Toby's story: "I finally realised how important it was to talk openly and honestly."

Toby Winson | November 2019 | 9 minutes

I have spent my entire adult life battling my addiction to alcohol, a journey which has involved seven months in rehab, repeatedly breaking the hearts of my family, countless stints in hospital and eventually liver disease at 25 which almost killed me.

At 29, I am now over three years sober, in good health and pursuing a new career after winning a national broadcast journalism competition this summer.

I had my first taste of alcohol at the age of 13. By 14, I was drinking spirits with my friends every weekend. If I’m honest, right from the start, I preferred being drunk over being sober. I liked how it made me feel and the confidence it gave me.

By 21, I couldn’t imagine an evening without a bottle of vodka, and the thought of not getting hold of a bottle would bring on a panic attack. This was the point when I desperately needed help. This was the point when I needed to tell someone I had a problem. This was the point where things could have been so different if I had accepted I had a problem. But I didn’t.

What followed was six years of self-destruction. Six years of drinking and relapsing that dragged me far deeper than rock bottom.

Soon I went from only drinking vodka at night to drinking in the mornings. I was now a 24-hour drinker and within six weeks I was not only mentally dependent on alcohol, but physically too. I was now drinking up to a litre-and-a-half of vodka a day.

Without knowing anything about alcohol withdrawals, and that they can be fatal, I went cold turkey for the first time at 22. This led to severe hallucinations, from which I believed I had lost my mind. I ended up in a police station after running towards traffic as I thought someone was trying to kill me.

Over the following years, more hallucinations were to follow from withdrawal. I have also had several seizures; another symptom of alcohol withdrawal.

I went to rehab for the first time at the age of 23. I was there for three months and learnt a hell of a lot of tools I use today to stay sober. However, whilst in rehab I got an idea in my head that I could drink like a ‘normal’ person. Instead of telling someone about this thought, I left it in my head to grow. And the outcome of my actions was inevitable: I relapsed soon after leaving rehab.

By 25, I had lost almost all contact with my family, I was unemployable, and I had lost all hope. I was jaundiced which, through denial, I didn’t notice. What I did notice was the sudden change in the colour of the whites of my eyes. They had turned yellow. I remember it sending a shiver up my spine. Eventually, I called an ambulance and was soon rushed to Kings Hospital in London. I had liver disease.

I spent a month in Kings, and for a lot of that time it didn’t look like I was going to get out alive. At that point, I didn’t care. Luckily for me, the doctors, nurses and my family did, and never gave up on me. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Another three months of rehab followed. Again, I made the same mistake. I didn’t talk honestly about what was going on in my head. So, once again, I left rehab and relapsed.

I continued to relapse for another nine months. Even liver disease didn’t stop me drinking. However, the time between my relapses was increasing.

On 5 August 2016 I had my last drink. For the first time in recovery, I was able to accept all the things that I would normally use as excuses to drink. I had also finally figured out what worked for me in recovery through my time in rehab and my previous relapses. But most importantly, I had finally realised how important it was to talk honestly and openly about what was going on in my head.

Around two years into my sobriety I realised I didn’t want all those years I lost to alcoholism to count for nothing. So, I began writing a blog about my recovery called I write about everything I have learnt, every mistake I have made and what I do now to stay sober. My initial hope was that it would help another 21-year-old me; I had no idea that writing would help my recovery too!

I have learnt first-hand how easy it can be to use alcohol as a crutch in life. In a flash, that crutch can turn into the centre of your world. It is incredibly addictive and kills so many people in this country.

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of courage.

I allowed alcohol to become part of my daily routine and it very nearly ended up killing me. I wish I could have realised back when I was 21 that I had a problem, and that I had talked to someone about it.

Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of courage. I recently made a report for ITV News, thanks to the Breaking into News competition I entered through Media Trust, on the level of alcohol and addiction education that is given in schools. I believe that there is not enough, and that the content could be more effective. In my view, the education should focus on how to recognise if you have a problem, that it’s okay to talk about your problems and where to get help.

If you can relate to anything I have said, please talk to someone about it and get help. It’s the beginning of what could be the end. I have been so lucky to come out of it alive. I would not wish the life of an alcoholic on anyone. But there is a way back, I am living proof of that!

If you're struggling with your drinking, seeking support is one of the bravest things you can do.

Find support.