Stephen's story

Stephen Smyth at till for e story

I’m one of five kids, but I was definitely the rebel of the family. Mum and dad ran the village pub, so alcohol was always easy to get hold of. My dad was an alcoholic; though I don’t think that’s necessarily the reason I became one, I was aware of his drinking at an early age, before my parents split up and he moved out.

I started drinking with my mates around the age of 14. As a kid, I was really easily influenced and would try stupid stuff because of peer pressure from my friends. The first time I got really drunk I was so out of it that my brother had to come and carry me home. After a while, I started to steal bottles of whisky from the pub, and as the drinking continued I ended up getting arrested for criminal damage and for being drunk and disorderly. It felt really normal to be drinking – it all felt very casual as everyone was doing it. We used to run into the off license, grab some bottles and run off, not even caring if we were caught.

When I was 16 my Mum kicked me out the house; I went to live with my Dad but after a few weeks he couldn’t deal with me and I ended up homeless. For a while I slept on various mates’ sofas but then their patience ran out and I found myself living on the streets for two years. It was a scary experience, especially at first; I had to learn quickly. I realised it was much safer to wait until the pubs had closed and the streets were more empty, before finding a doorway to sleep in for the night. One night I ended up getting into a fight; they punched me so hard I lost some teeth.

I was 21 when my brother took me in, I moved to a new town to live with him. I fell into the wrong crowd again, hanging around with other drinkers, but this crowd were also into drugs. I definitely felt pressure to join in and started mixing alcohol with Class A drugs. I lived with my brother for four years, drinking more and developing a drug habit too. When you’re an alcoholic, you plan your week around when you’re going to get drunk; you lose control of your life. We used to drink until we passed out. I found a cash-in-hand job, which was actually a bad thing, as they’d pay me at the end of each day so I could always go straight out and buy drink and drugs. The lifestyle was all about the partying. One night I got involved in a fight and because I had a previous conviction, I was arrested and given a two month prison sentence.

When I came out, I met a girl and we got together. She was also an alcoholic so it was a very volatile relationship. When I found out she was pregnant, it really affected my attitude. I didn’t want to be like my own dad and be a drunk father so for a while I did stop drinking. Then I found out that the baby wasn’t mine and it hit me hard. All my motivation was gone and for three weeks solid, I drank to excess. One night I bought some dodgy drugs which, mixed with my alcohol levels, sent me into a coma; I was dangerously ill.

It turns out that this was the kick I needed to start to change my ways. I was referred to a rehab charity where I lived for two years as I battled with my addiction. Once I was clean, I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope with the outside world straight away; I’d got used to the very strict rehab routine with no freedom. Although I no longer needed to drink I also lacked confidence and the ability to restart my life. That was when I called up Emmaus Coventry & Warwickshire; they asked me to come over to have a chat, and then two weeks later I moved in. I’ve been there three months now.

Emmaus have given me the chance to learn to be independent again. I’ve managed to stay clean; It’s still really hard and I did have a small relapse when I went into a pub one night, but the staff at Emmaus were there to support me and made me realise it wasn’t worth it. I enjoy working in the Emmaus shop, especially serving customers. I like the idea that I’m making money for the charity so that more people like me can be supported out of homelessness. If it wasn’t for Emmaus, I’d definitely be drinking again now, and probably homeless; instead, I have hope for the future.