“I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for Aspire.”
Phil Barker, aged 56, is the Managing Director of a successful building materials firm.
Last year, after 15 years in business, he decided to think bigger with his company, to capture larger property developers. This involved moving premises, taking on a significant investment while at the same time dealing with internal staffing issues, and the amalgamation of his business, which had three individual parts and twelve members of staff.
Stress and anxiety started to get to Phil; although he hadn’t been a very big drinker, he started drinking every night after leaving work and thought this was helping him relax. But the following day, those negative feelings came back, and the negative cycle continued. What started with a few beers increased to beers and a small bottle of vodka.
Hiding the habit
Attempting to hide this habit, Phil would take his drinks and his dogs for a walk along the fields at the back of his house, where he lived with his wife.
“I started buying a large bottle of vodka because it was easier to hide than a pack of beer cans. I’d hide it around the house and in the fields so I could always access it. I thought no one knew, but my friends and family saw me getting hammered, they all knew what I was up to.”
Developing a problem in later life
“I never imagined I’d be in this situation, so how was it possible that I developed a severe problem in my fifties?”
During his early twenties, Phil would go to football matches with friends. Looking back, he knows he drank too much but grew out of it when he married and started a family. “Throughout my life, I always enjoyed drinking socially. But I could go for weeks without. It wasn’t until last year when the stress started to get to me. At my worst point, I was suicidal and would size up the trees to see if they would support my weight. These dark thoughts were always with me; I believed everyone would be better off without me.”
Phil has been married for 30 years, with three children and three grandkids. “The only argument we’ve ever had in our relationship has been about alcohol. Getting to the end of her tether, my wife gave me an ultimatum. I looked at myself and agreed to find help.”
Early intervention is about reduction not abstinence
“Don’t get me wrong, I still have a drink. It was never about stopping, I just needed to get my drinking under control. I grew up in pubs and clubs and have always been around alcohol. It was always acceptable for young teens to have a drink. It was easy to access, but I don’t blame this for my situation at all. It had been building up over the last two years. During the lockdown, we shut down the business for three months. I had no income and had to lay off my team, and the accumulation of everything else that was going on sent me down a miserable path.
Phil has never suffered from hangovers. He did, however, feel the anxiety that is so common with excess alcohol. “It’s not until you slowdown that you realise how much these feelings have become a part of everyday life, it’s horrible.
“I thought I was hiding the problem when my wife and I would eat at the pub. I’d drive there, have one pint and see it as an opportunity to walk the dogs afterwards to find my stash. I wouldn’t say I liked the taste, I knew it would get me hammered. I drank to block out my worries and always thought it would help me sleep, but it had the opposite effect, tossing and turning all night.”
“One day, my wife walked in to find me blathered, I could barely talk. She looked at me disgusted and said she’d had enough; she was leaving. That moment hit me, I had to look for help.
“I’d heard about Aspire from someone who used to work for me. He’d had a drug problem and Aspire helped him recover.
“I felt like I needed someone to lean on. I’d frightened myself by contemplating suicide. My wife didn’t know about this, but she’d lost all sympathy, and I needed someone to talk to.
It can happen to anyone
“When I first went to Aspire, I was surprised that the others in my group were mainly professional people; teachers, solicitors, nurses and an 80-year-old grandmother who’d started drinking a bottle of wine every night in later life. It was a real eye-opener and the start of a seven-month programme which has helped me get my life back on track, better than I was before.
Breaking the routine
“I always keep the workbook close by that I completed with Alana, who is my Support Worker at Aspire. We set goals and applied changes to my daily routine. I started to take a different journey home, so I couldn’t pick up any alcohol from my pit stops. 4pm had been a trigger, the temptation would creep in, and I couldn’t resist the corner shops. Acknowledging this had a significant impact.
“I have two dogs; one of them has diabetes; he’s my best friend and relies on me for his medication. After work, I’d take him for a walk down the fields, this was another part of my drinking routine, and I had to break the cycle by going to different places. Drive somewhere in the car so I couldn’t drink or walk around the estate, as I would never want anyone to see me with a can in my hand. Alana really helped me to change the routines.
Staying in control
“I went on an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise, all drinks were free, and I managed to stay in control. I had a glass of wine with my dinner but didn’t sneak off to drink vodka. Me and my wife are also in a better place, our relationship is so much happier.”
Look at me now!
“Before Aspire, I couldn’t be bothered with anything, but now I’m taking care of myself again; I have pride in my appearance and renewed energy. I feel like a marathon man. I’ve worked around the house, built a summer house in the garden, and bought a caravan at the coast. We’re doing stuff again, I have so much energy, and I’m also getting a good night’s sleep. It’s like I’ve won a million pounds! I had no idea sleep would improve my life so much.
“I feel like I missed so much time with my grandkids. They’re eight, six and seven months, and now I love spending time with them. They’ve got their Grandad back.
Business is booming
“I feel very different at work, more patient and relaxed, able to control my emotions and behaviour to handle the everyday. I also do a full day’s work, whereas before, I would only bring half of me to the business and by half past two, I’d had enough.
“At Christmas, I went through my database and got in touch with people I’ve known for years but hadn’t bothered with. This renewed energy and ambition has resulted in a few more decent contracts which were just lying there waiting for me to get my head back in the right place.
“Before, if someone gave me a contact, I’d leave it until tomorrow as Stella or Vodka would be calling me. Now winning work is like a drug; it’s replaced all of my bad habits and turned into new business contracts.”
“Whenever I feel under pressure, I go back to the workbook and look at my goals to see how different my life is now. It’s a tool kit that helps me recognise triggers that would have made me have a drink.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing drug and/ or alcohol issues and want to talk to someone in confidence, please visit Aspire’s website or ring 03000 213900.