Sometime in the morning, I came round. I’d blacked out from drinking, with no memory of the night before. As soon as I opened my eyes, before I’d even focused on the room around me, I knew I had done it again. After all the promises, even swearing on the Bible and all the pleas for second chances, I’d still gone ahead and lost it. The four hideous horsemen – shame, remorse, self-disgust and, the worst of all, fear – had found me again.
The sickening realization that yet again I’d let down the people closest to me flooded through me. Mentally I started a damage control survey. However, even though I hadn’t worked anything out yet, one overpowering thought loomed – I wasn’t very far away from badly needing another drink. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand upright without one, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out the front door if I didn’t drink something.
Somehow I got to work, driven at my wife Clare’s request by Heather from a Twelve Step program. Always punctual, this day I could not get out of the car.
Even though Clare had left me, Brian Parks, the producer of Coronation Street, insisted she come in. He told her he was shocked at how sick I seemed to be. He explained the studio had booked me into the Priory Hospital nearby, so I could recover properly. This was to be no short-term “drying-out”, but the full package of rehabilitation. They needed Clare’s assistance to get me there.
Also, they had plans to write me out of the storyline for six months. Brian Parks saved my life. He chose rehabilitation rather than sacking me. This “American” approach to alcoholism was purely good business because in the end they would get back a better product.
I knew, though I was non compos mentis, that this was it . . . the end. As I was helped over the threshold and into rehab, I could never have imagined that it was the beginning.
DAILY SUICIDE: What It Was Like
Over my 20 years on Street, I never fell out with anyone on set. The intense working conditions and the pressure that comes with being a Coronation Street actor didn’t really allow for feuds or prima donna behavior; there simply wasn’t enough time. I loved being on the show, and I genuinely loved the people I worked with.
Actors are very protective of each other, both on stage and on set. People were aware of my drinking long before I was, and I was looked after by the actors and crew. I’m grateful for that. If I wasn’t too shaky, I’d be fine; and I’d manage a few scenes before lunch. A pint or two at lunchtime was legitimate. In the afternoon, with maybe no more than three or four lines in each shot, I could get away with it. When I heard the
word “Action!”, my professionalism and adrenaline took over.
By then, I was drinking a lot. I would end up feeling awful after a night out. As the drink took hold, some days all I wanted to do was say my lines with some sort of emotion and then go to the pub. I really didn’t care by that point.
I can’t watch any episodes from that time.
WALKING TALL: What Happened
People in recovery often talk about their final days of drinking as a time when the writing was on the wall, and it was just a matter of time before they accepted who and what they were –that they needed help.
The car pulled up outside the Priory on Friday, August 14, 1998. Because I couldn’t stand up, I had to be helped to the front door. I was wailing and sobbing by this point; I was totally defeated, lost and in a dreadful state.
My overriding emotion was massive, horrible shame. My old friend, Kevin Lloyd of The Bill, had died three and a half months earlier after he choked on his own vomit. Nobody wanted the same thing to happen to me.
When I awoke, there was someone sitting by my bed. I recognized him. He used to run a pub. I even worked for him years ago when I was in drama school. “Hi, I’m Phil. Remember me?” I must have nodded. “I’m a counselor here now. You’re going to be okay. I’ll see you on Monday.”
All I could feel was my dreadful shame. Now everyone knew I was an alcoholic. Paranoia is common among alcoholics; less common was my egotistical view that everyone was interested in learning about my addiction. After all, not long ago, we had a press conference about my drinking; surely the press would be hovering outside my room.
I later found out that Clare had given a statement to the papers about me going into rehab. Brian had added, “We agree that, given the continuing difficulties, the only solution is an intensive period of treatment for his condition.” After that, the papers left me alone.
I didn’t know that at the time, though; and it just added to my total despair. How could I ever work again? Who would want me in their lives? Everything was gone. No feeling of hope whatsoever. Everything in me had collapsed – mentally, physically and spiritually.
In a daze, I got through the first week. When I awoke at the start of the next week, I was told to go to a meeting. Because I knew without truly understanding that this would help make me better, I meekly went along with what I was told to do. I surrendered to them, whoever they were.
With six other inmates, I went into a small room and was welcomed by a woman who introduced herself as Win Parry. Win’s opening gambit was, “You’re here because you are ill. You’re not here because you’re bad or wicked – you’re here because you are ill.” The heavy cloud hanging over me for the past few days shifted a bit.
“This is the beginning,” she continued. “This is not the end. Rather, it is the end of a certain chapter of your life, but the beginning of another.”
