From Rock Bottom To Mountain Tops

I tweeted last weekend about how I would be celebrating my 9th year sober today, and I was really surprised by the feedback I received. It’s not something I’ve discussed before and most people know nothing about it. A lot of people asked me to write a blog about it and talk about it in more detail, so here it is…

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s long. I do hope you enjoy reading it and if it helps just one person, it will have been worth writing.

Taking a good hard look at myself

John drinking alcohol-free

Nine years ago this week I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, probably a couple of hours – at least – after my wife had gone to work.

I could hardly recognise the person staring back at me. Deep down, of course, I knew full well who it was. But it certainly wasn’t who I wanted it to be.

The person in the mirror was pale, thin, unshaven, and very ill-looking. And that image was through the half-closed eyes of a hangover.

For months, I’d had a persistent cough. It was so noticeable that my neighbour, a retired health worker, had mentioned it and suggested I see a doctor. That wouldn’t be so bad, but we lived in a detached house.

I was 32. I felt much older.

How it all began

I first drank properly when I was around 13. It was love at first taste. I can’t really explain why or what exactly it did to me, but anyone in a similar position will know what I mean. It felt like it made me the person I was meant to be. Like it was the missing ingredient that nature forgot to put in my body alongside, or maybe instead of, blood.

This first real drink was at my friend’s Mum’s wedding. Her friends were mainly from London and worked in the fashion industry. Her new husband’s friends were academics. I felt incredibly out of place. So I drank. And didn’t stop until I passed out.

To cut a day of embarrassing events short, it ended with me waking in a bed I’d been put in to sleep it off, walking out on to the landing dazed and confused, and falling down a flight of stairs right into the party (there’s a knack to falling down stairs and I would eventually get quite good at it…).

I was lucky not to break my neck. That would have rather ruined the poor couple’s wedding.

Once I sobered up and the hangover had gone, all I could really think was ‘that was fun, when’s the next drink?’

I drank as and when I could until I was around 16 when I started drinking regularly (fake ID at clubs, pubs that didn’t care etc). Drinking was always part of my family’s culture. As a mixed English/Irish/Scottish Catholic family, drink was part of most gatherings, and, once I could, I rarely missed a chance to over-indulge.

What I learnt at school

Once, after a charity event the night before held in a nightclub, I turned up to school hungover aged 15 and vomited my breakfast cornflakes outside a classroom waiting for the day’s first lesson. A kind teacher – one of those you never forget – whose wife had died not long before from an alcohol-related problem, gave me a very good, kind talk and sent me home to sleep it off.

A year later, on the final day of school, I left the building at lunchtime – the unofficial end of the day – with a few friends. It was a lovely summer’s day and we sat in the sun and drank a few cans. For some reason we then decided to go back to school, where most pupils were still enjoying the last afternoon reminiscing and writing in each other’s exercise books.

Drunk and holding a can of Guinness, I walked into the school through the main doors. I was caught immediately by a teacher and threatened with expulsion. I was still a pupil until the end of that day. Thankfully the teacher merely took the can off me, poured it away in the staff room, and told me to try to get through the rest of the day without drawing any more attention to myself.

I then proceeded to tell a girl how much I had fancied her. A nice, if drunken, admission of feelings on the last day I’d ever see her. No bad thing really – except I did it in front of my then girlfriend who wasn’t too impressed.

Sixteen years later…

Back to the mirror sixteen years later. I looked at myself and started to cry. How the hell had I ended up like this? It certainly wasn’t the aim when I was 13 taking my first drink. It wasn’t the aim at 16 when I started going to pubs and clubs with friends. It wasn’t the aim when I noticed the start of my drinking day move forward from 6pm to 5pm, then 4pm when possible, or when I started to have a quick nip at lunchtime…

Everyone has their own rock-bottom. For some people it’s death. At a personal level, you can’t get any lower, although it’s possible to cause more harm to others alive.

Sadly, I’ve known quite a few for whom death was their rock-bottom. Some were young, very few were what we’d now consider old (the odd one of course but they were often sad and lonely men for whom a long life was no bonus).

For many others I’ve known, rock bottom has been total financial and personal ruin, possibly along with long-term physical and mental damage.

I was quite lucky. My rock bottom was only nearly losing my house, nearly losing my wife, and nearly damaging my health long-term (I still have fairly bad memory issues but otherwise seem more or less unscathed).

Had it not been for family and good friends helping out (thank you), all three could easily and quickly have happened.

For several years I’d been self employed but as anyone with a drink problem can testify, the work/drink balance is a tricky one to maintain.

I’d tried to stop many times before. I’d decided I had a drink problem, read books on how to stop, even stopped for a few months (although never without substituting alcohol with cannabis which simply does not work in my experience). But then I’d decide that as I’d managed to stop for a few months, I couldn’t have a problem so I started drinking again. Brilliant logic. It’s actually classic alcoholic thinking and many people fool themselves this way. And each time I started again, my problem become more serious.

Many people go through similar – around 30 is quite a common age for people to realise they are drinking a bit too much, especially if they haven’t settled down to family life. Most don’t have a serious drink problem. They just need to moderate. But some, like me, have a drink problem, but convince themselves they haven’t and start again.

No one can tell you which, if either, camp you fall in to. Of course, many people use alcohol in moderation all their lives with no problems at all, bar the odd hangover, and good luck to them!

