“I am so grateful to be sober – and that my life’s worth something again”

Former police officer Niall, now 60, lived a life of drinking and cheating in his marriages. Until one day he was given a final ultimatum that totally transformed his life…

“I worked in the Royal Navy, the police and for the ambulance service. I married at 18 and had a son. As a father I was useless, more interested in myself, and so I neglected my responsibilities.

My childhood was unhappy. Many nights I sat outside pubs listening to my parents living it up inside.

Aged 12, they broke up. I stayed with my father in London – an easy choice as I always felt a failure around my mother, and she never said she loved me. I just wanted to grow up quickly and get away, so I no longer felt different, less than and not part of anything: a massive hole in an unhappy life.

I was drinking regularly from about 12, and even by my early days in the navy I was told by an officer that my drinking was a concern. I took no notice. In fact, I drank throughout my working life, everything revolved around it. I stank of booze most days.

During my marriages I had a number of affairs and sex became a drug as well. I didn’t care who I hurt as long as I felt better, although I remember little as my blackouts were regular. I could turn anything into an addiction, including gambling on fruit machines. Inside, I hated myself and drank more to try dealing with that.

I never thought at any time I had a problem. But one day my second wife said if I didn’t sort out my drinking she was leaving. She gave me the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) number.

The man I spoke to visited me and we chatted for six hours. I heard that he used to drink like me but had been sober for nearly 50 years now! I walked unsteadily into my first AA meeting and don’t remember much of what was said – but was shocked to see happy faces and people who were welcoming and loving.

I knew I’d found somewhere safe, where I belonged. Nobody judged, we were equals with the same disease – and so my recovery began that day in 2012. Since then, I have never had another drink. Nowadays I actually like the person I see in the mirror.

The only requirement to visit an AA meeting is a desire to stop drinking. If you feel you want help, call the confidential helpline, just like I did several years ago. Then you will know that you’re not alone.”