How I Got Sober short film helps addicts trying to give up alcohol

A still of Warren in How I got Sober picture courtesy of Sobriety Films

A still of Warren in How I got Sober picture courtesy of Sobriety Films - Credit: Archant

Belsize Park film maker Maddie Kitchen has used her own experience to make an inspirational 15 minute documentary about the route to health

Maddie Kitchen, Katie and Warren who made How I Got Sober picture courtesy of Sobriety Films

Maddie Kitchen, Katie and Warren who made How I Got Sober picture courtesy of Sobriety Films - Credit: Archant

Back in the noughties, Maddie Kitchen was drinking buddies with Warren in the pubs around Camden and Hampstead.

But for both, their pub sessions masked underlying problems that tipped over into self-destruction.

Thirteen years later, Kitchen took up her camera to interview Warren about his route to health and happiness for her 15 minute short How I Got Sober.

The Belsize Park film maker hadn't realised how low her old friend had sunk: "I met him in a pub, we used to drink together, but I didn't realise how much he drank or that it got so bad he had had been living on a bench, begging to fund his habit."

Now a practicing Buddhist with a partner and stepson, Warren, 51, talks frankly about how a physically abusive childhood and chronic shyness led him to start drinking. At its worst he slept on a park bench, but he tells the film: "As a sober man today my life is fantastic, every aspect of my life has improved. I quite literally have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have integrity and that is the greatest gift."

"You meet him now and he is such a fantastic good person with a really good life," says Kitchen, who attended Gospel Oak and Haverstock schools and is also in recovery from alchohol addiction.

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"It's a really important film for me personally," adds the former model and journalist.

"I became alcohol dependent when I was 19. I developed severe depression and anxiety. I was having panic attacks and agoraphobia and couldn't get out of the house without drinking. It was a vicious cycle."

Her second interviewee Katie is a singer songwriter who has experienced an eating disorder, agarophobia and depression.

Kitchen says mental health issues and addiction are common.

"For a lot of people I met in recovery, mental illness was the key to developing and sustaining their addiction. I was astonished how all these people were the same as me. But if you have a mental illness, drinking is like throwing petrol on a fire."

Told simply, the film sees Warren and Katie describe their triggers for addiction, deciding to stop, and their journey to recovery.

After a bad drinking bout, a friend fixed Warren in the eye and told him it had to stop.

The North Londoner went to an AA meeting every day for the next four years and is now 13 years sober. For Kitchen it was different: "I was on my knees and ended up in The Royal Free A&E after a four day binge, shaking from alcohol withdrawal. I was told 'you are alcohol dependent you need treatment'"

But getting sober "has to come from inside," she says.

"It's heartbreaking that people can't stop drinking for their children or partners they have to reach a stage where they think 'I can't do this any more.''"

Kitchen has worked with clients at an NHS centre for people with both addiction and mental health issues, and believes film making can be "transformational" for recovery.

Her impulse for making the film was to help people who are thinking about giving up drink.

"If someone was desperate thinking how can I get sober? and typed that into Google, my film would pop up. It's meant to be simple. This is how I did it. This is the life I have now. You can do it."

But it's not always easy. Katie has relapsed in recent months and Kitchen twice in 13 years.

"Addiction is a complex illness. It's incredibly painful getting sober, there's a restriction on your personality, your behaviour, your social life. For the first year I kept away from pubs and the people I used to hang out with and avoided things that triggered the habitual responses. I had to be with people I trusted who would support me by not drinking around me."

She recalls a crisis after three months when work colleagues went to the pub on a Friday night.

"The craving nearly lifted me off my feet. I started sweating. I had always answered my cravings but this time I didn't..and then it went away and I thought: 'I can do this!"

For her, recovery felt like the beginning of a new life "it's like being reborn." "For some it's spiritual or religious, for others it's just trying to live the best life. You develop self-awareness, self-knowledge your self-esteem rises you become a different person."

Kitchen studied media and TV production at the University of Westminster then worked at The Media Trust making films for the charity sector on social, health and education issues. Now she wants to put her craft to good use.

"The best thing I ever did was stop drinking and I want to use my skills as a filmmaker so that when people are in a dark place, it makes them think 'maybe I can do it'."

Bridget Galton

How I Got Sober premieres at the NoHo festival in Hollywood in October and is screened here later in the month. It is made by Sobriety Films UK a not for profit collective which is producing the first ever UK Recovery Film Festival next May supported by Camden Council.