Former Sunderland footballer Kieron Brady now supports people with alcohol problems, after suffering with alcoholism himself. Kieron’s drinking escalated until his mid-30s when he reached crisis point and he went into recovery. He has been sober since June 2009.
Kieron, 49, started playing as a winger for the Black Cats at the age of 17 and had a promising career ahead of him until he was diagnosed with a rare blood condition, which forced him to retire in the summer of 1993.
“One of the things I say to people who think they might be drinking too much, or on that path, is to assess their drinking as honestly as they can. If it is costing you more than money and becoming problematic in your personal and professional life, now is the time to look at how much you’re drinking, the reasons why and make a change.
“I found out the hard way. Alcoholism played a significant part in my family background, and I have many of the characteristics and traits of an alcoholic. Recovery has taught me that life events do lead people to turn to alcohol, mainly for solace, but I was already drinking far too much.
“During my footballing career I drank a lot, and often the socialising after matches was just as important as the game itself. As a young male, it was the cultural norm to go drinking with your mates and I was just doing what everyone else was. We would regularly binge drink, and I would often be the most drunk by the end of night, but nobody thought it was out of the ordinary. We were just a group of friends enjoying ourselves. I was able to hide how much I was drinking in plain sight.”
Kieron struggled in the immediate aftermath of his retirement and despite encouragement from his family, did not seek professional help. Over the following years, Kieron began to rely on alcohol and his mental health began to suffer.
“As well as affecting the body, alcohol affects the mind and it can create many different mental health conditions for some. I was diagnosed with depression and depersonalisation disorder, both of which were alcohol-induced. Thankfully, my mental health improved because of my recovery and I haven’t suffered from depression since becoming sober.”
It was from 2005, when Kieron realised his desire for alcohol was much more intense than previous years and he accepted there was a serious problem.
“I couldn’t simply go out and have three or four drinks, it was all or nothing. I never knew when I’d had enough. It got to the point when I would wake up in the morning and my first reaction was to drink alcohol. I’d drink for days at a time, and would only stop when I couldn’t drink anymore, was too tired as I hadn’t slept, or I had run out of alcohol in the house and out of money to buy it. I was totally dependent on alcohol and the consequences and the intensity of my behaviour were beyond brutal at times.
“The most intense period was between 2005 and 2009, as I was on a downward spiral. Alcoholism is a progressive illness, and I was in the late stages. I was anxious, paranoid, and suicidal. When you realise you’re going to lose either your mind or your life, a brief window of clarity opened and I recognised I had to do something and I needed help.
“I had just turned 36 when I sought help for the first time and went to recovery. It was incredibly difficult and over the following two years I relapsed around five or six times. I’ll always remember my penultimate day of drinking, as I woke up in the early hours of the morning after drinking solidly for 12 days and realised I had no alcohol in its traditional form in the house, so I contemplated drinking my aftershave. That was a significant event for me.”
Kieron has been sober for 11 and a half years after last consuming alcohol on the morning of June 12, 2009. He feels incredibly lucky that he asked for help and got support. His sobriety has enabled him to get married and to start a family, which he never thought possible.
“All I used to think about was alcohol, nothing else mattered except where I would get my next drink from. Sobriety has changed that, I will always be incredibly grateful for the people who have helped me throughout my recovery. I would have never been able to do it using willpower alone. I’m not cured of alcoholism but what keeps me from drinking is the willingness to help my fellow sufferers. A part of my own recovery is to pay it forward and help others.”
Kieron now works as a consultant for the SP Bespoke company, which specialises in helping people with addictions.
“It’s important that people recognise the warning signs if their drinking is creeping up. Consider how much you’re thinking about alcohol when you’re not drinking. Have you ever hidden your drinking, started drinking early, or a loved one has told you that you might be drinking too much? Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. I will often say to people – has anyone ever told you that you can be ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ because of your relationship with alcohol?
“Alcohol can have a significant impact on relationships with your loved ones – exacerbating problems and leading to arguments, even sadly resulting in the break up of families and divorce.
“Try to take steps to cut down or stop, particularly if alcohol is becoming detrimental to your mental or physical health, relationships with family and friends and career prospects. When people take a month, three months, six months, off drinking, they often say how great they feel – but you have to remove the notion that you can go back to drinking at the level you were before.
“Unfortunately, as a nation, we have a drink problem and there is a cultural acceptance of drinking and drunkenness as a social norm. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people say that they need alcohol to help them sleep or need alcohol to relax. The truth is, we shouldn’t need alcohol – whether it’s for celebration or to suppress adversity.
“My drinking was at the extreme end and it was hellish. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I went through and whatever your relationship with alcohol, you can turn it around with the right support. If you’re drinking too much, I can honestly say that cutting down and even trying some time off the booze will bring you all of the things alcohol promised you but failed to deliver.
“Getting sober and staying sober has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I gained self-respect, self-worth, peace and contentment. I can’t emphasise enough what sobriety has offered me. I can be there for others in a way I never could before, I feel everything, I wake up each day and enjoy things that were inaccessible to me when I was living with alcoholism.
“If you are dependent on drinking, getting the right support is essential to reduce your drinking in a safe way. In my experience the best way to help an alcoholic is for another alcoholic to speak to them and provide guidance. They are more likely to pay attention if they know they’re speaking to someone who has faced the same problems and suffers from the same illness.”