Giving up smoking was a life or death decision for Nick Sheppard – he chose to stop and is encouraging others to sign up for Stoptober, the 28-day challenge to quit smoking.
The 47-year-old, from Walcot, was at death’s door two years ago due to alcohol and drug addictions which forced his body to shut down.
He said: “My liver was on its way out and doctors said I had just months left if I didn’t stop. I’ve got an addictive personality so it was a case of all – drink, drugs, tobacco – or nothing.”
Being arrested for possession of cannabis was his final wake-up call . He engaged with drug dependency services and took part in group therapy sessions.
“Former service users were volunteering in group work, and that made me think I could do something positive too. I’ve started to train to be a counsellor and hope to be able to pass my life skills knowledge on to others who have dependency problems,” he said.
“I also volunteer with the Council’s Health Ambassador team, supporting the stop smoking service. People see that if someone like me can give up, anyone can.”
He hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol for two years or smoked in the last 16 months – but it has been a long, hard battle.
“I started smoking at the age of 10 – back then you could buy two cigarettes for 5p from vending machines outside shops and I bought them with my pocket money. By the time I left school at 15, I was hooked and smoking 20-40 a day,” he said.
“I did manual work in the welding and construction industry, so you smoked in your breaks and then went to the pub in the evening. That’s when I got into alcohol and cannabis as well. It soon spiralled out of control and I could drink as much as nine pints of strong cider a day, plus spirits.”
Living on the edge became a way of life. He lost his right arm in a motorbike crash and his every move became dictated by drink or smoking.
“If I forgot my tobacco tin, I had to go back for it. I couldn’t just enjoy one drink – I had to get totally wasted. The addictions totally controlled me,” he said.
After a spell in hospital with angina in 2004, Nick tried to go cold turkey but soon slipped back into his old ways.
“I didn’t have structured support, so it was too easy to return to habits. When I started the 12 week programme, I had a brilliant no smoking advisor Steph who was on hand on the telephone and a brilliant source of encouragement,” he said.
“I was also on nicotine patches to wean me off gradually and had lozenges, which I found really effective.”
The health benefits were almost instantaneous and Nick has also regained his sense of taste and smell.
He said: “It has been amazing to actually smell and taste food again. I’ve got my appetite back and love a good curry. I cook a lot now and feel so much better.”
Nick’s healthy lifestyle has also led to romance and the pair couldn’t be happier together with their three dogs Dixie, Dexter and Bettsie.
“My girlfriend Valeria is very anti-drinking and smoking. She wouldn’t have looked twice at me before. She still can’t believe I was like that, but is very supportive,” he said.
“We cook for each other and take the dogs for long walks. It’s wonderful just to be clean of it all.”
Determined to help others beat their addictions, Nick is embarking on studying for a diploma in peer mentoring.
He said: “I had one last chance to change for good and took it. I would never go back – it was too difficult to come through and life is too nice on the other side. I’m living proof that you can really turn your life around and it will be great to keep helping others turn that corner.”
For more information about Stoptober and the support available, visit www.swindon.gov.uk/stoptober