Fiona O’Brien speaks to Martin Jim McFadden who found sobriety after many years battling alcohol addiction
“No matter how low you go, if you want to change you can change, it’s never too late. But you need to take God along with you, you can’t do it on your own.”
Martin Jim McFadden is an alcoholic who found sobriety and all the pieces of his life began to fall into place. His book, Don’t Go There, is an honest and challenging account of how addiction controlled him and almost killed him.
And although Martin found sobriety his elder brother Edmund, whom he first started drinking with, could not be helped and went on to lose his battle with the addiction. Martin knows that if he drinks again ‘it will most likely kill me’.
He was sober for a number of years and began to fall into a false sense of security that he could drink sometimes. That led to binge drinking and the last ‘session’ resulted in a loss of power in his legs for days.
“I was paralysed from the waist down from the alcohol abuse.”
It also threatened to destroy his marriage. A point of no return was reached.
The 53-year-old was born in Carrigart, a small scenic village surrounded by the sea on Donegal’s North West coast. The youngest of five, three boys and two girls, his parents never abused alcohol, there had been a history of addiction in their families.
“I never saw my father or my mother drunk in all my life. They never abused drink. But I remember one time when I was young; I went to the fridge where there was a bottle of lemonade.
“I opened the bottle and drank some and my father saw me and said to me, ‘Martin, if you ever drink you are going to be an alcoholic.’
“Whatever way I opened the bottle and drank that lemonade, he saw it. From my very first drink, I had a problem with it.
“It never agreed with me and I would drink alcohol until I ran out of money or fell asleep.”
Martin recalls his own first experience of alcohol, although not the type or amount consumed, just the effect it had on him.
“I was 14. And I just drank and drank until I had lost the use of my legs. That was the beginning of it. I was a bit of a wild man in my younger years. I got no education, leaving school before starting in secondary.”
He got a full-time job in the local hotel as a teenager and continued to work there until he was old enough to sign on Jobseeker’s Allowance and still work on the bog with his brother Edmund.
“I had worked in the hotel for five seasons and my wage started from £15 a week to £27 a week.
“I knew I could take a basic wage without needing to work from the dole and then myself and Edmund could make up to £15 on the bog a day when the work was there.
“My father gave me the £300 I needed for a motorbike, a little Honda, but even at that it was to excess. I used to speed, speed, speed around corners and crash. No regard, just recklessness. And that’s where the drinking started too. We’d drink anything.
“Me and Edmund even started to make our own brew with yeast and sugar in a big wheelie bin and we would buy bottles of poitin too.”
But then, in 1986, when he was just 23 years of age, Martin suffered horrific injuries having been involved in a road traffic accident. He spent three months in hospital fighting for his life and, against the odds, he survived.
“The Devil is in the bottle”
Compensation for these horrendous injuries totalled £90,000, a small fortune in 1980s Ireland. Yet within three years, and thanks to his alcoholism, he was penniless and almost homeless.
“I was a lost soul. When I had it all spent and was penniless and at a low ebb I prayed. I often say the Devil is in the bottle. The evil spirits you experience when you have an addiction to alcohol – it takes away your peace, and it takes away the peace of everybody you love.”
It was in 1989 that he first visited London, before returning after he got his compensation.
“I did what I’d always done. Get to a doctor to be signed off work, find digs that would accept disability benefits and then I’d be set up.”
Although Martin’s darkest memories are of that time in London he also shares some great ones too.
“When I’ve been to AA meetings they say that you have to change your whole life and disassociate with the people who you shared your addiction with. And I get that but it is difficult for me to turn my back on genuine friends just because they also have a problem.
“They need support too and if people had have walked away from me I wouldn’t be here today.”
It was when his father died in 1992 and when his compensation ran out that Martin saw the light and tried to get help.
“Daddy always said that he wanted to see me settle down. And because of alcohol I couldn’t form or keep any lasting relationships so I wanted to do it for him afterwards.”
In desperation, he turned to St Anthony of Padua. Martin and the McFadden family had already sought the saint’s intercession following the car crash and the fact that he had survived and recovered was seen by them as a miracle.
