“My name is Pat, I am 48 years old and have lived at Western Lodge for almost a year. My expansive story begins when I was 10 years old and my parents divorced. At this young age I immediately faced tough choices and turmoil as my mum struggled to get full custody of me and my sister due to problems with getting suitable accommodation. We stayed at my Dad’s for two years before finally moving in with our mum. My life continued to be quite unstable, going back and forth between my parents for weekend visits and never really settling in either place. I also found it really difficult to get on with my new step dad and we would argue a lot of the time.

Instead of going to school I would often play truant and used to go to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. I was always an avid reader and I feel that in many ways I educated myself better during my formative years than any school could have. Needless to say the schools did not see it like that, and by the time I was fourteen I had been put into a children’s home. I could not settle in my new school and was not able to engage with the subjects that I really had a passion for. All of this culminated in me getting a job when I was only fifteen and the children’s home had all but given up on me.

Starting work also started me on the path of drinking since I finally had some money in my pocket. My drinking was also compounded by the death of my father when I was sixteen and dealing with all the implications that this had on my life was very traumatic. My late teens continued to be a tricky turn of events as I started squatting with my sister, got sentenced to two years probation for burglary, and then had to deal with my mother being very ill. In 1985 she died and there really was no more parental guidance for me to take on board.

Pat Cullen 18 Months Ago
Pat in 2011

From hereon I basically drifted for the next twenty seven years, working different jobs as a labourer, or a warehouse operative, and even as a fishmonger. I was constantly on the move, spending a few months at a time on different friend’s sofas and never putting down any real roots because I was never sure what the future would bring and their seemed little point in investing in possessions or a decent wardrobe. Instead, the money I made went on alcohol and I found myself becoming a heavier and heavier drinker as well as dabbling in other drugs, particularly cannabis.

In January 2010 I fell over and broke my leg in two places and I am immensely grateful to a good friend who took me in and helped me out during a lengthy recovery process. However whilst my leg healed, I drank and smoked more and more and started to suffer from depression. My feelings got so bad that I even considered suicide and my relationship with friends and family became very strained. I really wasn’t enjoying my drinking, and I distinctly remember the association my nephew had with the sound of a can opening and me drinking alcohol. This made me feel really awful and I decided I needed to address my lifestyle so I approached Wandsworth Mental Health Team for help. They encouraged me to stop drinking and attend the Fresh Start Clinic, and then from there I was referred to Western Lodge.

When I look back at my interview with Western Lodge I am immensely grateful and also quite humbled my how my referral progressed. I was still smoking cannabis quite heavily at the time and this had the potential to halt my application straight away. However the staff at Western Lodge saw my potential and felt that my desire to turn my life around was genuine. I do not want to think what might have happened if they had turned me away.

Since February 2012 when I came to Western Lodge my life has changed dramatically. I started a detox programme almost immediately and then attended Battersea Alcohol Services, another organisation I am immensely grateful too. What both organisations have taught me is how to look at things differently and move into the future without alcohol playing a central part. My own personal therapy is my fishing and I have really enjoyed putting my energy into this. Both Western Lodge and BAS give me a support network that does not allow complacency to set in, and I am constantly able to engage with other people that understand my situation. I enjoy the interactions with other people so much that I am hoping to become a peer-mentor for Foundation 66 and offer guidance to others who are suffering from alcohol addiction.

I am very positive about the future, and although I worry that things could become worse once again, I am confident that the more I begin to help others, the more I will better understand my own downfalls. I feel like I have been given a second chance in life, and I am not about to throw it away.”

Date: February 2012

Edit: Pat has been living in his own accommodation since leaving in April 2013. He remains an active part of Western Lodge, serving several terms on the residents committee.