Alcohol Awareness Week - Meet Keith


Keith, a successful teacher and musician, relied on alcohol to cope with stress. Keith's addiction to alcohol almost cost his career, now fifteen months later he’s sharing the lessons he's learned with others in recovery.

The father-of-three, now 50, decided to reach out for help last year when his work and family life reached tipping point. Keith would drink a bottle of gin every night, but his life appeared in perfect order to the outside world. He now leads recovery groups to help others struggling with drug and alcohol dependency.

Stress and Struggle

As a teen Keith trained to become a professional violinist and had ambitions to attend the Royal Academy in London. Self-determined with a strong work ethic, Keith enjoyed a successful career in musical education, despite his drive often leading him to suffer ‘’chronic stress and burnout’’.

Reflecting on his use of alcohol to manage stress, he said: ‘‘I’d grown up as a member of the orchestra, and my passion for music and entertainment caused me to drink to excess in my young life.  Drinking was part and parcel of the culture, we’d work tremendously hard and reward ourselves with a good time. At least for me it felt like a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure I’d put on myself, there were just so many things I wanted to achieve.’’

While at college Keith drove himself to a near breakdown. This health crisis led to Keith having his appendix removed during his A-level studies, and his first year at university was marred with tragedy when his dad was diagnosed with cancer.

He continued ‘‘I left my university course in Devon and moved back home when we got the news, I needed to be with my family in Chepstow. My sister and I nursed my dad for four years. He would have been 89 this year.’’

A Slippery Slope

In spite of these challenges, Keith studied for a B.Ed(Hons) degree. He then met his wife. A Youth Worker and actress at the time, the couple moved to London where Keith began his teaching career and they had their first child together.

‘‘Being a new teacher in a new area was challenging. We stayed in London for 6 years and we didn’t have a lot of money. My step son was just seven years old when we arrived there and I was doing my best to provide for our family. I’d have a drink in the evening to help myself unwind. I was under a lot of stress and it didn’t feel like I was causing any harm. Alcohol is so accepted in our culture, people often realise they have a problem when it’s too late. It’s a slippery slope.’’

Tipping Point

In 2000 the family moved to Gwent where Keith accepted a Head of Music position and welcomed two more children to their family.Keith excelled at work and became part of a senior leadership team for 12 years. His commitments, combined with the pressure of developing his youngest daughter’s career as an opera singer, caused his dependence on alcohol to snowball.

‘‘At this point I could easily drink a bottle of gin every night. I’d drink anything. My wife kept all the bottles, and I remember one week she counted 13.

If I’m being honest I enjoyed it; I liked the parties, I was still managing to stay afloat somehow, and was still doing well in my job. I was drinking  most evenings and would even pour myself European measures. I always wanted more, it was my release. I was still quite oblivious to how my drinking was massively affecting my wife and children.

The tipping point for me arrived when I no longer felt in control of my drinking. I had an excellent reputation as a teacher and was even commended by Estyn in 2008 and had a lot to lose. I wanted to make some real changes, I just knew I couldn’t do it on my own. I called work to let them know I couldn’t make it in and got myself to the doctors by 9am suffering from work related stress. That was March last year and I’ve been in recovery since. My family were so relieved to see me take those first steps.

Reaching out and making a difference

From there my GP referred me to GDAS (Gwent Drug & Alcohol Service), and I admit that when I first met my key worker Joseph, a young man in his twenties, I thought how can this person help me? How wrong was I.’’

Keith also received clinical support to address the anxiety and depression he had long suffered and in 2018 became a non-drinker. He is now busy helping others in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and combines his passion for music wherever he can.

‘‘I wasn’t into AA meetings though they work for lots of people, but we didn’t have a SMART recovery group in Chepstow and so one was started for me to run. I’m leading a group of 18 service users now and we started meeting before lockdown. During the COVID19 outbreak we’ve had to change things quickly so people could still access the support they needed. We’ve had more than 15 online meetings now.

If I wasn’t doing this I’m convinced I’d still be drinking. Of all the groups I’ve led in my career, this just feels different, and it’s all happened so naturally. I’m looking forward to a better future now, on helping others overcome the challenges I’ve faced. My greatest ambition now is to progress my initiative Smart Mind Music, which combines music with therapy to support people struggling with their mental health, and I’ve already delivered 2 sessions for Mind Monmouthshire  as part of their Regeneration  Project’.

Keith is now planning a career change into Addiction Recovery.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with drug or alcohol issues, please get in touch with Kaleidoscope via our website or call us 01686 207111