Thankfully, on this day, as I stood there looking in the mirror, I made a decision to take my problem out of my own hands and seek help. I’d never shared my problem with anyone but my wife, and my best friend. Others knew, I’m sure, but I’d never really discussed it. You think you are hiding it, but when you realise what you look like and the fact you are always pissed, it’s pretty obvious people know you have a problem.

Making the most important phone call of my life

I googled for Manchester AA and called up. It was the hardest phone call I’d ever made. I really don’t know why. I was only asking about when the next meeting was and where. Thankfully it was that day, in about an hour or so. I was told to go and ask for a certain woman and told she would help.

I had a shower and a shave and tried to look the best I could. But even with a shave I looked a mess. But at least I was a clean mess and not a ‘sleeping rough’ mess. I wasn’t going to be like those sort of people… ‘alcoholics’. Of course, as anyone who has attended AA for any length of time knows, all alcoholics are pretty much the same. The details of their stories may be different but, in one way or another, we’ve all been there, seen it, done it.

Walking through the door of that first meeting was even harder than making the phone call. I very nearly walked away. Somehow I found the courage to go through the door.

I immediately found the woman I had been told to speak to and introduced myself. She welcomed me and introduced me to the chair of the meeting. A nice bloke who had been sober for many years but was clearly still suffering from the effects.

At the end of the first meeting I left determined to stop drinking. But I had a John Prine concert to go to the following night. I couldn’t face stopping drinking that day, so I decided to go to the concert and drink, but that would be my last night drinking. I could have been fooling myself again, putting it off once more, but I stuck to my decision and stopped. That was nine years ago and I’ve not drank since.

A few weeks later when I first told my parents I was going to AA their reaction was great. Mum was a little reticent – alcoholism was a stigma, but my Dad gave me a big hug and said he’d never been more proud of me. Both were loving and sympathetic. I only wish everyone in the same position received the same support from their parents. It was a wonderful help.

I went back to AA for several months and on the whole it was the best thing I had ever done to help myself. I left each meeting beaming. I called my wife at work as I walked through town and told her how great I felt. I was bouncing around feeling 7ft tall, full of confidence.

Going my own way

Work wise, since going sober in 2004, I’d had the best year I’d ever had and made more money than ever before in the areas of web site creation and affiliate marketing. A combination of right-place, right-time, and a clear head.

In 2005, we had builders in constructing a kitchen extension and I stopped going to AA because the meetings I liked were during the day. In a way, I used the daily contact with the builders (one of whom was my cousin who had his own problems and sadly is no longer with us) as a substitute group. It was good to have people to talk to – one of the problems when you work from home is the lack of contact. In a way, Twitter has replaced that for many people I think. I know I now use it that way.

AA is about being helped when you need it, and then giving service back (in whatever form you can) to help others, which in turn continues to help you stay sober. I know some AA users will disagree, but I see my service as running The Alcohol-Free Shop. It helps me daily and we help other people daily.

I didn’t return to AA until last month, many years after my last meeting, when I called in to one on a whim when I had a few hours to kill on a Friday night on a trip to Manchester. I was delighted to meet the woman I met at my first meeting and had a chance to thank her. It was great to see her, and some other old faces, all of whom looked so much better than the last time I saw them.

I didn’t speak at the meeting, because there were newcomers there – always wonderful to see – and I didn’t want to give the the message that I am, basically, ok without using AA long-term. That doesn’t fit in with the core AA message and I wouldn’t want to put anyone off. They’ll find out in their own time if AA is for them long-term or not. For me, it helped in the initial stages.

The genesis of The Alcohol-Free Shop

In 2005 I was thoroughly sick of drinking coke, orange juice, and sickly sweet drinks like J20 etc. I was also more confident in my physical and mental state and decided to explore the world of ‘alcohol-free’ wines and beers. These are drinks that start life as ordinary alcoholic drinks, but have the alcohol removed. Its very hard to remove the alcohol completely so they tend to have up to 0.5% alcohol-by-volume left. An amount so tiny that, because of the way the liver processes alcohol, you could never get drunk no matter how much you drank.

Some recovering alcoholics and support groups are very much against these drinks, saying that people are trying to cling on to the past or, worse, that the taste/smell/action of holding the drink could trigger a relapse. But many other recovering alcoholics successfully use them to help and maintain their recovery. It absolutely has to be a personal decision and one that each person is comfortable with themselves.

I’ve been asked the question – are they ok for alcoholics? – many times in the last few years and each time I can only say that they are for me, and that we have alcoholic customers who successfully drink them, but it has to be a personal decision and personal responsibility. If you’re not comfortable with them, stay away. If you are comfortable, go ahead.

I decided it was worth trying. I bought some drinks from various suppliers and found a mixed bag. Some were terrible. Some were ok. A few were great.

What I didn’t find was a company providing the full range of drinks. Some did beer only, some wine only, some cocktails etc etc.

Having been in business for some years, I realised this was a perfect opportunity for me to put my skills to use in a field I had a real passion for and one that could help others. I took the money we’d made in affiliate marketing and ploughed it in to starting The Alcohol-Free Shop. From going from near bankruptcy to some sort of stability, I decided to risk it all again on a totally untried and untested idea.

People thought I was mad. And I mean just about everyone I know including my dad (some still do but I don’t feel the need to argue these days). I’m only sorry dad’s no longer here to share in our success.

