Waterlooville dad reveals how he went from drinking a litre of gin a day for 10 years to beating booze and joining prison chaplaincy

It was in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, of all places, that Tim McIlroy had the spiritual awakening he had been waiting for.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 2:55 pm
Tim McIlroy, 60, was a serious alcoholic - drinking a litre of gin a day for 10 years. He has been through the 12-step programme and is now about to be ordained as a prison chaplain at Winchester Cathedral. Picture : Habibur Rahman

The previous 10 years had been spent in an alcoholic fug, with Tim, from Waterlooville, guzzling a litre of gin a day, missing work because he was too drunk and sick to get up, and pushing his relationship with his wife of – then – more than 30 years, to the brink. 

But on that September day in 2014, Tim was in a better place.

He says: ‘I was going to a rehab meeting and I could see autumn leaves on the trees.

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Tim McIlroy and his wife Penny

‘I realised it was the first time I knew what season it was. It felt really amazing.’

It is hard to understand how someone who seemingly had it all, a loving wife, children, and a good job in the NHS, could become so chronically addicted to alcohol. 

Tim, now 60, says there wasn’t one single thing that triggered it, but it was a slow decline made worse 15 years ago by a perfect storm of highly emotional events. 

Tim McIlroy second right, with, clockwise from left, son Russell, wife Penny, son Matthew, son-in-law Chris, and daughter-in-law Kerry.

He says: ‘I began drinking at an early age. Not all the time, but I didn’t know my limits. I’d always end up getting ill. 

‘That’s how it was for a few years then I started drinking spirits and it crept up and up. 

‘The past 15 years it went up to a litre of gin a day. What caused it?  There were a lot of factors. 

‘My father died, my children left home, I’m also gay. 

‘I’ve been married for 37 years but I’m gay and I felt a lot of confusion. I came out to my wife 15 years ago and it wasn’t a surprise to her.’

The grief, and confusion over his sexuality, bore down on him. 

‘I was drinking virtually 24 hours a day. I took alcohol into work in a soft drinks bottle. 

‘I was constantly physically sick. There were times I could not even go to work, I was so drunk. I so wanted to stop but my addiction was such that I couldn’t.’

Tim’s alcoholism took a huge toll on his family. ‘My wife was always amazing’, says Tim, who spent at least £400 a month on booze. 

‘She tried everything – from being nice and trying to help me to at times losing her temper. 

‘My wife would go into work and cry and people wondered what was going on. My two sons were very, very concerned.

‘We lived a completely solitary existence and my wife was coming home finding me blotto every day.’

Tim has always been a Christian, but not always practising.

In the end it was he and his wife’s faith that pulled them through the darkness and into the light.   

The day that changed it all came in 2014 at his home in Forest End. 

Tim says: ‘I was drinking very heavily and I passed out in the hall. In despair, my wife went up stairs and said, “please God, step in and help us”.

‘She googled “rehab centre” and my family helped pay for it – my mum, sister-in-law. They said my life was worth saving. I was there for four weeks. 

‘When I came out I went every day to all the various Fellowship meetings around Portsmouth. 

‘I got a sponsor who helped take me through the 12-step recovery  programme. 

‘I was told if I did it properly I would have a spiritual awakening.’

And that is what happened to Tim in Commercial Road, For the first time in years he noticed the change of the seasons.

On holiday in Blackpool Tim had another epiphanhy of sorts.

He went to a Fellowship meeting at Kirkham Prison where they invite addicts from the outside. 

He was astonished at how the prisoners had turned their lives around.

In 2016 he started volunteering at Winchester Prison, visitng prisoners who did not have any visitors. 

He then began helping with Bible study classes and with the services and eventually joined the chaplaincy team as a volunteer. When a member of staff left he did more and recently completed his licence to become a chaplaincy lay worker.

Following his years of unhappiness, the ordination at Winchester Cathedral was one of his proudest moments. 

Tim beams as he says: ‘The message I want to get across to alcoholics and addicts is that if you engage with the Fellowship and do the 12 steps programme and you can recover from addiction. You can’t be cured but you can recover. 

‘You can get to not only a normal life, but a better life than you had before. 

‘I am extremely happy and my family are happy. I now sponsor people through the 12 steps. 

‘In fact, somebody at St Mary;s Church, Portchester, where I worship, referred to me as Mr Happy because I’m smiling all the time. 

‘It is hard to believe that I’ve gone from being comatose with alcohol five years ago to my life changing this much.

‘I want everyone to have what it’s given to me.’