Miles Briggs MSP has opened up for the first time about his father’s alcohol use, as he backs a campaign aimed at reducing the stigma that surrounds deaths due to alcohol and drugs.
In a candid and moving letter to his father Jim as part of the See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland campaign, Miles shares his experiences as the son of a parent who drank. (Miles lost his mother to breast cancer at an early age.) He also talks of the loss and pain he and his siblings feel due to his deceased father missing spending time with his grandchildren.
“We all miss you but also know the pain watching you try to deal with and hide your drink problem from family and friends – from bottles hidden in the garden and around the house, the difficulty in holding down a job and for the family the worry and concerns we all felt over what would come next,” writes Miles, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party MSP for Lothian.
He continues: “We probably don’t speak enough about you as a family – that’s partly because it can often return to what was a difficult few final years of your life. Dad, you know you weren’t perfect, but then which one of us is?”
Also backing See Beyond – See the Lives - Scotland is Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour MSP for Central Scotland. A long-time campaigner against the stigma surrounding substance use, Monica lost her father to alcohol in 2015. Miles’ and Monica’s letters to their fathers are included with 14 others who share letters to their loved ones on the campaign’s website.
The two MSPs will front a Scottish Parliament reception this week in Holyrood where those who helped to create the website campaign will talk about their experiences. They will stress the importance of showing kindness and offering support to everyone affected.
In her letter, Monica, who as a teenager attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her father in Glasgow, writes: “A whole lot of life happens when you are waiting for rock bottom. Part of me always believed that you would fall so hard that recovery would follow. There were times it was too difficult to be around.”
‘Everyone knows someone’ is the message behind See Beyond - See the Lives – Scotland, launched last month by the University of Stirling, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), and The Salvation Army.
As well as hard-hitting stories and videos from family members and friends of people who have died, the website includes resources and advice for those harmed by substance use, whether for themselves or a family member or friend.
Since its launch, the campaign has gained national attention and support for its mission to shatter myths surrounding drug and alcohol use and deaths, and to encourage the public to show compassion for those experiencing problems with substance use and the people left behind when a loved one dies.
Miles Briggs said of supporting the campaign: “The important message with See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland is that there is still stigma attached to alcohol and drug use, from how people talk about it to the judgements they bring to it.
“Each of these letters is a rallying cry to make a change. Everyone knows someone, and we can all help steer each other towards more of an understanding of substance use and its effects on people’s lives.”
He added: “It is a sad fact that everyone will know someone who has lost a loved one because of drugs and alcohol dependency. As a country we can make a change and save lives.”
The initiative comes after three consecutive years of rising numbers of deaths from drugs, and two for deaths from alcohol, across the UK, with Scotland showing the highest rates. The latest figures for suspected drug deaths in Scotland showed that, after a downward trend in the previous 12 months, the last quarter of 2022 saw the highest number in a single quarter since 2021, at 295 suspected deaths. In 2021, Scotland saw the highest number of alcohol-specific deaths since 2008.
Miles Briggs' letter
It’s not easy to know where to start in writing this letter to you. We all miss you but also know the pain watching you try to deal with and hide your drink problem from family and friends - from bottles hidden in the garden and around the house, the difficulty in holding down a job and for the family the worry and concerns we all felt over what would come next.
I can remember the first time the impact of your drinking hit home with me - it was a photo taken a decade between family weddings - it was so clear what negative impact your excessive drinking was taking on your body.
I wish I had taken a more proactive role to try to get help for you. In so many ways the relationship between parent and child has to be totally turned on its head when it comes to discussing addictions. I know we all tried to talk to you and get you to seek help, but the strength to try to get someone to see what they are doing to themselves is never easy and the need for long-term support and understanding isn’t always available or accessible especially when you live in the countryside.
This may sound strange, but I keep thinking about the tv programme, Who Do You Think You Are ? and how will you be thought off by family members in the future who have never met you but researching our family tree find a copy of your death certificate and read Cause of Death: a) Decompensated Cirrhosis and b) Alcoholic Liver Disease.
They won’t have ever known you as a person - the entertaining and charismatic person you are - you were always at your best socially in the pub or at the races (that was probably also part of the problem as your escape and enjoyment often was aligned with alcohol).
That's why someone addictions just like a disability doesn't define them, but many people, people even reading this, will jump to the same conclusions and stigma which so often prevents so many of us from seeking help.
I know the cards you were dealt in life weren't great - losing mum at such a young age with 3 children between 7 and 14. I often get a glimpse of you in the mirror - having just turned 40 I have to say it's become unnerving.
I don't want this letter to sound just like a sob fest - it's important to remember the good times as a family and the three of us are happy and making our way in life.
Since you died you’ve missed so much. You’ve sadly not had a chance to meet your granddaughter or see your grandsons grow-up into fine young men. We probably don't speak enough about you as a family - that's partly because it can often return to what was a difficult few final year of your life.
Dad, you know you weren’t perfect, but then which one of us is.
We miss you and love you.
Monica Lennon's letter
A childhood memory has been washing over me this past week. I was so excited to see you after being away in Nottingham visiting Auntie Josephine and Uncle John that in my rush to sprint across the platform, I fell and burst my knee.
I was always running towards you. Meeting you at the gate when you came home from work. The stereotypical daddy’s girl. I don’t remember when I first became aware that your drinking had become ‘an issue’ but when it had got so bad that you spent some time in residential rehab, there I was again – running towards you. It was a hopeful time. I knew you would apply yourself in that studious way you approached colleges courses and the responsibilities of work. You always were a hard worker.
We went to Alcoholics Anonymous together. It was an open meeting in the Southside of Glasgow as you wanted to avoid local groups. Going to AA meetings with your dad is not how most teenage girls spend their evenings, but it fascinated me. I often wonder what happened to all the other people. I hope their families and friends know how much they wanted to get well and to undo any hurt.
A whole lot of life happens when you are waiting for rock bottom. Part of me always believed that you would fall so hard that recovery would follow. There were times it was too difficult to be around. Too many days when it was too painful to run to you. On those dark days when we were apart, I hope you know you were always loved.
If you’d lived one more year to see me elected to the Scottish Parliament, it would have been a special moment for us to share. Instead, I seek the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. You showed me how to stand up for people and just causes. Thank you for believing in me and helping me find the courage to change the things I can. Having the wisdom to know the difference is still a work in progress, so I will be back soon for a chat, bringing you flowers and singing along to the ‘Dad’ playlist.
The soundtrack to your life ended too soon but I want you to know that the great far outweighed the bad.
Love you always,
Fact and figures around drug-related and alcohol-specific deaths
- After a downward trend in the rolling 12-month suspected drug death total since early 2021, suspected drug deaths increased between October to December 2022, according to figures released in March from the Scottish Government. Its most recent report stated there were 295 suspected drug deaths recorded in the last quarter of 2022, 26% (60) higher than between July to September 2022 (235).
- In 2021 there were 1330 drug-related deaths and 1245 alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland.
- In 2021 there were 9,641 deaths (14.8 per 100,000 people) from alcohol-specific causes registered in the UK, the highest number on record. Scotland and Northern Ireland had the highest rates of alcohol-specific deaths in 2021 (22.4 and 19.3 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively).
Sources: Office of National Statistics; Scottish Government