I had to get out of the house, my head was a mess and there was no tea.
Was I subconsciously putting myself in the danger zone? I don’t know, but I felt I had to be doing something. In a state of shock, I walked through the automatic doors.
As I picked up a box of teabags from the shelf, I still had tears in my eyes. I’d only found out 10 minutes earlier that my dad had unexpectedly passed away.
I tried to be focused and keep moving, but as I rounded the corner to make my way to the tills, I came to a stop.
The queue was longer than I had expected. I gripped the box of tea as my eyes focused on the one thing that had always been my comfort before, the alcohol aisle.
Then the voice came back, I thought it had gone, but no, it would seem it had just been dormant, waiting for that moment when I was most vulnerable.
I stood defenseless as it whispered in my ear, clutching my little box of chamomile as though it was a shield that would protect me from the countless bottles of booze I found myself surrounded by and as I neared the checkout, they were closing in on me.
I felt ambushed, as though I had willingly walked into the mouth of hell.
My heart was racing, and I could feel my pain heightened by the anxiety now flooding my mind. I had my eye first on the cans next to me but then, as the queue slowly moved forward, my focus turned to the rum behind the counter.
I felt transfixed by the bottle and the promise of numbing the pain I was experiencing.
Forty-nine days sober nearly lost. Thankfully, I managed to hold on and I’m proud to say that, now, I am 618 days clean and sober as I write this.
That was the first of many tests that nearly spiralled me back into active addiction and it is the reason why I’m campaigning for supermarkets to redirect their queues away from the this aisle and make more of an effort not to make alcohol so prominent.
I had been using substances since I was a child. First it was alcohol, then solvents that I was fed as a means to subdue me by the man who sexually abused me and did so for around six years.
Alcohol had become my comfort and means to cope since then, and progressed naturally into my adult life. He killed himself when I was 18. And I was left to feel punished for a crime I never committed the rest of my life.
This is not a pity party, and I don’t want your sympathy, but I want you to know how my dependency developed.
My mum abandoned me when I was a baby. At age eight, I was groomed and raped for the first time around a year later. I was sexually abused regularly for around six years from then on.
When I was 13, I was attacked from behind and left for dead with a blood clot on my brain.
When I went into recovery, I learned that I had developed a low sense of self-worth from a young age and the one constant I felt made the pain go away was alcohol.
My turning point came on 24 May 2020, I was living alone in a flat. My nan had recently passed away, and I sat contemplating my life, and what a letdown I had been. I had been on a two week bender since her passing. Drinking more than I had before and intent on self destruction.
I had ruined every relationship I had ever had; a daughter I could not see and a son that wondered where his daddy had gone. My alcoholism had always been bad, drinking until blackout every night for as long as I could remember. Because I feared the night time as that is when the memories would come back and the pain resurface.
As I sat there thinking about my many mistakes fuelled by my alcoholism, in my heart, I could hear my nan’s voice trying to reach me: ‘When I die, do not use me as an excuse to get drunk.’
My nan would say this to me often while she was alive, but sadly I only heard the words on that day.
My eyes sprung open, and I jumped on Google, to discover that my local recovery groups were closed thanks to lockdown.
I couldn’t get an appointment with my GP, either. I was determined, however, to become the man I was born to be and no longer live the life inflicted on me by my childhood traumas and addictions.
I got proactive, and as I looked in the mirror at the puffy face and bloodshot eyes of the alcoholic looking back at me, I knew enough was enough.
I would have to figure this out for myself, and no matter what, I would not give up until this internal battle was won.
I learned as much as I could about my addictions. I started writing in a journal and sharing my experiences on social media.
This was not an easy process and many evenings I found myself crying as I wrote. But in my mind I felt I needed to feel the emotion and feel the pain. I wanted to let it out so I no longer directed it at myself but instead towards those who had done this to me.
I struggled with the many trolls on social media who attacked me for speaking out about the abuse I endured and there were many times I almost gave up and thought no one would understand.
I would go to work and feel people looked at me differently, as though I had changed. Not only did they become aware I was an alcoholic but I was also a man who had been raped, beaten and left for dead when I was just a youngster.
But I found my strength when someone told me, ‘you are not a victim you are a survivor and your story will set the world alight’. I found great strength in this and I believed if I can start talking maybe more will follow.
Online, I spoke about what happened to me when I was a child, and the more I did so, the more I broke the chains that kept me tied to my past and restrained by my alcoholism.
Writing became my therapy; I penned my first book Recovery Is Possible: An Addict’s Story during my first year in recovery.
I took what I learned from my recovery journey and founded the Matt Penn Initiative in 2021, which provides its own online recovery programme and peer support service, now with a following of 68,000 and counting.
But had I given in on that day I stood in that queue, I could well have gone back into active addiction, and I would not be here proud to be sober – helping many other people with their recovery process.
You’ve probably never noticed it before, but where our local supermarkets direct their queues for the till – often down the booze aisle – can significantly influence relapse for those battling an alcohol problem.
The majority of people who contact me regarding their alcoholism tell me the biggest challenge they have in maintaining their sobriety is going to the shops; even something as simple as buying a box of tea can become a minefield.
Most express mini markets run their queue up the alcohol aisle, a simple reorganisation of those shelves would alleviate this problem or a redirection of the queue up a different aisle.
Alcohol behind the counter can be covered to stop impulse purchases and help people to make healthier decisions and most notably not putting people in early recovery in a very dangerous position.
On my page I have got a very positive response. However, many people who do not struggle with addiction do not understand the turmoil the shops are creating every day for many.
I hope that by sharing my story I can help to inform and in doing so some changes can be made. A simple adjustment could potentially save lives and also have a positive impact on families nationwide.
One small change really can make a huge difference.
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
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