Interview: I'm glad I said yes to rehab

STINKING in clothes he'd worn for days on end, Peter Creamer slowly woke up, eyes focusing on the field around him that he used for a bed and then on the slobbering dog that was licking his face.

Bleary-eyed, tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, there was just one thought on his mind: where was his next can of cider?

In his pocket was a wad of cash - 7500 to be precise - left over from selling his home and certainly plenty to help him find a place to sleep, to scrub up and leave behind this sodden patch of field he'd chosen for a bed.

Hide Ad

"But I didn't want to spend my money on a hotel or a bed and breakfast," says Peter, recalling the point when the need for drink overwhelmed any remaining rational thought. "I wanted to use that to buy drink."

Today, Peter, 46, is casual and tidy in his brightly striped polo shirt, smart shoes and jeans. He's feeling good, he grins, miles better than he has felt since he was just 13 years old - the last time he was properly sober.

For more than 30 years he careered through life on self-destruct mode: decades of inflicting horrendous damage on himself, stumbling through one day to the next blindly drunk, usually incoherent and sometimes disturbingly aggressive, with two broken marriages and more blackouts than he could ever remember behind him.

Life was chaotic and depressing. It was hardly surprising he almost died more than once - ill health caused by drink was bad enough, but three times despair overwhelmed and he tried to take his own life.

During infrequent moments of clarity, seeking help was never an option. His only escape from alcohol's rock-hard grip, he believed, was death.

"Sometimes you have to go through the really bad bits to see how low you've become," he explains quietly. "For a long time I didn't even think I had a problem. The thing is, you have to want to be helped."

Hide Ad

That's a sentiment that has been expressed many times in connection with events surrounding singer Amy Winehouse's sudden death. While toxicology reports are not yet known, put the 27-year-old's well-publicised battle with drink and drugs together with an infamous reluctance to embrace rehab expressed in her number one song and it's easy to conclude that addiction probably cost her her young life.

Certainly her loss has focused attention on rehab services. Her father, Mitch, raised the issue at government level and announced the launch of the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which will eventually provide rehab services for families who would otherwise struggle to find funds to send addicted young people for treatment.

Hide Ad

Nothing like that was available to Peter in his youth.At least now, he's found help to turn his life around.

He's rightly proud to say he's been sober for 13 months, the result of attending Leap (Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme), an NHS Lothian project run behind the grand frontage of a Stockbridge Victorian mansion, where drink and drug addicts battle to beat their demons with impressive success rates.

It's here that Peter and so far about 200 other addicts confronted their illness, took it on and, hopefully, have managed to beat it.

It means that Winehouse's loss at an early age touches a nerve. "I was around 20, still early in my 'drinking career' and I started to look at how much I was drinking," says Peter. "I asked my mum did she think I was an alcoholic and she said, 'no son, you're just someone who likes a drink'.

"I did try to set boundaries for myself, so I suppose I knew something wasn't right. I wouldn't go to the pub straight from work or, if I did, I'd go home early, but I was just fooling myself because I would still get drunk."

If help had been there then, it is likely he still wouldn't have embraced it. Drink flowed through his veins since his first courage-boosting tipple before a school dance at 13. A few half-hearted detoxes and some Alcoholics Anonymous meetings aside, it rarely left his system until last autumn.

Hide Ad

In between were horrendous episodes. The two cans of cider for breakfast before heading to work, coming home plastered. Drink got him in trouble, it made him aggressive and suicidal. He eventually lost his job when his bosses decided they couldn't risk him driving the work van filled with passengers in case he decided to end it there and smash it into a bus.

There were two marriages followed fairly swiftly by two grim divorces as his desperate need to drink himself into oblivion wiped out any hope of a steady relationship.

Hide Ad

"My second marriage ended after ten months," he says. "I'd got married partly because I was seeking some kind of purpose in my life. My wife was teetotal but I was stinking drunk all the time.

"I'd no job, so I'd wait till she went to work and I'd get drunk. I did nothing around the house, never even made her any dinner. She went on holiday once and I was delighted because I could drink and not get nagged. Drinking in the house was better than the pub - if you fell over it was usually just from the couch on to the floor so you didn't get hurt.

"I'd throw whisky bottles in the neighbours' gardens, thinking no-one would know I was drinking them."

Betty, 45, can relate to the deception and denial that often goes hand in hand with being an alcoholic. Another successful graduate of the NHS Lothian Leap programme, her addiction was rooted in the "harmless" post-work glass of wine that eventually evolved into a habit.

"I'd hide bottles around the house," she confesses."I'd nip upstairs, saying I was going to the toilet and come back down drunk.

"People asked if I'd been drinking and I'd lie and say 'no'. They'd say 'you need help' but I turned it down. I didn't think my drinking was anyone else's business and I didn't think I had a problem."

Hide Ad

Drink eclipsed everything in her life. Her self-esteem and feeling of self-worth plummeted, she stopped looking after herself and focused attention instead on hiding bottles of vodka around the house.

She stopped working and the drinking progressed. It didn't make her feel better, in fact it went hand in hand with low self-esteem and rock bottom self-worth.

Hide Ad

There were spells in hospital as her health failed and at least one suicide attempt. She'd detox in hospital, leave and within days be drinking again.

When she eventually accepted help, it was, she adds, "to get other people off my back".

Her refusal to accept the scale of her problem meant her first episode at Leap was not wholly successful. Required by the counsellors at Leap to be honest and open about her relationship with alcohol, her thoughts, feeling and behaviour, Betty - who doesn't want to be fully identified - struggled.

"I was in denial," she explains. "I didn't embrace the treatment. I went through it, came out and said I wouldn't drink again. And then I did."

Like Peter, she needed to hit that dire personal low to jolt her into taking what was probably life-saving action. When it came, it lasted ten long horrible months.

"I was drunk constantly. Things were very much out of control, really bad. I had a ten-month blackout. I can remember very little of it. I wasn't aware of anything, I couldn't see what I was doing to myself and the people around me.

Hide Ad

"But I now know I had to go through that to get here. I look back and think 'what a sad person'. And I feel very sad when I see it happen to other people."

Betty's GP referred her back to Leap last September. This time she hasn't touched a drink since.

Hide Ad

About 60 per cent of people who have passed through the community-based residential programme, based in Malta Terrace, have gone on to successful recovery. Launched four years ago, the service involves three months of counselling, detox for those who require it, peer group support and intensive aftercare.

For Peter, from Boghall, a drink-free life means he can at last focus on a new home and the possibility of a job working in the care sector. "I used to think all I had to look forward to was dying," he says. "Once I was in hospital with pneumonia. It developed into a blood clot on my lung and I remember thinking that was a huge bonus, it was my 'get out' clot, my trump card. Here was something that could kill me because the drink was taking too long.

"I'd had enough of living. I wanted to die," he adds. "Now, though, I'm looking forward to life."

Moving forward

LEAP (Lothians and Edinburgh Abstinence Programme) was launched four years ago and is the first programme of its kind to combine NHS Lothian services with Edinburgh City Council, job-related organisation and other alcohol and drug partnerships.

Twenty addicts at a time use its seven-day-a-week service, with six out of ten going on to "graduate", giving them a route to housing, further education, training or work.

Eddy Conroy, Leap head therapist, says: "Staff are able to observe the physical, mental and spiritual transformation that takes place in patients over the 12 weeks of treatment.

Hide Ad

"We see the shift from active addiction to recovery every day and it never ceases to affirm the fact that recovery is not only a possibility but a tangible reality for those in active addiction who are willing to work hard to find a healthier life."