Companion Stories: Keith
"When I was young, my mum and dad were both out at work a fair bit, and I hung out a lot with the older kids on our estate. By the time I was 11, I was already drinking alcohol regularly in the evenings, and I’d started helping myself to money from my mum’s purse or my dad’s pockets to pay for it. I still went to school though, and at 15, I started an apprenticeship repairing army vehicles.
The pattern of drinking and working and getting away with it continued throughout my teens and into my twenties, really. Around the age of 21, I met my fiancée and decided I needed to make more money. I got a job as an engineer for a knitwear firm, mending and operating the machinery. It was excellent pay, and we bought a house together. I could do the job easily drunk or sober.
Things went wrong when I got another girl pregnant. I expected my fiancée to condemn me, but she didn’t, and the guilt I felt drove me to a nervous breakdown. I was in hospital for two months, and when I came out I moved in with the girl expecting my baby and we tried to make a go of things.
In November 1992, my son was born and I adored him, but as a functioning alcoholic, he wasn’t my first priority. I treated my girlfriend very badly, going out for hours on end and leaving her to look after the baby. My mum and dad disowned me and I felt very low. It was at that point that I attempted to commit suicide, by taking tablets in the bath.
Over the next few years I tried hard to stay on the straight and narrow, and I was able to see my son with the help of my parents. Then I broke my leg playing rugby, and I spiralled back into trouble again. Because I was laid up and not working, I got depressed. The next few years passed in a blur. I was stealing, drinking, using cocaine and heroin and eventually I ended up going to jail for fighting in a pub. That was Christmas Eve 1997.
Unfortunately, when I came out, nothing changed. Over the next seven years I went from living in my own flat to surviving on the streets. In a way, it was a release. I was not responsible for anyone else, I could do what I wanted. But one day, something happened. I was living in a squat, using crack, stealing. I woke up and saw needles and cans all around me, and I hit a wall. I didn’t want to do it any more, didn’t want to be there. I took myself to the local Alcohol and Drug services unit, and they referred me to a rehab clinic where, after 11 months, I managed to get clean.
I stayed for another two years doing voluntary work and learning to be a landscape gardener. I made up with my son and my parents, after years of being away from them. I was clean and sober, and my son loved it. Things were going so well I started my own business, but then the recession hit. I was out of work again, and I had to move out of the rehab accommodation.
In January 2012, my son killed himself. I’ll never know why, and I just have to hold onto the fact that he knew that I had got clean. I held his hand in the mortuary and made him a promise: that I would not go back to my old ways. I was very lucky, because at that time, when I could have fallen apart so easily, I met one of the trustees on the board of Emmaus Leicester.
Because I am considered high risk, I came here to Emmaus Cambridge, and I love it. Everyone is so kind and understanding and I can finally help others who are less fortunate than me. After years of taking and taking and not giving back I can finally put a smile on somebody else’s face. I want to stay here long term, and I hope that one day I might even make it onto the management team."