Former British soldier Jason Meek has completely turned his life around after alcohol addiction nearly killed him.
Jason’s struggle with alcohol had reached crisis point when he found himself surrounded by eight or nine armed men in the streets of Kabul.
The British soldier had been drinking at a party at a British establishment a month into his posting to Afghanistan, when he was surrounded by the angry group.
With the seriousness of the situation rapidly dawning on him, he pleaded to one of the men to be allowed to escape. “I said ‘I’m not worth any money, I’m just a soldier’,” he recalls.
“I remember looking at him and he gave me the nod to go. I ran to the American base down the street. I hit the barrier and started shouting ‘British soldier, need assistance.’ They pulled me in.”
When the commotion died down, it quickly became apparent Jason had been drinking. He was returned home to his base in York under a black cloud.
Alcohol had always featured in Jason’s social life, but had begun to pervade nearly every aspect of his life after he returned from serving in Iraq in 2005.
Until the incident in Afghanistan, he had largely kept the problem under wraps, functioning well and continuing the very successful military career which had taken him around the world.
Now things began to unravel.
Put on gardening leave and becoming increasingly depressed, he was eventually discharged from the Army after completing his 22 years in 2009.
His marriage broke down.
Despite turning his life around on a number of occasions when he landed jobs as an electrician with Aldi and Aviva, he continued to function while drinking up to three bottles of wine a night, falling into cycles of more and more damaging alcohol abuse.
Things came to a head when he was arrested for assault and was told by York police officers they had considered him to be so disturbed, and such a risk to himself, he had been on constant watch and the psychiatric team nearly called.
Returning to his shared home in Clifton, Jason began a period of drinking solidly for ten days.
When an ambulance was called the first time he could not be persuaded to get in, but when it returned a second time he was carried out and taken to York Hospital where a doctor told him he had damaged his kidney and liver and would be dead within 12 months if he carried on.
“I was in a lot of pain in hospital,” Jason said. Across from me was another guy on drips. I remember looking at him and feeling a combination of pity and thinking oh, look at him, what an idiot, when it struck me I was the same picture. I was in there for alcohol and he was.
“We looked at each other and didn’t really say anything, but there was a realisation.
“I felt like an old man. I thought, do I really want this?”
Now the picture of health, Jason’s life is completely unrecognisable from the chaotic picture he paints of the start of the year.
Sober for over seven months, the 43-year-old has completely transformed his life after being referred by Lifeline in York to Changing Lives Addiction and Recovery Service – a 12-week abstinence-based, structured, day treatment for people suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.
He has found work in a shop, leads a self-help group, is looking to become a trained counsellor and is vice chair of the York in Recovery Forum.
Jason has even joined a recovery choir run by the City of York Counil commissioned Changing Lives.
“I can drink and go back to the chaos or I can not drink and have a happy, clean, clear life,” he said.
“It’s not a bed of roses, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it was and it’s getting better.
“There are things I’m doing, I would not have even contemplated 12 months ago.”
The key to Jason’s success has been the consideration he has given to his addiction and behaviour.
He was brought up in a culture of drinking which continued when he joined the Army as a teenager.
“There was this whole drinking culture in the military. I’m not blaming the military, but if you get a group of young men together, they are going to do that no matter where they are in the world.
“I turn to drink because I think it will solve the problem, but it doesn’t. You get stuck in a vicious cyle of depression and drink.”
Jason has spoken about his experiences to reassure people they are not alone and do not necessarily have to fit the stereotype of the alcoholic to seek help.
He has met very highly qualified, professionally successful people while in recovery.
“Alcohol has no boundaries,” he said. “There will be thousands of people turning up for work and having a drink day after day and they will be professional people of all walks of life.
“If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs there are people who don’t judge you and are here to help.”
The twelve-step programme to change your life
Changing Lives offers abstinence-based, structured, day treatment at Bowes Morrell House, York, for people suffering from drug and/or alcohol addiction.
It offers a 12-week programme based on the 12 step approach to recovery which aims to encourage and support people to take responsibility for their recovery.
You need to be referred to Changing Lives York by a drug and alcohol treatment agency, such as the Lifeline Project.
The treatment programme includes group therapy, one-to-one counselling, workshops for developing life skills and relapse prevention strategies, education and information on addiction recovery and health promotion, therapeutic reading and writing exercises, working with others engaged in the same process Those who access the treatment programme at Changing Lives continue to live in their own home.
Changing Lives holds a regular drop in every Thursday from 11am to 2pm at St Bede’s Pastoral Centre, 21 Blossom Street. Anybody is welcome to pop in and have a chat.
Useful contact numbers
• If you would like help with alcohol addiction, contact your GP’s surgery in the first instance.
• Alcoholics Anonymous: www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/ 0845 76 97 555 helpline
• Lifeline: Severe dependency assistance and treatment: Lifeline Project York, 3 Blossom street, York, YO24 1AU. 01904 464680
• Changing Lives, Oaktrees Abstinence Support: Bowes Morrell House, 111 Walmgate, York, YO1 9UA Tel: 01904 621776 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Alcohol Concern: www.alcoholconcern.org.uk
• Change for life: www.nhs.uk/Change4Life