Brad’s Recovery Story: ‘A Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams’

Following a life of crime, fighting and drinking, Brad started his recovery journey after being told that alcohol wasn’t his problem—it was him! He later had an experience that he could only describe as a spiritual awakening. (14,961 words)

‘And even today, I’m puzzled a bit by what was going on in my head. But I think it comes down to the fact that I never had the emotional development that other people had as child and a teenager, because I was sniffing glue and other substances and then drinking excessively.’ Brad Miah-Phillips RIP

1. Early years

One of my earliest memories is of a teacher prodding me in the chest when I was five years old. I think I had broken a ruler. This teacher seemed to target me through my junior years at school. I also remember her shouting at an Asian girl because she was sick in class, and I hated her even more for that.

Despite these events, and the fact that I did not do well academically, I liked my early days at school, probably because of the attention I received. I was always with the dinner-ladies at lunch, walking around the playground and holding their hands. I felt warm and wanted. However, it’s not as if I wasn’t loved at home. I was. 

When I was ten years old, my Dad ‘died on me’ and was ‘taken away’. I describe it this way because I remember saying to myself that there can’t be a God. If there was, then why did he do this to me? I was very close to my Dad. From what I can remember, I spent every moment I could with him when he was not at work. We even slept in the same bed; it was great, because he used to bring me breakfast in bed. He would buy me everything I wanted.

His passing killed me inside and after that my head seemed to go all weird. I was fighting all the time, and even when I was ten years old my fighting was not normal. I bit people and did other stuff too. It was really strange when I look back. I did this for a long time.

My Dad’s name was Kona Miah, and he was from Bangladesh. I know little about his background, because my Mum has always struggled to talk to me about him. This omission may reflect resentment on her part, since Dad was no angel. I’ve been told he was a womaniser and a bit of a fighter. I also know that he would have done anything for his family.

I’m not sure where he came from in Bangladesh, or when and how he came to England. I know that he met Mum in her hometown of Birmingham and I assume it was in the late 1960s. They had four children, Carl, me, Joy and Jonathan, in that order. 

Dad worked as an engineer by day, but was a professional gambler by night. We had a huge Victorian, five-bedroom terraced house in Halifax at the time I was born. Gambling sessions took place in the large cellar area of our house. Dad had people from all sorts of different backgrounds participate in these games, including the local CID (police). Mum would make food for the gamblers and was paid well for doing so. The games would often last until daylight and Dad would be a happier guy when the fun was over. While he lost a lot of money, he made it all back… and much more. It helped that Mum had marked the cards to ensure that he was a winner.

Unfortunately, Dad smoked like a chimney, as they say. High tar Capstan full-strength and a pipe too, which probably led to his death at the young age of 42 in 1981. His passing meant that Mum ended up having to bring us four children up alone, on a meagre wage from working in our local library. And she had to deal with me, a real pain in the arse, an embarrassment, and a constant worry. 

My Mum, Jeanette Eileen Phillips, is one of the bravest people I have ever met. She was born in 1939 in Acocks Green, a suburb of Birmingham. Her mother was of Polish descent and her father a captain of a ship that was sunk during World War II. 

When she was five, Mum and her younger sister were placed in care, as their mother could not cope. The orphanage was run by nuns and by all accounts was a nasty place to be. Mum and her sister were beaten almost daily for minor breaches of the rules, such as talking, playing, or not working hard enough. This part of her life must have impacted badly on Mum, because over the years I have stayed at her house I have often heard her crying in her sleep and calling out for her mum.

Mum and her sister were later sent to live with two different families and they never met again. Mum was adopted by a family who lived in the country outside Birmingham. She was loved by her adopted parents, whose name I cannot remember, and was treated as if she was their biological daughter. She had a good education, learned to play the piano, and went on holidays. She really enjoyed her time with this family. 

My younger brother Jonathan was only two years old when Dad died. My sister and I brought him up until Mum stopped hammering the sherry. She had simply gone to pieces after Dad’s death, and used to shout at us when she was drinking heavily. She had violent rows with my elder brother Carl, who was around 18 at the time. I also remember tasting Mum’s drink and thinking I liked it.

My childhood was shit and I couldn’t wait to grow up. I hated being ‘one of them’, the kid that went to school in unbranded trainers and flared trousers provided by the council. Having free school meals was a stigma too; if you had free meals then you were poor, which admittedly we were. School for me was where I wanted to have fun; it wasn’t about learning, rather it was about causing bother and being noticed. I liked to be the centre of attention. 

We had to wear our maroon school uniform, a V-neck jumper and a blazer, at my Secondary Modern school. In my first year, I came to school one day with no blazer, so was sent home and fined 10p by Mr Sotnik, the deputy head. I arrived with no jumper and blazer the next day. When Mr Sotnik started to shout at me I ‘chinned’ him, putting him on his rear end. I now had a black mark against me and was watched throughout my school years, which is what I liked. Mr Sotnik was actually a really nice guy, but my ignorance and arrogance told me he was the enemy. This could not have been further from the truth. 

I was caught smoking almost every week and that meant the cane—once on the palm of my hand, once across the fingers and once on the very tip of your fingers. Eventually, the teachers realised that this punishment was never going to work with me, so they started to suspend me from school. 

I was once caught by the headmaster pulling a small blade out on another pupil. The ‘old bill’ were called and I was lucky not to be charged. Mr Flux, our headmaster, told me that in the 107-year history of the school they had never had a knife incident. I faced another suspension, which I guess was further relief for the teachers.

I was about 12 when I started knocking around with a group of lads who were three years older than me. I burgled a shop and took around 7,000 cigarettes, which I sold at school. I started smoking because I thought I was hard: ‘Look at me everyone.’ I wanted to be liked and accepted, particularly by my new older mates. I was now cool. 

I discovered glue and would steal from my mother’s purse to buy a pint from the hardware shop. I’d steal the glue if I couldn’t get money. We used to get a real high from breathing in the glue from a bag. I would sniff glue any chance I got. I would do it with my mates or alone, on the streets or at home. I loved the stuff.

I was into glue for about 18 months and then it was gas. The same sort of high as glue, only it was cheaper and easier to sniff, but far more dangerous. It could freeze your lungs in an instant, although this didn’t scare us. I could go through two tins a night. In between sniffing gas and glue, there were tippex thinners, hairspray and nail polish remover. Literally anything I could sniff, I did it. 

When I was fifteen, I had my first real drink—Merrydown cider, strong stuff at 7.5% abv (alcohol by volume)—and that was it! I was on board and I loved the chaos that came with it too.

I was now stealing from Mum’s purse on a regular basis. I remember taking £5 from her handbag one night when she was asleep. She noticed the money was missing in the morning and begged me to give it back, as we really needed it for food. She told me just to leave it somewhere and nothing more would be said. However, I continued to deny that I had stolen the money and went to school that day, stopping at the shop to buy gas and some sweets. 

Another time I stole a cheque out of my brother’s cheque book and cashed it at our local shop for £40. The shop owner trusted me when I told him that my brother needed some cash. I used the money to booze at Pleasure Beach in Blackpool with a mate who is now a copper. 

About three months later, I came home from school to find the fraud squad sitting in my living room with Mum. Although my first night in a police cell frightened me, it was not enough to keep me out of trouble. I received a police caution and a kicking from my brother Carl. My life of dishonesty, violence and crime started there.

2. Booze and crime

I left school when I was sixteen. I got no grades, but did achieve a GCSE in arrogance. I started to train in mechanics, but only pissed about. Around this time, I met someone who was to become mother of two of my kids. However, when I woke up from my nightmare, my kids were 19 and 17. I did nothing for them and to be honest, I just didn’t care. 