She went through what was going to happen in the days and the weeks ahead, and how they were going to help rehabilitate us by changing our thinking. “Honesty is the key. You all have shameful stories. You can’t afford to go into denial anymore; you’re in it together. You’re part of a group, and in that group there is strength.”
This is how mad and deluded I was. I thought, I’ll do this course, come back with my brilliant idea, the scriptwriters will love it – Curly goes through rehab. It would be a great story; I could see awards.
Win continued, “What we’re doing today is talking about how you feel. British people don’t talk about how they feel. You go up to someone in the street and ask how they are. They’ll say they’re fine, but that’s a lie. This whole experience, this recovery, is all about you expressing feelings honestly. It’s about how you feel.”
I felt a bit rejuvenated by everything so far. As Win talked, the little pinprick of light that had shone on me when she’d explained I was ill had expanded. She finished by reminding us all that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and thinking the outcome will be different.
On Wednesday night, we were all told we were going to a Twelve Step meeting and were ushered into a minibus. This was the first time I’d been outside the front door; and as the van drove out of the gates, I nearly ducked to avoid photographers; but no one was there. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.
In the minibus on the way back to the Priory, I said, “I don’t understand any of that. They’re all mad, these people – very nice, but all crazy. Not like us.” I thought the others would agree with me, but they didn’t. I think they’d started to grasp what the process was about more quickly than I.
When we arrived, it felt like the evening had brought us all together a bit more. Instead of all heading back to our rooms, we went down to get a hot drink. I chatted with a couple of people. Talking with them made me realize I did have things in common with them after all.
We went to three evening Twelve Step meetings a week. Eventually I started to listen to the stories, the human side; people who’d lost their jobs, wives, everything; yet these people looked happy. They were laughing, and I thought, This is quite attractive, I could live like this. These people are happy, not miserable. The process of the Twelve Steps is abstinence; and while I didn’t like that, I was starting to think about it.
During the second week, I had a bit of a breakthrough. We were in a group talking about the Twelve Steps. Win asked me, “Do you understand this?” I said I didn’t, and a huge smile came across her face. She said, “That is the first honest thing you’ve said since you came in here.” Something clicked inside me. I’d heard them talk about being honest, but I didn’t know what it meant. When she put it like that, I understood. Until then, I’d felt that what they were talking about had nothing to do with me. At that moment, the penny dropped. When she smiled at me for being honest, I found myself wanting more of that reaction.
There’s a moment in all alcoholics’ lives – the crisis point, I suppose – where they are confronted with the reality of their lives and their futures.
It was my turn, and it certainly hit hard. Stop drinking or die. Your addicted brain will try anything to soften the blow, but there’s no way round it. That’s the worst of it, knowing the choice to live will lead to recovery; and recovery will be hard. Eventually, I had to decide to just do it – to stop drinking and live.
Clare came to see me. She’d stopped drinking and was going to Twelve Step meetings. She was happy that I was in the right place. I explained to her what I thought the program was all about. There was a light in her eyes.
SOME JOYS: What Its Like Now
Before I became sober, my goal was merely to drink like a normal person. I returned to Coronation Street with a sponsor, and people were kind to me. I recorded the Bulldog Nation record with Simon Cowell. I qualified as a scuba diver. I coped with being written out of Coronation Street, but then returned earlier this year.
In between, I toured as the narrator in The Rocky Horror Show; sang in Chicago; acted in pantomime; starred in a TV show, Spanish Capers; played the Child Catcher, then Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; and starred at London’s Dominion Theatre as Pop in the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, written by Ben Elton.
Clare and I have had the good fortune to pursue sober interests through several projects, including Addiction Management UK Ltd. (AMUKL), a professional advice service to the business sector; and Kennedy St. & Co. (#TheDryBarBrighton) an alternative social space for people to meet, eat and be entertained. Behind the scenes are abstinence-based, recovery-oriented services including , retraining and self-employment opportunities for young people.
We also are beginning the Discover Recovery program. There is a distinct difference between an individual being abstinent from drugs and alcohol and an individual living a life in recovery. This program addresses the difference. We focus on physical, emotional and spiritual growth, with an emphasis on responsibility.
In recovery, Clare and I have had two children. We were given another chance in our marriage. I should have gone insane or been dead, but instead I was given another chance.
The Street to Recovery by Kevin Kennedy may be purchased through Amazon. If you would like more information on Kevin Kennedy and his work, please contact Clare Kennedy at KennedyStreet@me.com or at kennedystreet (LinkedIn).