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The 'Real Lives' campaign tells real life stories from local people and their experiences with alcohol. You can read their full stories below:
*Names and certain details have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved
This is Sarah's* story, a mum of two who started drinking as a teenager.“I had a good upbringing – holidays every year, and I even had a horse,” she says. “However, my dad drank heavily and my parents divorced when I was 15. I first started drinking on the streets with my mates when I was 14. I grew up, had jobs and went to university to study nursing. But pretty soon my drinking, which I was doing purely to get drunk, was starting to affect my studies and I often phoned in sick.”
“In my second year at university, I fell pregnant, so I left, and not long after I had my second child. It was when the children and their dad and I moved in together that drinking wine at weekends soon became a bottle or two every night. Our relationship ended but my drinking didn’t. When the girls were in bed, I would drink, and the more I drank the more depressed I became. Then I took an overdose.”
“I was in hospital for three days, but it didn’t end there. “I met someone new, but once again we were drinking every night, and once the children started school I started drinking in the day.
“My partner had no idea at first, but as my behaviour changed he left too, soon followed by my children. They went to live with their dad after I had an alcoholic fit in front of them. But I couldn’t stop. I was drinking vodka for breakfast, cider for dinner and wine for tea. I hardly ate and my liver started to fail. The doctors told me I had to stop, but I didn’t.”
“The next 18 months I was in and out of hospital. I was jaundiced, bleeding, hallucinating and dying, and in Autumn 2012 I was referred to Addaction (drug and alcohol support service which is now run by CGL). The staff were amazing. I finally admitted I had a drink problem and, with their support, went to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).”
“I’m now sober, married, working full time and the children have their mummy back. My doctor said he couldn’t believe I was the same girl who he’d told was going to die.”
Change, Grow, Live (CGL) is a free and confidential service that can help you with any worries you have about your drinking. Call them on 01744 410752 or drop in to Lincoln House, Corporation Street, St.Helens.
The second in our real lives series introduces Steve*, a local man who describes the joys and benefits of enjoying life without drinking!
“I can’t remember ever making a conscious decision to stop drinking alcohol. I wouldn’t describe myself as abstinent because I’ll have a pint or two at a wedding or a Christmas party. But the truth is that I rarely drink alcohol, even when I go out or when we all get together for a family gathering. I’ve accepted that in the eyes of friends and family I am now cast firmly in the role of permanent late-night taxi driver, but that’s ok.
"What is more annoying than that is the social pressure and judgements that I get because I choose not to drink. Even people that have known me for years assume that I can’t ‘really’ be enjoying myself because I haven’t had an alcoholic drink.
"In fact, I do know how to party and have many a tale which won’t be for the grandchildren’s ears in the future, but everything changed when I got to my early thirties. It was no longer fun not to remember the night before, or put myself in risky situations. I had a family and wanted to be fully present for them and for myself!
"I believe that having a choice about how and why you use drink is liberating. I have loads of confidence, I take care of my weight and my health and I don’t need a drink just to be me. Some of my friends need to have a drink before they go out, just to get the confidence to go out and socialise in the first place.
"I do get the clichés; people thinking I may have had a drinking problem in the past or I’m on medication. The truth is, I don’t need to have an excuse for not drinking – I simply choose to see and enjoy life in all its glorious colours, without the help of alcohol. I don’t judge my friends who drink so I don’t think anyone should judge me for not drinking.
"I am now the Dad and role model to two teenagers. Drinking alcohol is a hot topic in our house, as they are at an age where they are experimenting with boundaries. If I have taught them anything, I hope it is the ability to have confidence and respect for themselves. You have a choice and you don’t need to have drink to have a good time.”
The third in our real lives series shares the story of Sue*: a middle age mum to her son, Jake*, who has been drinking in excess for quite a few years now. She tells us about the rift it has created in her family, as opinions divide about how to deal with the issue.
“At first, as a mum, you question yourself. Was it something that I did wrong, did I contribute to his problem; can love on its own be enough to help him through if he won’t seek help?
"In many ways, I felt like a failure. I had failed to see the full extent of the problem until it was too late and I wasn’t coping well with all the family arguments that were caused because of his drinking. It isn’t something that you really want to share with everyone. My husband could see the hurt that it was causing and he felt powerless too. His way of coping was to completely disown Jake until he got his act together, but for me, it wasn’t as simple as that. I felt completely alone and at my wits end.
"There were many ups and downs. Jake was in and out of treatment and also went through a detoxification. Sometimes even when we thought he was making real progress, the slightest thing could set his drinking off again. Sometimes I did not know if what I was doing was for the best.
"I was constantly questioning myself. Should I show tough love and step back like my husband did, or maintain a constant vigil in case he did something stupid? Was I helping or making the situation worse? In the end my own health started to suffer.
"Seeking help for myself at Footsteps, was the first step to regaining control. Footsteps helped me to understand about addiction and about how alcohol misuse affects a person mentally and physically. I learnt that I wasn’t alone, and that there are others in a similar position to me. There are no easy answers but the decisions that I make now are based on choices and having the right information. I am worrying less and feeling less guilty. My sleep has improved and my relationship with my son and husband has improved.
