SARAH MacDONALD speaks to Martin Jim McFadden who found sobriety after many years battling alcohol addiction. With the wisdom of hindsight, he sums up his life as an alcoholic in the title of his book, Don’t Go There.
“No matter how low you go, if you want to change you can change. But you need to take God along with you – you can’t do it on your own.” Martin Jim McFadden should know. He is an alcoholic who found sobriety and all the pieces of his life began to fall into place. His book, Don’t Go There, is an honest and challenging account of how addiction controlled him and almost killed him. He knows that if he drinks again “it will most likely kill me.” He was sober for a number of years and fell into a false sense of security that he could drink sometimes. That led to binge drinking and the last ‘session’ resulted in a loss of power in his legs for days. “I was paralysed from the waist down from the alcohol abuse.” It also threatened to destroy his marriage. A point of no return was reached.
The fifty-year-old was born in Carrigart, a small scenic village surrounded by the sea on Donegal’s North West coast. The youngest of five, three boys and two girls, his parents never abused alcohol. “I never saw my father or my mother drunk in all my life. They never abused drink. But I remember one time when I was young; I went to the fridge where there was a bottle of lemonade. I opened the bottle and drank some and my father saw me and said to me, ‘Martin, if you ever drink you are going to be an alcoholic.’ Whatever way I opened the bottle and drank that lemonade, he saw it. From my very first drink, I had a problem with it. It never agreed with me and I would drink alcohol until I ran out of money or fell asleep.”
He was a bit of a ‘wild man’ in his late teens and early twenties. But then, in 1986, when he was just twenty-three years of age, Martin suffered horrific injuries having been involved in a road traffic accident. He spent three months in hospital fighting for his life and, against the odds, he survived. Compensation for these horrendous injuries totalled £90,000, a small fortune in 1980s Ireland. Yet within three years, and thanks to his alcoholism, he was penniless and almost homeless. “I was a lost soul. When I had it all spent and was penniless and at a low ebb I prayed. I often say the Devil is in the bottle. For me personally, he was in the bottle. The evil spirits you experience when you have an addiction to alcohol - it takes away your peace, and it takes away the peace of everybody you love.”
In desperation, he turned to St Anthony of Padua. Martin and the McFadden family had already sought the saint’s intercession following the car crash and the fact that he had survived and recovered was seen by them as a miracle. But alcohol’s grip on Martin was such that he in was in thrall to the next drink and couldn’t see anything else. When the three-year “continuous bender” had come to a sorry end, and he had reached rock bottom, he turned again to prayer and asked Saint Anthony to intercede in his life and help him give up alcohol once and for all. He also wanted to meet someone, fall in love and get married. Up to then, there was room in his life only for alcohol. “I was haunted by demons", Martin explains. “Demons that would not let me rest. I couldn’t settle in a job, a relationship, or even a place. I was on the run all my life and fuelling my paranoia with alcohol, I would walk away from someone I loved in favour of a drink.”
Within months, he had found sobriety and met Liz. “I had prayed to St Anthony that I would get sober and then, when I was sober, I prayed that if I was meant to get married that I would meet the right woman. I was only sober eight months when I met Liz. She was sent from heaven. St Anthony is the patron saint of lovers as well as many other things – patron saint of marriage and of finding people and lost things. He found me and then he found me an angel. It was no coincidence because Liz never drank. I told her at the beginning where I had been with the drink. Liz wasn’t looking to go out to pubs or clubs or wanting to stay for more drink. That was a blessing for me. It put me in a hole new social scene away from drinking and pubs. St Anthony helps people to find things. He helped me to find my sobriety and to find my wife and he brought me back to the light,” Martin explains.
Martin’s older brother Edmund was also an alcoholic. He died in 2005. Even though Martin was sober at that stage, Edmund was still drinking. “He hadn’t made the decision to stop. We worried about him. Then we found him dead in his little mobile home…” That is why he has written Don’t Go There, in the hope that his story could help someone else who is addicted and trying to take back control of their lives. The book has plenty of humorous moments, for behind Martin Jim McFadden’s cherub-like face is a rascal. But there is also real faith, of the kind that can move mountains.
It is now going on eight years since Martin took his last drink. Over those years, he has met many wonderful people and shared his story with them. He has even met his soccer hero, ‘Gazza’, and exchanged books about their journey from alcoholism to sobriety. “He was really sound and he was sober himself at that time. I gave him a copy of my book and he called me afterwards and said he’d really enjoyed it. ‘It was a good read, mate,’ is what he said.”
Martin now works at Letterkenny General Hospital and both he and Liz do as much as they can to promote St Anthony, who they believe brought them together. They have travelled to Padua to venerate the Saint’s relics and on their last visit he had the Saint’s dying words: “I see the Lord” tattooed on his arm. “Many people may think they are so far down there is no way up. No matter how low you go there is always a way back. But you can’t do it on your own – let God and his saints help you’.