When his ad­dic­tion spi­ralled out of con­trol, RICHARD LUCK sought help in re­li­gion. But it took more than faith to bring him back from the brink.

The New European - - Eurofile -

What did you do in the sum­mer of 2017? Me? Af­ter stress and de­pres­sion trig­gered an al­co­holic break­down in May, I found my­self sleep­ing in dump­sters and drink­ing home brand spir­its through­out June, only to be of­fered a life­line in mid-july. The help in ques­tion came cour­tesy of my for­mer boss – you won’t be sur­prised to learn that all the al­co­hol and ab­sen­teeism led to me los­ing my job – whose par­ents ran a drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion unit. Said par­ents were Pen­te­costal Chris­tians. I was very much not.

Still, hav­ing pissed off ev­ery port I’d stum­bled into dur­ing my drink­ing storm, I was grate­ful for any respite. And with the ad­dic­tion hav­ing driven me to the brink of sui­cide, I was will­ing to do any­thing to get clean.

So it was that, on a beau­ti­ful July day, I em­barked on a 10-month pro­gramme, close ad­her­ence to which could leave me a con­tented, sober soul. Of course, there were a few ground rules: I couldn’t phone fam­ily or friends for the first month of my stay, but that’s a pretty stan­dard re­hab mea­sure. Less typ­i­cal was a com­plete ban on non-chris­tian lit­er­a­ture and the pro­hi­bi­tion of all non-chris­tian mu­sic. If this sounds strange to you, imag­ine how it sounded to a scared and scarred pa­tient. But with nowhere else to go, I handed over my con­tra­band – a copy of crick­eter Si­mon Jones’ bi­og­ra­phy and the his­tory of Top Gear – and got down to work.

Speak­ing of which, the work­ing day broke down some­thing life this:

7:15 Wake up and shower

7:45 15 min­utes quiet time with your Bible

8:00 Break­fast

8:30 Chores (clean­ing the kitchen, bath­rooms, etc.)

9:30 Chapel (30 min­utes of hymns)

10:30 Bible study

12:00 Lunch

13:00 Work pro­gramme (gar­den­ing, sort­ing char­ity do­na­tions, cook­ing the evening meal, etc.)

17:30 Din­ner

19:00 Fur­ther re­li­gious in­struc­tion

19:45 Free time (tele­vi­sion, but only cer­tain chan­nels – news, doc­u­men­taries – and on no ac­count Easten­ders)

22:00 Chapel (evening re­flec­tions)

22:45 Bed

As I read that list back, I sim­ply can’t be­lieve I lasted two whole months at the treat­ment cen­tre. You may no­tice there’s no men­tion of ther­apy, re­lapse preven­tion, med­i­ta­tion and the count­less other classes re­habs use to give you a fight­ing chance upon re­turn­ing to the or­di­nary world. And yet, for all of this, it wasn’t wholly un­pleas­ant. When I ar­rived, five of the six places on the pro­gramme were taken. My fel­low re­cov­erees in­cluded a per­son­able older gen­tle­men for whom the re­li­gious as­pects of the course had clearly been a bless­ing and a young chap who’d been put through the mill but re­mained a thor­oughly pleas­ant per­son. What with hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous weeks AWOL, it was some­thing of a joy to be in good com­pany.

The Bible study wasn’t so bad, ei­ther. It was ac­tu­ally quite fun to dive into a book I re­ally didn’t know that much about.

And if I all but bit through my lip ev­ery time the Cre­ation story came up in con­ver­sa­tion, I tried to con­trib­ute in a pos­i­tive man­ner.

And then there was church. Ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing at 10am, we’d pop over to a nearby scout hut for two hours of songs and ser­mons. Hav­ing once been to a very charis­matic church – an­other story for an­other day – I was pleased to find there wasn’t much writhing on the floor and just a sin­gle bout of speak­ing in tongues. If I say I felt alone in these cir­cum­stances, this isn’t to sug­gest that I wasn’t made to feel wel­come. But while the younger in­mates saw church vis­its as some­thing of a so­cial oc­ca­sion, I came away feel­ing be­mused and alien­ated.

The longer my stay went on, the more it be­came ap­par­ent that, what­ever the mer­its of Chris­tian­ity, both the church and the treat­ment cen­tre were as rid­dled with pet­ti­ness and jeal­ousy as any­where else on the planet. From my cur­rent van­tage point, I can see that I was silly to ex­pect any­thing else. Back then, how­ever, it caused my last drop of faith to evap­o­rate.

And so, lit­tle by lit­tle, the de­pres­sion that had sparked my spring­time col­lapse re­turned. The toil, the re­li­gious in­struc­tion, the aeons of time stretch­ing out ahead of me, the con­fi­dence – mis­placed in my opin­ion – that prayer would make ev­ery­thing all right... I just couldn’t take it any longer. With the car­ers and the only re­main­ing pa­tient in the kitchen, I headed for the front gate and the near­est pub.

And what then? It’d be nice to say I soon bid chaos adieu but it wouldn’t be un­til the New Year that a cor­ner was turned and that was only af­ter my par­ents very gen­er­ously paid for a 28-day re­hab at an­other fa­cil­ity. When I was ad­mit­ted on the eve of the eve of Christ­mas Eve, I couldn’t have been lower. But through a com­bi­na­tion of psy­chi­atric care, classes and a range of ther­a­pies – ev­ery­thing from Tai-chi, which I loved, to acupunc­ture which gave me the nee­dle – I emerged at the end of Jan­uary a rather dif­fer­ent man in a very dif­fer­ent mood.

It’s now 10 months since my last drink and I’m de­ter­mined that it will re­main my last. Of the help that I’ve ac­cepted, Al­co­holics Anony­mous has been par­tic­u­larly use­ful. While in the past, AA’S re­li­gious as­pect was too off-putting, I’ve now come to ap­pre­ci­ate the fel­low­ship’s em­pha­sis on em­brac­ing a ‘higher power’ of your own un­der­stand­ing. For me, that means sit­ting in a room full of like-minded peo­ple twice a week and shar­ing our woes and our suc­cesses.

Like-minded peo­ple were largely ab­sent from my first re­hab. As for my sec­ond, it was mostly ad­min­is­tered by peo­ple who were them­selves in re­cov­ery. When I first found this out, I won­dered how those in the same boat as me could pos­si­bly be of as­sis­tance. From the van­tage point af­forded by 10 months of so­bri­ety, I re­alise that, in many ways, they are the only peo­ple equipped to help.

And how best to sum up what I’ve learned this past year? Let me turn to a great tele­vi­sion drama writ­ten by an ad­dict (Aaron Sorkin) and a mono­logue de­liv­ered by a char­ac­ter who’s an al­co­holic (The West Wing’s Leo Mcgarry) who in turn is played by a re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic (John Spencer): “This guy’s walk­ing down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doc­tor passes by, and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doc­tor writes a pre­scrip­tion, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up ‘Fa­ther, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. ‘Hey, it’s me, can you help me out? And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here. The friend says, ‘Yeah, but

I’ve been down here be­fore, and I know the way out.’”

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