The mother of my children came from a loving family, like mine only with more money. Vicky’s dad had his own business as a joiner. He was a real good guy. He gave me a job, trained me to be as good as him, and in return I robbed him of the contents of his safe. He didn’t deserve that from me, nor did anyone else from whom I stole. Eventually, I was caught and sent to a Young Offenders Institution for seven months.

I was now regularly drinking in pubs, clubs and on the streets with my mates. I started stealing more, with burglary becoming an every-night event that made me quite a few quid. Trouble is, I was shit at covering my tracks, so I was always getting caught. I was lucky though. I’d get away with probation orders, or community service after a bit of remand.

I ended up going to prison eventually for breaching these orders, but my attitude was, ‘Who gives a fuck?’ My mates were in there and the screws were like my teachers. ‘Authority—go fuck yourselves,’ so I received more punishment. I used to like the segregation unit. I think I sort of got something out of it, but the reality was that kicking off in prison was getting me nowhere. I was fighting a losing battle and just to accept things would have been the easier option.

When I was 18, I was stabbed and nearly died. However, this just made me harder and more arrogant. In fact, I thought I couldn’t die, something that I joke about today. I now talk to the guy who put a kitchen knife in my chest that punctured my lung. I have no resentment and it was not his fault. If you back someone into a corner, then there is going to be trouble. I found that out on the night.

In 1996, I ended up doing yet another spell in prison, this time for fraud. On my release, I got married. This started off as a dare, I think. I then moved to Milton Keynes where my brother Carl had been living for about 15 years. This move was a big mistake, as Carl was a hard-nosed British soldier and ex-SAS (Special Air Service, the special forces unit of the army) and he was taking no shit off me.

At first, things were really good. I was a sous-chef at the Hilton National and had a nice house. However, my wife left me, and I met another woman. I was now drinking very hard and my brother and I were fighting each other on a regular basis, normally because he and his discipline did not fit into my lifestyle.

I moved to Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, a proper hard-core drinking village that was right up my street. The drink really took hold of me here and this part of my life is a little hazy. My girlfriend and I had a child, but it wasn’t long before I was putting drink before him. 

I split up with my girlfriend and moved back to Carl’s house in Milton Keynes. I started working as a door supervisor at a hotel, but this job only fed my ego more. I became more arrogant and thought I was untouchable. I started to get a name for myself, fighting regularly and being with different women at the end of each shift.

I ended up getting back with the mother of my young son, who had now moved to Aylesbury. This was a really bad part of my life, where I only remember bits here and there. Isolation was the main thing I remember. I may have had acquaintances, women and a few friends, but my head was hollow and empty. I was now drinking around nine litres of white cider daily. We even used to call it ‘Dangerous’. ‘I’m off to get a bottle of Dangerous.’

I split with my girlfriend again, and after drying out for a week or so, started work again as a cook in a restaurant. This was ‘good’ for my alcoholism, as I was surrounded by booze and women. 

I met a girl from Southern Ireland, a girl who was taking no shit from me. And I mean none. She was a heavy drinker, but only at weekends, so as far as she was concerned, I had a problem, not her. I started to calm down a little. I had to. I thought I could control it, but then I started working on the doors again as well as cooking, so I had more money, more booze and more birds.

This part of my life stands out because I met a woman who would later take her own life. I really fell for Paula. We moved in together about six months after meeting. Paula was a control freak. ‘You don’t need to work,’ she’d say. She had plenty of money and used to get angry with me when I worked. She also thought I was sleeping with the waiting staff, which she was right about.

I initially didn’t realise that Paula was addicted to Pethidine, which she used for a painful stomach disorder, and I used to find empty boxes of pills everywhere. I didn’t know much about addiction at the time, but would kick off when I found the empties. She also drank gin in large quantities and then she would kick off at me. This vicious circle went on for a couple of years, until we eventually split.

After losing my job, I went to stay with my younger brother Jon in London. This was the start of my fraud and money lifestyle. My brother and I got into a scam, which I won’t describe, that netted us around three million quid over five years. We had limousines and hotels on tap, as well as nice wines and champagne. We had the best Italian suits and plenty of gold, as well as lovely watches and plenty of women. 

However, what I remember was that at the end of the night, and after drinking Dom Perignon champagne at a couple of hundred quid a bottle, I would go back to my room with a bottle of cheap strong cider!

During this time, my drinking was so heavy that I would sometimes wake up with a woman not knowing who she was or which hotel I was in. My fighting had gotten nasty and I was doing what I used to do as a kid, except that my biting was resulting in bits of people coming off. As a result, Malicious Wounding Section 18 is now on my police record a few times.

In 2000, the police raided our house in Aylesbury. They didn’t find what they were looking for, but did retrieve two handguns and a shotgun, for which I put my hands up. They hadn’t been used in any jobs so were pretty clean, and I said I was holding them for someone. So, after loads of bollocks and messing around, I was charged with handling. There were no details anywhere of the fraud and no witnesses for demanding money with menaces. Eight months surveillance for nothing; the police weren’t happy.

I was sent to prison for a short time and they put me in a high security nick because of the firearms charge. This part of my life was very important, as I started to make some changes. I now realised that I had previously been fighting battles with the screws that I couldn’t win. Fighting was getting me absolutely nowhere, so this time I played the game. In doing this, I felt free for the first time in my life… ever! 

This was an eye-opening experience, as I started to look at myself free of alcohol, glue, gas, petrol and any other psychoactive substance in my body. I began to realise that I was an ‘all-right’ guy… and so did the screws.

I continued to really look at myself. I realised that I didn’t normally show self-pity. I sort of enjoyed being in prison whenever I got sent down. Why was this? Simple—there is a difference in being institutionalised and being free. I was free behind bars and I was finding myself. On the outside, I didn’t know who the fuck I was, and I couldn’t find out who I really was because I was drunk or high all the time.

I obtained some qualifications in prison and ended up teaching English to asylum seekers who were in detention after getting caught at Heathrow and Gatwick. I was paid £30 a week for this work, a lot of money in jail terms. I eventually became respected in prison, even by the screws. They started to bother me less, so I didn’t bother them. I had never been respected by other people, so the fact that this was now occurring with people in authority had a strong positive impact on me.

When I was released after this stretch, I stayed sober for around six months. However, I started the door work again and, needless to say, the old behaviour was back. For whatever reason, I ended up hitting someone one day, so I was back to prison. The cycle of insanity!

I can remember standing outside Paddington Green Police Station in London in 2002, but the next thing I remember is being back in Halifax in 2004, drinking in a nice flat with some people I had presumably met. I remember nothing about this intervening period! Paula and I were still seeing each other, and she would travel up on a regular basis. This carried on for another two years, during which time I did two inpatient detoxes in Manchester, which had no real impact on me, as I wasn’t interested in stopping drinking.

3. Starting with The Breakfast Club

In 2006, Thames Valley Police informed me that Paula had taken her own life. This made me angry. I thought she was selfish leaving three kids behind, although I’d left my kids behind years ago. 

I continued drinking and six months to the day my best friend Mick died in my arms at Calderdale Royal, having fallen and banged his head. Mick’s death crushed me. This was the first time I can remember showing any real emotion. To this day, I shed a tear when talking about him, as I am now. We had done everything together.

This event seemed to be a turning point for me, or should I say THE turning point. Mick’s partner told me that the so-called Breakfast Club, a recovery-based initiative in Halifax developed by Stuart Honor, needed volunteers. Although I was somewhat reclusive at this time, I went down to see Stuart and asked if I could help. Despite the fact that I stank of booze, he asked if I would help cook breakfasts on the Tuesday and Thursday mornings they operated. This was definitely great for me, although I wasn’t ready to stop drinking yet. 

I can honestly say that if I had not met Stuart Honor, I would not be alive today. 

