‘DRINK TOOK OVER MY LIFE’
Chris Jones has had a lifelong battle with alcohol addition. He tells KATIE BELLIS about his low points and how he managed to get help and turn his life around
AT THE worst point of his alcohol addiction, Chris Jones was drinking three litres of vodka a day. He hid his addiction from his family by putting vodka in his coffee and in Ribena bottles.
He’s been in hospital 11 times in the space of two years, he lost his job and saw less of his son as a result of drinking.
At his lowest point Chris thought about killing himself.
The 53-year-old, who lives in Brynhyfryd in Swansea, has opened up about his lifelong battle with alcohol and how he eventually managed to get help. This is his story. “My drinking started at the age of 12 or 13, when I first discovered alcohol. I was drinking every evening after school.
“I then started work at the age of 16 as a butcher and I went to the pub every night after work. Over a period of years my drinking progressed.
“I was a functional alcoholic up until my forties, I functioned on a daily basis by drinking on a daily basis.
“But in my forties, that was when I needed a drink in the morning to feel normal, and that increased to the point where I was drinking all day.
“I had to give up my job as a result, I was given the ultimatum of either giving up drinking or my job and I decided to take the pay-off and leave – it had taken over my life,” he said.
During this time Chris was living in Norfolk. The only thing that would stop the now-53-year-old from drinking was sleep.
“I would drink until I was knocked out. What tipped me over the edge was a messy divorce.”
That also affected how much he saw his son.
“I couldn’t cope with not being able to see my son, that’s when I started drinking three bottles a day to take the pain away.
“I thought about killing myself, but I was never brave enough, I worked out that if I carried on the way I was I would die anyway.
“I had had enough of life by then, I couldn’t see a way out, it was a miserable place to be.
“Over the years I have managed to disguise my drinking, amazingly my son even said ‘I didn’t know you were drinking, dad.’
“When the kids were around I was drinking coffee with vodka in, or I would put vodka in a Ribena bottle. My kids never saw me drinking or in a pub, I was very clever.
“Even when I was driving I would have a bottle somewhere for an emergency. I knew that the craving would become so bad that I would start shaking and I would need to start drinking.
“That’s horrifying. I remember driving along motorways, I wasn’t drunk but I would be well over the limit and I would think that I was in control but I wasn’t,” he said.
Chris admits that his only concern was the bottle.
He said: “It was 6am, which was the earliest time that I could get a bottle in Tesco. On my way back I was so concerned about opening the bottle I walked across the road and I was hit by a car.
“It wasn’t going fast but it spun me and tipped me over the bank. The first thing I did was look across to see if my vodka was OK – “thank god the bottle is OK”, I thought.”
He then refused to get inside an ambulance as he knew that would mean he wouldn’t be able to drink the vodka.
“Afterwards the young couple called the ambulance and I wouldn’t get in. I knew if I got in there was no way I would be able to drink the bottle so I went home.
“After I drank the vodka someone saw me and called the ambulance. I was bleeding but even though I was in pain I was more concerned about my vodka.
“I was even resuscitated once. I also fell down the stairs in the same week that I was hit by a car, that also could have easily killed me.”
Chris stopped eating, which led to him being in hospital on numer- ous occasions.
“I stopped eating and all I was doing was putting vodka in my body. I was in hospital 11 times in the space of two years.
“Each time I went into hospital I was aware that I was putting myself there, I wanted to get better, but when I left, the illness would find a way to put alcohol back into my system.
“The only thing that mattered was the drink, it becomes that much of an obsession that’s all that matters. You stop caring for yourself but when you stop caring for your kids and family that’s as low as you can go.
“I tried to stop but I couldn’t. When you have your first drink most people will remember, in the
early stages you find that stage where you were content and happy – I can’t remember the last time I felt like that, it was never like that, it wasn’t enjoyable, I didn’t like the taste.
“Whenever I would have the last sip towards the end of the bottle, I had to stand by a sink because I knew that I would be sick, the obsession is that strong that it will take a grown man to a sink to have a drink and put himself through that pain,” he said.
When Chris eventually moved back to Swansea he finally got the help that he needed.
He said: “I was away from Swansea for 30 years. When I moved back my family were horrified: I had lost so much weight.
“When I finally accepted help, everything changed dramatically. The charity Sands and Welsh Centre for Action on Dependency & Addiction made all the difference in the world.
“I was finally aware that there were other people like me out there. I feel foolish for suffering for so long but I realise that it’s an illness.”
When Chris started to feel better, he started volunteering at Matt’s Cafe, situated in the High Street.
The cafe is a hub for the homeless and vulnerable people of Swansea.
Volunteering allowed Chris to open up his own butcher’s in Brynhyfryd and he says that Matt’s Cafe helped to change his life.
“Matt’s Cafe gave me the confidence to work again, that’s what led me to owning Robert’s Butchers.
“None of this would have happened without Matt’s Cafe.”
He urges anyone who may have an alcohol addiction to get help.
“I haven’t had a drink in two and a half years and I haven’t even thought about drinking.
“I enjoy life in a different way now, I am not suffering on a daily basis; life used to be a daily hell.
“Don’t be afraid to go to an AA meeting, you will be surprised by the range of people who are there, you will find lawyers, doctors and nurses.
“If you do have an addiction, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. It took me 30 years but within six months of getting help I was on the road to recovery.”
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of adults who say they drink alcohol is at its lowest level since surveys began in 2005.
The NHS recommends drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. If you do drink that much, it is best to spread it over three or more days.
Butcher Chris Jones, who has turned his life around to open a butcher’s business in