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Director reveals his booze battle in bid to reignite detox centre campaign

By Donna Deeney

Published 08/10/2015

Gavin Patton has told of his battle with the bottle
Gavin Patton has told of his battle with the bottle

Gavin Patton didn't take his first drink of alcohol until he was 20 - but just four weeks later he needed a drink every morning to get over the night before.

The Derry film-maker was plunged into the depths of alcoholism at an alarming rate that blows the myth of a slow decline into addiction wide open.

That drink marked the beginning of a 13-year downward spiral that took Gavin away from his family - the same family that would eventually save him from becoming a street drinker by pushing him into a car and driving him to a rehabilitation centre.

That was in 2008, and Gavin has remained sober since and is at last making the films his alcoholism stopped him from producing.

Recently a taskforce set up to tackle Derry's suicide rate agreed to adopt a crisis intervention model used in Belfast instead of a detox centre. The Nightingale Project, run by the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse, was seen as the best example of how to help people, including addicts, contemplating suicide.

But Gavin's latest documentary - Derry Detoxed - will be shown at a public forum in the city tonight in a bid to reignite the campaign for the detox centre.

Ahead of that, Gavin told the Belfast Telegraph how he battled his demons and recovered.

"I started drinking when I was 20 at university in England," he said. "Within four weeks I discovered the morning drink and went from drinking socially to drinking alcoholically. I didn't understand the problem. No one in my family is an alcoholic, so I didn't know why I needed to do it.

"I knew that there was something wrong but it was like an instinct, the same as the instinct to breathe. I knew I needed to go and get a drink to take the sickness away.

"My drinking stood out because I was drunk at unusual times. I'd have to leave parties early because I turned up drunk. That introduced stigma into my life for the first time. I had a very good childhood. I was very happy and had a really good family but this was personal shame. I had no tools to deal with it, so I drank more.

"I came home outside term and I had changed dramatically. My mother said I left home a son and I came back an alcoholic. We were and still are close. They didn't understand what was happening to me."

Despite his addiction, Gavin finished his degree in film and graduated, but his hopes and aspirations had disappeared. "I did a couple of rubbish jobs when I came back, and my drinking continued to get worse," he said.

"I moved to America, worked in Boston and New York and ended up in hospital on the verge of becoming a diabetic. My pancreas had shut down and I spent eight days in terrible pain. That was a desperate situation between the medication they were giving me, which was driving me mad, and my whole body breaking down.

"When I came home I carried on drinking, but it was taking its toll. I was hit by a motorbike and dragged 30 feet along the ground. I always got hurt. I was stabbed, I had my head stood on and my mental state was going way down. All I thought about was drink from the second I woke up."

For 13 years Gavin's life was dominated by the quest for drink. That included snatching a bottle from street drinkers or getting detox medication to help with the pain of having nothing to drink.

"I used to contact the GP service at Great James Street, which used to be open at night, and stumble down there to get detox medication," Gavin said. "When that closed, I'd walk four or so miles to Altnagelvin Hospital because I had no money for a taxi. I had to walk over the Foyle Bridge, and at times I would stand and look over into the black water below. The march to Altnagelvin was like the march into Hell."

The effect of Gavin's drinking also played havoc with the people he loved most, his family.

"There was one time I told everyone where I was living they had to get out because there was a bomb," he said. "But there was no bomb, it was in my head. Another time I woke up and realised I was covered in burns because I had been trying to smoke a pencil, thinking it was a cigarette.

"The thing about drink is that it rapidly destroys any relationships you could have. I am 40 now and I must have met a wife along the way, but I see myself as being single as a result of the drink."

While many alcoholics hit rock bottom before seeking help, Gavin's family took him to the door of the Northlands Rehabilitation Centre. "I would have kept on drinking but my mother rang Northlands," he said. "I wasn't quite manhandled, but I was taken there by my family. I sobered up and thought: 'No more drink'. One week turned to two and turned to three. That brought the horrors of remembering, but those six weeks changed everything.

"At times I think about what my life could have been like. I think about how it would have been if I had continued to drink, and I often think that if someone didn't have parents like I have, what do they do? I could have been on the streets drinking now if I didn't have my parents. I have been lucky."

Derry Detoxed will be shown today in the function room of Derry City Sports And Social Club. Gavin's film can be watched on YouTube by searching for Derry Detoxed

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