Stuart had set up the Breakfast Club as part of a wider plan to develop a recovery conducive environment in Halifax, where people with addiction problems could get better in their home community—rather than become a resident in a rehabilitation centre a distance away—and then go on to help others to recover. He saw the Breakfast Club as a way of initially engaging people who needed help with their substance use problem. When I first started, we fed anyone who came in for a hearty breakfast. 

In 2008, Stuart set up The Basement Recovery Project, an independent self-help, not-for-profit, charitable organisation in Halifax as the next step in developing a local recovery community in Calderdale. Michelle Foster, who at one time worked alongside me as a volunteer for the Breakfast Club, became the project manager of The Basement Project.

Stuart and Michelle’s plans to develop a recovery community in Calderdale excited me and I wanted to be a part of this initiative. I knew that I needed to stop drinking and get better to become involved in this project, but I also knew that I couldn’t use my desire to work with Michelle and Stuart as the only reason for getting better.

At this time, I thought willpower is what I needed to stop drinking, but I soon found out that this wasn’t the case. I was lacking a true willingness and desire to get well. I daydreamed and dreamt about stopping drinking, but I think that’s all it was at that stage. There was no real consideration of the work that would be involved in stopping.

Anyway, I decided I needed a break from the booze. I retired to bed and began going through the terror of a full-blown ‘rattle’ (withdrawal), something I hope I never have to go through again. Five days later, I was physically dry. I then decided to see how long I could abstain from alcohol.

After six weeks of no alcohol, I still wanted a drink. In fact, my desire for alcohol was worse than ever. I was puzzled by this continued desire and asked someone in long-term recovery why I felt this way after all this time—surely, I should have stopped craving? 

Alan, who was 16 years in recovery, simply said to me, ‘Brad, you haven’t just got a problem with alcohol.’

When he said this, I thought to myself, ‘He’s mad. What does he mean?’ 

He then proceeded to tell me that if my problem was just about alcohol, then everything in my life would have been rosy and nice when I had stopped drinking. Clearly, this wasn’t the case—everything wasn’t as perfect as I had expected.

At this point, I experienced something I remember clearly like it was yesterday. My head span and I was dizzy. I had never realised that my problems involved more than just alcohol—they involved me as a person. No one had explained this to me before. Alan also said to me that if I were to listen to him, then this would ‘fuck my drinking up’. It certainly did that.

I just wanted to add here that I spent most of my days with Alan when I was volunteering at The Basement Project. I listened to every word of wisdom that left his mouth… although I didn’t always act upon these words. This man for sure saved my life, initially through that one sentence: ‘Brad, you haven’t just got a problem with alcohol.’

4. Beginning to understand

Not long after this insight, I spent a week on an Action on Addiction/University of Bath course in Warminster. The course, which was part of their Foundation Degree, focused on the 12-steps. I was about six weeks sober at the time and Michelle thought that the course would be useful for me. She wanted me to gain a greater understanding so I would stay sober.

However, the course confused me. I found it very hard to take in all the information. I spent five days trying to understand the concept of the 12-step programme and, wow, it blew my head away! However, I now know that listening to all that information, alongside talking and listening constantly to my colleagues, played an important role in helping me get well.

Normally when I woke up at this time, I would sit on the edge of my bed, rub my face up and down and silently say to myself, ‘Here we go, another day.’ 

I did the same on the morning after getting back from Bath, but this time I felt very strange when I removed my hands. The emptiness and hollow feelings that were usually there in my stomach and head were gone. I remember this change quite clearly. I got to my feet and started to sort of tiptoe out of my bedroom as my partner slept, holding my stomach as if it was going to fall out. I felt absolutely great for the very first time in my life! Amazing!!

I started to ask myself what was happening to me. I became very scared in case the hollowness came back. (I now know this hollow feeling as FEAR). I went to The Basement Project as usual to do my voluntary work and talked to Alan about what had happened. I was told to make my own mind up about what this meant. Alan was not going to do ALL the work for me. 

What I came up with was a ‘Spiritual Awakening’, an entire psychic change. I had changed the way I think. I’d accepted my problem for what it was, an illness, and that it was not going anywhere. I had it for life and I could not control this stuff. ‘Drink or don’t drink, no half measures,’ I thought.\

I really can’t explain what had happened to me when I woke that morning. I felt totally different, and my thinking had changed dramatically overnight. I must have learned something from the course. I must have subconsciously taken in the lectures and discussions and this information had started to impact on me in an incredible way. It had changed me dramatically. From this point, my life took off.

I soon decided that I couldn’t stay with my partner, partly because I had met her when I was a drunk. I felt that I had infected her with my illness, and she had the fear I possessed. Although we had never argued, I now realised that this was because I was always in control and what I said went. My partner agreed with everything I said, out of fear of me leaving her or getting angry. To the new me, this was not a good way to maintain a relationship. I now also needed to find ‘me’, understand exactly what I was about.

I was now attending AA meetings regularly. When I entered the rooms, I realised that I was not alone. There were other people with the same problem. I also realised that if my thinking had been different, I may have got better earlier. 

When I had first attended AA about eight years earlier, while I was still drinking, and saw the 12 steps hanging on the wall, what stood out for me was not the word ‘recovery’, but the word GOD. I panicked! Although I stayed for the session, I did not return for another two years. During that time, a counsellor I was seeing—who was an alcoholic in recovery—kept saying, ‘Brad, try AA, you will get well if you keep going.’ I didn’t listen to him, but I now know I should have.

I now look at AA as my main medication. If you get headache, you take a mild painkiller, Paracetamol or Aspirin maybe. If my head starts to get a little confused, I go to AA and talk to another addict in recovery. The 12-step programme has saved my life. Or I should say, ‘My life has been saved by following this simple programme.’ They say that this is a simple programme for complicated people, don’t they?

I was lost when looking at the God-thing. I knew that if I was to get well, then I had to, ‘Let go and let God,’ as they say. However, I had a bit of an issue with God—or my arrogance said I did—and this made things difficult. What I did know was that I was powerless over alcohol, so I needed a ‘Powerful’. How was I going to get a Powerful? This was the problem for me.

I was told in AA to keep coming back and I did so. Slowly but surely, I started to feel an inner peace, a warmth, a feeling of not being alone anymore. I suddenly realised that I had found my Powerful. My Powerful was right in front of my face all the time. It was an addict in recovery. A Group of Drunks was in fact my God. If I am around another addict in recovery, I feel okay, no matter what is going on for me in life.

I have been to AA meetings all over and they vary. Some are small meetings, some are big. Some are meetings where we read from the AA book, some we share openly, and some are prayer or spiritual meetings.

However, there is a common factor in all the different types of meeting and that is the addict. Everyone is the same. There is no judging and the only requirement to attend is the desire to get well. No matter who you are or where you come from, whatever your background in life, rich or poor, black or white, it does not matter. You are welcome with open arms, and if you keep going you will get well.

In a way, I fought with AA in the early days, but I knew that if I stayed, I could get well. I feared getting well, but I still saw the evidence that AA could help me get well and it was hard to argue against that evidence. However, I was in denial and in denial you can argue against anything, can’t you?

What I know is this: AA was founded in 1939 and in the Foreword to the 1st Edition of Big Book it says, ‘We of alcoholics anonymous are more than 100 men and women.’ In the Foreword of the 4th edition printed in 2001, it states that worldwide membership of AA stands at around two million people and there are around 100,800 groups in approximately 150 countries.

However, there are no professors or teachers (at least in charge), no outside funding or influences, no bosses or managers. There is just a simple ‘addict to addict’ and a ‘being able to identify’. This is what got me well and keeps me well today. I AM NOT ALONE—that is evidence against which you cannot argue.

I see people coming in to these rooms and getting well, just like me. It’s absolutely amazing! They say that if you change your playground then you will change your playmates, and this is what happened to me. I now have a great network of friends.

