'I was drinking two litres of vodka a day': Former Leeds alcoholic recalls early days of Covid-19 pandemic

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit this country, Shaaron Jackson was already in the grips of what she calls the “biggest decline” in her lifelong battle with alcohol.

Drinking two litres of vodka a day, the 57-year-old of Guiseley was so poorly she barely registered the crisis beginning to sweep the nation.

She had managed two years of sobriety until November 2019 when, after nine months as sole carer for her mum and stepdad, she had a breakdown and returned to alcohol, drinking vast quantities for the next five months.

“It was 24/7. My body was so dependent I didn’t really sleep. I was just constantly topping up. I couldn’t look after myself. Adult social care had to intervene and carers came four times a day. I had lost my mind. I couldn’t eat - I lost 4.5 stone in weight.

Shaaron Jackson, 57, of Guiseley, who has been sober for nearly a year now. Picture: James Hardisty.

“When the pandemic arrived, I couldn’t even comprehend what was going on. I remember my carers trying to explain it to me.”

But in March 2020, Shaaron’s mum died of Covid in hospital and that, together with the realisation of lockdown, led to a serious attempt at taking her own life.

Thankfully, Shaaron survived but that period at rock bottom became the wake up call she needed, sparking what has become an inspirational life transformation.

She has shared her story as part the YEP's #SpeakYourMind campaign which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues in Leeds

It comes as the YEP today revealed the city's alcohol support services have reported a surge in the numbers of people contacting them for help during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shaaron said: “[Mum] was my purpose in life and that was taken away. So I wanted out. That’s when I made a real attempt to take my life.

“I was beginning to realise the pandemic. I lived on my own. I felt so isolated.

“An addict is isolated anyway. A lot of my family members just could not cope with my behaviour. It’s very disturbing for people when someone is so intoxicated that they can’t stand and for a lot of people it’s difficult to understand that it’s actually mental health difficulties happening behind that. I was sort of medicating my mind, to numb everything that I couldn’t cope with.”

Helped by Forward Leeds, Shaaron, a former actress, used her life savings to fund a private stay at a rehab centre in Bradford.

By this point, she was so ill she couldn’t walk and recalled how rehab staff immediately blue-lighted her to Bradford Royal Infirmary for treatment first.

She said: “I ended up in resus because of my liver and kidneys and everything. I was in a terrible state. They said I had first stage liver disease and said ‘you are dying’.”

Her last drink was on April 3 2020 and she said the period of detox that followed felt like being given “a second chance”.

However, Shaaron’s battle for sobriety was far from over once discharged.

She said: “I thought ‘how can I survive this? I’m in a pandemic, I can’t leave my house, I feel lonely, I feel isolated. How on earth am I going to remain sober?’ For me it was devastating. That’s when I should have been able to engage face to face with support workers. We are so dependent on groups and they’d all ended. It frightened me.

“Then I discovered Zoom like we all have and I’m so grateful. That probably saved my life. Being able to engage with support has made such a difference.

“But there were times during April, May, June when I felt hopeless and would think ‘I can’t beat this, I feel so lonely, the loneliness is killing me’. That was a big struggle.”

Yet Shaaron has remained strong - and sober - and after meeting someone who works for Bradford University in a Zoom meeting, she has since landed a volunteer role at the institution, interviewing students, sharing her experiences and participating in lectures.

She has also taken up writing poetry, with one of her poems made into a short film and shortlisted at the Recovery Street Film Festival.

Shaaron said this had “such a positive impact on my recovery and gave me a boost of self esteem and courage to continue to fight my addiction”.

She added: “It’s amazing that I have found myself in this position. I’m really grateful and loving the opportunity. It’s like a new life for myself now and it’s just wonderful.

“Sometimes I can’t recognise the person I was or I became. I was so unwell. I did crazy things, hysterical, mad behaviour but I was ill.”

Shaaron has also embarked on training around addiction and substance use in the hope of landing a paid role in the future to help others.

She said: “I think the next pandemic will be the alcohol figures and mental health.

“This has been a horrendous year for everyone but especially people who have struggled with mental health and addiction.

“Had I not gone into detox and had some support put in place, I wouldn’t be here now, I know that.”

Anyone worried about drinking or for advice or support, contact Forward Leeds on 0113 8872477, email [email protected] or visit www.forwardleeds.co.uk.

Anyone worried about someone else’s drinking can call Carers Leeds who offer support to people affected by alcohol use of someone they know on 0113 3804300.

*For confidential support and advice, phone Samaritans Leeds on 116 123 (free) or 0113 245 6789 (local call charges apply)

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