But alcohol’s grip on Martin was such that he in was in thrall to the next drink and couldn’t see anything else. When the three-year “continuous bender” had come to a sorry end, and he had reached rock bottom, he turned again to prayer and asked Saint Anthony to intercede in his life and help him give up alcohol once and for all.
He also wanted to meet someone, fall in love and get married. Up to then, there was room in his life only for alcohol.
“I was haunted by demons”, Martin explains. “Demons that would not let me rest. I couldn’t settle in a job, a relationship, or even a place. I was on the run all my life and fuelling my paranoia with alcohol, I would walk away from someone I loved in favour of a drink.”
Within eight months, he had found sobriety and met Liz, from Strabane.
“I had prayed to St Anthony that I would get sober and then, when I was sober, I prayed that if I was meant to get married that I would meet the right woman.
“I was only sober eight months when I met Liz. She was sent from heaven. St Anthony is the patron saint of finding people and lost things. He found me and then he found me an angel. It was no coincidence because Liz never drank. I told her at the beginning where I had been with the drink.
“Liz wasn’t looking to go out to pubs or clubs or wanting to stay for more drink. That was a blessing for me. It put me in a whole new social scene away from drinking and pubs.
“St Anthony helps people to find things. He helped me to find my sobriety and to find my wife and he brought me back to the light.
“I got a job in Letterkenny Hospital and was living a completely different life. Going out to nice places with Liz for dinner and holidays away.
“But after five yeas of marriage I became unsettled again. And I fooled myself into thinking I could control my drinking.
“I would plan in advance these weekends away to London, to Glasgow, to Newcastle and the aim would be to drink, drink, drink and then I’d come home and abstain again. I couldn’t see how it would be a problem. But it was. It was killing me. And Liz. Eventually she took me to a faith healing priest and he gave me a rosary.
“I had been given them twice before and never found any use, but this time I really tried.
“IT brought back huge memories of my parents, they would kneel down and say the rosary multiple times a day and they’d nearly not even let us leave the house without saying them. But I always just rushed it, pretended, never paid any attention.
“But this time was different. I concentrated and found that inner peace. And I haven’t drank since with the Lords help and guidance.
“And I can say for the first time in my life I have found happiness.”
Edmund was also an alcoholic and died in 2005, and Martin has lost many other friends to the disease.
“Edmund hadn’t made the decision to stop. We worried about him. Then we found him dead in his little mobile home…”
That is why he has written Don’t Go There, in the hope that his story could help someone else who is addicted and trying to take back control of their lives.
“As well as showing if I can get sober anyone can, writing the book itself was it’s own challenge. But people can do anything they set their minds to.
It is now going on 12 years since Martin took his last drink. Over those years, he has met many wonderful people and shared his story with them. He has even met his soccer hero, ‘Gazza’, and exchanged books about their journey from alcoholism to sobriety.
“He was really sound and he was sober himself at that time. I gave him a copy of my book and he called me afterwards and said he’d really enjoyed it.
‘It was a good read, mate,’ is what he said.”
And now Martin is touring his book as a one man show.
“It has material other than what’s in the book, and I’ve also found a rake of letters I wrote during my time away from home.
“There’s a display board at the show and there are those letters plus reports from doctors and everything on it too.
“I’m more than happy to bring it over to London again too if anyone wanted me to share my story there in the town where much of it happened.”
And can Martin enjoy London now sober?
“Oh yes, Liz and I love going over. It’s fabulous city. We will go to a show and she will go shopping so it’s nice to have new memories.
“I go back to my old pubs and meet my old friends. But it’s not a temptation for me.
“Even when I was younger I could always go without a drink. I didn’t need alcohol to have a conversation with someone or for confidence.
“The problem was once I started I could never stop.”
And, astonishingly, Martin has no long-lasting damage from his years of binging.
“The doctors can never believe it. I’ve had my liver checked out and it is fine. I have a slight shake in my hand but they say it may or may not be minor nerve damage from drinking but there is nothing to prove it entirely.”
• Don’t Go There is available on Amazon