“Your want to give up has to be stronger than your need to keep drinking,” says Noel Bradley.
His wife Anne, an artist, has recently released her autobiographical book; Adoption to Addiction, which details the years of her life battling with alcoholism, before meeting Noel and settling down to have a family twenty years ago.
The couple, now based in Epsom, have avoided alcohol since; a far departure from the day they first met.
In a chance encounter the pair, who had separately been travelling the length and breadth of Ireland in search of their next bingeing opportunity, had happened to stay at a homeless hostel on the same night.
She arrived late so was destined for the floor, but still refused Noel’s offer to take his bed.
The next day she was desperate for some alcohol and her ‘knight in shining armour’ came to her rescue.
“He told me to wait there. So I did, not knowing this man but convinced that he was going to sort out this issue for me!” she says.
“Half an hour later through the fog I could see this figure appearing. It was Noel carrying a barrel of beer.
“He hopped onto a train stopping on its way to Newry and just took it!
“We went to the shed and split it with the others staying in the hostel too. And from then on we more or less together.”
Soon after Anne realised Noel, now an accomplished construction worker, was a man she could trust: “I had just gotten my dole money and Noel offered to mind it for me in his sock so I wouldn’t lose it.
“I don’t know why I handed it over, I must have been mad, but the next day he still had it, and from then on he kept minding it.”
The couple went from home to homeless for the numerous years, providing much humour in the book, one such anectdote with a charity one of the stand out moments.
“We used to visit the various charities and priests for handouts and one time St Vincent de Paul turned up at our door with bags and bags of groceries.
“In the end we had to distract them from seeing our full fridge and figure out a way of getting hard cash for the shopping as the supermarket wouldn’t give us a refund! It was probably the hardest day’s work I’ve ever done!”
The couple soon decided to get married, which Anne details in light-hearted fashion in the book. The funds came from an injury claim which led to the couple planning for the wedding months away, but whittled away the compensation in a series of advances from their lawyer.
It was eventually a small, close-knit affair with Noel’s family. The couple’s next thought turned to starting a family of their own.
However after going to the doctor the couple were told that they would never conceive with the amount of alcohol they were consuming.
“We just turned to one another and said that we’d give it six months. Six months of being sober and if we didn’t conceive in that time then we could go back on the drink.”
Three months later Anne found out she was pregnant and the couple have not touched a drop since.
They welcomed two boys who have now grown on to have successful careers in sport themselves, Paddy, a jockey, and Sean, a footballer.
Anne can relate to her children after a rebellious youth of her own. She was born in 1955 and adopted into a loving home.
But Anne always thought that there was something missing. She responded badly to any form of discipline, taking criticism as a form of attack and a sibling rivalry against her ‘perfect’ sister Christine seemed to her to set her up for failure.
Anne was a tomboy, not interested in academic subjects and a bit naughty while her sister was ladylike and a model student.
Anne eventually acted up so much to get purposefully expelled from the private school her parents had enrolled her in, and following a spate of shop lifting to buy booze and fit in with her new friends she had been summoned to a ‘purpose school’ by the time she was 15.
During her teenage years, Anne found solace in art and music to fit in with the older ‘hippies’ she was hanging around with and to this day still cites Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson as her favourite artists.
In the book, which is humorous and upbeat, a sentiment to the character Anne and her husband still possess now after two decades of sobriety, Anne tells of how her life changed at 15 years of age.
The young teenager at this stage was staying away from home for days at a time and her father, who struggled to deal with how to act towards his daughter, would refuse to let her back into the house when she turned up at all hours.
She was confined to sleeping in the shed at the bottom of the garden, sometimes after getting so drunk she would forget where she had ditched her school uniform when bunking off of school.
Her mother however would always wake her in the morning once her father left for work so she could shower and sleep in her bed, ‘I always remember the clean, white, linen sheets’ she says.
Heartbreaking for her, Anne decided to smash a window and broke into what was once her family home and began to raid her parents’ alcohol supply to drown her sorrows.
A neighbour called the police and she was arrested for being out of her parent’s control. She was sentenced to three years in an effective young offenders institute and wouldn’t be let out until her 18th birthday.
Apart from a love of drama she expanded on in her time at the institution Anne reflects nothing sentimental on that time and soon after leaving she went on the road around London and various British locations before a calling took her to Ireland.
This was not before a suicide attempt out of a window when ‘coming down’ from a binge where Anne said the ‘drink demons’ were clear and even though she knew that the devil’s voice was overtaking her own she could not fight the urge to run away from the voices in her head.
She would later find out that her father had been born in Dublin.
Anne began to draw the dole and move from shelter to shelter, and even managed to secure a second identity to double up her drinking money.
