It’s not just your liver that alcohol destroys

Gp recovery picture - sept 2018 (4) crop

Gary Peebles talks about living with alcohol-related brain damage and his hope for the future thanks to support from Penumbra

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4th October 2018 by TFN Guest 1 Comment

By the time I was sixteen I had acquired a distinct taste for alcohol – mainly lager, but it didn’t take too long for vodka to be added to the mix as well. My old man liked a drink too, as well as a fight, so it’s no wonder that after we both had a few drinks one night, all hell broke loose. I remember he was having a serious argument with my mum, I jumped in to defend her and within seconds he broke my nose. This is the kind of chaos that has followed me my whole life.

My dad was a real grafter and laboured on building sites all his life. He was a hardened drinker and heavy smoker and although he never looked for it, trouble always seemed to find him. Some might say this is a mirror image of myself. Is it in the DNA? I don’t know, but I’ve got three sons who’ve turned out to be fine young men. They’ve got the hard work ethic my dad and I both had, but thank god they’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.

By the time I was eighteen I can say with certainty that I was a full blown alcoholic – I needed booze each and every day to function. I was still able to hold down employment here and there but would often get laid off due to being drunk.

Presently, I’m on a waiting list to receive another in-patient detox and hand on heart, I’m determined to make it work this time. I desperately want to quit the booze and be abstinent. I really think it will be different this time now that I have support from various agencies such as Penumbra – the help they provide is amazing.

In my early twenties there were larger periods of unemployment but amidst all the chaos, miraculously I ended up getting married and starting a family. I always made sure I took my wife out on a Saturday night, bought her nice things and treated her well. But for the rest of the week I was out and about getting drunk with my pals in pubs and clubs. Stupidly, we often got kicked out for fighting so we’d continue drinking in house parties or just in the street.

I can’t really remember much of my thirties – this was when my addiction really took hold of me. Amazingly, I was still able to fulfil my duties as a husband and father to some degree, although it clearly impacted upon my family and my marriage sadly ended in divorce when I was in my forties.

I’m approaching sixty now and it’s fair to say my working days are behind me. I’ve not worked for around ten years since I was laid off from being a fork-lift truck driver. My dad eventually died from alcohol abuse and although I’m generally an optimist in nature, I think my own demise will likely be from the same cause.

I’ve tried to give it up and have even had a few spells in detox wards over the years, but for some reason I just end up drinking again. Since I was sixteen, the longest I’ve been able to stay off the booze was for a seven week period in my mid twenties. This was the run up to Christmas and I didn’t have much money, somehow I managed to keep the little I did have and prioritise it for the kid’s presents.

Decades of hard drinking and smoking seem to have taken their toll on me, and I now have a diagnosis of alcohol related brain damage (ARBD). I have some scarring on my liver which is never a good sign but I also have a new problem to add to the list. When my dentist noticed a white spot at the back of my throat, she referred me to a specialist and I’m currently undergoing tests to see if it’s cancerous.

Presently, I’m on a waiting list to receive another in-patient detox and hand on heart, I’m determined to make it work this time. I desperately want to quit the booze and be abstinent. I really think it will be different this time now that I have support from various agencies such as Penumbra – the help they provide is amazing.

I don’t expect or want people to feel sorry for me because I know I’ve brought all this on myself, but I’m beginning to realise how alcohol has not only affected my liver, but I’d say obliterated so many other areas of my life too.

Obviously, my physical health has taken the brunt of the alcohol abuse. I have cognitive and memory deficits, liver damage, peripheral neuropathy and my mobility is reduced. I also have alcohol related seizures occasionally – sometimes several a week and I’ve been known to collapse in a heap and hurt myself, the scars on my face prove it.

As well as losing my marriage and putting my wife and kids through hell, I’ve also wasted so much of my income on that poison. To this day, I still prioritise my finances around purchasing alcohol, everything else is secondary.

Sometimes I wake up and I haven’t got a clue if its day or night, let alone what time it is. I’ve been known to go to the off-licence at 3am thinking its 3pm in the afternoon. I end up walking around the streets in a state of confusion before I eventually wander back home

I sometimes feel that my mental health is in freefall too. Anxiety and depression is a common feature of my life now and in the past, I’m afraid to say I’ve even had some bad thoughts, but fortunately never acted upon them.

With all the labouring work that I used to do, I was always relatively healthy and had a really muscular physique. My weight is now plummeting and visits to the dietician are frequent, my appetite is non-existent and I need to take nutritional supplements daily.

My sleeping pattern is all over the place too. Sometimes I wake up and I haven’t got a clue if its day or night, let alone what time it is. I’ve been known to go to the off-licence at 3am thinking its 3pm in the afternoon. I end up walking around the streets in a state of confusion before I eventually wander back home.

My hope for the future is to be free from alcohol addiction and be a part of my children’s and grandchildren’s lives. I know it will be tough, but after I successfully complete my detox I can’t wait for that feeling upon discharge when you feel on top of the world as if you could float. At the same time, it’s at that precise moment that you’re at your most vulnerable and you think “I’m cured”. With the support that I now have in place however, I know this time will be different. It has to be!

Someone once told me that being in recovery from alcohol addiction is like being in a boxing ring for the rest of your life. Your opponent is the booze and you always need to duck and swerve to avoid being floored. The rounds are never-ending and every now and again you pray for the referee, god or anyone to intervene and throw the towel in for you.

Having said all that, now that I have some support in place to help me in my corner, I now think I’ve got a fighting chance of winning a few rounds.

Gary Peebles was speaking to TFN regular blogger Dan Mushens, who is a recovery practitioner for Scottish mental health charity Penumbra

5th October 2018 by Dave Young

I hope Gary's continuing detox has increasing success and that his tests prove negative. At least, as he says himself, he has the massive consolation that his sons have proved themselves sober and industrious citizens.