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A high-flyer can also be an alcoholic...

It took a long time for Process Consultant Paul Gray to admit he had a drink problem, and when he finally did there was no eureka moment but instead was a result of years of mess ups, bad habits and hospital admissions. Paul wasn’t homeless or a drunk on a park bench as a stereotypical alcoholic is described, but instead he was a high-flyer in Central London where social gatherings and alcoholic-fuelled lunches were part of the norm.

Alcohol can play a significant role in and around the workplace and is often perceived as a stress-reliever, antidote to a demanding job, or an opportunity to network with colleagues and clients, however, drinking heavily on a daily basis can lead to decreased organisational activity and be incredibly damaging to your health.

To mark this year’s Alcohol Awareness week Paul shares his story with Portsmouth Hospitals.

“Working in Central London meant there was always a social gathering invite, and it was the norm to drink at each event and later return to the office with more than a few beverages running through your blood stream,” says Paul.

“I then found that the more senior my position became the more I drank, and my social and work life started to blend into one. I was in my early 20’s when I started to fall into a pattern of putting a shot or two of vodka into my morning orange juice.”

Paul says he successfully participated in the national campaign Dry January, and because he completed it so easily he didn’t think he had a problem. “Before I knew it I would drink to excess throughout the remainder of the year because at the back of my mind I thought I was able to give up if I wanted, and having January off meant my body was healthy,” laughs Paul. “It’s ridiculous the way an alcoholic’s mind works!”

Paul says the next nine years were spent repeating the January cycle, but that some resulted in the odd cheat day, but as it was an event he would let himself off.

At age 29 Paul was signed off work with stress. “In reality it was the drink that was causing the stress, but I was signed off work for three weeks, and with no work-routine within the first week I found myself drinking even heavier. Then when I returned to work I was in a worse state then when I left and my boss instantly noticed, but it was part of the office culture where others had been signed off work because of ‘alcohol-fuelled stress’ so I was no different to anyone else.”

Paul says he decided to quit his job and along with Natalie, they travelled around Europe for six-months. “Travelling made my drinking worse as it was like an extended holiday where wine was acceptable with every meal, and because we were in holiday-mode Natalie didn’t analysis just how much I was consuming.”

After six boozy months Paul decided that he needed a fresh start so got himself a new job in a PR firm, but before he knew it he was soon looking after clients in swanky wine bars that resulted in morning and afternoon tipples of wine.

I ask Paul to put his drinking into prospective and he tells me that on average he would drink around 20 beers a day, or eight beers, a bottle of wine and half a bottle of Vodka a day.

I then had a drinking-fuelled incident which still makes me cringe to this day, and that was at my friend’s wedding where I was tasked with being the Master of Ceremony. To my embarrassment I got so horrendously drunk that I couldn’t even stand up let alone speak to announce people.” Paul says the incident still cuts deep that he could let his friend down so much. “The next day my friend emailed me saying how disappointed he was and I instantly knew I had screwed up. I had a deep sense of shame and it was a bullet I could no longer dodge.”

Paul says he left his job and spent a few months trying to drink less, but gradually his appearance started to change which resulted in his skin turning yellow, known medically as jaundice which is a telltale sign that there was something wrong with his liver.

“I went to the GP and he instantly referred me to QA Hospital’s emergency department. My body was failing and I had internal bleeding from where my liver was shutting down. I was admitted into hospital for one month which was one of the worse experiences of my life,” says Paul before explaining that the first few days were like hell where he was hallucinating, angry and critically ill, but after one month of being out of hospital he started drinking again which resulted in another hospital admission the following year. “It was at this visit that the alcohol team at the hospital had been introduced, and this time when I left they gave me a strategy to follow, which included attending AA meetings.”

Paul says at first he attended four meetings a week, then gradually two and within a year he would have considered himself recovered. “I had a good, sober, productive year. I was back in employment, my relationship was good and I naively thought I was over the worse of it, and because of that I could have one or two drinks here and there.” Obviously the one-or-two drinks that Paul then consumed resulted in drinking in excess once more and resulting in a QA Hospital admission once more.

“It is now six years later and that admittance was my final one, and I strongly believe that my turning point was down to the strong relationship between the ASNS and community staff and giving me access to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that focuses on behaviour and makes the link between behaviour and the things that are important in our life. It has successfully suited my recovery better.”

After six years of being dry Paul is now self-employed, is involved in politics, has got back into the hobbies he once loved, “I regularly now play golf!” laughs Paul, and has even bought a house with Natalie.

“My health is pretty good as well – life really is on the up for me, and it just goes to show that anyone can turn their life around, even after so many failed attempts – it is never too late!”

Sue Atkins, Alcohol Specialist Nurse Says: “Paul’s story is an amazing example of how your health and wellbeing can improve rapidly with the right support. The support Paul received enabled him to improve his health, go back to work and enjoy life again.

“1,685 people were referred to the Alcohol Specialist Nurse Service in 2014/15 with 2,104 people actually receiving treatment. The treatment does work and Paul’s story is a great example of that.”

Anyone concerned around their alcohol use or health can contact their GP for more advice.

  • Portsmouth patients can contact the Recovery Hub for support in the community – 023 9275 1617.
  • Hampshire patients can contact Inclusion for their local support service - 0300 124 01030.
  • If you are a concerned friend or relative and need some support yourself, Rebound are a fantastic service which is voluntarily run by people who have been in the same position as you: 07939 580167

The Alcohol Specialist Service is available Monday to Sunday until 4pm.

Posted on Wed, December 16 2015