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

Following a life of crime, fighting and drinking, Brad started his recovery journey after  a spiritual awakening and being told that alcohol wasn’t his problem—it was him. (8,281 words)

‘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.’

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.

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. Everything I wanted, he would buy me.

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 other stuff too. It was really strange when I look back. I did this for a long time.

My younger brother Jonathan was born in 1980, so he was only two years old when Dad died. My sister and I brought him up until my Mum stopped hammering the sherry. When she was drinking heavily, I remember her shouting at us to do whatever it was she wanted doing. 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 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 something like 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.

I was in to glue for about 18 months and then it was gas, tippex thinners, hairspray and Merrydown cider, strong stuff at 7.5% abv.  I was fifteen when I had my first real drink and that was it! I was on board and I loved the chaos that came with it too. When fifteen, I stole a £40 cheque out of my brother’s chequebook and cashed it at our local shop. The shop owner trusted me when I told him that my brother needed some cash. After that, I was boozing at Pleasure Beach in Blackpool with a mate who is now a copper. My life of crime started there and this would accompany my alcoholism.

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. I was 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. I have no resentment and it was not his fault. If you back someone in to a corner, then there is going to be trouble. I found that out on that 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 British soldier and ex-SAS, 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 didn’t realise that she was addicted to Pethadine, 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, and 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 in to 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 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 I was 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.

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. It was 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. A friend told me that the so-called Breakfast Club, a recovery-based initiative in Halifax, needed volunteers. Although I was somewhat reclusive at this time, I went down to see them and asked if I could help.

Despite the fact that I stank of booze, they asked if I could help with the cooking. This was definitely great for me, although I wasn’t ready to stop drinking yet. I later met Michelle, who was to become the project manager of The Basement Project, which ran The Breakfast Club. As things were going, if I hadn’t have met Michelle, then I would likely be dead today.

When Michelle came on board at The Basement, she had big ideas and I became somewhat involved with her ambitions. Her plans to develop a recovery community in Calderdale sounded very exciting to 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 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, 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 and asked someone in long-term recovery why I felt this way after all this time – surely I should have stopped craving? He 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.

4. Beginning to understand
Shortly 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, 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—I had been there nearly three years by this time—and talked about what had happened. I was told to make my own mind up about what this meant.

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 started to attend 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 first attended AA about eight years earlier 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.’

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 is 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.

What I know is this: AA was founded in 1939 and in the forward to the 1st Edition of Big Book it says, ‘We of alcoholics anonymous are more than 100 men and women’. In the forward 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 18th 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. 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.’

> You can read Brad’s updated story in Our Recovery Stories: Journeys From Drug and Alcohol Addiction, due out as an eBook in late March, 2021.