Southend-based Karl Finn is now happily settled with a partner and a job as an addiction recovery worker at UK rehab Group Step by Step Recovery in the town, but until two years ago, his life was a miserable cycle of alcohol, health scares, homelessness and family separation.
The area in Dublin where he grew up was full of addiction and crime and it was all too easy to fall into drinking. The 46-year-old was a sensitive child and wasn’t encouraged to show his feelings, so he tended to ‘bottle things up’. Like most people, he startedthe habit to fit in, but the problem was that as an addict he found he couldn’t stop.
He started drinking when he was just 14 and ‘went off the rails’. There was a lack of opportunity and high unemployment where he lived and he struggled at the Catholic Brothers school he attended, as it was tough. He didn’t come out with any qualifications and later he found out he had dyslexia.
The drinking and addiction became a real problem when he was about 17. There was a lot of stress at home as his Mum and Dad were going through a marriage breakup and he started drinking as an escape. His Dad had bouts of alcoholism himself and sometimes couldn’t work due to poor health.
Karl said: “During most of my adult life, I was so desperately unhappy that I planned to kill myself if I didn’t die as a result of my addiction. I often thought it would be better for me and everyone else if I was no longer around – that was my exit plan. But deep down I knew that it would break my family’s hearts and that’s what stopped me.”
As well as a string of failed relationships and jobs, Karl’s addiction took a major toll on his health and he suffered a cardiac arrest and liver and kidney failure, as well as sustaining serious leg injuries after a collision with a car.
He said: “My addiction was all consuming. For five years I was cut off from my family, it cost me my career and my health – it nearly took my life too. I came close to dying on a few occasions and doctors told me I would be dead within a year if I carried on and I undoubtedly I would have been.”
Karl’s problems started when he was just a teenager, becoming deeply affected by his Dad’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
“His drinking affected everything. My Dad often couldn’t work because of his alcohol-related physical and mental health problems and he became a different person when he drank spirits or took pills – we were scared of him. He would become violent and we would have to ‘tread on eggshells’ so we didn’t upset him. Eventually, my Mum left him and moved to Bournemouth, but then he had a breakdown.
“I was 17 at the time and I’d chosen to stay with my Dad as we’d always been close. It was tough seeing him suffer and my Dad had never encouraged us to talk about our emotions so I bottled it all up. When my Mum returned to help, she convinced me that I needed to leave as it was affecting me and I had started drinking too. Reluctantly I went with her, but I remained close to my Dad until the last five years of his life, when my own drinking spiralled out of control.
“I continually lied and put my family through hell while I was an addict, eventually losing touch with them. And then four years ago, last Christmas, my Dad died alone, in his flat, following a bout of food poisoning while being drunk. Tragically, drink cost him his family, his happiness and his life.
“Because of my own addiction problems, I was absent when he most needed me – I wasn’t around when he died and so I missed his funeral. That’s something I’ve got to live with for the rest of my life.
“Because I was disconnected from my family, it was only a month afterwards that I heard my Dad had died. That was the catalyst I needed to stop drinking. It had cost my Dad everything, but I didn’t want it to be my future.
“My Dad didn’t have the support I’ve been given with the funded bed and later a job at Step by Step Recovery. Each day I am grateful for my treatment and it’s my way of making amends to keep clean and my tribute to my Dad and the rest of my family who stood by me.
“I had always thought I too would be found dead, alone, in a bedsit and that’s incredibly sad. I want to say to others in a similar situation, that there’s always the chance of a new start and the hope of that kept me going. In treatment, I was taught how to manage the emotions I’d learned to suppress while growing up. My life is now a million times better and I’m full of hope for the future.”
Earlier this year, as part of his work at the rehab clinic helping recovering addicts, Karl’s experience prompted him to help create a voluntary ‘New Way to Live’ national, addiction support scheme
Based at its Essex treatment centre, The Lighthouse, it now offers people free mentoring help, after figures revealed up to 39% of former addicts may have relapsed in lockdown.
As lead mentor, Karl, knows first-hand what a difference the service will make. Since going into recovery over 18 months ago, his life has been transformed from a homeless, former alcoholic with kidney failure to successful support worker at The Lighthouse.
He said: “Ex-addicts continue to be in desperate need of additional, remote care and support: “Those leaving treatment go from receiving support 24-hours-a-day, back to sometimes difficult home lives. We want to build the largest nationwide, peer mentoring network, so that people don’t fall back into addiction. We know that relapsing can result in more people dying from an addiction, which is both tragic and avoidable.
“Pre-COVID, face-to-face aftercare and support groups would be a vital part of an addict’s ongoing treatment plan. Although meetings were still happening over Zoom, socialising and building connections with people was something that the pandemic took away. The new scheme is a vital service which has been helping to bridge the gap that the virus has left – supporting people
“It’s never too late to get help to recover. I’ve gone from being alone, homeless and hopeless to being sober and ‘clean’, with a partner, a flat and a job. I owe it all to treatment from a caring team of specialists, who gave me a blueprint for a happier life, so that I can now give back and help others.”
For more information about Step by Step Recovery call 0800 170 1222 or visit https://www.stepbysteprecovery.co.uk. You can also look locally for self-help groups, NHS support or contactFaces and Voices in Recovery – a national charity made up of individuals in recovery. Find out more at www.facesandvoicesofrecoveryuk.org