5. A new job

Eventually, on July 1st 2009, I was employed full-time at the Basement Project as a Recovery Support Worker, or Recovery Coach as I prefer to be called. This position is absolutely ace! My job is to pass on my experience to others who want to get well, and like I have said, addict-to-addict works very, very well here.

I love my extended family so much. Every day I go into work, I look around and say to myself that this is where it all began, my recovery journey. I work hard and love what I do. There are lows—but that comes with the territory—and there are highs to balance out the lows. I wake up and go to bed sober. Whatever comes in the day does not really matter, so long as I haven’t hurt anyone in any way. If that is the case, it has to be a good day, doesn’t it?

I work with guys just like me, addicts who have lost their way and who need a little guidance to get them on track. I have met some cracking people here, people who have become so well that they now work alongside us and pass a message on just like us. Let me tell you about two.

Colin started his journey of addiction and chaos—using heroin and crack—23 years ago when he was 24 years old. After a while, he decided to have a go at getting clean, so he went to a treatment service in Halifax (not The Basement, I hasten to add) and was prescribed methadone as a substitute, on a reduction regime.

He spent over 20 years on methadone, waiting for the reduction! He eventually found himself in a situation where he was buying the stuff off the street and drinking 500mls daily. That’s half a litre, enough to kill a small village, literally! He then stopped using heroin and remained on methadone for a further three years before coming to see us.

Colin followed our suggestions, worked hard and within six weeks he was physically clean (off the methadone). It was a lot of hard work and he experienced pain, plenty of it. He continued to follow our suggestions, attending our Abstinence programme and NA, and got clean mentally. He changed the way he thought. His thinking became rational and so therefore were his actions. Today, he is two years in recovery and working with us as a Community Recovery Organiser (CRO), passing a recovery message on to the people of Calderdale and surrounds.

Colin is a real inspiration to other addicts. He shows what can be done, because he has done it. I introduce every person I assess to Colin because he is definitely one of the good guys, as I call them. Also, he is one of the funniest blokes I have ever met. He has me in stitches every time I’m around him. He’s a real nutcase.

Another one of these good guys is a bloke who came through one of the first programmes we ran, about three years ago. Keith is an alcoholic who lost everything: his wife, kids, car, home and a very good job within the IT industry. When we first met Keith, he was such an arrogant person. He still can be in some ways, but he does at least recognise the fact now. This is another key to staying well—recognition.

One of the funniest things I heard was Keith telling me that he used to blame AA for losing his job. After being ‘caught’ for smelling of booze too many times at work, Keith decided he would do something about it and started to attend AA. He used to get a lift there and back, by the guy who opened the room and locked up after everyone else had gone.

Convincing himself that going to an AA meeting stinking of booze would give the wrong impression, Keith would buy his cans before the meeting and stick them in the fridge so they were nice and cold, ready for his return. However, as there was washing up and cleaning to do after the AA meetings, he was not getting back home until 10:30 or 11:00 in the evening. His cans were well cold by this time and he drank them until the early hours. It was no surprise that when he got to work the following morning—generally late—he actually stunk of booze more so than on a ‘normal’ night!

6. My new family
Just months in to my recovery, I met someone who was to change my life even further. I met Yvonne, who was a social worker, through a friend. It was odd for me initially because Yvonne isn’t the sort of person for whom I would have normally gone. I said this to myself when we first met, but the truth is that I couldn’t say what sort of women I really liked. I had been drunk or under the influence most of the time, so how could I really know?

I liked the situation with Yvonne. She has two young children, Paul, who was eight at the time and Tom who was six. My feelings for Yvonne and the boys were strong, but I had never experienced feelings in this way before. So guess what happened when Yvonne asked me to move in with her four months later? The fear came back. I had not done this sort of thing when sober and it really, really frightened me.

My head was spinning. Although I was spending most of my time with Yvonne, I couldn’t move in with her, so still maintained my own property. Safeguarding my head is what I thought I was doing, but actually what I was doing is what I had always done—running away. Running away from my feelings.

I found myself telling Yvonne on a number of occasions that I couldn’t do this. She had no idea what I meant by this. Nor did I! I just remember feeling so frightened of commitment and letting her ‘have me’. I was frightened in my head and in my heart. I did ‘give myself’ to her in the end, but it took me some time. I now know that this was my addict head playing tricks with me.

We talked about NOT having kids and how important it was to use contraception. Despite adopting this approach, our daughter Heather was conceived. I now believe that she was just meant to be. She was born on 18 November 2010 and I was there. We named her Heather Miah Phillips—Miah was my Dad’s surname. If I had never used my emotions over the years—which I know I hadn’t—they all came out at once that day.

My head was full of all sorts of different feelings, most of them nice ones, but again FEAR was there. However, I was feeling fear though and NOT running away from it; surely, non-addicts also get fearful in this situation. I didn’t feel this way about my other children, and I wasn’t there for their births either.

brads story 2

My daughter Heather

I felt that I had a new meaning in life and I also felt powerful. My life has to go on now for my lovely daughter. I can’t express how much love I have for her and she feels it too. She doesn’t cry, she wakes up happy, plays then eats brekkie, plays and then has lunch, plays and eats tea, then plays more. She then goes to bed and sleeps all night.

Then it happens all over again – it’s brilliant! I can’t wait for her to wake up. I couldn’t live without her, not in any way. I need her in my life and it wouldn’t matter what happens to me, I have already made sure she is financially stable for her education and other stuff she may need.

I suppose I better drop in the fact what some of you may have noticed—Heather’s initials are H.M.P. It’s unintentional I can tell you, H.M bloody P. I never thought I could love anyone as much as these two people! My eyes are opened wide, but this time I am seeing as well as looking. I am thinking in a different way. My thinking is now rational, so therefore are my behaviours and actions.

7. Problems with my eyesight
I had a very bad low in the middle of 2010 when I had problems with my eyesight. I am a diabetic and due to my heavy drinking and poor blood sugar control, the time came when I was told by the eye specialists at Calderdale Royal that I may need an operation to try and save my right eye as it was bleeding continuously from the back. The bleeding was affecting my sight quite a lot. I won’t go in to the ins and outs, but I decided to have a go at getting the problem sorted. After a long operation, I had to walk around with a patch over my right eye.

When I couldn’t see anything a couple of days later, the eye specialists said they would monitor me and hopefully my sight would come back soon. A month later, I woke with the worst pain in my eye I have ever felt. I ended up in hospital having an emergency operation as pressure in my eyeball had built up.

This time, they accidentally damaged my retina during the operation, such that there was no chance of regaining any sight in this eye. My head was battered and I also felt very strange, as I had to learn to walk properly again, due to losing the right side of my vision. I remember thinking to myself in hospital, ‘Shouldn’t I be thinking of drinking now?’ However, I didn’t drink and that was a big plus for me.

My head hurt for the following ten weeks or so. I couldn’t focus mentally at work. I couldn’t open my eyes properly and wore shades most of the time, even in the dark. The only time I was comfortable was when my eyes were shut. I was very depressed for a couple of months as I thought that things would stay this way. Then, all of a sudden, my head said, ‘Just accept this, like you did with the booze. Stop battling,’ and that was that. My head was okay again and I started to consider that part of my life to be in the past. Well, that’s what I thought.

A year later, I was told that my left eye was dying and that I would eventually lose my sight. There was nothing that could be done, so I prepared myself for the situation. I tried training myself a little, walking around blindfold or with my eyes shut. I also contacted the Open University to obtain software to help me with my degree course work. However, Michelle basically said to me that if I thought I would get out of work with this excuse I was wrong. ‘You can still talk,’ she said.

She also said she’d pay for the software and whatever else I needed to make things easier for me. I was scared, for my daughter, not for myself. Yes, I was a bit pissed off with the situation, but my life was generally okay, and I had much to be grateful for, so I accepted the situation. Little did I know though, but life was about to take an amazing turn.

