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John Williams, 50, Waterstones, SwanseaI feel proud of how far I’ve come. I’m 14 years clean and sober this year

Become a vendor

Mental health has always been an issue for me. When I was 14 I had anorexia and that was really hard, especially for a bloke. There was some support but not to the extent that there is now. I was put in a mental hospital for four months. The eating disorder was always there and as an adult I went through a rough patch when I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. It was partly because of my mental health but partly to do with working and working.

I was a chef, and you finish at 9pm then go for a drink. It’s automatic. People usually go home after drinking till 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock. Nah, I’d go on till 3 o’clock in the morning, then get up and go back to work. Then I went over the line and that was it, I would start drinking in the day.

The lowest point was when I was on the drink and the drugs. I lost everything bar my parents – they managed to stick by me but I think if I’d carried on drinking I’d have lost them as well. I lost numerous jobs over drinking, I lost my home. I lost respect in myself, I’d let myself go. I near enough lost my mum and dad as well. But they let me back into the house so I did have a roof over my head. My dad died six years ago through lung cancer but my mum’s in a nursing home here in Swansea. She’s got Alzheimer’s but I go up to see her most weeks. I owe my parents a lot.

I was down in Weston-super-Mare a few years ago and saw one of the boys who sells The Big Issue so I asked him if I could join. I just wanted to get back into steady living. So I got badged up and sold the magazine there for five years before I came back to Swansea about four months ago. I was homeless and trying to find somewhere to live, but I’ve got a place in a hostel now. The Big Issue is getting me back into, I suppose, normal life. It’s making sure I’ve got money in my pocket to go and buy magazines, and money for food. It’s got me back on an even keel and I feel proud of how far I’ve come. I’ve come a long way, I’m 14 years clean and sober this year.

My girlfriend lives out in the Philippines. I haven’t been out this year cos I can’t afford it but I was out last year and the year before and the year before that. She would come here but it all comes down to finances. She has a son who’s 12 and he loves me to death. At the moment we’re just taking it as it comes but hopefully one day they’ll move here or I’ll move out there and we’ll get married.

I’m quite comfortable in the hostel while I get myself sorted out but I do want to get a permanent place. I might go back to being a chef. I might not. I do miss it. If I could find something that was 9-5 with no stress I’d go back in the kitchen tomorrow. But that’s not the nature of the job. My customers here are good as gold though, some nice people. And Swansea’s great, it’s right by the coast with a big massive beach, lots of parks, good nightlife. It’s home for me at the moment.

Waterstones, Oxford Street, Swansea
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