‘A Family Illness’ by Phil Hughes

IMG_5024This excellent blog was written three years ago to the day on Wired In To Recovery. 

“I was like a tornado causing as much devastation as I possibly could in my family. But the problem was, I couldn’t even see it because all I cared about was me. I was caught up, obsessed with finding ways and means to get my next drink. When I didn’t have it, I was a nightmare to live with.

My mother felt so helpless, slowly watching her son kill himself through drink and drugs and not knowing whether she was coming or going half the time. It’s through that feeling of helplessness and frustration that the anger started to rear it’s ugly head.

She used to call me Jeckyll and Hyde because as soon as I started drinking she knew where it was going to take me. Yet, I always told her things would be different this time. I lied and manipulated without even thinking about the consequences; emotionally raping and blackmailing my own mother just so I could get drink.

I manipulated everyone who was close to me. My brothers, my partner (now ex-partner) and her family, my father and grandmother (both passed away whilst I was still active in addiction), and most of all my mother.

I learned by going through a 12-step treatment centre that this is a family illness, because everyone close to us is effected by our actions.

Whilst in treatment, I had a family meeting with my mother who finally got to tell me some home truths and tell me just how she was feeling. Finally, it wasn’t ALL about ME.

It was probably one of the the worst days I had in treatment (I had many to be honest!). But it was probably the best thing that could of happened for me, because I started to put myself in other people’s shoes for once.

I even tried to blame my mum for my alcoholism during this meeting too!! Saying that if she had detached from me sooner I may not of been in the mess I was in because I’d have hit the hard times a lot sooner. That just goes to show you the level of manipulation and blame and ‘rational’ thinking that I was caught up in.

I was very delusional and very much in denial for a long, long time. But to me, this was ‘normal’ behaviour and I didn’t know any different.

I’m just over 18 months clean and sober today. Yet, I was a chronic relapser before I went into treatment. I owe my life to that place and the fellowship of AA. Nothing has worked for me in the past, but the only person that could do anything for me was me.

I needed to do the work and get myself sober. I needed face-to-face support to get me out of the isolation that I’d found with my drinking during the latter years in addiction.

I had to be willing to do this for me, without relying on other people to do the work and get me sober. I was the one that had to want sobriety for myself first and foremost. My experience has been that every time I’ve tried to get sober for other people (mainly my mum and my daughter) is hasn’t worked.

It’s lasted a few months usually before I started letting everyone down again. Then the poor victim mentality would come in (poor me!) and everyone would give me a pat on the back for trying; and then ask me to get back on the wagon. Which I did for another few months, maybe.

If you’re serious about getting well and wanting to stand on your own two feet then you’re going to need a lot of support from like-minded people i.e. fellow alcoholics. I believe the therapeutic value of one alcoholic helping another alcoholic is unparalleled.

Everyone has something to teach us about our behaviours and patterns of thinking but we alcoholics know what it is like to be caught up obsessing about drink more than anyone!

My support workers from various organisations are all recovered addicts or alcoholics. They don’t all follow my method of recovery. But they all know what it was like in active addiction and can show a level of empathy that I cannot get from my family. So without my ‘family’ of fellow alcoholics I wouldn’t have a real family today.

I’ve just spent a whole week with my daughter for the first time in years. The last time she stayed with me during a summer holiday I terrified her with my actions because of my drinking. This was the last straw with my ex-partner and it was probably a good thing in hindsight.

It’s been a week of ups and downs, although I’m glad to say more ups than downs! I’ve struggled at times being a full-time dad to a five and a half year old girl who has ‘the wants’ every five minutes! But I’ve always kept my connection up with my sponsor in the fellowship and support workers. Without that support, I think my head would of run away with me last week.

I’ve always loved my daughter but I could never get that emotional connection with her whilst I was caught up obsessing over drink and it was all about me. I am building the bridges though and that connection is getting stronger and stronger, day by day.

My mum has gone away for two weeks on holiday and she went yesterday knowing that things will be okay at home whilst she’s gone. I just wish she hadn’t left me such a long ‘to do’ list!! lol.

Life is good today and I’m blessed for the large family I have in my life today. A family that consisted of just ONE member over 18 months ago. ME!’


  1. Angie Sparrowhawk says:

    Do you believe that only recovering substance users can help those who are not in recovery. As a worker in this field if that is your belief it would rubbish all my 30yrs+ work in this field. I have to admit I have heard recovering workers behave very inappropriately, without professionalism. I have often wondered why they are working in this area – for themselves or their clients. I hasten to add, not all recovering substance users, many have done a lot of work on their problems and have been able separate their issues from those of their clients but maintaining an understanding, empathy and realism at the same time. It takes all sorts to work effectively in any field but it is important to be non-judgemental, compassionate and empathetic, maintaining good professional boundaries in order to enable clients to make realistic and sustainable changes to enhance their lives.

    • David Clark says:

      Hi Angie,

      This is an old blog from WITR, written some ago. I don’t think for one moment he is being critical of people NOT in recovery from drug and alcohol problems who are working in the field. There are many such people working in the field and many of them are top quality workers who do a great job and share the characteristics you describe, e.g. empathy, non-judgemental. They are able to put themselves in the place of those people suffering from addiction and see the world through their eyes.

      On the other hand, there are many people working in the field NOT in recovery who do not show these characteristics. And many people who say they are in recovery who do not show these characteristics, and in some cases only believe in their path to recovery. As you say, it takes all sorts.

  2. Thanks for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your
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  3. Angie Sparrowhawk says:

    Thanks for the response – like you say I didn’t think that Phil Hughes was rubbishing workers not recovering but I have been personally attacked by clients who did not think I could possibly understand their problems as I wasn’t a substance misuse – these people were not usually in the best frame of mind to start treatment!
    I have worked with entire families with substance use problems and I really do believe it is the way to proceed. I trained in family therapy and latterly in my career when I worked in a statutory agency, I was never allowed to work in this way, crazy since I had done the training. I had a lot more freedom working in the voluntary sector when it wasn’t commissoned by the local DAAT. I don’t think it has changed for the better especially since PBR was introduced. It so often mirrors addictive behaviour – a quick fix! I wanted to try so many different ways of working but so often was ham strung by the system. I was always keen to give anything a try – whatever works was my attitude, and support the client to find and use whatever helps. I no longer work face to face with clients but supervise counsellors in the field so have never stopped being passionate about this work.

    • David Clark says:

      Good to have your insights Angie. I agree about the system often wanting quick fixes. And the importance of working with the family. As for PBR, insane nonsense! Was always going to be a failure and I never understood why more people did not voice a negative feeling. Hope you are well. David

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