‘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…

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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

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