back on my drinking and drugging career, it was always a problem almost as far back as I can remember: the only real thing that I consistently looked forward to was the next bender.

“However, I only realised it was a problem much later in life, aged 34: I’d met someone and didn’t want ‘that life’ any longer, but found myself – despite my own will – going back to it over and over again with increasingly worsening consequences to myself and people around me.

“After probably hundreds of successive unsuccessful attempts to control my drinking, a few violent incidents, a relationship that was falling apart, at risk of being fired professionally for regular tardiness and poor results, deeply in debt, the tears of my mother and concern of all my family, I finally agreed to speak to someone about my alcohol use.”

He saw three therapists, without any result. Then someone introduced him to a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

“At my first AA meeting I was surprised at how many people there were, and how ‘normal’ they were. I had no idea what it was going to be like, but I went only because one of the people I met prior to going to my first meeting suggested it was ‘just information’ that I would find there. I liked that idea.

“I was also surprised at how welcoming and non-judgemental people were. It gave me a place where I could breathe, a place where I felt safe and loved.

“Now I’ve been free from alcohol and all mind-altering substances since June 2012. I also realised I had to stop any other behaviours that I’d used to change the way I felt – if not, it wouldn’t be long before I drank or used drugs again.

“The 12 Steps we do in AA are an amazing path for coping with life and learning to have a happy life, sober. In fact, I would rather be a sober alcoholic with the 12 Steps, than be a non-alcoholic drinker without them as they have profoundly changed my life and the way I look at the world.

“When I was drinking, I loathed myself. Life’s infinitely better now, and I am very proud of the person I’ve become.”

Andrew’s message to someone who might be struggling with alcohol is a clear: “Ask for help by calling the AA Helpline or reach out to someone who you’ve heard goes to AA and is sober, go to a meeting, and keep going to meetings. Things will definitely get better if you do those things.”