How alcoholic dad who thought he was a 'goner' turned his life around

Melissa Buttigieg
News Reporter

Mark couldn’t go a day without drinking at least two bottles of wine - he even had a bottle by his bedside. Drinking was the first thing he did when he woke up, and the last think he did before he went to bed.

The Melbourne dad’s alcohol addiction became a “nightmare” that he felt powerless to wake up from, despite realising it was ruining his life.

“My marriage had fallen to pieces and I was drinking excessively, very heavily,” said Mark, who didn’t want his last name published. “I found it impossible to cope.”

The 60-year-old said the divorce in October 2017 left him alone and with massive debts, so he turned to alcohol to forget his woes.

“I went into total psychological breakdown and hit the bottle like crazy,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

Now a recovering alcoholic, Mark couldn’t go a day without drinking at least two bottles of wine. Source: St Mary's House of Welcome

Alcoholic was too embarrassed to be seen

At his lowest point, Mark had consumed 45 bottles of wine during a three-week binge. His alcoholism had taken over his life and he was embarrassed by what he had become.

“One time a friend came to visit and I couldn’t answer the door. I couldn’t let him in the house - there were wine bottles everywhere and cigarette butts on the carpet. I couldn’t let people see me like that,” he said.

“I found it very hard to face my family who cared and loved for me, but felt I couldn’t face it because I had let them down.

“I was so unkept. I had a long beard, hair everywhere. I was wearing the same clothes for over a week.”

Mark’s excessive alcohol consumption even caused red, scaly patches to appear on his skin.

St Mary's House of Welcome in Fitzroy, in Melbourne's north, helps people like Mark with hot meals, showers, and essential services. Source: St Mary's House of Welcome

“I used to have a panic attack when I thought the bottle shop was going to close... I would have a panic attack when I didn’t have a bottle on me. I hate what [alcoholism] has done to me,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “Alcohol is a demon of a thing.”

He knew he had to kick the addiction, but felt impossible to do it without help.

“It was like getting on the Titanic: I knew I was going to sink,” Mark said.

St Mary’s House of Welcome provided a second chance

Having been a Fitzroy local, Mark had always gone past St Mary’s House of Welcome and wondered what went on beyond its walls –– until July 2018 when he stumbled in. It was that curiosity which helped Mark completely turn his life around.

St Mary’s is a not-for-profit open access centre, helping about 200 people each day who are experiencing homelessness, poverty and mental illness. They are given a hot meal, shower, change of clothes, and be connected with support workers.

In the past 12 months, St Mary’s House of Welcome has provided more than 50,000 hot meals to some of Melbourne’s most disadvantaged men, women and children, thanks in part to donations by corporations like Nando’s.

Chicken from Nando’s restaurants is donated to supply meals for those doing it tough. Source: St Mary's House of Welcome

The chicken take-away chain partnered with national not-for-profit organisation SecondBite in July last year, to provide food from more than 80 Nando’s restaurants across the country. As part of the NanDonation initiative, leftovers are secured and redistributed to charities across Australia, including St Mary’s.

Mark described the access centre as a “sanctuary”.

“I find it hard sometimes to be in the outside world. It’s become a home to me... I can come in and have a hot meal - they are exceptional. The chef Doug makes gorgeous meals. It’s amazing what he can do.

“I can have breakfast, lunch - you get really looked after. I can’t thank St Mary’s House of Welcome enough,” Mark said.

The path to sobriety

A support worker put Mark in touch with an alcohol councillor to help get him sober, but the path to sobriety hasn’t come without relapse.

The turning point, for Mark, was visiting a friend in hospital who had fallen over drunk in the street. The all-too-familiar experience gave him a sense of deja vu, so he made the decision to give sobriety another chance.

St Mary's House of Welcome helps about 200 people each day who are experiencing homelessness, poverty and mental illness. Source: St Mary's House of Welcome

“It was the wake up call I needed to get help. I thought to myself: ‘It’s time to end this nonsense’. I threw out every last bit of alcohol in the house,” he said.

He’s now been sober for five weeks, but said he’s embracing a different mindset being on the wagon this time.

“I enjoyed the withdrawal. I enjoyed feeling my heart beat normal again, and the moisture coming back in my skin.”

He urged others battling addiction to take a step backwards and think about what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Mark said help was out there, through support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and nobody was ever alone.

“I probably would have kept drinking if it were not for St Mary’s. If I kept the way I was going, I might have been a goner. It might have saved my life coming here,” he said.

If alcohol or drugs are harming you or someone you know, there are trained telephone counsellors available in every Australian state and territory through Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS).

Family Drug Helpline : 1300 368 186

Youth Substance Abuse Service : 1800 014 446

Lifeline : 13 11 14

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