After years of misery and loneliness, Brian finally acknowledged that drink was slowly killing him. Now – after rehab, and with a renewed passion for friends, dance, and art – life has never been better
No one sets out to be an alcoholic. It creeps up on you until you reach the point where you cross the line, and you are hooked. Then it destroys your life – physically, mentally, and spiritually. But you can recover.
For me it was a very slow process. I drank every day for 25 years, and was probably hooked after about eight. But it was only in the three years before I stopped that it started to take over my life.
Alcoholism is a progressive illness, and as long as I continued to drink my situation only got worse. As it progressed, it became more and more of an obsession. All I did was go to work (to pay for the booze), come home and drink until I went to bed, pass out, then get up and do it all again.
It was slowly leeching my life away. By the end, I had no social life and I stopped doing all the things that make life worthwhile, like dancing, making art, and being with people. It was a sad and miserable existence.
I gradually tackled the elements that held me back
Then one Friday I came home from work, and had a nervous breakdown. This was partly because of the drink, and partly because I was over-worked at my job. I was stressed and getting to my wits end. But this turned out to be my moment of clarity, and it made me seek professional help for the first time in my life.
My doctor sent me to rehab at the Priory. They convinced me that I was an alcoholic, and that the solution was complete abstinence. They also explained that if I wanted to stop drinking, I couldn’t remain the person I was; that person drank. I had to change into someone who didn’t drink, and who was happy about that.
For me it looked like a way to get my life back. I remember thinking: “If I could only get back to feeling like how I felt in my 20s.”
Well, I can tell you, it’s turned out much more than that. In my 20s I never realised my full potential, or made proper use of my talents.
For the first four years of my life without drink, I concentrated solely on recovery and getting better. At the start it felt like I’d had the stuffing kicked out of me. I had almost no spirit left, and I seemed to be living in a befuddled fog.
So I set about changing, although it wasn’t easy. To get anywhere, I had to make a continuous effort every day. But slowly it worked. My joie de vivre began to return, and I started to become the person that perhaps I was always meant to be.
After the first four years, I started to look outward and began engaging with the rest of the world. I’d always been a dancer – not someone who just gets up and dances now and then, but someone who is defined by the word ‘dancer’.
So I started dancing again, in performing arts festivals and clubs. I made friends. Through them, I discovered 5Rhythms, which uses dance as a moving form of meditation and spiritual practice.
It took me out of myself and helped me to grow, to recover my spirit. I kept changing, I kept looking for more ways to help me grow and rebuild both my spirit and me.
I became an apprentice shaman for a year, I became a reiki practitioner, I started drumming, dancing and singing in public for the first time at festivals, and I kept meeting more and more people, and making more friends.
That was vital to my rebirth, for although I have been a loner all my life, I am a person who needs people, and that connection with people was a very important part of the changes I made to get well.
Most of my life I had been held back from exercising my creative talents by crippling self-doubt, so tackling that was the next step.
I’d sung all my life but self-doubt and self-consciousness meant I never let anyone hear me. I was hanging out with people who sang and I wanted to join in but couldn’t.
No matter how bad things are, you are able to change your circumstances by changing you
Gradually, I came to see that facing these fears was the next step in the process of change. So I spent a year learning to play the guitar – and rehearsing three songs – and eventually made my debut at an open mic event in Southend. I was shaking so much I could hardly finger the chords on my guitar, but I knew I had to do it.
And I stuck with it, to the point where I formed a rock band called WorkInProgress. I was not only getting my life back – I was creating a new and better one.
Also around this time, encouraged by some of the new friends I’d made, I decided to put into action a dream I’d had since school days and return to university to do a degree in Fine Art.
To do that I had to face some more self-doubt – although it was easier this time – and do an ‘access to art and design’ course. It was during this particular course that the feedback I had from both tutors and my fellow students convinced me that I had real talent as a painter.
I completed the first year of the Fine Art degree, but dropped out, as it wasn’t giving me what I was looking for. And by this time I was already having exhibitions and winning prizes for my art.
Over the next few years I established myself on the local art scene and became quite well known. Then, two years ago, I thought it was time I got involved in the London art scene.
I have spent a lot of time travelling up to London to meet people and make friends, and I’ve taken part in around a dozen exhibitions. All this will culminate in my solo exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery on Pall Mall in October.
So my message is: no matter how bad things are, you are able to change your circumstances by changing you. I was a loner with few friends, racked by self-doubt, with a negative outlook on life, and in the grip of the crippling disease of alcoholism. But I changed.
I gradually tackled the elements that held me back from being fully me. I had to, otherwise the drink would have killed me. It’s not easy, and requires real effort. I did it because I thought I was going mad and then, as realisation dawned, to avoid death by alcohol and to get a new and better life back. You can do it, too.
Brian’s solo retrospective show ‘The Journey So Far – It’s All About Me’ is at the Royal Opera Arcade Gallery, London, from 7 to 12 October. For more information, visit brianparkerartist.co.uk
Rachel Coffey | BA MA NLP Mstr, says:
Brian’s story will resonate with anyone who has had to face major life changes. They can be frightening times and, like with Brian, its easy for people to feel lost and bereft. What his story illustrates perfectly, is those seminal moments actually create us, not destroy us.
It’s easy to be afraid of change, however the really hard bit is trying to keep things the same when we know they aren’t working. Brian reached out to others, and made a commitment to himself. In doing so he set himself free to be the creative, happy person he is today!