I’m not really one for sharing personal stories but hey, here I am, declaring my achievements to my friends and random strangers on the internet!!

I recently achieved over 800 days sober; my last alcoholic drink was consumed on 5 November 2016. I could never have imagined getting this point when I started this journey; after all, it had been many years since I managed any kind of break between drinking sessions.

I’d always been a big drinker, and you can probably substitute the word ‘big’ for ‘problem’ in that sentence. There were many times that I drank to black-out stage, couldn’t remember getting home, or spent nights secretly drinking spirits at home while my family were asleep.

I was always the first to encourage social drinking and mostly enjoyed it however, it slowly got to the point where I wasn’t doing it for fun; I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.  

I’d known for some time that my drinking wasn’t ‘normal’ but continued to tell myself I wasn’t an alcoholic. Alcohol was starting to have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of my life and something needed to change before it got any worse.

I’ve heard many people’s stories describing ‘rock bottom’ and I was lucky that it never got that far. The biggest issue for me was that, because I work at home, I started drinking earlier and earlier in the day and often in secret.

The last time I drank alcohol I was working at my computer at home. I’m a photographer so often spend time editing into the small hours while my wife and children slept. The evening started with me pouring a rum and coke .. then another … and another….

At about 3am, I’d finished the whole bottle. My wife woke to hear me stumbling around, barely able to talk and guided me to bed.

The next day, I woke up with a pounding head, dry mouth, and absolutely no recollection of why my wife was so pissed off at me, or how I’d got to bed. She confronted me and I made excuses, but knew the game was up.  

I broke down and admitted everything. The secret drinking had been going on for longer than I cared to remember. My wife had caught me out before but I’d sworn it wasn’t a problem, citing ‘it was a tough time of year’. Really, it was just another excuse.

I knew I had a problem. I was an alcoholic who needed to act before I lost everything. 

I decided to call my doctor and ask for help. It was the first time I’d ever said ‘I have a drinking problem’ and I felt so ashamed. But the doctor was brilliant and arranged an appointment 3 weeks later with a substance abuse clinic in Manchester. It was my first positive step forward. 

The first three weeks before the appointment were the hardest. I know it’s a cliché, but it really was a matter of taking one day at a time. My wife was amazing; she was always there for me to talk to when I REALLY wanted a drink and was more supportive than I ever could’ve hoped for.

When the appointment finally arrived, I strode in full of positivity. I proudly announced that I had been sober for three whole weeks and was kind of expecting a ‘well done’ or ‘wow! Three whole weeks! Go you!’, but there was nothing. The only advice I was given was that abstinence was the only option for me.

The support worker had been sober for eighteen years and made me feel that my three weeks weren’t so impressive. I felt panic rise up inside me when I realised sobriety was forever; I’d thought he’d just be advise me to take a break from drinking and I’d be ‘cured’.

I never saw another counsellor again and never joined any support groups. I simply wasn’t ready to talk to any more strangers about my personal life.

Sobriety hasn’t been easy at times but in some ways, it hasn’t been as hard as I expected either. I’ve survived three Christmases, weddings, parties and even a weekend in Amsterdam! No-one has ever judged me, and all my friends and family have been so supportive and for that, I’d like to thank them.

I will never judge anyone else for drinking and this is not meant to be a preachy story, but for one of the first times in my life, I am actually genuinely proud of something I’ve accomplished and will strive every day to continue.

I’m in the best shape of my life, I sleep better (despite my children’s best efforts), my mental health has dramatically improved and I’ve got more money. There really is no downside for me. 

So that’s me, that’s my story. I genuinely believe that if I can do it, so then so can you.

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Written by Neil, edited by Sober Fish

Instagram – @neilshearer_photography

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