After being attacked once and being hospitalised and put on a drip, Anne had her first encounter with the woman she credits for giving her the strength, education and determination to eventually kick her addiction
Sister Consilio, who has run Cuan Mhuire for over 40 years, came to her aid and took her into her specialised institution which deals with addictions.
It was not the first time that they would meet, with Anne knocking on her door many times in the future, but Anne knew at this stage that she had found a friend.
Sr Consilio writes the foreword in Adoption to Addiction, and sums up Anne’s character perfectly.
“She is still fun,” she writes.
Her insight provides a professional, as well as personal, opinion on alcoholism and what it takes for some people to finally beat the addiction.
She recognises that it probably won’t take one attempt, but in Anne she found someone who eventually used and yearned for the support she needed to recover fully.
Anne fondly recalls a time when she went back to Cuan Mhuire on her own, again looking for somewhere to stay while on the drink.
“There was one time when we were fighting over a sleeping bag on the front lawn like a tug-of-war!” she says.
“I know Sr. Consilio always wanted to help me, but sometimes she would have to give preference to people that were there that needed immediate help rather than seeing to me again and again.”
It also sets the theme for the book, a story about love, a love that was the only reason why Anne could give up the drink for good.
Anne herself introduces the book as her account, not looking for sympathy, or to shock, just to give an honest account of the life of an alcoholic.
Both of these messages, and Anne’s reasons for writing the book, ring true when you hear stories from Anne and Noel.
Noel, who was born near the Curragh Racecourse, is an avid country music fan and regularly travels the UK and Ireland to see his favourite acts, including Phil Mack’s shows.
Anne accompanies him, and although the music is not always to her taste, she loves to dance and enjoy the ‘craic’ with the rest of the crowd.
The presence of alcohol does not bother Anne or her husband anymore. They regularly stay up until all hours of the morning on nights out telling stories, and it is from here that the idea was born, with many people recommending her to write a book.
And how has their experience moulded their style of parenthood?
“We were always very honest with the boys about our past. They’ve probably known since they were old enough to understand,” says Noel.
“We’re like friends. Because we’ve been so open with them they can’t really shock us with anything they are going through and talk to us openly. Although having young boys sometimes it’s not something a mother wants to hear!” says Anne.
“Paddy never liked having drink in our presence, and got angry with his brother when he started leaving beers in the fridge. I don’t think it was because he was worried we would be tempted, but more a case of respect and not shoving it in our faces.
“But we’re fine with it. Alcohol does not tempt us anymore. It’s more like paint stripper, something no one would be attracted to go near.
“We’re safe in the knowledge that the boys are seriously into sport and with our stories I don’t think they’d go overboard with alcohol.
“Then when they were at an age where their friends were asking us around for family social occasions we would obviously be offered a glass of wine or a beer.
“The boys would just kind of roll their eyes and say ‘here we go again’ as they knew a story would come, as people always question you when you turn down a drink where you eventually have to say you used to have a drink problem.”
The boys met Sr Consilio for the first time as toddlers, when the nun was not even aware that Noel and Anne had given up the drink and started a family of their own.
“They always knew about her, we spoke about her so much,” says Anne.
“When we pulled up at Cuan Mhuire Sr Consilio came out to greet us. She couldn’t believe it when she saw us and she just knelt down and the two boys ran into her arms.
“They love her to pieces. They always say if it wasn’t for her they wouldn’t have been here because they wouldn’t have had a mum or dad.”
What does Anne think she would have done if she had never met Noel or Sr Consilio?
“I’d probably be dead. That’s all I can say really.”
When Noel is asked about the larger than life characters that feature in the book and friends of the past he is equally as blunt.
“We are still in contact with everyone we can. Obviously most of them are dead now with the lifestyle we were living.
“But I wouldn’t change it for the world. When we stopped drinking we did not stop hanging around with our friends, who were obviously predominantly heavy drinkers.
“I would never change and as I said, it was our reason for wanting to give up that made us stop. No one was forcing us to and I would never turn my nose up at anyone’s company because I’ve been there.”
Anne recognises this trait in Noel’s family who she says welcomed her immediately whether ‘sober or drunk’.
She in time also reconciled with her parents, who told her with their unconditional love that they knew she would eventually come back to them.
“It was great. I had 13 years with them before they died, and Sean and Paddy got to enjoy having their grandparents around. They really loved them.”
The couple’s experience in their first half century are multiple times more than what most generations have in a lifetime but the result is a close knit successful family who have defied the odds.
As Noel says; “I wouldn’t change any of it, not one second.”
• Adoption to Addiction can be purchased in both paperback and Kindle form through www.amazon.co.uk here