A dad who was left at rock bottom and tried to take his own life after his drinking spiralled out of control has turned his life around and is now helping other people overcome problems with alcohol.
Former soldier Gary Cooke is urging anyone who might be concerned about the amount they are drinking to find out more by visiting the Big Alcohol Conversation bus tour, when it visits Stretford Mall on Saturday, December 8.
The 45-year-old from Altrincham said he started bingeing daily on bottles of beer and whiskey after a failed knee operation forced him to close down his construction business.
Amid the stress his drinking accelerated to the point where he felt he could no longer go on.
Gary has now been sober for two years and is now a volunteer with Achieve Recovery Services in Trafford, which is part of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and has been rated outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.
He told how it took for him to hitting rock bottom before he took the leap of faith to get help.
Gary has celebrated his new lease of life by marrying his partner of 14 years Amanda, who stood by him during his lowest ebb, and focusing his attention on being a better dad to their six-year-old son Josh.
Latest stats show that Trafford has over 2,329 alcohol dependent adults, which is almost 1.5% of the total borough population.
Father-of-one Gary said he had been a heavy drinker since his late teens but the habit spiralled out of control a few years ago.
Gary said: “I’ve been around drinking all my life. From when I left school and then for five years I was in the army where there was a big drinking culture.
“Then when I opened up my own construction business I was going out every night after work drinking with the lads.
“Every night, every weekend, every day I was drinking. It came to a head about three or four years ago when I had an operation on my knee which went wrong.
“I was on crutches for two and half years. I couldn’t do any work and I was getting complaints.
“The problem was no one wanted just my lads, they wanted me there too. I couldn’t do anything about it and I felt so much pressure.
“To get through the day I had to drink as soon as I woke up. It was a case of get drunk as quick as possible.
“This went on and on and I hit rock bottom. My world was caving in and I tried to commit suicide. I went to Moorside and after four weeks took another overdose.
“I was then in there for six months on and off. It was a struggle but they gave me strategies to deal with it.”
Since getting sober Gary has also gone back to college to study GCSE maths and English so he can eventually go on to pursue a career in mental health services.
He also volunteers at the Moorside unit at Trafford General Hospital supporting patients with addiction and mental health issues.
Speaking of his marriage to partner Amanda he said: “At the time she stuck by me and I will never forget that. I came out of Moorside on December 16 and on Christmas Day I proposed to her.
“She was shocked by the proposal but for her to stick by me through all the drinking, all the late nights when I hadn’t been much of a partner, I’m lucky to have her.
“She always told me I drank too much but I knew best. I was pig headed. I feel shame but I’m here now, I’m out the other side and I’m going to try to be the best husband and dad I can be.”
Gary is keen to help other people overcome their problems which is why he has thrown much of his energy into volunteering and providing peer mentoring.
He explained: “I’m equipped to deal with it so I can go into wards and talk to the patients, to help them by being open and sharing my experiences.
“I know when they’re telling me the truth. I know if they’ve had a drink. I’ve lived through it. I’ve walked that path.
“I didn’t want to accept it when people said I had a problem. It was only when I’d stopped drinking for six weeks that I realised I did have a problem, that drinking 15 or 16 bottles of beer every night was a problem whether I liked it or not.
“My advice to anyone who is in a similar situation to the one I was in is to be brave. Admit you have a problem and take the leap into the unknown because people are there to support you.
“The support is there, you’ve got to use it. I did and I’ve got my life back.”
The Big Alcohol Conversation is travelling across all 10 Greater Manchester boroughs to give as many people as possible the chance to join in the conversation.
The bus tour’s final destination is Stretford Mall on December 8 and visitors to the centre are encouraged to get involved with the conversation about alcohol in their area and whether it is a problem.
Information will also be available about the support that is available to anyone who is concerned about their level of drinking.
Stretford Mall centre manager Gareth Wilkins said: “We are very pleased to be hosting the Big Alcohol Conversation at Stretford Mall.
“Alcohol addiction is a problem which affects so many lives and yet far too many people do not get help because they don’t know where to turn.
“This is an informal drop in session and we hope it will help people to lead healthier lives, whatever their level of drinking.”
To find out more about the Big Alcohol Conversation visit: www.thebigalcoholconversation.org/inmyarea/trafford The phone number for people to contact Achieve Recovery Services in Trafford is 0161 358 0991 or visit www.gmmh.nhs.uk/achieve