Starting small…

We started very small, with just a 100 sq foot of storage in a Safestore unit and a bit of stock. We splashed out a bit on the domain names alcoholfree.co.uk and alcoholfree.com. And then put a lot of work into building the web sites and the business.

When we launched we had sales from day one. And with the sales, the feedback – most of it very positive (4.9 out of 5 on Google Checkout).

Of course, not everyone enjoys our drinks. Sadly, some of those who don’t are just not ready to stop drinking, so find any reason not to enjoy them. But others simply don’t like the taste. I can understand that. The drinks are not 100% identical to the alcoholic versions. You will notice the lack of alcohol when you first taste them, but your palate quickly adapts (a bit like changing from full fat milk to semi-skimmed or stopping taking sugar in your tea or coffee). And they are real wines and beers, not grape juices or soft drinks, so they contain mature tastes which not everyone wants.

We quickly grew from 100sq ft, to 250 sq ft. Then my wife left her job – 25 years in journalism – to work with me. Then we moved to 1000 sq ft, then 6000 sq ft… We are currently at about 13,000 sq ft, and rather more staff than we had when I was the only person doing it by myself. Most of our sales are nationwide across the UK and Europe, delivered by courier, but this year we have made a large investment into our new Manchester store. It’s just launched in the test phase, and will be fully launched later this summer. It’s looking quite amazing, and we’re all very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve in just a few years in such a small niche market.

We’ve had some downs as well as ups in the years since we started, largely around employing the wrong people (ultimately our fault of course), but sales wise we’ve grown each and every year and we’ve done our best to work for the benefit of the customer.

The Alcohol-Free Shop is a business. We are not, to the surprise of some people, a charity. We’ve had some really snotty comments from alcoholic drinks companies at trade events/health conferences who presume we survive only on grants. I should add that, with the odd exception, we are not remotely supported by the alcohol industry even though they are sometimes the producers of the drinks. The alcohol-free market is largely treated with a degree of contempt.

We have never received any grants or external funding for the public sector (apart from when we have sold them drinks). Do we make a lot of money? Not really. I could certainly make more in other forms of business. But I don’t run The Alcohol-Free Shop to make a lot of money. I do it because it helps people (and I include myself in that).

Who shops at The Alcohol-Free Shop

Most of our customers are not alcoholics of any type (recovering or otherwise). Some are of course – and I’m delighted we can help them. We receive emails all the time thanking us for saving their jobs, marriages, and even their lives – although I point out that they did that themselves, we simply provided them with drinks that helped.

But most of our customers are people who do drink alcohol some of the time but sometimes choose not to. Pregnant woman, people on diets (alcohol-free drinks contain far fewer calories than alcoholic drinks), people with medical conditions that mean they can’t drink, those who want to drink wine daily for the heart-health benefits but don’t want the damaging effects of drinking alcohol daily, etc.

Welcoming competition

Over the years we’ve seen new companies entering the market, which is great – apart from those who think they can make a fast buck and simply copy what we do with no innovation, compete solely by selling drinks too cheaply to survive, lose money, close and move on to something more lucrative. This leaves an already small and fragile market damaged – that helps no one and pisses me off immensely.

We want to see the market grow – one of the reasons we are starting a wholesale division, The Alcohol-Free Warehouse, this year too – and competition is vital to all markets so we welcome genuine new entrants to the industry.

Where I am now

John

Personally, my life is unrecognisable from that day I stood in front of the mirror. I was 32 then, and looked older than I do now at 41. I was nearly bankrupt. I nearly lost everything I held dear, especially my wife. My life was a total mess.

I’m not rich but we’re comfortable. We sold our house in Manchester at the right time (more by luck more than planning) and invested more money into growing the business.

Compared with the failure staring back at me in that mirror, I’m now moderately successful. We’ve all worked hard over the last 9 years. My wife and I now live in a finca in Spain, with beautiful mountain views and a swimming pool, we drive a nice car, we have a good growing business, employ a great team of staff – everyone of whom I know personally and who I am glad work for us – and people are always asking to work with us. I’ve had two requests in the last couple of days alone.

I don’t say any of that to boast. I know many people with ‘less’ who have far more in my eyes – children for a start, something we were never lucky enough to have. We did try but suffered a number of miscarriages. Who knows if my drinking had anything to do with that. But we can’t do anything about now, so we make the best of what we have (and we have two wonderful dogs). I’m still immensely jealous of my friends with children though, no matter how much they sometimes complain about them!

What caused such a transformation between the man in the mirror and the man writing this? I wish I had a simple answer. But having the balls to admit I had a problem was the first step. I can guarantee had I not done that, I wouldn’t be where I am now – and quite possibly I’d be dead. I certainly wouldn’t be married. Giving up alcohol transformed my life. Had I not stopped, it would have transformed any way, but not for the better.

Conclusion

Although going from a personal rock-bottom and re-building a life should be something for anyone to be proud of, I’ve held off writing about this for many years. Party because it’s not an easy thing to admit to – but also because I don’t want to give the false impression that The Alcohol-Free Shop is only for alcoholics. It’s not. It’s for anyone who wants to avoid alcohol at least some of the time, for whatever reason.

If we could only help one person, that would make it all worth while. And we know from customer feedback we help many people.

I hope by writing this I can show anyone who is in a similar position that there is life after drink.

You are always more than welcome to contact me at john@alcoholfree.co.uk

John

 

63 thoughts to “From Rock Bottom To Mountain Tops”

  1. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your story and that I am very impressed with your business. I have not shopped with you myself but have recommended you to friends on many occassion.