Although I accepted the situation, Michelle and The Basement board members did not. They told me to go private and get a second opinion. They said things like, ‘You just never know,’ and, ‘Whatever it costs, we will cover.’ This really moved me and I had tears in my somewhat knackered eyes. I also knew that people were praying for me. I couldn’t believe it. Praying for me!

I was reluctant to go private, but I decided to make an appointment anyway. I spent the next week thinking about the appointment, the people who were praying for me, and those who had offered to pay whatever it cost. I realised how lucky I was. With or without my sight, these people weren’t going anywhere, they would still be there for me unconditionally. I daydreamed of going to the appointment and being told that my eye was okay and I will have my sight. I thought to myself that if prayer works, we will soon find out—but who am I to question it anyway?

It was all a little scary when Michelle and I went to the assessment, but I was realistic about the situation. The specialist first confirmed that my right eye was indeed wrecked. He also indicated that he was not happy with the two stitches in the back of the eye from the earlier operation, so he removed them.

He looked at my notes and was confused at what was written. It was all negative stuff, eye dying, out of shape, it could detach any time now, etc. He then confirmed that I wouldn’t see again out of my right eye, but then said, ‘I assure you that you have a long life in your left eye.’

‘Eh, what!? I don’t get it,’ I thought. He wanted to do a few more tests, but in his opinion there was only slight eye damage and no reason I should lose my sight! How could that be?

I was in shock, not able to come to terms with what was going on. What I did know, was that I was loved by friends and colleagues, and I could share this wonderful news with them. They had been such wonderful support for me and I thank them very much. I love you all in my own way.

8. Loss and a further awakening
In March 2012, I had a phone call from a friend’s Mother to tell me that only an hour earlier she had found her son Jay dead in his flat. Jay had been in my life from around 1992 and we drank and drugged together for a couple of years. Jay was a big, loveable, generous and caring bloke of 18 stone and could scare anyone with his rough, coarse look. We shared some good times, as well as bad times together.

Jay was a mess when I got back from London years later—he’d been on methadone for most of those years and was using illicit drugs too. We fed each other the usual bollocks and carried on doing what we did. When I lost Paula, he was with me and although my external attitude to this event appeared to be one of bitterness and anger, he saw through me and tried to comfort me. Looking back now, he did a brilliant job.

Every time I saw Jay it was the usual, ‘How are your eyes,’ and ‘If I had the money I would sort it for you, Brad.’ When I looked sad it was, ‘Brad, what’s up?’ and when he heard raised voices anywhere near me he’d ask if he wanted any help. He was very protective.

All the time I knew Jay he was never clean, but the post mortem found only the right amounts of medication in his body—he died clean, in a way. It seems that his benefits had been stopped for whatever reason, so he went to Sainsburys and nicked a bottle of Vodka. He was caught and locked up overnight and released from court Friday afternoon rattling. He went home and had a seizure, banged his head and fell forward trapping his windpipe and suffocating. Jay’s death really hurt me and I could taste booze when his mum told me.

Jay would talk about being worried about his mum worrying about him. His mum was his rock and she stood by him through all his difficult times. He wouldn’t have got through some of those difficult times without her love and support. He knew this and talked about her a lot during our Breakfast Club chats. He really loved her and she was the most important person in his life. In some of his last chats, Jay told me how worried he was about his dad being very ill.

Jay was the life of and soul of every party and also the Breakfast Club, where he would be most Tuesdays and Thursdays. He was protective of the Club—he wouldn’t have a bad word said about us and what we do. On the outside, Jay was a rough, coarse sort of a bloke, but on the inside he was a real softie. He had a heart of gold and cared for his friends and family very much. He just couldn’t find a way out of his problems—he was lost, as I once was.

Over a week went by and Jay’s mum Sue asked if I would help carry his coffin and say a few words at his funeral, which I did. This was very hard for me, but I found I had released him to his peace. This was my worst experience in sobriety.

Coincidently, I had booked myself to go on a weekend retreat in Wales and as it turns out this couldn’t have come at a better time for me, so soon after Jay’s death. What can I say about this retreat? Bloody wow! My head really was blown away. You would not believe me when I say I felt like I had a second spiritual awakening. When I first entered the grounds on Friday, I felt peace and love immediately and this left me feeling absolutely at ease. I want to keep hold of these feelings.

Although my recovery was good at this time, the two brilliant, inspiring facilitators—Colin Macdonald and Wynford Ellis Owen—helped me to realise that there were a couple of areas that I needed to look at. I had been putting other stuff before my recovery and had been neglecting my family and the people I love in various ways. After the retreat, I spent some days looking at myself and realised that I had been taking my eye off the ball.

So a big thanks to Colin—diamond geezer—and Wynford, who signed his book for me. Wynford’s wisdom is quite something—I have never seen anything like this in anyone else yet. This was definitely one of my best experiences in my sobriety to date.

With Tom, from whom I have learnt so much.

With Tom, from whom I have learnt so much.

9. Today and yesterday
Our work at The Basement is still going strong. We are still giving people hope and they are still getting well. We pass a message on every single day. I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I truly believe that if I had not walked in to the Breakfast Club all those years ago then I would be dead.

Yvonne and I are no longer together. Our split was very amicable and we are great friends. I will forever be grateful for the lovely daughter that she brought into my life. I am in the process of moving in to a three-bedroom flat close to Heather, so Yvonne and I can share her care between us and I can get my cuddles all night. Yvonne is a wonderful woman. She helped me through some hard times, especially coming to terms with my eyesight ‘problems’.

Although I have lost the sight in my right eye and nearly lost sight in my left eye, my sobriety and higher power have helped me through. I now have a life beyond my wildest dreams. Heather is the sparkle in my eye—the one I can see out of! I want to shout from the rooftops every time I look at her, hug her and tell her I love her. I am so glad she wasn’t around to see me as a selfish person, who cared for no one but himself.

With my understanding, I am able to look back at the old me. What I know now is that not only had I been isolated, I had isolated myself away because I was not being able to face the world. I was also isolated in my own head, which I am not today. I was also full of fear, and fear ran my life.

I was in fear of drinking and of not drinking. In fear of being with someone in case she left or was being unfaithful (when there was no evidence of this). I was in fear of being alone. I was in fear of dying—but this didn’t stop me drinking—and in fear of living, although this must sound nuts.

I have made amends to a lot of people. However, I owe my Mum the most. I look at her past drinking and I now know that it couldn’t have been easy losing my Dad as well as his financial support. She never gave up on me. She blamed herself at times, but she was not responsible for any of my past behaviours. She did not play a part in my addiction problem. She was a good Mum and still is at 71. There was always food on the table and she always worked. I love my Mum for everything she has done and my daughter has a great Nanny.

I now have freedom from fear. I am in fear of nothing, even when I have bad days. I sometimes do have bad days but they are still ‘good days’ to me so long as I go to bed sober. I am mentally and spiritually sound and I feel great most of the time. In fact, I am ‘Better than Well’ and I have this tattooed on my arm, because that is what I am.

I am at peace. I have an inner peace and I feel comfortable with myself today. I have a great support network and these people help me to remember who I am and where I have come from. I think this is very important because if I take my eye off the ball I could be in danger of picking up a drink again. Although I believe this is highly unlikely if I use the tools I have, I am after all an addict and I truly believe that I suffer from a grave mental disorder.

As I am writing this, I am visiting my sister Joy and her two children, Grace and Oscar, in Kent. I look and listen to what I haven’t seen or heard before. It’s a wonderful feeling when the children come up to me and tell me that they love their Uncle Brad. It’s a wonderful feeling when my sister tells me how proud she is of me and my achievements. And it’s also a wonderful feeling when I can put my hand in my pocket and buy gifts for my family with honest money, and just to say thanks for being there and thanks for never giving up on me when I had given up on myself.

