Peter’s Addiction Recovery Story

The story of how Peter came to hit rock bottom is one of desperation, then a springboard for getting the help he needed to recover from alcohol addiction.

At 67 years old Peter wasn’t expecting to be heading to a drug rehab clinic for treatment of alcoholism. 

He’d lived and worked in the bush where having a few beers was the norm, and where he’d never given having a drink a second thought. 

However, a traumatic event at work was the catalyst for his descent into an alcoholic hell.

Peter shares his incredible journey.

My introduction to alcohol was unusual to say the least. I’m originally from Holland, and at the age of 15, my parents decided to go back to Holland and I was to stay in Australia.

They arranged for me to stay at a friend’s place. My parents drove off and I proceeded to find the house I was to lodge at.  I knocked on the door, only to find out that my parents friends had moved on.

Here I was, standing on the side of the road, with a suitcase and no money. I wasn’t sure what to do or how to feel, so I walked along the side of the road, kicking a rock as I went.

I ended up at the local pub. Luckily, I knew the people that owned it – I think I went to school with one of their kids. Anyway, they gave me a place to stay and let me off the hook a bit because I had no money.

However, I had started my apprenticeship in panel beating and spray painting, and had bought the family home from my father.

Somehow I think he collected the rent and I made the repayments. Then, as I mentioned, they left the country and I struggled through my apprenticeship. I did all sorts of trades, not just panel beating and painting.

Around this time, I had my first drink – when I was staying at the pub. After I finished my apprenticeship, I renovated the house and sold it for a tidy profit.

In my lifestyle, out in the bush, drinking was part of the culture. I didn’t drink habitually at that stage, it was just everywhere you went.

There’s a pub on the corner block of every country town, right? 

And they’d yell out your name as you walked or drove past.

I got into motorbike racing, I got into fishing.

I even went on a working holiday around Australia – mostly in the bush.

There was always a drink involved, that’s what you did. But I never drank to the point of intoxication. You went out somewhere and there were always three or four beers – never thought anything of it.

I met my wife around that time, too. We’d actually gone to school together. We married and had three daughters and eventually shifted to a mining town in Central Queensland, which felt like the middle of nowhere.

I worked my way up the ladder in mining.

Mining also had that “drinking culture” – you’d knock off from your shift and have a couple of drinks.

I worked my way up from being on the shovel (as an operator) to overseeing two hundred and fifty men.

I also moved around doing some contract mining work, then ended up at the mine I originally started at.

My mining career spanned 27 years.

One day at work, I collapsed. At the time, I was doing an emergency evacuation, and as the boss, everyone was following me.

I collapsed underground, then the mine had to do an emergency evacuation to get me out. 

After this event, I went to the doctor for a check-up and received clearance to go back to work.

When the bus turned up to pick us up to take us to the mine, the weight of responsibility I was carrying for the safety and welfare of my employees and colleagues was crushing.

It was overwhelming. I could not bear the thought of experiencing another underground fire incident and being responsible for everyone’s safety – especially those men with wives and children.

It was hard because I knew everybody that worked there by name. I felt like I couldn’t afford the risk of another collapse at a time when everyone at the mine would need me most.

I ended up going home and resigning that day.

That was when my relationship with alcohol started to change.

I got a job at the local marina. There was alcohol involved then, but I didn’t have the responsibilities that I had at the mine.

My alcohol use started to increase.

Looking back, I can see that the events at the mine really kicked things up. I’m a hard worker and basically I’d moved to the beach, had less maintenance to do at home, and had fewer responsibilities.

The marina even gave me an account where I could book up a beer when I knocked off and I could finish work anytime I wanted to.

Then I collapsed again, and was found unconscious at the marina. I had to resign from that job because I couldn’t run the risk of walking out on the marina in case I collapsed again and fell into the water.

That was the end of work as I knew it. After lots of testing, including a few trips to specialists in Brisbane, I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. 

This was the cause of my collapses and it took six years to find out what was happening to my health.

After my diagnosis, I stopped work completely. With nothing to do, the alcohol use started to increase – until exactly what the book says happens – you start off with one drink, then have another and then decide to keep drinking to “fill the day in”.

Then you start feeling crook and then start drinking early in the morning to get over the night before.

 Before long, my drinking led to life turning into a total disaster. My wife and daughters were horrified and soon started monitoring me and tracking my movements in an effort to stop me from drinking.

I even handed over all of my money to them. Anything to make it stop.  But my behaviours persisted.

You still get very sneaky to find a bit of grog. They’d be driving around town to find me if I’d gone out for a walk.

