"The Kenward staff convinced me that I did have a reason to live."
Les remembers a childhood where football was what he lived for and professional clubs sent scouts to watch him play. But, in his mid-teens he began smoking and drinking with his mates, which soon progressed to regular cannabis use.
“Within a year I was smoking cannabis morning, noon and night,” says Les. “My mates and me were getting into fights with other gangs, and sometimes the police were called upon to deal with us. Then someone told me about a job that was going at the local brewery.”
Before long, Les was delivering beer and spirits all over London, at a time when every pub landlord would give lorry loaders a drink. In no time at all, Les was drinking every working day and spending all weekend ‘on the beer’ too.
After three years, he could no longer hide his constant state of inebriation, or the fact that he was one of many involved in the corrupt practice of 'off sales' (selling stolen alcohol). Sacked from the brewery, he went to work for the council’s refuse department.
This was another job which allowed Les to drink away his afternoons, having completed an eight-hour shift. However, it was not long before he was using drink and drugs during his working day. In 10 years he spent much of a very good salary on a habit that would see him sacked when his employer could no longer turn a blind eye to his behaviour.
As is often the problem with addiction, no one could convince Les that he had a problem. In his mind he was physically fit from a decade of heavy manual labour, and he was functioning ‘normally’ in spite of a large, daily intake of alcohol and narcotics. His increasingly aggressive behaviour and regular sick leave from work were symptoms he chose to ignore.
But Les began to suffer withdrawal symptoms that he could only control with more alcohol. Drunk at work, he nearly fell off a cargo ship he was loading and was saved only by a deckhand’s quick reflexes. At this time in his life he met the woman he would marry. She worked behind the bar in his local pub.
Her name was Lynne, and she already had three daughters who instantly welcomed Les into their family. Tragically, Lynne was a fellow addict and what was initially a happy family situation would descend into a life of spiralling debt, serious ill-health and, for the three girls, constant fear of what might happen to their parents. Les and Lynne began to suffer fits because of their drinking, the last of which sent Lynne into a coma from which she never emerged.
Beside himself with anguish, and intent on drinking himself to death, Les was taken by family members to a detox centre in Maidstone en route to becoming a resident at Kenward House.
Recovering from guilt
The first two months of his recovery will remain forever hazy for Les. He continued to be suicidal with guilt over Lynne’s death, and nearly walked away from Kenward House on three separate occasions. “I did not deserve to live,” he says. “That’s how I felt all the time. But the staff at Kenward are brilliant at listening, and when they’d done that, they would keep reminding me that my three girls needed me.”
Following detox and several weeks of sobriety, Les found that his emotions no longer had anything to suppress them. Between bouts of uncontrollable tears, kicking the walls and thinking he was losing his mind, the occasional ray of hope shone through. Fellow residents who were further into their recovery helped convince him to stick to his recovery programme. After all, they truly knew how bad he felt, as well as how much better his life could be.
To his surprise, Les completed three months of recovery at Kenward and declared that he was fit to leave! Gently persuaded otherwise, he remained for a further three months, realising that working harder at recovery in the security of a professional setting would pay crucial dividends later on.
And those three extra months would prove priceless. In Les’ words, “It took me the first three months at Kenward just to clear my head, deal with all those bad feelings and see that there was hope for me. The next three months helped me to plan a life back in the community, without alcohol.”
Les moved into a new flat on the day that he left Kenward House. His three girls and his mum had stood by him throughout his long addiction. They believed he could find a life free from the misery of dependency upon drink and drugs. So it is not only Les who gives thanks for his transformation, but his family too.
"It can be done, y’know – to lead a sober and happy life. And Kenward saved me and gave me the courage to get on with doing just that."
Story written in February 2013.