I remember standing outside the YMCA in Halifax during my drinking days, the very same place where I was to get well, seeing a couple with a child walking past me. The couple were happy and were smiling and giggling with their child. I thought to myself that I would never be like that. I would never have that happiness. I used to have this horrible dream too where I would be walking down a street somewhere with a woman, experiencing lovely warm feelings, having my head so full of happy things—it was just nice.

Then I would wake up with the feelings still there momentarily, but I would then gather my thoughts and realise it was all a dream—and my cider would be next to my bed. It was horrible; honestly, it was the worst possible experience. At the time, I never thought I would ever get this happiness in real life. I thought I was going to die never having experienced such happiness in reality.

With my brothers... and sober at long last!

With my brothers… and sober at long last!

I have this happiness now and far much more, much more than I could have ever wished for. I have my daughter Heather who I love dearly, I have a great job and wonderful colleagues who like I said before are my extended family. These people have stuck by me through thick and thin, especially my Governor Michelle who has walked alongside me when I was a drinker and in to my recovery—a big, big thanks for her support.

I have my Mum back who still blames herself a little for my behaviour, which is nonsense. She will resolve this in time. I have respect from people I never thought would ever give it to me.

When I say all of this, I feel more powerful than ever in my recovery. If I keep working on me then nothing will ever touch me again unless I want it to or let it. Today, I truly have ‘A life beyond my wildest dreams.’

Seven Years On (July 2020):

1. Finding my way

Can life be better than having ‘A life beyond my wildest dreams’? In my case, the answer is ‘Yes!’ Today, I am even happier than I was seven years ago. It’s been a long journey getting here, and there have been some big ups and downs along the way, but I am in a very good place.

I’ll start with my efforts to finally get a proper education. In 2010, Michelle suggested that I do a three-month initial teacher training course, ‘Preparing to Teach’ in the Lifelong Learning Sector (PTLLS), colloquially known as PETALS. I’m not sure why she suggested this, but I decided I would do it. Although I didn’t like the course, I sailed through it easily. I now realised that I wasn’t as stupid as I had always thought during my drinking days. 

I decided to see what else I could get involved in and enrolled in a one-year diploma course in Criminology. During this course, I was trying to analyse why I had been engaged in criminal activities when I was younger. It was a no brainer really—it wasn’t always about money. Ego plays a big role. When people consider you to be ‘King’, you have to keep up that appearance. 

I completed the course in six months and obtained a distinction mark. I also found my next course, a Diploma in Health and Social Care, very easy. Later, I felt that I needed to challenge myself and decided to enrol for an Open University degree in Criminal Psychology. I have had to take some time out from this venture, for reasons you will soon see.

In my initial Story, I emphasised the important role that my former partner Yvonne played in my life, including giving birth to our beautiful daughter Heather. We split up amicably two months before Heather was born, agreeing that we would both contribute to our daughter’s upbringing. When we discussed breaking up, Yvonne and I agreed that we should have stayed as good friends, rather than get intimate.

My relationship with Yvonne was the first I had experienced in recovery and it was doomed from the start, although we didn’t realise that at the time. All my relationships in my drinking days were dysfunctional. I was now in a so-called ‘normal’ relationship, but had no idea how such things worked. 

I remember coming home from work one day and Yvonne turning on the television. I asked her is that how things are, is this what we do in a normal relationship? She said ‘Yes’, to which I replied, ‘I don’t like this, it’s not normal.’ 

I tried to mimic what normal people, like our neighbours, did in their lives. They went to work during the week and on Sundays they washed the car and had Sunday dinner. I didn’t want such a dinner just on Sundays, I wanted it any day I wished. And I certainly didn’t want to wash the car on Sundays, or any other day. Someone else could do that!

I initially thought that when I put down the drink and did a bit of recovery work, everything would be all right. But it wasn’t. I had to learn how to live a ‘normal’ life, which I had never done. I had spent nigh on twenty years drinking heavily. Whilst I had worked hard in my early recovery, I still I had no idea of living life on life’s terms. I still wanted life on my terms. I also needed to find ‘me’ and that wasn’t going to happen overnight. It could take years. In fact, it took me about five years just to become comfortable in mingling with a group of people. 

During my time with Yvonne, I spent all day every day at The Basement Project. When the project opened its first Recovery House, I worked nights there. I spent so much time at The Basement Project because I thought it was the safest place to be. A lot of time that I wasn’t there, I was at AA. When I was at home with Heather, I struggled to relax and enjoy normal home life. 

Thinking back now, this focus on working for the project probably held my recovery back a bit. It certainly affected my daughter Heather, because there came a time when she stopped approaching me. I then became aware that I had to take a step back and spend less time at work. However, I still couldn’t sit back and just let things happen—live life on life’s terms. 

I was a chef by trade, but when I stopped drinking, I had no idea of what food I liked. I had no idea which women I liked. Or which clothes I liked. I had been dressing for other people, particularly when I was involved in all the crime. So when I stopped drinking, I didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea who I was. It was very hard. 

And that is why so many people pick up again; they are not comfortable with what is going on when they are sober. They have maintained their drinking to feel normal, and now they certainly don’t feel normal. 

I started drinking heavily when I was 15 or 16, so when I stopped I went back to being 15 or 16. Emotionally, I hadn’t grown in all that time. So when I am messing around and acting the prat, I’m still doing what I was doing then. I’m still a young man in my head. 

I have noticed that all my addict friends act the same. We all play silly jokes and mess around, because we are all still young. We haven’t grown up emotionally like Mr and Mrs Average. It’s as if we have been in a state of suspended animation. Many people have said to me, ‘Grow up, Brad.’ And I can see why they say that. I didn’t give myself a chance to grow up.

People have asked me many times, if I could go back in my life, would I change anything. And as hard as it is to say this, I wouldn’t change anything, including the people I’ve hurt, and the prison sentences I have served. I wouldn’t change anything, because I’m sure without those experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And I like the person I am today. Many other addicts would say the same. 

2. Losing my eyesight

I started seeing Amy [an assumed name] in 2012. She lived in Burnley, which is located about 20 miles (32 kms) from where I lived in Halifax. In 2014, I decided to leave The Basement Project, having reached a stage where I wanted a change, and move to Burnley to be with Amy. I worked as a Picker and Packer in a warehouse and continued attending AA and acting as a sponsor to other people in recovery. I also did some voluntary work for the Calico Group, which provides homes and services for disadvantaged people. 

I continued to see Heather on a regular basis, travelling back and forth from Burnley to Halifax on a bus, since my poor eyesight meant I was not allowed to drive. Before she was old enough to attend school, I would pick Heather up on a Thursday afternoon and take her back on Sunday afternoon. The round trip took about three hours. After she started school, I would see Heather from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon each week. That later changed to each fortnight, which I did not like.

I had always known that I could eventually lose my sight, but I had assumed this would be a gradual process. However, on a weekend day in 2015, I was cooking for Heather when everything went black. Amy was out shopping, so I sat Heather down and explained to her that I could not see. When Amy came home, I called the hospital. I was told to come in on Monday. l also called Yvonne, who came to pick up Heather. Later that day, I went upstairs and broke down crying, something I never did normally.

A doctor at the hospital told me that I had had a massive haemorrhage at the back of my good eye. They didn’t say anything about whether I would get back my sight back, but there was some discussion about having an operation in the future, so there was some hope. Mind you, the last time I had an operation, they made a mistake and I lost the sight in my right eye.  

After a few days, I asked Amy to take me back to my own apartment, assuring her I would be all right. I should mention that at this stage I had become reasonably proficient at finding my way around using my hands. Since losing the sight of my other eye, I had struggled in low light conditions and therefore practised using my hands to get around. This ‘training’ now helped me. Obviously, I struggled—and burnt myself a few times cooking—but I gradually managed to do more and more around my flat. I was very determined to do as much as possible on my own.

