My decade on a very dry wagon

Former Evening Star columnist, Suffolk-loving ROBERT BEAUMONT, has just completed ten years without an alcoholic drink. Here is his story

Former Evening Star columnist, Suffolk-loving ROBERT BEAUMONT, has just completed ten years without an alcoholic drink. Here is his story

IT was Christy Moore, the legendary Irish folk singer and retired hell-raiser, who best summed up his attitude - and mine - to alcohol.

“Alcohol,” he wrote, “was my best friend. Then, without warning, it became my worst enemy.”

Those wise words will resonate with everyone, from every walk of walk and from every corner of the globe, who has struggled to control their drinking.


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Alcohol was my best friend for 25 years. It was my worst enemy for five. The problem was that I didn't realise when that relationship changed. It is only in retrospect, looking back at my fractured life through the prism of sobriety, that I can understand when an apparently harmless hobby became a dangerous dependency.

Even today, ten years to the month when I had my last drink, I ask myself why. Why did I allow alcohol to threaten my health, my career and, most importantly, my relationships with those nearest and dearest to me? Was it pure self-indulgence? Was it escapism? Was it genetic? Or had I surrendered to a higher power, as members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe? I suspect it was a very toxic combination of all four.

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Let's start at the beginning. My parents, with whom I had a generally healthy and loving relationship, were steady drinkers. There was always a bottle of wine or two on the table at supper and I was encouraged to have a glass from an early age, as happens in France and Italy. The glass (or two, as I entered my teens) made me feel warm and comfortable. I was confident and at ease.

At this stage it is worth saying that I completely disagree with the Government's typically ill-conceived, intrusive and draconian idea to prevent parents from giving their children alcohol at home. Plenty of my friends drank at home from a young age and now give their children alcohol at meals, without any of them becoming either drink-dependent or crazed hooligans.

Rant over! My love affair with alcohol blossomed at boarding school in Wiltshire, where, after a tough week studying for A-levels, my friends and I would buy cider or gin (sometimes both) and get absolutely legless. We loved those bonding sessions, which developed into deep and lasting friendships, and we loved rebelling against the petty rules and discipline, so typical of independent schools in the 1970s. Alcohol was already an important part of my life. Subliminally, it was ticking all the right boxes.

Oxford University followed, in a blizzard of drink and drugs (soft drugs, I hasten to add, and most people, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, took them in those days). I also lost my driving licence for a year after a drink-driving conviction. I worked hard, though, enough to get a good second in modern history and to land a cherished job in my chosen career of journalism at the Yorkshire Evening Press newspaper in York.

I don't think I could have chosen a worse profession for someone with a burgeoning drink problem, apart from being a publican. Journalists drink for England. Unfortunately, as the years passed, I began to drink for England, Scotland, Wales and just about everywhere else in the world.

But here's the thing. I did not fit into the common perception of an alcoholic, someone drinking vodka for breakfast, being aggressive and sleeping rough. Far from it. I married my long-standing, and long-suffering, girlfriend, bought an attractive terraced house in a pleasant York suburb and won a number of journalistic awards. I rose steadily up the greasy pole in York and was eventually named the assistant editor in 1990. By then we had had one child and another was on the way.

It was then that things began to go badly wrong, although I didn't realise it at the time. Whilst I was able to write efficiently and effectively after a vicious bender (some of my best work came during “the morning after” or after a couple of stiff gins), I was absolutely hopeless at managing a team of ten talented but opinionated colleagues, many of whom were my friends.

It was then that the really heavy drinking began. What had once been a habit - and a destructive one at that - became an obsession. I began to drink alone, often at lunchtime, and consume vast quantities of gin and wine in the evening. Needless to say, I lost my job as assistant editor, and with it a very handy company car, and was dispatched back into the ranks.

With hindsight, I should then have looked for another journalistic challenge on a different paper, but I was sinking into an alcoholic morass. My self-esteem and confidence were low and I felt safe at the Evening Press, where I was amongst drinking buddies and could turn out news stories and feature articles when required. I wasn't as sharp, as hungry or as focussed as I used to be, but I could get by.

But I couldn't get by at home. A series of disasters, culminating in a second conviction for drink-driving and an ultimatum from my generous bank manager (yes, they did exist once) to cut my massive overdraft, got me thinking. A tearful plea from my beloved ten-year-old son David, who could see - even at his tender age - the unhappiness my drinking was causing, got me acting.

One day, after a massive lunchtime session, washed down with a bottle of cheap vodka, I said enough was enough. That was ten years ago and I haven't had a drink since.

I would be lying if I said those ten years had been easy. But, crucially, they haven't been as difficult as I thought they would be when I was drinking. Within two months of giving up alcohol, I left the Evening Press and set up my own freelance journalism and PR agency. I love being my own boss and thrive on the energy and enthusiasm which have returned to me in my sobriety.

If this article has struck a chord with any Star readers, then I am delighted. If it helps provide answers to a problem you - and someone close to you - is suffering from - then all this soul-bearing has been worthwhile. Of course, there is no easy answer to combating alcoholism, but I would say that warm, understanding and supportive family and friends are incredibly helpful.

So, too, is this prayer, which my mother taught me when I was a child.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This serenity prayer is mightily effective, I promise you. And it's a lot less trouble than a bottle of gin.

n Alcoholics Anonymous - National helpline 0845 769 7555. Visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk or www.ipswichanon.com

n Suffolk Drug & Alcohol Action Team, telephone 01473 265167 or go to www.suffolkdaat.org.uk

n Suffolk Twelve Step Workshop - specialising in the treatment of alcohol-related problems. Saint James Roman Catholic Church Hall, 482 Landseer Road, Ipswich, IP3 9LU. Visit the website at www.suffolk12step.co.uk

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