Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Turning Point

Best speech at Labour conference? I was in the hall when Tony Blair spoke at conference for the last time as leader, and Bill Clinton today was very good. But the most moving, powerful and inspirational speech I heard was by a man called Dave Wright.

Mr Wright is involved in the Bottling It Up campaign which Turning Point are running, seeking to help the 1.3 million children whose parents are alcohol misusers.

I took some notes during his speech, which might put across just a very little of the power of his speech:

Dave spoke about his family, his three sons and a daughter. They all were aware and suffered from his drinking while they were growing up, both when he was living with them and then when he abandoned them.

His oldest son took a lot of the responsibility of looking after his alcoholic father while still just a child. He now has a child, who he is extremely protective of and anxious about, and although is he just 28, he looks more like he is forty, having been deprived the chance to have a proper childhood.

His second son is set on emulating his father, and in his mid-twenties is well on his way to being an alcoholic, because he thinks that he is just like his father. He is in a relationship, but refuses to have children or caring responsibilities.

His youngest son is "a little bit crazy". Having been abandoned by his father when he was eight years old, he found him five or six years ago when his father was in a hostel drinking himself to death. He refused to allow this to happen, and helped to support Dave to give up drinking.

Dave's daughter is eighteen years old. A couple of years ago, after he had managed to stop drinking, she wrote him a letter (which he read out at the meeting). She wrote that he had chosen drink over his children, that she had only received one birthday card from him ever, that she remembered him as a dirty, violent drunk, that he'd never got to know her and that she wasn't sure now that she wanted to get to know him. She wrote "I hoped for years that you would become sober, I lost hope. I know that you are sober now, but that doesn't change anything."

For Dave, although he had stopped drinking, it couldn't undo all the hurt that he had done to his children.

Earlier this year, he got involved in the Turning Point campaign, and appeared on the radio to talk about his experiences. His daughter heard him, and got in touch to ask him to see her, for the first time. When they met up, she hugged him and kissed him, for the first time since he walked out when she was six years old and he was too drunk to notice. She'd heard him on the radio and just said "Thank you for taking responsibility".

Just being involved in the campaign had transformed Dave's life. He finished up by saying, "If there had been the support services for children of alcoholic parents, then maybe my kids would have gone along, maybe they would have got me to go along, and maybe I wouldn't have done the damage I did."

I don't know how someone finds the courage to get up in front of a roomful of strangers and speak about their life, about the hurt that they have caused the people that they love the most, and about what they are trying to do to stop others from suffering in the same way. But more than any other speech at this conference, that was the one that inspired me.

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