Belfast dad Brian Brammeld tried many times to stop drinking but just couldn't - 'It broke my heart telling my family but eventually I got to grips with it and I love Christmas now'
The festive season can be an especially tough time for those with an alcohol addiction. In a powerful interview, Claire O'Boyle talks to Brian Brammeld (55), a dad-of-four and painter and decorator from west Belfast, who stopped drinking five years ago after a battle with alcohol that lasted for many years. Brian says:
I struggled with drink for years. I managed to keep working, and the family stayed together, and on the outside it might not have seemed as bad as it was.
"But it turned me into a liar. I would lie to my wife about how much I was drinking, and I'd make excuses about where I was and what I was doing to get a drink.
"But every argument we had, I'd be open about it now, it was my fault. I hate what drinking did to me.
"For a long time I thought I was maybe just a heavy drinker. You hear that, that expression, rather than just saying what it is. I was an alcoholic.
"I was the baby of the family, and after my mother died it hit me very badly. It broke me in two really, and the drinking became worse. That was about 20 years ago.
"I always made it seem that it wasn't so bad. I went to work, the house was nice and I managed to make it look fine from the outside.
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"And at Christmas, because everyone else was taking a drink too, it seemed an easier day for me to go for it.
"Everyone else, my wife and the other people in the family would have a Baileys or two or a few wee beers, but I'd be in the kitchen firing drink into me.
"In the end, the couple of years before I stopped it got pretty bad. Nobody knew just how bad it was because I was secretive about it, but at its worst I'd be taking a vodka and coke in the morning.
"I didn't need a lot of drink, I didn't need bottles and bottles to take the edge off but it was my choice and I drank a lot. It took a lot to get me drunk. The longer it went on the more I was able to drink, but obviously the more damage it was doing.
"You read about people on heroin and stuff like that, that they need the drugs in their systems. That's what I was like with drink.
"I'd go off to price up jobs, and I'd run in for a drink. I'd use any excuse. I hate what it did to me. It made me lie to my wife, and I'm so sorry for that. She'd have gone mad at the time if she'd known how bad it was. People in my family tried to speak to me about it, but I was defensive. It was pride. I just didn't see the way it had progressed on me. I tried over the years to do a couple of weeks and months, and then I'd fall back into my own ways. I just didn't see the progression. And by the end, once I'd have the first drink, I couldn't stop.
"But in the end I went to my GP. I just walked in one day and said I needed help because I knew it couldn't go on, and before the end of the day I was down at a rehab place in Newry.
"My wife was shocked. It broke my heart telling the family. She'd obviously known I drank too much, but I hadn't told her I was going to do it. It just dawned on me one day I had to stop and that was it. I wasn't drunk the day I did it. I hadn't had a drink, and I was struggling. That's how I knew I had to go.
"It was the worst feeling ever at the start. I'd never felt so lonely, but it was a relief as well. I stayed there six weeks and really got into it. I did the counselling and all the stuff they needed me to do, I poured my heart out and got to grips with it.
"It hasn't always been easy though. We had a tragedy in the family a while ago, and I took a drink because I was so upset by it all. But I didn't go off the rails. I didn't let what I'd done up until then go to waste and I got a grip on it after a day or two. I stopped and got right back to what I'd been doing. That's all you can expect of yourself. You have to keep trying because this is a thing you just don't cure.
"And I know Christmas will be hard for people. But honestly, I haven't had a drink now at Christmas for five years, and I can tell you this truthfully, I've loved every one of them.
"My family now is so much happier than we were. At the start I'd feel like I was missing out, like why couldn't I have that wee Baileys like they were.
"But you have to be realistic. For someone with an alcohol problem, that wee Baileys is just not worth it because you can't do it like most people can. So just don't.
"I absolutely love Christmas now. It's what it's supposed to be. The fun and the food, the presents and watching TV. No one's worried about me getting into stupid arguments with them, I'm not looking for an excuse to get into the kitchen and have a drink or sneak off somewhere and get a vodka.
"For a long time I couldn't accept that I was causing any problems or tension in my family, but I know now I definitely was. I have an amazing wife and four brilliant kids and Christmas now is for all of us to enjoy together.
"Now I'm able to enjoy it with my wife. I'm out with her doing the shopping and getting ready for the whole thing.
"It's not easy to get off the drink. I know that, and it'll never be easy. But when you balance it up against the good stuff you get at the other side then it's worth trying.
"I'll always need support though. I go to groups and talk to people about my experiences, and listen to them when they talk about what they've been through and it definitely helps. You've got to keep going with that, because we're all vulnerable to it. It's a battle.
"Addiction NI has been brilliant for me and while I used to be so secretive about it, I was so ashamed of what the drink did to me now I've nothing to hide. Everyone I love knows about it all, and they've helped me through it.
"If going to these groups and opening up about how I've got here can get one other person to believe they can get a grip on the drink, then that's a good thing.
"There's so much more to life and once you accept it's not good for you and that you don't have to be controlled by it, then you can get on with enjoying yourself and making the people in your life happy again."
For more information on Addiction NI, visit www.addictionni.com