    1. Thank you Emma. I hope one day your ex-husband will be able to, but I fully understand your sadness and position. I’m incredibly lucky my wife stuck with me and I was able to get sober before she became my ex-wife. Best wishes, John.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story John. As a fellow teetotaller of a mere 3 years now I looked in the mirror and came to a similar conclusion (perhaps not as severe, but it was like driving with the handbrake on and stalling my ambitions!). Incidentally I only found this because it was retweeted by Alastair Campbell – very generous of him to do so. Best wishes in the future. Thomas. (@mykitchensync)

    1. Hi Thomas, thanks for your comment. Three years is three years, don’t knock it – it’s not a competition! Well done!. Yes, it was very kind of Alastair to RT it. Thanks again, John.

  3. Dear John,

    I love the story of the transformation from that man in the mirror of nine years ago to where you are now. There’s much that I related to. I am a trans-planted Kiwi who lives in Australia who found AA whilst living New York five years ago.

    It’s taken a while but I can now look at that mirror and smile. I love AA because we get a chance to deconstruct ourselves and put ourselves together anew. As you have shown.

    Your’s is an inspiring story.

    All Best to you

    Bern

    1. Hello Bern, Thank you for your comments. You’re right and that’s something I should have added to the end of the story. Now I can look at myself in the mirror and (sometimes, at least!) smile. Congratulations on your own recovery! Best wishes, John.

  4. I can’t really put into words how I feel about the above but ‘Well Done’ comes to mind. I hope that your business does well as it has a great motivation behind it and you care. Your strength is an inspiration to other who may be too afraid to take those few steps through a door and into a new life.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. When I first tried to stop I read many ‘inspirational’ books/articles that did help me. It’s a lovely feeling that 9 years later I can do the same for someone else. Hopefully they will go on to do the same themselves in a few years too! Best wishes, John

  5. Congratulations on your Nineth year of continuous Sobriety. I myself am an alcoholic and ODDAT i’ll be sober 18 years this year,having got sober at the age of 23 in very similar circumstances as yourself,i saw myself for what i had became in the mirror and phone the AA helpline,in which i am actively involved with in Scotland.
    Got so much I.D from your blog and will continue to follow your blogs and on twitter.
    Wishing you every success in business and spirituality,best wishes Stevie

    1. Thank you Stevie! We must be about the same age. Well done on giving up at such a young age. I can only speculate what may have been had I given up at 23, but I certainly know some of the problems I would have avoided! That said, I try not to regret anything because what we do in life leads us to where we are now. Well done on your 18 years. Wishing you continued health and sobriety. Best wishes, John

    2. Sorry for calling you Ben, John πŸ™‚ dont know where i pulled that name from,i dont even know anyone called Ben lol.

      Im sure you were called worse in your drinking days like myself ha ha!!!!

      All the Best Stevie

  6. Alcohol kills your soul, is a false stressreliever and drinking is a waste of your time. I just quit, maybe I have become a little dull because the rollercoaster personallity is gone, but that is who I am now.

    Very good article!

    Caroline

    1. Well done Caroline. No need to become dull (but even if you do, it’s better than the alternative – and a lot of drinkers are very dull anyway!) Thanks for the compliments. Best of luck with your future! Best wishes, John

  7. Well done, glad you looked at yourself and realised you needed to change. I wish my ex husband had chosen his children and me over the booze, but he didnt and no longer sees his kids. I hope you continue to have success in your life and business πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you Charlie. Really sorry to hear your husband wasn’t (or at least so far hasn’t been) able to stop. I hope that changes in the future. Obviously my personal side of the story is from your husbands point of view, but as my wife thankfully stayed with me, I appreciate – at least to a point – what she went through (And I don’t blame you one bit for making the decision you made by-the-way). Thanks for your wishes, and my I return them for your future. John

  8. Dear John – have just read your story after revrichardcoles RT. Am about to divorce my husband mainly due to problems with alcohol, not clever for an insulin dependent diabetic. He only feels himself when drunk and refuses to admit any problem as he doesn’t drink mon-Thurs, 30 bottles of beer yesterday though. Finally admitted defeat when our 14 year old son said face it mum, he’s never going to admit he has a problem, we’re better off without the drunk t**t. So desperately sad, but thanks for sharing your story, great to know some people can change. Wishing you and your wife every blessing. Steph

    1. Hi Steph, I’m really sorry to hear your story, especially the involvement of your son. I don’t feel qualified to make a judgement (and I’m sure you aren’t asking me for one either) but you can only do what you feel is best for your family and yourself. It’s up to your husband to decide what he wants to do after that. I’ve seen marriages sort themselves out after similar situations, but a lot don’t. The important thing to remember is none of this is your fault in the least. Stay strong, and build yourself a better future. Thanks for your wishes too, very much appreciated. Best wishes, John x.

