A big drinker gets a new life

James Bridgen’s life looked great. Idyllic even. A home in a beachside suburb. His own business. A successful marriage. But there was a problem underneath.

“I guess drinking has always been a big part of my life and um, yeah, like from high school onwards, you know, everyone knew me as a big drinker,” he tells podcaster Jenny Salt. “I was the first at any party and the last man standing as they would say. And, um, yeah, it’s just, it really become part became part of my identity. Um, so, you know, Christmas birthday cards that’d be, be all beer related. You know, I loved alcohol. Everyone knew that I loved alcohol… I’d use alcohol as … the only tool that I had,  to deal with stuff and did work for a while.

“And then it started becoming one of the problems as well. So it stopped being the solution and started to become a problem.”

Drinking is part of the Aussie culture. But Bridgen was obsessed and thinking about drinking all the time. Then, at the end of the day he would start drinking, and after that he would stop thinking about what he was doing.

Weekends were a big problem, he’d have a heavy night. He’d feel bad about himself and that would push him to drink more. At the park with the kids on Saturday morning he’d end up nursing a bourbon and coke – on the way to drinking the whole weekend away.

The 12 step system asked members to commit to a “higher power.” In Brigden’s story this meant he needed to see if he could find one.

“One particular night I drank too much and went to work. My wife had been up all night looking for an article on the internet which might spur me on to doing something.

“And she found this article, which was like a self-diagnosis of alcoholism and it had a list of different things on there. And it said, if you identify with more than three of them – out of a list of 12 or something – that you needed to have complete abstinence and go to a 12 step group.”

He ticked every box of the 12. Going to a 12 step group (a group based on a classic treatment for alcoholics) was something Brigden knew he had to do.

He got a surprise in the group. “It was God heavy,” he says. The 12 step system asked members to commit to a “higher power.” In Brigden’s story this meant he needed to see if he could find one.

His search included visiting a local church, looking carefully behind him to make sure nobody could see where he was going.

The church happened to be running a “Christianity Explained” course. Brigden recalls Jesus’ story about the prodigal son gave him goosebumps thinking about the welcome the lost son got when he came back.

A couple of weeks in “they had a metaphor on a white board where he drew a soccer field and he had boxes around the soccer field and he had … spectators waiting on the bench and the players on the field. And he used the idea of the soccer field, as if you were playing on the field, you’re in God’s family. And, he asked everyone where they thought they were. And I felt at the start of the course, I was in the spectators box. And, um, yeah. And then by the end of the course, I felt maybe I was on the bench waiting to go on.”

In the podcast, Brigden tells how being scared to meet up at a coffee shop to read the Bible did not, in the end stop him going onto the field to stop the team. And did he stop drinking?

Jenny Salt’s interview with James Brigden is here.