‘I stole to fund my drinking’
Leanne Stillings thought that booze made her a better person, but it drove her to steal from her own family…
Ever since I was a child, I felt there was a hole inside me – that there was something missing. While my classmates were playing happily, I couldn’t help feeling that I wasn’t good enough.
By the time I was a teenager, I was skipping meals, and, while my friends were experimenting with alcohol, I was at the gym. I was obsessed with the perfect bodies of female celebrities and would have done anything to look just like them.
At 18, I’d go clubbing with friends, and sweet, sugary alcopops gave me the confidence to dance and flirt.
But it was only when I got into a relationship with a man who managed a pub that I realised the true appeal of alcohol. Aged 23, I started working there, too, and found myself experimenting with wine, vodka, martinis…
I discovered I liked the drunk me. She was funny, bubbly and confident, seemingly immune to the insecurities the sober me suffered from. Everyone else seemed to like her more, too, so I kept drinking.
It was hard to keep any perspective. Everyone around me was enjoying a glass. It was easy to ignore the fact that, as different groups came and went, I was the only one always there. Drinking.
It was only when we broke
‘If there’s one thing I’ve learnt’ ‘Life is hard and doesn’t always go as you imagine. But, by accepting yourself for who you are, you can find happiness.’
up two years later and I moved back in with my parents that I realised just how much I was drinking. While I could barely tempt Mum to have a glass of wine on a Friday, I craved alcohol every night.
I’d go out with friends, but they were settling down with their husbands and children. So, as well as working as an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) assessor, I got an evening job in a bar. This gave me the perfect excuse to drink, and I’d sneak shots during my shifts.
On the nights I wasn’t working, I’d drink in my room, or go to the pub alone. I’d plunged myself so far into self-denial that I couldn’t recognise I had a problem.
But, looking back, I realise everyone around me knew something was wrong. If my parents weren’t looking at me with worried eyes, we were arguing about how much I drank. And, although I flitted between relationships, none of them lasted. As soon as they realised I was an alcoholic, the men would back away.
Because that’s what I was. An alcoholic. And, when I was 28, something happened that made it impossible to deny…
I was at a friend’s house, and we had an argument. Although we’d been drinking all night, I picked up the car keys and drove home. On the way, I got stopped and breathalysed by the police. Although I felt fine, I was three times over the limit and was put in a cell overnight.
The next day, I went to court, where I lost my driving licence and was ordered to attend an alcohol treatment centre for six months.
I was filled with fear and self-hatred.
‘ You’re ruining everything,’ I told myself. ‘ You could have hurt someone. Or killed them.’
But I still went straight to the pub for a drink after I was released from court.
I didn’t think I could fall any lower but, for the next two years, it was a downward spiral. I only went to the treatment centre once a week, so it didn’t do me any good.
After my boss found out why I’d lost my licence, I lost my job – and I went into self-destruct mode. I started drinking at lunchtime, then in the morning. Then I was waking up in the middle of the night to down whatever alcohol was closest to hand.
Because I wasn’t working, I had no money to buy booze – and my parents certainly weren’t going to pay for it.
One day, I saw a broken gold chain of my dad’s lying on the mantelpiece. Mum had been meaning to get it fixed for months. Without even thinking about it, I slipped it into my pocket and sold the chain at the pawnbroker’s.
That was just the start. I stole my niece’s computer games, even some money from an old lady’s purse when I was in hospital, all for alcohol.
It was a vicious cycle. I’d binge-drink, end up in hospital, detox for a while, start drinking again. I didn’t even get hangovers because I was constantly drunk.
In the end, in late 2015, I went into rehab for six months. Not because I wanted to, but because everyone told me I had to. My parents had stuck by me but, even in my haze, I could see they were reaching their breaking point.
For the first few months, I ignored the counsellors and therapists. I didn’t want to stop drinking. But, gradually, their words started to sink in, and I slowly realised that life didn’t have to be this painful.
I came to terms with the fact that the thing I was dependent on was destroying my life. Far from making me into a better person, alcohol had turned me into someone I hated.
By the time I left, in July 2016, I was a different person – but it wasn’t easy. I slipped up and had to go back to rehab. This time, I was truly honest about my lack of self-esteem. By opening up, I learnt to accept myself, warts and all. And that’s when I realised I could live without alcohol.
Since then, I’ve made a fresh start. I’ve got a new flat in Colne, Lancashire, I’m doing a degree in community leadership, and work with homeless young people.
Every day I try to do something for someone else, whether that’s buying them a coffee or giving a friend a call. Every night, I’ll write down a gratitude list of everything good in my life.
I’m no longer the person I was before I started drinking. That person wasn’t complete without alcohol. Now, at 32, I finally feel whole – and happy.
‘I didn’t even get hangovers, because I was drunk all the time’
Alcohol made Leanne feel more confident
Leanne’s parents, Lily and Robert, resorted to tough love to get her into rehab
These days, she’s happy to be clean and sober