  9. Hi, I really enjoyed your story. I am a widow of 43 years, and my husband was an Alcoholic most of those years. He would not admit he needed help so he would go to AA and come home and say “I’m not like them, I can stop anytime I want too.” Of course he never did. He was found in a diabetic coma and never recovered. His drinking caused us to lose our house and go bankrupt, before he admitted he needed help. But by then I was out of his life. He chased our three children out of the home as each turned 18. I tried to stay and hope he would get help, but I was the one to get help, and it changed my life; i know now that I could not have changed him, he had to want to do that himself. Thank you so much for your sharing

    1. Thank you very much for your comments. I’m sorry to hear about the problems you and your family went through with your husband but I’m delighted you received the help you needed and managed to change your life. It’s hard for me put myself in the position of the partner of course, but I am sure you did your best to help and I know there is a point where you have to say enough is enough, and make the change for yourself. I knew one couple where the wife left her husband after years of problems, but still went around to do his laundry and housework etc. She still loved him but just couldn’t live with him. A tragic story that ended with him dying. Well done on having the strength to transform your life. Best wishes, John x

  10. It’s great to read such an honest account of alcoholism and that it is possible to regain your life. My husband drank heavily for over 15 years, was hospitalised with pancreatitis 4 times – having been told most people do not survive more than three attacks – and had 3 hospital detoxes. As you can imagine our lives were chaotic to say the least. There is not a single good thing to say about alcohol abuse. I stayed with my husband because I thought the best thing for my children was to have a father at home, however damaged he might be. The last time he lapsed they begged me to leave but by then I was his full time carer and he would have died if we had gone at that point. Eventually he went into detox again but this time the doctor made it a condition that he attended a local counselling group for a month. Without the help of this group we both believe he would never have had the strength to remain sober. AA doesn’t work for everyone – my husband for a start – but there is other help out there. It has taken over a year for our relationship to recover and for us to be comfortable with each other but I am so glad we didn’t give up.

    1. Thank you for your comments, they are very much appreciated. I was glad to read your story has a happy ending too. Whilst I would never dream of condemning anyone who has left an alcoholic partner (I can only imagine the pain they suffer) I am obviously delighted to hear of stories where, like mine, the partner has stayed around and the alcoholic has entered recovery. You’re right that AA is not for everyone. Ultimately it wasn’t for me either although it did help in the initial stages. I’m sure there are other good options out there. It’s about finding the right solution for the individual alcoholic. Again, I’m really pleased to hear you relationship has recovered and I wish you both many (happier) years together. Best wishes, John

  11. The world needs more people like you John. I don’t mean just giving up Alcohol, which I am sure is a very big and difficult journey, but for also being able to articulate it in such a way. I am sure it is inspirational for many people and will hopefully be the trigger for many to take similar steps. Well done.

    1. Thank you Pete – incredibly kind comments. Some of the feedbak (especially private comments) that I’ve received this week suggest the article may have helped a few people make a decision to change their lives and I couldn’t ask for anything better. When I stopped I read similar articles – I never once thought I’d one day write one that could help people in the same way. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment. Best wishes, John.

  12. Hi John congratulations on your 9 years of sobriety I am about 6 months behind you and just like you that important phone call saved my life and in the end reunited me with my family . I still attend AA meetings regularly as for me I need them . I have not got sober to lead a dull life and have learnt over the years that I can enjoy myself without the need to drink and to be able to remember the good time is an added bonus .
    I have accepted I am an alcoholic and with this acceptance I have been able to change sufficiently to remain sober for yet another day . Good luck with your business and your continued sobriety . Lee

    1. Hi Lee,

      Thanks for your comments. Congratulations on your sobriety too! I’m glad AA has been a help to you. I would never knock it. When I went to my last meeting, I felt such love in the room for everyone there (and vice-versa). It can be a lovely experience. But personally I have found other ways to cope. That said, I might look up my local meeting here in Spain and call in now and again. As you say, acceptance is the absolute KEY issue. Once you accept you are an alcoholic, you can start to change. If you ever start doubting, the thoughts take over and before you know it… But if you are 100% certain (as much as the brain will ever allow you to be!) it is much easier! Thanks again, and continued success to you! John.

  13. I really enjoyed reading your story, you are very lucky your wife had faith in you, I wish my dad could have had the strength but sadly not, also a very dear friend whom we lost last year age 33 with 2 beautiful young children! You are an absolute inspiration, I cryed all the way through your story, good luck with everything and thanks!

    1. Hi Linzi, Thanks for your comments – but I didn’t mean to make you cry! You’re right, I am very very lucky my wife found the strength to stay with me whilst I sorted myself out. I’m so sorry to hear about your family and your friend – 33 is beyond tragic. Wishing you all the very best. Thanks, John.

  14. Phewee John….lol…..if @Zoeball had not RT i’d never have found you…..last night was my ‘look in the mirror’ moment and today is day one of my drink reduction plan, which my partner and I sat last night concocting (as I sank my 3rd bottle of wine weeping btw …..smiles)…..I’m 39 and want hope and a happy future and once I get through this 14 day safety reduction shall defo consider AA…..What a weird and wonderful find you were, and bloody well done you! (if I was wearing a hat I would surely tip it)……Keep going John, hope to be reporting the same to you in 9 years too! ( and also hope i’m looking 9 years younger :)) Really enjoyed your blog, most eloquent Sir lol and an inspirational read
    With very best wishes and
    Bridget