The Royal National Institute of Blind (RNIB) were a brilliant help. Some people from the RNIB came around and discussed me using a cane, getting a guide dog and having adaptions done to the flat. However, I would not use a cane. I did suspend my Open University degree though.

After about two weeks, I started to see some white patches flashing in my vision. I could see something, but I didn’t know what. I started to go out with that type of vision and somehow or other managed to get around a bit. I worked my way around the streets by ‘interpreting’ the black and white flashes I could ‘see’ and listening to sounds… and using a good deal of guess-work. I got used to getting around like this and became better at it. I know this must sound crazy—it does to me now—but I just got on and did it! 

Things began to improve a little—I could see more ‘shapes’—and I started to travel to Halifax on the bus. I hadn’t seen Heather for a month or so. The bus-stop was about six minutes from my flat and I knew that the only buses that stopped there travelled in the same direction, either to Halifax or to Todmorden. If I got on the latter, I could catch another bus in Todmorden to reach my ultimate destination. 

I knew I had arrived in Halifax because I could ‘see’ a long-thin dark shape, which was Wainhouse Tower, reputed to be the tallest folly in the world. I also knew roughly how long the bus took to travel to Halifax. Of course, things were easier when I was travelling with Heather. Although she was only four years when I lost my sight, she was very good at helping me get about.  

My eyesight gradually improved and after about six or seven months it returned to the level it was before the problem arose. However, I still occasionally have a small haemorrhage and can see drops of blood, but these eventually disappear. 

I’ve been told that I may have another big haemorrhage. Even though I do not know if I will lose my eyesight if this occurs, I know I will get through the situation. When I lost my eyesight this time, I started to test myself. Did I need to have a drink to help me cope with the situation? No, I didn’t. I had no desire to drink at all. I told myself that this was a good result.

As I mentioned earlier, I had moved in with Amy in 2014, sometime before I lost my eyesight. She was in a high-powered job and had started to drink a lot. I didn’t realise how bad the situation was until I moved in with her. She would regularly pick up a bottle of wine in the evening and I started to wonder if she was an alcoholic. I questioned her about her drinking and she told me that all was fine and she could stop whenever she wanted. I was greatly relieved. However, she continued to drink in the same way. I became frightened about the situation and realised that I didn’t know what to do.

When I was working at The Basement Project, people would tell me that they didn’t know what to do about their partner drinking excessively. I would tell them they didn’t need to put up with it. ‘If you don’t like your partner drinking excessively, then get out, or kick them out,’ was what I used to say. But now I was doing what I had told people not to do. Despite Amy’s drinking and my fears, I was still staying with her. And yet I was scared, really scared. 

Mind you, I decided to get my own flat in case I decided to make the break. Our relationship then became ‘on’ and ‘off’, although more ‘on’ than ‘off’. Eventually though, it all got too painful for me and I told Amy I couldn’t do it anymore. After we broke up, soon after I got my sight back, I felt much better. Amy and I have remained as friends.

My Mum, who is 81 years old now, and I talk a lot now, more than we have ever done. She is always saying about my drinking that she, ‘Wishes she had done this… or done that,’ but I keep telling her my drinking was nothing to do with her. She says she had done things wrong, or not done things, and that was why I was drinking so much. I remind her that my siblings didn’t turn out like me. However, she won’t listen. She still blames herself, no matter what I say. Mum also tells me that she was only happy when I was in prison, because at least she knew where I was. She experienced the pain I felt when I was with Amy, but she had it for 20 years!

3. Falling in love

I met Emma in Canterbury a few months after my eyesight returned. One time when Heather and I were visiting my sister and family in Kent, I received an invite to attend a garden party organised by a very good friend of Emma’s, a pastor living in Canterbury. Emma and I chatted during the party and agreed to talk on the phone when I headed back up north. 

Emma teaches Education and Language Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her classes consist of multilingual adults, most of whom are asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq. She also worked at Canterbury College, teaching English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL). She works privately these days, from home and on Skype. 

Emma’s background is very different to my own. She went to private school and speaks the Queen’s English, as they say. The latter is rather different to my ‘speak’, which includes a lot of swearing. Mind you, I tell people that the swearing reflects my passion!

We spent hours talking on the phone over the following three weeks and during that time we fell in love. I was lucky that I knew someone at The Basement Project who had an unoccupied house down in Canterbury, just ten minutes from where Emma lived. I travelled down to Canterbury and stayed at this house. Emma and I got on so well during this visit and things moved on from there. Mind you, it was not all smooth sailing. 

I had never previously felt such strong emotions towards someone, and I didn’t know how to deal with these emotions. Rather than just accept the feelings I was experiencing, I felt frightened by their power and totally out of control. I thought, ‘If this is what love is, I have never previously loved, despite what I have told people.’ It was all too much.

Don’t get me wrong though. I was really happy and I felt truly loved. But I kept asking myself, ‘Why does she love me as much as this?’ And ‘What happens if I lose this?’ This was probably the biggest issue. I convinced myself that I’d rather lose this love now, rather than later when my feelings were even stronger. Instead of putting one step in front of another in dealing with the situation, as Alan would have told me, I was so frightened that I knew I had to ‘run’.

I tried to explain to Emma what was going on in my mind, but she must have thought I was off my head. I was questioning myself about everything that was going on. I couldn’t understand why Emma wanted me. I was trying to find a flaw somewhere, so I could just say, ‘This isn’t for me.’ I was a very confused person. 

And even today, I’m puzzled a bit by what was going on in my head. But I think it comes down to the fact that I never had the emotional development that other people had as child and a teenager, because I was sniffing glue and other substances and then drinking excessively. 

Over the previous years of my recovery, I had been learning slowly to deal with new emotions. The more I dealt with them, the more used to them I became. However, I had never experienced anything like these feelings of love. They hit me like a ton of bricks and I had no idea how to deal with them.

Rather than work through the emotions, I told myself I couldn’t do it. I didn’t use my anaesthetic (alcohol), since I didn’t want to drink. I decided to just run from the situation. I went home, switched off and blocked everything out. I didn’t contact Emma. It was all just too hard.

A few weeks later, presumably during a calmer period, I replied to one of Emma’s emails. We then met and I tried to explain to her what had been going on in my head. This conversation must have been so confusing for Emma, because she would never have experienced anything like this before. It is amazing that she managed to work through that situation and stand by me. If she hadn’t stood by me then, we would not be together today and I would have gone backwards. 

All this confusion was caused by the fact that I didn’t do what I was meant to do. I didn’t listen to Alan’s wise words years earlier. I should have just gone with it. ‘If it’s right it’s right, if it’s wrong it’s wrong. Just go with it, don’t run away.’

I now decided to work with the situation and things gradually became easier and easier. I moved in properly with Emma after about a year. I had rented a two-bedroom house in Sowerby Bridge, located a few miles from Halifax, so I would have a home to spend time with Heather. Every two weeks, I’d travel by train between Canterbury and Sowerby Bridge, generally arriving on a Thursday and leaving on Sunday. Sometimes, I would spend a week with her up there, taking her to and from school every day.

Emma and I decided we would get married, but hadn’t planned a date for the big event. However, her father was diagnosed with lung cancer so we set a wedding date, the 12 May 2018. Sadly, her father passed away a few weeks before the wedding, not before we had a long discussion about Emma and our future together. I assured John that I loved his daughter dearly and would look after her properly. 

The big day arrived with me being very frightened. Many of my friends didn’t think I would turn up; in fact, even Emma was worried. But I did turn up and things went well. It was a very special event. Once we were married, all my concerns about why Emma was with me disappeared. I was finally at ease. And so lucky to be married to someone who, quite honestly, doesn’t have a bad bone in her body.

