Six months ago, Harry (not his real name) fell unconscious for the umpteenth time and was bundled into a car and rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital where he was admitted.
Hours later he regained consciousness and “create a scene” as he fought to be removed from the institution since according to him he was not sick and did not need to be hospitalized. In the end his friends and relatives were forced to tie him to his bed to prevent him from leaving.
Harry is a recovering alcoholic.
He believes that if he did not fall unconscious five times in one night while consuming alcohol he would have been dead at 41.
Instead he sees today as a brighter day and is eagerly looking forward to a future without alcohol and one that sees him making a meaningful contribution to society.
“Let me tell you something, if I live to be a hundred years I would still have alcohol in my system,” Harry said in a recent interview, indicating the depth of his alcohol addiction.
The turning point in his life, he said, was the day after spending one week in the hospital when he was taken to the Phoenix Recovery Project like a helpless child in pampers. It is now a little over six months since he has been a resident there and he could have walked out today if he wanted.
However, he has decided to remain not only because he feels he’s not ready to return to a familiar environment and friends but more importantly because of the time of the year.
“You see it is Christmas and you know what happens around now, people drink more than ever and alcohol is all around and it is not that I don’t think I could stand up but I don’t want to deliberately tempt myself,” Harry said.
Remembering the night he was rushed to the hospital, Harry, a well-known customs broker, said he was with friends drinking and fell unconscious four times but as soon as he regained consciousness it was back to the bottle. The fifth time his friends did not wait for him to regain consciousness but instead contacted his siblings – a brother and a sister – and took him to the hospital.
It was his siblings – his sister lives in Canada – who persuaded him to check himself into Phoenix and it’s a decision he does not regret.
Harry, a very intelligent individual who never allowed himself to fulfil his true potential because of his addiction, had his first taste of alcohol at age 17 – that was in 1987. It was on a street corner with two brothers who for some years after were his drinking buddies. He recalled that while in high school he never hung out on the street but after that period hanging out became routine.
Initially his drinking conflicted with who he was as Harry was very active in sports and captained two cricket teams at one time and he knew that alcohol was not good for him. He started out drinking beers with the two brothers and he remembers that he only drank about two beers at a time as he was afraid of his mother’s reaction if she should find out he was drinking.
“But then we begun to compete with each other to drink and if you drink the less beer, you became the laughing stock. Then my drinking progressed seriously and I moved from soft drink to hard drink such as vodka,” Harry smiled ruefully.
His mother’s death did not help the situation because he no longer had to hide and drink as he was then the oldest in the home and he would drink from morning until evening.
He supported his drinking habit with the assistance of his friends and taught at the private school his mother had opened. Following the migration of his two friends, Harry said, he applied to the University of Guyana but was placed on the waiting list and he began to drink even more. “We even had a slogan back then ‘save water and drink beer.’”
His second job as a sales clerk pushed Harry’s drinking even further and though he made a lot of money, much of it went towards alcohol. At this particular job Harry met many persons who loved alcohol as much as he did and they ensured that every day there were drinking sessions way into the night.
He later left the job and remained at home for two years during which “there was a dramatic decrease in my drinking, I had no real source of income.”
Unexpectedly, his next job as a stock clerk and his entrance into a learning institution created the right environment for Harry’s drinking addiction and it reached a stage where he drank every midday and afternoon. The classes he took were below his intellect and Harry said he soon started drinking with his lecturers. He excelled in his studies but was eventually fired from his job.
Employment as a marketing officer brought Harry to his dream job, a customs broker, and according to him “that was when it [his drinking] had gone full blown.”
He related that everyone he met in his field drank and after a while he took his job to a shop located a short distance from his workplace.
“The shop lady knew me so me and the boys would go at the back and drink and when someone come looking for me she would say I was not there after all she was making money too,” he said with an ironic laugh.
Eventually he was fired but he opened his own office and many of the clients from his old job followed him and he was forced to hire three persons to assist him. The money was flowing and the drinks were flowing too.
“My drinking became like a compulsive behaviour, I had to get alcohol and I was not realizing it but I was going down the drain,” he added
He said he had gone so far that meetings were shortened so that he could return to the bottle and he was making many friends. But his clients became upset with him and many eventually left because of his habit.
“Sometimes when they call me to find out about the work I was doing for them I would become disrespectful and I would say things like ‘don’t f…king disturb me’ and people became repulsed,” Harry said.
Many persons attempted to help him but he said it was “like throwing water on duck back” and eventually his business collapsed.
However, his drinking did not stop and as he puts it “I begin to prostitute myself in terms of begging friends for money and many people knew me so they would give me money. I would ask for $300 to go to the internet but really it was to buy a quarter.”
A new start
And because he was good at what he did he still got jobs from time to time but the money went towards drinking. As he puts it millions passed through his hands but today he does not have a bank account.
Eventually he lived alone and it is safe to say he was drinking his life away.
“It got so bad that my hands used to shake uncontrollably and I use to get the steady blackouts but I continue drinking,” he said.
So it was in June this year he had that fifth blackout in mere hours when life changed for him.
He recalled that after a day or two at Phoenix he packed his bag and was ready to leave but he was spoken to by the head of the rehab centre, Clarence Young and his peers. “I became very explosive because I saw nothing wrong with me but in my quiet moments I decided to remain.”
After another two weeks at the centre without touching a drop of alcohol, Harry said, he started to believe in himself, he was going to win the fight.
He recalled that one time he went out with his siblings for dinner and he saw a group of old friends at a table and they called him over.
“They knew I like drinking so much that they did not even wait for me to reach the table before ordering the drink but I told them I was not drinking and left,” Harry said.
Harry says he has been growing from strength to strength and his coping skills are getting better.
When he leaves Phoenix he plans to open a customs brokerage service in a “safe place” but he needs to update himself with the new dimensions of the profession even though he said he “is a natural at the job.”
He would not be unfriendly to his former friends but he knows he can no longer hang out with them. He has to find new friends. He also has to find new means of recreation as in the past he never enjoyed himself without alcohol. He also plans to play a major role in his niece’s education – he has no children.
Harry said it is sad to see what alcohol is doing to the nation, pointing out that it is a major contributing factor to domestic violence. “When you are under the influence you have no control,” he noted.
Maybe one day he will get married – it is not something he has ruled out – but Harry said he first needs to focus on himself and on remaining sober.
He hopes that for the Christmas season Guyanese would drink more water and get rid of the beers.
For him it would only be ginger beer for the season and in the future healthy drinks.
He knows the fight is still on but said he is stocking up ‘ammunition’ at the centre which will prepare him for the outside some time next year.
“I’m grateful to my sister for paying for me to stay here and also my brother and I am very grateful to the centre and Mr Young for all they have done for me. I am learning so much and I wish someday that people could access this treatment free of cost.”
The Phoenix Recovery Project is located at Lot 90 Block CC Mon Repos and can be contacted at telephone number 220-6825. It caters for both men and women and is the only residential treatment facility for women.