Gav's story

Gav for web

I started drinking at age 15 and then spent the next 30 years drunk; I was a functioning alcoholic. Looking back, those years are all a bit of a blur; it was a gradual spiral downwards.

I left home at 16 and at first I rented a flat and found a job working in a slaughter house. The job was really unpleasant so I left, but then I lost the flat. That was the first of many periods of homelessness in my life. I used to sleep where I could. Sometimes I slept on mates’ sofas or I’d live in a squat for a bit, but when I was too drunk to find my way back, I slept rough. For while I spent my nights in a skip which was full of cardboard; the skip next to it was used to dispose of old food, so when I woke up I had breakfast right there!

I had a series of relationships which didn’t work out; each time I lived with my partner for a while but when we split up, I’d find myself with nowhere to live again.

As a functioning alcoholic I have been able to hold down several different jobs at points in my life; I’ve worked for a removals firm, been an mechanic, a builder and a coalman.

Unfortunately, in my twenties things started to go very wrong. When you are dependent on alcohol you realise that you will do almost anything to get it. When I think back now to my mindset at the time, all I had to do each day was not go into a shop and buy more drink. Imagine someone being told they could cure their cancer just by walking past a shop door each day! But alcoholism controls you, and every day I found ways to get more drink. I ended up committing armed robbery, holding up several petrol stations and being given a prison sentence. I would never have hurt anyone, but it scares me to think of the lengths I went to, just to continue drinking.

When I came out of prison, for a long while I moved around quite a bit. My dad was in the RAF and I had moved all over as a kid. I think that moving gets in your blood and at times, moving on just seemed like the easier option. I spent time in Portugal and Spain and ended up sleeping rough in both countries. For a while I slept under a bus each night, but I also lived in a burnt out bar with half a roof, and even slept between some rocks on a beach. You’d think it might be easier sleeping rough in a hot country but it still gets cold in winter and there’s no support available from benefits etc.

When I came back to the UK I met a lady and we got married. We ran a pub for a time, but that didn’t end well as my wife and I were both alcoholics.

As I reached my forties, the constant drinking finally started to take its toll on my body. Having been a drinker all my life, things got to extreme levels and I became really ill. I was admitted to hospital, where it was touch and go for two weeks.

In order to be treated, I was told that I needed to give up drinking completely but I couldn’t get into rehab and things kept drifting on. When I was discharged, I lived on the streets of Cambridge for two months before I found a local shelter run by a charity, who then referred me to Emmaus. I moved into Emmaus Preston and never looked back. I stayed there for a year and they supported me to keep going - after twelve months I hadn’t touched a drop.

I then moved to join the Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland community. At the time I was also undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C which was tough; I was so tired and drained it took all my energy just to keep going, but the charity supported me through it all.

I’m now settled at Emmaus Leicestershire & Rutland. My main role here is driving a van to collect items people are donating to sell in our shops. We also offer a delivery service for customers who buy large pieces of furniture. I enjoy my work and prefer those sort of practical tasks to serving customers on the shop floor. Show me a garden shed or garage that needs clearing out, and I am like a kid in a sweetshop. It may sound strange but I can get quite passionate about recycling – especially metals. If we go to do a pick up or drop off for a customer I always keep my eyes open in case I spot something lying about rusting in a garden or yard that could be reused or recycled in some way.

We also sometimes give free furniture and offer to do helpful tasks for those in our local community who are really in need. I really appreciate being able to help others as I was offered so much support myself, back when I was in a bad way. Emmaus has also given me the chance to get involved with solidarity projects abroad. I travelled to Bosnia, joining other companions to help out with building a mental hospital.

I have a Level III City & Guilds PAT Testing qualification that I’ve gained since coming to Emmaus and I’ve now got my driving license back after ten years without one. I’m hoping to start an HGV driving course soon too. In the future I’d like to be able to use these skills to find a job.

If it wasn’t for the support of Emmaus, I would definitely have died. I’m really proud that I’m in control of my drinking. I’ve found that I’m now able have a drink occasionally though it’s still a continuous fight. Alcohol will always be both my best friend and my worst enemy, but I’ve overcome my demons now and can progress with my life.