With an estimated 12,300 adults alcohol dependent in the county and around 350,000 still drinking at risky levels, this Christmas we have joined forces with Nathan, a recovering alcoholic, to tell his story in the hope of helping others seek support.
Last summer, Nathan Marsh, 40, was frail, significantly underweight and hooked up to IV drips in hospital. He was close to death as a result of years of abusing his body with alcohol.
Nathan who lives in Chelmsford was born into a middle class family, he attended a Grammar school and started taking drugs and alcohol at just 13 years old.
He said: “I started taking alcohol and drugs, not for any great need to anaesthetize myself from some hidden trauma or life event but more over to fit in with the crowd and be liked. In hindsight I used addictively from the outset."
“Upon leaving school, whilst others went to university, I decided to take the alternative route of employment and travel in varying degrees and with varying results. Eventually with some preprogramed idea that I had to get a stable job I bumbled into the world of banking."
Nathan worked his way up the corporate ladder and was soon engulfed in a world of casual drug use and excessive alcohol consumption. Over his 12 years in banking he was repeatedly promoted and ended up as a Senior Commercial Bank Manager, however the pressure of the job and his addiction soon became too much and he left his job.
“By this point in my life drug use had, in the large part, fallen slightly to the wayside and alcohol had become the mistress that would eventually bring me to my knees. With a limited network of friends i.e. none, alcohol was readily available and socially acceptable."
In the months that followed, Nathan faced daily challenges with his alcohol dependency becoming more difficult to manage. His health was deteriorating and he was referred for treatment to Open Road which he believes is where his recovery began.
Open Road, a registered charity, is commissioned by Essex County Council (ECC) to provide support for individuals affected by drugs and alcohol across the county.
Following initial treatment with Open Road, he was then referred for further treatment with SHARP.
SHARP, another ECC commissioned service, is a structured treatment programme, which aims to help people understand their addiction and support them as they begin - or continue - their journey of recovery. The 48-day programme takes places in both Braintree and Wickford, and is run over the course of eight weeks, with an additional week for induction.
However Nathan's treatment wasn't plain sailing: “I thought, if I'm going to have to stop drinking for a bit I might as well drink as much as I can now. My dependency was now at a horrendous level and soon ascites began to develop, and things were swiftly coming to a head."
Soon after, Nathan's weight dropped dramatically and he was using a walking stick due to pain when moving. He was admitted to Broomfield Hospital with a swollen abdomen.
He was hooked up to intravenous drips and told if he had not attended hospital on that day his life expectancy was around two months, he was close to death. He later found out he was also suffering with the early signs of the onset of dementia.
It was at hospital where his successful detox took place, he then restarted treatment at SHARP as well as Futures in Mind, which offers inclusive support for people with substance/alcohol misuse and mental ill health by providing peer support and mutual aid.
Due to this treatment, Nathan has been in recovery for 20 months and is now drawing from his own experiences to help others in the same position. He has set up his own business, Recover This, a motivational life coaching & drug and alcohol awareness business.
Reflecting on his life during the height of his addiction, Nathan recounts Christmas as being a particularly difficult time.
Nathan said: “For many, Christmas is a time of celebration but to others a time when emotions are heightened and the demons of memory come knocking that little harder on the door."
“For the addict, a month of permission to feed their mental health disorder lays before them. A time when consumption and excess are not only tolerated, but celebrated."
“Helping out at one of the drug and alcohol centres in Essex recently, it was hard not to be struck by the poignancy of person after person stumbling through the doors, lost with Christmas songs merrily chirping away in the background on the reception radio. As a recovering addict myself I know what it is to be lost and I know what it is to stumble, and how bitter and distant those Christmas songs sound in the depths of the disease of addiction."
“I celebrated my first Christmas last year without drink or drugs for 27 years. I had to, for the sake of my recovery, look at Christmas with fresh eyes, away from the bars and the parties and the drug fuelled 'all weekers'. What did I find? I found Christmas lights in home windows, I found the sound of the salvation army on a street corner. I found a child with his face pressed to a toyshop window desperately trying to drag his mother through the door way. I found goosebumps at the back of my neck when I hung a bauble on my own tree, sober."
“Addiction affects every corner of our society and we desperately need an adult conversation about it, in the open with everyone on board. I hope that by working with the County Council and sharing my story it gets people talking and that more people are encouraged to seek support"
“If you are struggling, don't let another Christmas come around without reaching out for help."
If you, or someone you know is suffering with alcohol or drug misuse, there are a number of organisations that can help.
OPEN ROAD- www.openroad.org.uk
FUTURES IN MINDS- www.futuresinmind.org.uk
You can also take our online alcohol test to see how risky your drinking is-