I would like to pass my sincere thanks on to everybody at Forward Leeds, 5ways, Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service and Touchstone. I have been trying to reduce my drinking for approximately 10 years and the last 5 years have been particularly difficult as my consumption increased and seriously affected both my mental and physical health.

My first contact at Forward Leeds was with a worker that himself had had an addiction and for the first time I actually connected with somebody who understood what I was going through. Other support workers I’ve seen haven’t had that experience with alcohol so I could never take them seriously as I felt they had no idea how I was feeling and just how hard it is to reduce/stop drinking. The plan to drink alternate days worked for me rather than immediate abstinence that’s never worked for more than a week in the past! The defining moment in my sobriety was meeting “Detox Dave”. Who knew his words would have such a resounding effect on me? And…..his red converse boots! I’d always wanted a pair but were unaffordable when I was young and more recently I felt too old and too fat to wear them!

After an hour with Dave I’ve not had much booze since! The ugly truth what it does to your mind and body resonated with me and it was a massive wake up moment just what I was doing to myself and the effect booze was having on me, my family and friends.

I had a holiday to Malta to get through in February. I always associated holidays, especially abroad in the sun with fun and booze! I started saving the money I’d normally spend on wine and beer and saved enough in a very short time for our spending money and those red converse boots and wore them on holiday. Who cares what people thought? I loved them and that’s all that mattered, they reminded me of my sobriety and Dave’s words. We arrived at our apartment to be shown the fully stocked mini bar! That was a jaw dropping moment and I challenged myself not to open any of it, partly because of the price and partly because my sobriety was going really well and I was feeling so much better both mentally and physically. I did have some beers on the holiday, Malta’s own beer, Cisk is particularly nice but I didn’t go mad and was mindful of how much I was drinking and stopped after a couple which is something I’d never done before.

I joined weight watchers early January as I knew eating would take over from wine! This really worked for me and I was eating healthier too. My taste buds changed, it took a while after stopping drinking wine! It was fabulous to taste some foods that had become so bland. My last beer was on the plane home and I just had one can….never had only one can of beer ever! I never ever wanted to come home from a holiday but because my mental health was healing and I had my new volunteer training to look forward to I didn’t have that horrible depressing feeling I usually got on the plane home.

I had started CBT therapy for Depression last October with Teresa and part of my therapy and recovery revealed that other than being a mum and a carer for my daughter I needed a purpose and something for ME. Fortunately it was perfect timing as Teresa had advised me that Touchstone were looking to train people like me in a Peer Support role to help people struggling with their mental health. I’d started the training and was really enjoying the experience, being part of a team meeting Mark, Fin, Sally and Liz at Touchstone and my fellow trainees Jane and Cathy. I felt part of something amazing and this gave me the much needed buzz that I craved that booze once gave me! Once home I didn’t want any booze, I thought about it but the benefits were outweighing the drinking and I so looked forward to training day on a Thursday. I’d lost 2 stone and felt amazing like I was on some happy drug!

We had a bbq one warm evening during lockdown in March and there were beers in the fridge my son had put in. He did ask me if it was ok and I was fine with it. I decided to have one with my burger and really enjoyed it so had a couple more bottles. I enjoyed the first one but after that I didn’t like the way it made me feel, sort of out of control. This was the buzz I yearned for everyday for years and I couldn’t wait to get that bottle of wine open and hear the glug as it poured into my glass…..liquid happiness that gave you a big hug! It was the moment I waited for everyday once I woke up but never poured until my daughter was safely back from college around 4:30 to 5pm. Once the bottle was empty (it didn’t take long) I would follow it with up to 4 big cans of beer until I fell into bed and conked out!

So, not liking the buzz I got was really weird? My next beer was a few weeks later at another bbq in the back garden on a beautiful sunny eve. The first bottle was enjoyable with my burger, I got a second out of the fridge and as the sun had gone down, I sat on my sofa watching tv but the beer tasted bitter and I wasn’t enjoying it. Nobody is more shocked than me that the remaining half bottle went down the sink! What on earth was happening to me? How can you not enjoy beer or want wine? When I’m shopping and I see the wine aisle I feel revulsion for it. It took something away from me. It wasn’t the friendly hug I thought it was, the magic liquid that took all the pain away, it wasn’t my friend at all. It was slowly killing my mind and body and all the while it was perfectly legal!

So, I’ve not had a beer or alcoholic drink since. Nobody is more amazed than I am at my sobriety. The early days were very difficult, I thought about my liquid friend I was missing a lot, especially on an evening! However, having had CBT for anxiety and more recently for depression I could use my new found skills to banish those thoughts from my mind and think about something else, especially my new volunteer job. Eventually I’d go a few days and realise I’d not thought about booze and what a buzz that gives you! After 4 months my taste buds are working properly, my mental health has gone from strength to strength. The black dog hasn’t visited once, I’ve had no negative thoughts of “what’s the point of life?”. I live in the here and now and really appreciate what I have and wake up feeling much brighter with no fuzzy head. Everything seems in HD and much clearer focus. The kids say I’m much nicer to live with, the mood swings, bad temper rarely visit these days. I have a natural bubbly personality which the booze took off me! It’s so ironic that I drank when I was out to give me more confidence but it actually had the opposite effect and it made me isolate myself drinking at home instead on my own!

I can’t go out because of lockdown but have been arranging zoom meetings and quiz’s with friends and I sit there quite happily with my seven up free whilst they drink their wine and it doesn’t bother me one bit and know I’ll be the designated driver once lockdown is over. I’ve realised I don’t need the booze to make me bubbly (Dave told me this and he was so right), give me a hug or be my best friend. It’s a bad drug that fed my depression and created a monster. It’s still very early days in my sobriety but now I’ve got Becky from 5ways supporting me with regular phone calls and 5ways zoom meetings.

I cannot thank you all enough for where I am today. It all started with Teresa about 5 sessions in telling me CBT for depression is only successful if you stop boozing. That was a jaw dropping moment and look how far I’ve come since last October? I’ve got my review with her next week and cannot wait to tell her how well I am.

I’ve also finished my training with Touchstone so when lockdown is over I can start shadowing and then get out there and support others. We have regular zoom team meetings and ongoing training on zoom and I feel part of something really special and valued which is something I haven’t felt for a very long time or ever in the horrible bank where I worked for 36 years.

I want to give something back for all the wonderful people at Leeds Mental Wellbeing service, Forward Leeds, 5ways and Touchstone that have supported me to get where I am today. I am happy for any of these wonderful organisations to publish and use these this thank you for any purpose they think will benefit anybody out there struggling with mental health and addiction. I’m also happy to talk about my experience with anybody that will listen!

Thank you all so very much!