    1. Hi Bridget! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me feel to read your comments! Brilliant timing! The world has a funny way of working (I’m not into mumbo jumbo, don’t worry!) but sometimes things just seem right and it sounds like you couldn’t have read this at a better time. I’m so pleased you have a made this decision. Do be careful in your reduction though – if you are drinking very heavily, you may need to seek medical help but otherwise, continue as you are but try not to let the 14 days stretch if you can help it. I don’t mean to tell you what to do – you HAVE to do this the way you feel best – but speaking purely from my experience it’s easy to set goals and then extend them and extend them and … πŸ˜‰ Personally I found it only worked when I totally stopped (but again, depending on your intake you may need medical help to do this). Glad you enjoyed the blog and you have my ABSOLUTE best wishes for your recovery! With love to you and your partner! John xxx

  15. Congratulations on your sobriety and on a beautifully written blog :o)
    I’ve never really enjoyed alcohol, but have an equally destructive relationship with food which I’m yet to conquer…maybe one day!
    Wishing you a very happy and healthy future x

  16. Congratulations! Like you, I was surrounded by problems and disasters but when I looked in the mirror I really couldn’t see that I might be connected/the common factor in them all. I rejected invitations from well meaning friends to go to AA but – annoyingly – they’d planted a seed and “ruined” my drinking. Once I got to AA I felt a great weight was lifted from my shoulders.

    The first ten years of sobriety were a breeze, renewed vows, great home, fantastic new job, excellent health. But I realised that a) putting down the drink was only the beginning of recovery and b) that I’m a slow learner.

    The last eleven years I’ve faced serious injury, debilitating illness, unemployment, bereavement and divorce. But, one day at a time, and thanks to the AA fellowship, I’ve stayed sober and come to experience serenity. (And I’ve been to some ace AA meetings all over the world, even in a mountain village in Andalucia!)

    1. Thanks for your comments! And well done on your 20+ years of sobriety. I’m sorry the last eleven have not been great but as we know, taking the drinking out doesn’t automatically make life great, it just means we are dealing with real-life sober rather than through the haze of drink.

      I’ve been lucky my last 9 years have been basically good (and more than good in many ways) but there have been some bad periods too – for instance being robbed by a builder who stole Β£7,000, having a man falsely claim I ran him over to claim compensation which my insurance company settled rather than fight even though the police agreed with me he was a conman (and his friends threatened to kill me at the scene) etc etc! But the fact is I dealt much better with all these problems sober, than I would have drunk.

      I live in the mountains of Andalucia! I’ll have to try and find a local meeting sometime!

      Thanks again for reading the blog and taking the time to reply.

      Best wishes you for your future. John

  17. First, John, congratulations on your 9 years of sobriety.

    My business involves importing and marketing craft beers from all over the world. I speak on radio regularly about beer, and I am regularly in contact with people seeking information about beer. My twitter name – @BeerMessiah – probably says it all!

    I think it would be impossible to do the work I do without coming into contact with people for whom alcohol is a problem in their life. I have many friends, acquaintances, and sometimes customers that I have had in the trade who have had difficulties with alcohol. It is something that I am always conscious of – at least sub-consciously, often consciously. While I am lucky in so far that I am regularly tasting alcohol for work reasons, I don’t find that I need alcohol. Nor do I find that I get drunk or drink to excess (can’t say that this is ALWAYS the case, but I can say that instances where I let my hair down are infrequent enough to number just a few times a year). This is not intended as a boast – more an expression of gratitude that I am in the job that I am in and have never found that I have slipped down that slippery slope that sometimes catches people in ‘the trade’.

    I find in the job that I do that I am trying to get people to stop and think about what they are drinking. Our company markets craft beer, and so we encourage people to think about what they are choosing when they are buying beer. Unfortunately, my experience is that this is not always the case with companies marketing alcohol brands. It feels, all too often, and especially with some marketers of mass market brands, that the focus on their marketing efforts is to encourage ‘mindless’ consumption, and to encourage people to drink a particular brand because (the drinks company wants the consumer to believe) the brand should be part of the person’s sense of identity – a sentiment that, not only do I not agree with, annoys me to excess.

    What I would like to say is that the drinks industry needs people like you. I try to get people to stop and think about what drink they are buying, why they are buying it, and whether the drink they are buying is the best drink for them. In some cases, people that I ‘broadcast’ to are people for whom their relationship with alcohol is toxic. In such cases, I can only hope that such people stop and think for long enough to realise that the alcohol that I am promoting (or, simply, any alcohol) is not right for them. Our business tries to find a wide variety of beers so that we have a beer for everybody – this, by definition, also includes the idea that the ‘perfect beer’ for some people is a non-alcoholic beer, or no beer at all!. We do market non-alcoholic beers, but we would find that the vast majority of beers that we market contain alcohol.

    As I said earlier, the drinks industry needs people such as you. I am hopeful that I get people to stop and think before they choose a beer to drink (stop and think being the operative words), it is relatively difficult for me to constantly put out the message that some people need to stop and think as to whether they should be drinking drinks containing alcohol at all. Your business (I am delighted to be able to say) addresses this issue superbly. Non-alcoholic drinks should not be a ‘necessary compromise’. There are times/instances/occasions where people should not be drinking alcohol. In such cases, it is only right for people to be given the choice of a range of options to allow them to select the product that (hopefully, perfectly) satisfies their taste. Non-alcoholic drinks don’t have to be a compromise in such a case – they can be a choice.

    Some might say that businesses such as yours are taking turnover from businesses such as mine, where our focus is selling alcoholic drinks. If such is the case, I can only say that this genuinely, in one way, makes me happy. There will be instances where a person that could have safely bought and consumed an alcoholic drink has bought a non-alcoholic drink as a result of your business’ s promotion of these alternatives. If this means lost sales for my ‘side’ of the industry, so be it. That these instances are undoubtedly matched with instances where a person has bought a non-alcoholic drink where buying an alcoholic drink would have been damaging – this is a welcome result which makes any amount of loss of sales worth it!