"We aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but whatever happens I am better equipped to cope. People forget that when someone is stopping, or cutting down their drinking then the impact of that is often felt by other close friends and family. It’s just as important that we know what to expect, how to cope and how to look after our own health."
For free confidential advice and support about someone else’s drinking, such as a family member or friend, call Footsteps on: 01744 808 212.
The fourth instalment of the real lives series shares the story of Yvonne*, who tells us about what happened when her teenage daughter drank alcohol at a house party.
She says: "We really care about our daughters Michelle*, 16, and Evie*, 12, who are both beautiful and clever girls. We try to be good parents and work hard to make our home safe and happy. Evie looks up to her big sister and copies everything she does.
"Last year Michelle worked really hard to pass her GCSEs and we were all thrilled with the results. We were really pleased that she was making something of her life. Of course her friends all wanted to celebrate, and Michelle told us that her friend (who we know well) was having a house party and that there would be alcohol at the party. I can’t say that I was pleased, especially when she asked us to buy her some alcohol to take with her to the party, but I was told there would be parental supervision and that all of her friends were going. I thought that it would be safer than drinking on the streets and I didn’t want her to be the odd one out. At least she was being open with us.
"In the end I bought her three alcopops and gave her lots of warnings and advice. What I hadn’t banked on was that there would be others bringing lots of alcohol to the party and ‘smuggling drinks’ in. Despite thinking she was all grown up, Michelle was mixing her drinks and getting completely drunk to the point that someone called an ambulance and she ended up in A&E.
"She was alright, thank goodness, but it was such an upsetting and embarrassing experience. When I think of what might have happened, given the state she was in, it makes my blood run cold. My advice to any parent in the same situation would be to be assertive and don’t get caught up in the ‘peer pressure trap’ yourself.
"You can’t be with them all the time but you can set an example yourself, answer their questions about alcohol honestly and make sure they know that they have choices and have thought through how to handle any situations that are likely to arise, in advance. Make sure they are aware of the dangers to their health and give them advice about how to stay safe. I would never have forgiven myself if there had been lasting damage."
For information, advice, guidance and top tips about alcohol and teenagers, visit Drink Aware's website
If you are concerned about a young person drinking alcohol and would like further information and advice, you can also contact St.Helens Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Team on 01744 675605.
The final instalment of the real lives series shares the story of 19-year-old Jed* from St.Helens, who tells us about his difficult experience growing up in a house where drink was causing problems.
He says: "Looking back, it’s hard for me to think of a time when my mum wasn’t drinking.
"It was just the two of us when I was younger as she had split with my dad when I was a toddler and I barely remember him. She found it hard to cope.
"When I was at school, I’d worry about the weekend – that’s when she drank the most. I remember Friday nights would consist of my mum drinking, popping in and out of the house throughout the night and then me being woken up in the early hours of the morning from the music blasting from the television downstairs.
"She would always feel guilty the morning after, but on the Saturday when it came to 5pm, I would notice a can of cheap cider in a shopping bag and knew that tonight would be another night of drinking, loud music and her trying to cause arguments.
"This became a regular pattern. I remember when I was 14 asking friends, ‘Can I stay over at yours?’ I would ask in a way that they thought I just wanted to come over to see them and have a laugh, but really it was always to get out of the house and avoid her. The relief would always turn to worry that she would hurt herself, or do damage to the house.
"When I started college, I was even more aware of her increased drinking. I hated it so much that I would put salt in her bottle of vodka, thinking that it might change the way it tastes and stop her drinking. That never worked either.
"When I turned 16, she was prescribed antidepressants and started drinking on top of those. That seemed to make things even worse, and there was an awful scene in the doctors’ surgery when Mum had been drinking and started shouting at the reception staff.
"The next day, after another argument, I finally told her that enough was enough. She needed help and we had reached a crisis point.
"My friends would not come near the house, my girlfriend and her family didn’t like being around her, she lost her job and I was trying my best to be out of the house as much as I could.
"This time she listened and realised the damage she was causing. She agreed to go to Addaction (now CGL), and really threw herself into taking up the help that was on offer, doing things like counselling, groups, courses and qualifications.
"As a child, I felt a mixture of emotions because of Mum’s drinking: fear, shame, embarrassment, loneliness and frustration. At the same time I always cared about Mum and I wish she would have asked for help sooner. When she wasn’t drinking, things were great. It was obvious she was using the drink to help her cope and she did try to hide it from me, but kids know.
"The thing is that there is help out there now, so no one needs to go through these things alone. She is now like a different woman – she enjoys cooking, is doing voluntary work and says that the thought of drinking does not appeal to her. She is aiming to get a job and is much more confident and easier to talk to.
"Although I personally had quite a few hard years, I am very happy with the relationship we have now. I don’t think twice about asking my girlfriend and her family to come round now."
For free, confidential advice and non-judgemental support about your drinking, call Change, Grow, Live (CGL) on 01744 410752.
If you are affected by someone else's drinking, please call Footsteps on 01744 808212.
If you’re under 19, you can also contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 for support and advice.