4. Life today

I now live happily with Emma and her 18-year old daughter Romy. Emma’s 16-year old son Leo lives with his father. I still see Heather regularly and sometimes Emma comes up with me. The two of them get on so well, as do Heather and Emma’s children. 

Heather, who will be ten in November, is so different to what I was like as a child. She is top in all her subjects at school. She is never (!) naughty and does not have tantrums. I once asked her if she could do me a favour… and be naughty. She told me she didn’t know how. 

She doesn’t like me buying her things, saying she doesn’t need anything. If I insist, she tells me not to buy toys, but books instead. She loves reading. Mind you, she is similar to me in one way. She loves playing pranks, like putting salt or vinegar into my drink or jumping out at me. And she loves my magic tricks. We’re really good friends, as well as father and daughter.

I’m currently struggling a bit with the thought of going back to full-time recovery work. I’m not sure how well ‘today’s Brad’ would get on with such a job now. Yes, we had some great results at The Basement Project, but at the time that was all I really I did. I loved the job, it was all my life, but it was really heavy on me. I obviously couldn’t do the job with the same intensity now. I still have a lot of people contacting me and I am happy talking about recovery and related matters. I also give talks about recovery and my life. That’s about as far as it goes at present. 

I’d be quite happy with just an ordinary full-time job, like working in a shop, but that’s difficult at present because of my regular visits to see Heather and my Mum. Family is my priority. 

Today, I do a lot of cycling and walking. I do security work from time to time. Doing door work in Canterbury is different to most places, as people coming to the event are all students. All you have to do is to tell them to leave in a Yorkshire accent… and they run! I’ve also done protection work with my older brother who has been a bodyguard for years. I’m okay for money, but if I need some I can always get some work with my brother.

Funny enough, I still get calls from time to time from friends from my ‘mob’ days saying that they’ve got a job on and, ‘Am I up for it?’ I have to remind them that they know the score, I’m not up for it. ‘Just thought we’d ask’, they say. I guess that they ask out of some kind of loyalty thing. These guys are not the violent type and they would never want to hurt anyone. They just do what they do. 

I see these old friends in London from time to time and they think that I’ve caught the ‘God-thing’! I’ve also met two of the country’s best-known ex-villains, one through Emma’s Pastor friend, and we’ve done some recovery work together, such as giving talks in prison. They are both going straight now and do a lot of charity work. People do change, you know, even from a life of committing serious crime. That’s another form of recovery, but one which shares many characteristics as addiction recovery.

Emma and I have plans to eventually live in Spain. I will still come back regularly and see Heather. 

Before that move, we are going to sell up here and buy a house in Sowerby Bridge. I want to be there for Heather and for my Mum. We’ll live there until Mum passes. As I have said earlier, she still tells me that she blames herself for my wild days. I repeatedly tell her that she played no part at all and I will continue to tell her, through to her last days if necessary. I’ve been asked to do some recovery work when I go back up north. As I said earlier, I’ve been struggling with the thought of full-time recovery work, but I guess I’ll do it and just maintain the right intensity level.

Happiness with Heather and Emma.

Today, my life is about Emma, Heather and my Mum. I will never drink again because I never want to cause them pain. I have no desire to drink. However, I know people who started to drink again after being abstinent for over 20 years, Therefore, I have to keep working on my recovery. And I must keep reminding myself, ‘Knowing that I don’t know everything keeps me well today.’

I remember standing outside the YMCA in Halifax during my drinking days, the very same place where I was to get well, seeing a couple with a child walking past me. The couple were happy and were smiling and giggling with their child. I thought to myself that I would never be like that. I would never have that happiness. Today, I have that happiness.

5. My lost friends

I’d like to finish by mentioning some of the friends I have lost over the years. Phil was a very good friend of mine for 23 years. He and I met one Christmas and found that we drank well together. He was once a policeman who had it all. 

However, his alcoholism resulted him losing his job, his wife and children, and his home. He was quite a big bloke with a rough sort of look, although he was very friendly to everyone he knew. He didn’t seem to drink as much as me, but one day his liver failed… and that was it. I had been clean for about eight years by this time, and had once helped him to get sober. However, he had started drinking again about ten weeks later.

With Phil’s passing in 2014, things went a little sideways in my head. I snapped at everyone and blanked the people who cared about me. 

I remember one day years before when Phil and I were both rattling outside a shop. We bought a bottle of booze and started to talk about coming off the drink. At some point in the conversation, we agreed that if we didn’t stop then we would die. I can remember that conversation very clearly. We absolutely knew that the drink would kill us if we continued, but we didn’t know how to stop our drinking. 

I had been friends with Saeed, or Sid as he was known, since we were about five years old. We got clean around the same time in 2008.  He had been a drug user, but remained clean for five years or so. However, for whatever reason, he then started to smoke a bit of cannabis. I told him that this wasn’t a good idea, but to him it was just blow. 

A year or so later the inevitable happened. Sid picked up heroin again. That was it! Soon, he was bang at it, harder than before. The rows with his wife, the phone calls and pleas for money. In what seemed like an overnight change, he went from a well-respected, well-dressed, loving husband and father, to a violent, unkempt nobody who was walking the streets in the snow with nothing on his feet. 

Shortly after Christmas 2016, Sid’s wife went away and locked him out of the family home. After scoring some heroin, Sid went home and climbed a pipe to get in through a window. He fell, landed on his head and died at the scene. Sid’s death made me feel very ill inside. I felt hollow and again pushed people away for a while. I shut down to Emma for a short period. 

Martyn was once a millionaire, but he lost all his money to drink. He joined one of our recovery programmes at The Basement Project and we eventually employed him. He was a great facilitator and keyworker, and was very well liked. 

Martyn seemed to be mentally and spiritually well, but something was not right and we all knew it. He stopped attending AA meetings and started to take time off work. We looked into the situation and found that he had been drinking. I can only put this relapse down to him trying to work his recovery on his own, as he had the same input as myself. We had to let him go employment-wise, but he was of course welcome to access the project. 

Sadly, the illness eventually took his life in 2019. I cried for days and days after Martyn’s passing. 

I first met Darryl in my first year of sobriety. He came to the Breakfast Club once a week, walking the eight miles from Bradford to attend. He was a heavy user of cannabis and it had totally ruined his life. Not only was he addicted to the drug, but he also battled with the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Smoking cannabis greatly increased his paranoia. He was married and had two daughters, Jayde and Georgia. 

One day, I discovered that Darryl was sleeping on the streets in Bradford. He also told me that he was constantly hungry. I asked him if he was interested in volunteering, which he was happy to do. He joined the recovery programme and within four weeks was substance-free for the first time in years. A miracle! 

He continued to go from strength to strength and we became close friends. As part of promoting our project, I would give talks in the community, to local doctors, schools and prisons, for example. I’d take Darryl along and he would share his experiences. Nearly everyone who attended these talks shed a tear or two, particularly when he described how he now had his daughters back in his life.

Darryl had ten years of sobriety when he was diagnosed with cancer. It was in his skull, throat and nasal passage. He fought like hell, but the big-C took him within six months. It was in May this year. 

I’m still suffering from his passing today. I’ve met many people over the years, but he is by far the strongest and bravest. I really miss him and will always do so.

In my opinion, my friends’ deaths were all down to an illness, a grave emotional disorder that they struggled with and could not overcome. Today, they are at peace. No more fighting, no more pain, no more lying, no more struggling and, most of all, no more fear. 

I have lost many more friends to this problem and that tells me that I, and people in recovery like me, are very, very lucky. I am very grateful. I miss my lost friends dearly.

< Brad’s Recovery Story (pdf document)

A Message from David:

It is with great sadness that I have to announce that Brad passed away on 10 February 2023 at the Calderdale Royal Hospital. I am still coming to terms with his loss. Here is a blog I wrote about Brad. More content about Brad will be provided on this website at some time in the future.

< My Friend Bradley Miah-Phillips: In Memorium