    Your business is helping to provide this balance. It is welcome, it is superb, and it is necessary. I wish you every success with it, and hope that it continues to grow. With the focus, resolve and determination that you have found and applied over the last nine years are anything to go by, I have no doubt that you will continue to grow and be successful.

    And, while I can happily say that I don’t have to address an unhealthy relationship with alcohol personally, I do have to admit that I would most definitely benefit from having better control of my relationship with all foodstuffs sugary and ‘junky’. I guess you don’t have to scratch too deep to find any person’s demons that tempt them! πŸ™‚

    Good luck! Continued success! And, continued sobriety!

    1. Hi Dean,

      Thanks for your comments. I wish more people in the drinks industry had your attitude. Sadly we face constant struggles with the industry (with a few exceptions). When we visit trade shows and introduce ourselves, we are almost invariably laughed at, literally.

      Now, that said, I’ve noticed a slight change in the last few years but there is still a long way to go.

      Our aim, as a business, is to make the best range of alcohol-free drinks as widely available to the most people. For years we basically sold retail only (with a few small exceptions, as well as to pubs, restaurants etc) but this year we are officially starting to sell wholesale.

      More and more off-licences etc are asking to sell alcohol-free wines and beers (because they are being asked for it by their customers), and obviously we’re happy to supply. It fits our aim to widen the access to the drinks.

      We can’t have shops around the country, the market is simply not big enough to justify that, so to compliment our online business and our Manchester store, we are planning to supply to other shops and businesses around the UK for them to retail as well. We’re also launching our own brand of products under our LONO label.

      Thanks again for your comments. You have a wonderful attitude to selling alcohol and if more people in the drinks industry had your attitude we’d have fewer problems in society.

      Thanks
      John

  18. I have never commented on a blog before, but your personal recount has moved me to it… I have always harboured a deep mistrust for alcohol. My much loved, charismatic father was an alcoholic and the fact that I couldn’t do anything to help him find a way through it will always be a source of sadness to me and has had a considerable impact on my own life in many ways. I feel very fortunate that I haven’t experienced the same relationship with alcohol that you have done, but I have still found a great deal of inspiration from your story and am very grateful to Sarah Brown for tweeting the link to it. Very well done to you on your achievements. It offers so much hope to all of us.

    On a more selfish note, I’m very excited about discovering your website – I tend to steer clear of alcohol as much as possible but I do like the taste of wine

    1. Thanks for your comment Lorna. I’m honoured you have chosen to comment on my blog when you’ve never commented on a blog before! Thank you. Sarah Brown was very kind – along with many others – to RT the blog.

      I’m sorry to hear about your father. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to help. It is always for the alcoholic themselves to make the change. I’m sure you tried your best to offer support. If they do not, or cannot, take that help, it is not your fault.

      You’re probably aware of the research showing a genetic link to alcoholism (ie http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders).

      So as the daughter of an alcoholic you could be at an increased risk yourself, but it’s important to understand, as that article says, genetics are only part of the story. No one is doomed to alcoholism simple because of their genes. A sensible attitude to drinking can help you regardless of your genetics and it sounds like you have that attitude already – well done!

      Best wishes, John x

      1. John, this is really interesting, thank you. Fortunately, I’ve never really been much of a drinker and I very much dislike feeling drunk (must be the control freak in me!!) but always worth looking into the research on this issue so thank you.
        I’ve forwarded to my own daughter who volunteers each weekend to work with drug and alcohol addicts undergoing therapy in a rehabilitation unit. I’m sure she’ll also find it interesting.

        Many thanks for taking the time to reply. I wish you all the very best for the future.

  19. Just read this now, as my twitter feed is bunged up with people talking cobblers (mainly me) – anyway, inspirational stuff and all the best to you, C and the pooches!
    Larner

  20. I am so glad I read this article. I have not touched a drop for 6 weeks! I am really proud of myself and reading this has helped me to stay focused. I realised I was needing a drink rather than fancying a drink. I want to break the association of having a nice time with a glass of wine. It’s strange how it is just state of mind, I also want to wipe the smile off those faces that looked at me and ‘sniggered’. I will still be ‘the life and soul ‘ of the party but not the one with a problem! I realised things weren’t right and suddenly something in my head just clicked! I gave up smoking 10 years ago so I know the need will pass, though I have to say I have found it remarkably easy. The worst is sometimes the feeling of ‘loss’. Very strange, a bit like something missing but I have not been tempted once. Thank you for sharing your experience, it has been very encouraging.

    1. Well done on your 6 weeks! I’m glad you found the article useful. If you’ve already got the experience of giving up cigarettes you’ll know how you can go through phases of not missing and then perhaps suddenly having the urge. Just remember to be always aware that feeling can creep up quickly and be ready to fight it. If you do get the urge, hopefully it will be temporary and for a reason (stress, for instance). Just remember, it will pass. Do something else to in the meantime. Best of luck and wishing you a great future! John.

  21. I haven’t read all of the comments on the blog but I have to say your own story very interesting & enlightening. My husband finally admitted yesterday that he has a problem with alcohol & has asked for help. I will support him as much as I possibly can as I don’t want to lose him or our business. Any tips on helping him in these early stages?