One particular day, I found a dollar coin on the ground. I walked five kilometres to the newsagent to buy a Scratchie.

Then I won two dollars. I cashed that Scratchie in and got four dollars. Then put that in again and I won eight dollars.

That was enough to buy me two bottles of red.

I didn’t make it home.

I collapsed unconscious on the side of the road. I was found by my wife and children. Then the ambulance and the police turned up and that was the day we had a family meeting.

We decided that I’m an alcoholic.

My daughter had done some research and contacted The Hader Clinic Queensland and I was at the rehab two days later.

I don’t think I had realised the impact of the stress of my mining career.

As the deputy in charge, you couldn’t afford to make one mistake. And running on time is of utmost importance because the machines are expensive to run and every second has to be accounted for.

Plus, you’re responsible for educating the men and even being a bloody psychologist and dealing with absenteeism etc.

I started to drink more in order to be able to cope with these things.

My experience at Hader has been terrific.

I’m the kind of person that takes things on seriously and I thought to myself, “the position I’m in is that I’m coming in here an alcoholic – they’re not going to fix me, but they’re going to give me the tools I need to fix myself.”

And I got that from day one – and I’ve chased that the whole way through. I’ve asked so many questions and I got all the answers that I wished whenever I wanted.

The day I arrived at Hader, my memory was hazy.

My family thought that I was developing Alzheimer’s. I had been to the doctor several times, and I’d been trying to use that as an excuse, rather than blaming the drink.

I think I scored 30% on my first memory exam with the psychiatrist and now I’m scoring 100%. All my memory has come back and I have no sign of Alzheimer’s.

It was all to do with the bloody drink.

The first week I was here, the staff had to put my name on the door of my room so that I could find it. I couldn’t find it without help.

And the shakes I got were tremendous.

The bookwork was illuminating. One of the books asks, “am I an alcoholic?”  Well, that was just “tick, tick, tick, ticking boxes” all the way down the page.

As time went on, I’ve been going through the “withdrawal symptom” checklist and ticking off all of those boxes as well.

The shakes have gone, amongst other things. Everything has cleared. I was even getting hangovers for the first six weeks of the program at all times of the day and night.

I’ve been keeping a daily diary of my time here. Looking back, I can see the changes in my handwriting and my personality.

It’s pretty exciting, actually.

The staff taught me to keep a diary. They check that I’ve written, but they don’t read what I’ve said.

In fact for the first four days, you can’t actually read my writing because my hands were shaking THAT much.

I have a new lease on life. I’ve put on weight and look twenty years younger.

I’m looking forward to seeing my wife again.

I told her not to visit.

You see, I did a bit of a risk assessment and I thought the 400km drive down and back to visit me in rehab was potentially unsafe.

I’ve seen two of my daughters though and the whole family are visiting me for my send off from rehab in a couple of days.

My family have been very supportive and did lots of research on many rehab facilities. A lot of them had day leave, to which I said “that’s no good, I can’t be allowed to leave”.

I knew that I needed to be locked away from alcohol as a starting point.

Hader taught me that to stay away from alcohol, I needed to educate myself and join a fellowship that supports me in my recovery. I have done 85 AA meetings so far and have no plans to stop!

Yesterday, at my meeting, I shared my story about my arrival from Holland on the boat, and what happened with my parents etc. It took me an hour!

But I got a big round of applause from the residents and plenty of questions after.

Now I have a sponsor lined up for when I arrive home.

My wife has already been to a meeting and the Hader Clinic have been in contact with her to help her with my arrival back home and I’ve just finished my plan as to what I’m going to do when I arrive back too.

It’s taken me two weeks but the staff are looking at that with me.

I’ve also got a counsellor lined up at the local hospital once a week, I’ve got a long appointment with my GP booked as well.

I can’t wait to do a comparison of my blood tests, now that I’m healthy again. Hopefully my kidneys and liver are returning to normal.

I still live on the beach and I volunteer on Beach Patrol, which is a four kilometre walk each way.

I pick up any rubbish on the beach, empty the bins and make sure there are doggy doo doo bags available for those with pets. 

That’s not so much fun, but someone has to do it!

Everyone at the clinic has been amazing.

I’ve always had an ability to mix with princes or paupers and we all get along tremendously.

We’re all on a first name basis here.  

I’ve learned a lot from when new people come into the rehab and to see the changes that occur in them is mind blowing.

When someone new turns up, there’s not a lot of eye contact. But eventually they relax.

I’ve been on the buddy program for four new people here already and have loved it.

I’m looking forward to the best days of my life and thank the Hader Clinic Queensland for all their help and support.

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