Sebastian* learnt to drink from a young age from his stepfather and subsequently also developed a drug habit. His behaviour put him into a revolving door of prison sentences. This is his story...
"I came from a family with a stepfather who worked in the Bermuda police force and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. His partner got gunned down and died in his arms. He had the financial ability to drink away his worries and problems which he did. I learnt that alcoholism is very indiscriminate. If you allow it, it will destroy you. So I grew up with a stepfather who was constantly drunk and in his own world most of the time. I was a fairly heavy drinker by the time I was 16. I was a functioning alcoholic by the age of 21. Drugs came into the equation then. Even though I was a closet alcoholic, my career in hotel catering was going very well. I worked in most of the major hotels in Heathrow. As the years went by, the drug taking and drinking accelerated.
In the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), we say it will only end in three ways – institution, prison or death. For me it was prison. In 2004, I started eight years of going in and out of prison for all kinds of things like common assault, resisting arrest, actual bodily harm, alcohol and drug induced stupidity. When I first went into prison I was not knowledgeable about housing and the benefits system. And so I lost my accommodation when I went into prison for the first time, and I came out to very little. Alcoholics and drug addicts keep company with other alcoholics and other drug addicts. So when I was released with only £46, I would stay with my old cronies where there was drug dealing and taking and drinking going on. My terms were only two and a half to three months, but I would yo-yo back and forth because of the places and people I was staying with. You do your sentence and you come out homeless.
In 2012, I suffered from a nervous breakdown. I was actively trying to kill myself in prison with huge doses of medicine. I met two fellow inmates who suggested that I give church a chance. I went with these two lads and started doing an Alpha course in prison. I met Margaret* and Diane* who ran the course who had a profound impact on my life. They explained how to ask Jesus into my life. I was in the prison chapel. I fell on my knees, repented, asked God into my life and asked for the Holy Spirit. I went from feeling like not wanting to live, to a sense of peace and love, and a forgiveness of my sins. It’s very hard to describe that feeling of peace and freedom. Before that experience, I wouldn’t do anything for anyone unless you were doing something for me. But after that experience they put a lad in with me. And I helped him write letters and read his papers from the court.
I continued going to the Alpha course and when I left prison, Margaret helped me with accommodation and in doing so helped me break the cycle of going back to my old cronies. I started going to church and Diane became my mentor for two years. Unfortunately around that time, I went to visit my family and got in touch with my old associates again. The result of which was another two and half month spell in prison. The first person I saw in prison was Diane who encouraged me not to be discouraged. When I came out of prison I went into a dry house in Horfield (Bristol). I found it tough. When you go dry, all your emotions come to the surface that you have been suppressing, and they can come out in a negative way. And you are with other people going through the same thing so there were lots of arguments in the house.
But I knew this time what worked for me to keep on the straight and narrow. I chose Woodlands Church. And I started going to the LIFE recovery group (LRG) and I started volunteering in the Wild Goose.
I got a recall to prison last year because I didn’t report back for my probation. And Stuart and Graham (from LIFE recovery) came to visit me, which really helped. When everyone else is getting visits and you are not, it is very soul-crushing.
I go to LRG twice a week now. Everyone is in the same boat, going through the same problems as you, but you are not on your own. It encourages you to do the right things. Overall, the change in my life has been amazing. It has strengthened my faith. They are my family who I can share my problems with. I tell them everything. We don’t keep secrets from each other. It’s amazing how just talking to another person helps. It just helps to have those outlets. And they share back to you. It’s nice to have that safe environment.
Stuart has helped me lots with things like moving and providing references. He’s been like a big brother to me. He always prays for me and I can tell him the absolute truth. He doesn’t judge me.
I also went on the LIFE course which has given me a better understanding of what makes me tick. It has taught me coping strategies. I’ve learnt that before I would react not respond. We learnt about nutrition and managing your money amongst other things. I’ve learnt to be more sensible. Being around people whose goal is the same is good. I’ve learnt that I can’t buy things to fix myself. Booze or on entertainment that I really shouldn’t be spending, which can result with a smashing hangover the next morning and back to square one.
If I didn’t have LRG, chances are that I would still be in and out of the prison system. I view it like my little family. I have a one bedroom flat now. Its move on accommodation where you stay there for nine months, and then hopefully a council flat. I’m doing a church theology course and a computer IT course, so that I can start working in computers. And my number one goal for the future is to stay off the booze."
*Not their real names.