    1. Hi Julie, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my story useful.

      I’m delighted to hear your husband has admitted he has a problem. It’s the most important thing he can do. Now he has asked for help he can start the road to recovery. It might not be a short journey, nor an easy one, but at least he ha started it. It’s wonderful to hear you are prepared to support him. It should be a great motivator for him.

      I’m not sure I’m qualified to advise on the best ways to support him as such. Just be there for him. Support his decision to get help, listen and talk to him etc. Maybe be prepared for him to be a bit narky, but don’t necessarily enable him to take advantage of that by accepting it without telling him your feelings here and how this is affecting you – because it will have and it will do going forward.

      You may want to speak to Al-Anon – http://www.al-anonuk.org.uk/ – a group for those who have been affected by someone else’s drinking.

      Al-Anon will be able to offer you the support you need to repair the damage your husband’s drinking may have caused to you and your feelings, as well as your marriage. You will find lots of people in the same position you are in who may be able to help you.

      Wishing you both the very best in rebuilding your life together.

      Best wishes,
      John

  22. Beautiful story ! I have a simular one but with quite a different substance ;). I live in the states and caught your link from Mitch Winehouse’s twitter. ( God bless that man ). I would seriously give an arm and a leg to work for you. I’ve been looking for a life-changer since i received MY new life. Giving back is the most incredible feeling there is and i wanted to commend you for doing just that. Rock on John, you ARE making a difference. β™₯β™₯β™₯

    1. Hi Kim, thank you SO much for your comments – and today of all days (one of those mornings where I could do with a little boost!). Thank you and well done for fighting your own problems! Best wishes, John x

  23. Hi John

    I have just read the entire string above and it has re enforced my decision just 4 days ago to stop drinking. Great comments from everyone.

    Of course I’ve made this same decision 10 times before, ( every time really feeling a sense of wellbeing, achievement and happiness) but with the beat the booze book I’m reading, (where i got your address from) the yelling at my two young boys and occasionally my long suffering wife, my business of 15 years (set up as i couldnt hold a job down, fired 5 times, always booze realted)which I know is suffering with my daily hazy approach, mismanagement of staff, and it being a general joke that my memory is useless, wrong decisions as a result and then more drinking to block it out, I hope that this time I can see it through.

    Drinking has been an enormous part of my life for over 30 years, im 47, with several hospitalisations through injuries, many overnight stays in jails, let alone all the hedges! etc etc and stories which all drinkers have, that are so absurd that people rarely believe them, hilarious sometimes, ultimately always sad.

    My wife and children are away form home at the moment and being on my own screams how much they mean to me and how I gamble with their future every time I open a bottle. I’m kinda a bottle and a bit a day man, ( wine) with it running out of control once or twice a week at a do of some sort. So i don’t seem to be physically more physcologically addicted I think.

    I’ve just stocked up on your stuff and really look forward to that being a part of the recovery. Just about to see if there is an AA locally although feel that I don’t really qualify somehow…probably deluding myself again..

    Hope your business continues to grow, I appreciate your comments especially re staff, as I have the same negativity with a group in my office currently and it’s draining, and such a wate of energy for all concerned.

    Apolagies for treating you like a counsellor, perhaps you should consider it as a sideline..

    Best

    Andrew

    1. Hello Andrew,

      Thanks for your kind comments on the blog.

      I too made the decision to give yo many times! Giving up itself isn’t that hard at first (it certainly gets harder the longer you’ve been drinking and some people need to detox under medical supervision as it can be fatal otherwise).

      But it’s staying sober that’s the hard part.

      Whilst I am not a complete AA advocate as my blog explains, and there are other ways to stop, I’d certainly recommend finding a local meeting and going at least once. It may or may not be for you but from what you’ve said, you certainly ‘qualify’ and you’ll find many people with similar problems.

      Please don’t feel the need to apologise! One of the great things about writing this article is the number of people who have asked for help. I can’t promise I can help, but I’m always happy to try to help and to offer advice from my own experiences.

      Best wishes,
      John

  24. I am inspired by your story. Unfortunately, alcohol is marketed and accepted as a device that helps you get what you want but in reality it destroys your chances of attaining them.

    At 26, I do not consider myself an ‘alcoholic’ but on weekends I regularly consume a range of drinks and get myself into a ‘wrecked’ state where I have engaged in several risky behaviours and regularly have kidney aches etc. I even feel my memory has noticeably deteriorated.

    I have friends who have known for some time that I drink too much, but it feels nobody cares enough to stop me but then same time I know it is me that has to change.

    I fear, as a result of my own obsessive thoughts/fears/anxieties that something terrible will happen if I don’t control this situation. I feel I need to drink to pull the person I want, or to feel ‘normal’ in such situations…but the alcohol has never given me what I feel many people ‘get’

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Hi John,

    I am on my second dry day (little acorns and all that…) and was greatly encouraged with this thread. Most of the internet resources I have found to date haven’t really helped me although I am sure different things work for different people. I cannot believe the difference this morning after no booze yesterday, it has amazed me!!

    I just hope I can re-post in 9 years just to say I did it…….

    Best wishes

    Russ

    1. Thanks for your comments Russ. I’m glad this thread has been useful to you, it’s great to know. Best of luck with your sobriety. It’s not always easy and you may find it does get worse before it gets better – but it does get better! Best wishes, John

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