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“I had to choose between life and death”

“In my late teens, I realised that I could take more alcohol than my friends. I drank more than them, but rarely made a fool of myself. And I never drank to compensate for a low self-esteem: I was good at sports, had friends and no issues with girls. For me, alcohol and intoxication was just a good feeling and fun.

When I was 22 years old, I met my wife Annica. She thought I drank too much, but since I always managed to go to work and never did anything stupid, I dismissed her concerns as nagging. But I started drinking more and more and I became dependent. I would often drink during the week, always excessively, but managed to do my job.

My wife was on the verge of leaving me several times. Luckily, we are still together, perhaps because she first got to know the real Håkan, the one who wasn’t controlled by an inner demon whose only thoughts are about alcohol.

The turning point came at a stag do, when I had already had two bottles of gin and was about to have another drink. I was sure that I would die from alcohol poisoning if I had that last drink. So I had to choose between life and death. That’s different from choosing between continuing drinking or stopping, because in that choice, alcohol always wins. This time, I chose life – I wanted to live.

The next day, I called the volunteer organisation Länkarna, and that’s what saved me. They understand what this is, what incredible forces are involved in a dependence. They immediately see through lies and self-deception. They got me talking about my dependence, which led to me also opening up at home.

I have now been sober for six years. I go to meetings with Länkarna every week, that’s my life insurance policy. I also give lectures in schools about alcohol dependence. I can see now that alcohol dependence is a serious illness that has cost me and my family a lot. Faced with that, I feel a great deal of sadness, but no shame.”

HÅKAN LILJEKVIST

Age: 44 years.

Relationship with alcohol: Sober now, but was previously alcohol-dependent.

As told to Annika Lund, first published in the magazine Medical Science, no 3, 2015.