Sven’s story: Celebrating my sobriety through poetry

June 2024 | 8 minutes

All due to the compassion of one HR Manager, Sven is able to celebrate their sobriety with poetry five years on.

Instead of giving up drinking, I gave up on my dreams. It was easier. Short term at least.

Looking back, I’d never had a healthy relationship with alcohol but, before it got out of hand, I still had reasons to get up, at least.

One of them, was poetry.

In 2013 through a random series of events that involved me storming out of a pub job, I found myself standing on a stage at a poetry festival in Canterbury in a poetry slam.

For the uninitiated, a poetry slam is in short, competitive art. Poets stand on stage, and have three minutes to perform a poem they wrote, before being judged, either by panel or by the audience themselves.

I’d never been to one before, but I was in love with it, straight away. In a world where so many of us struggle to get heard, here I was, on stage, uninterrupted. Accepted even. Chatting with other poets, the art of it all, and yes, the applause. It was wonderful.

I ended up winning that slam, teaching poetry in schools and youth groups, mentoring, going on the radio, winning more slams, touring England, competing at a national level. I set my sights on being a full-time poet, and a national champion. Before you know it, years have flown past.

Alcohol was now making a significant impact on my life. A lot of that impact, most people will be able to imagine. Destroyed relationships, homelessness, threadbare health and mental well-being.

Specifically, though, I turned my back on art. I wasn’t able to maintain relationships with promoters, other artists, or the community at large. I wasn’t able to remember my work on stage. I no longer had the wherewithal needed to write. I was angry, miserable, and self-destructive.

I replaced my poetry pals with pub ones. Replaced the pub with a living room. Replaced company for solo drinking. Fell off the world.

It’s only though the compassion of one HR manager that had seen their fair-share of dependant drinkers that I managed to get help. They saw the signs, stayed kind, and reached out to me, multiple times, till I actually took their hand.

With their help I took to sobriety, and through time and effort realised it was the right path for me. It came with a host of benefits, not least of all was my revitalised emotional and mental capacity – and disposable income!

Eventually this new path took me back to poetry and performing. While on holiday in Germany, I happened across a poetry evening, went, and performed. I fell back in love with poetry instantly.

Five years on, and I can’t believe that once I quit poetry, to keep drinking. I’ve toured Europe, made videos, albums, I’m back on the radio, and even now on Spotify too. I even finally won the national finals here in England. I’ve made it as a National Champion. A goal I set my sights on, 10 years ago, lost sight of 5 years ago, and achieved this year.

In early May, I represented England at the World Cup of Poetry Slam in Paris. I was nervous, and excited, obviously, but also so aware of the ground trodden to get here.

One of the things you hear a lot about in some sober circles is how bad things were before they righted their relationship with alcohol. It’s rarer that the point of the conversation is a celebration of the now.

My now, is a celebration. I’m reunited with my passion. I’ve taken it further than ever before.

Last year I even wrote and donated a video poem to Alcohol Change UK as a fundraiser.

All because of one compassionate HR manager, who took the time to help me.

It can be heart-breaking to see someone close to you struggle with alcohol problems. There is help available.

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