Kaleidoscope volunteer Russell spoke to Wales Online about how he’s come full circle, from getting hurt fighting for money just to fund his addiction to turning his life around and helping others to do the same.
When former Welsh boxing champion Russell Pearce found out he got paid the same amount of money for losing a fight as he would have got had he won, it sent him down a road, one he wishes now he hadn’t travelled.
He would take on tough fights, lose, then spend his earnings on drinking.
But what started out as just a harmless drink with mates, soon spiralled into alcohol addiction.
“Pretty soon my boxing career had strayed from national champion status to getting hurt fighting for money just to fund my habit,” said Russell.
Now, the father-of-one has turned his life around and works to help others to do the same, but it hasn’t been easy.
Russell started boxing professionally at 18, but his dream career then developed into a means of funding his alcohol habit.
The 33-year-old from Welshpool said: “I started boxing at six years old and as a teenager, I won a British Championship fight and began representing Wales.”
“I won my first fight, then lost my second and was still paid the same amount of money as I did when I won. I realised I could do nothing and still get paid between £800 and £1,000 per fight.”
Russell said he would take on difficult fights, knowing he would get that pay package at the end of it and could spend it on alcohol regardless of the outcome.
His addiction to alcohol started as seemingly harmless drinking on weekends, but he quickly realised he couldn’t drink like his friends.
“I got to that age where drinking was introduced and I was drinking too much and much faster than my mates. I would be the one going home more drunk than the others,” he recalled.
“It was a slippery slope. Before I knew it I was relying on alcohol to feel I belonged – to be outgoing, funny, one of the lads – it just got worse from there.”
Russell said drink took over his life, leaving him alone and desperate to continue funding his habit.
He said: “All your money runs out and your friends slowly diminish and all you are left with is you alone in your flat with no money.
“I had that career as a youngster, to sitting in my flat alone finishing off one to two bottles of vodka – I spent a good two and a half years drinking that way.”
His desperation reached a peak when he could no longer afford to sustain his lifestyle. With his addiction still strong, stealing alcohol felt like his only option.
“Things came to a head when I got into trouble with the police for shoplifting,” he admitted.
“But, when I was at the station, somebody from Kaleidoscope came to see me and my recovery began.”
He is now finds himself employed at drug and alcohol charity Kaleidoscope, where he supports recovering alcoholics from relapsing.
Since joining its recovery programme in 2017, he has come full circle, and has now been alcohol free for two and a half years.
Russell described the challenges he faced during his recovery period, adding that getting the right support was key in preventing a relapse.
“It’s one thing getting sober for the first month, but dealing with life afterwards is what can be a struggle.
“The day to day life, like when you walk into a supermarket, often the first thing you’ll see is a pyramid of alcohol on offer.”
He said one thing that really helped with his recovery was honestly.
“I’ve always been pretty open with it – if you don’t tell people you’re struggling with it, people try and get you to have a drink.
“I have been to parties in the last two years where people have put alcohol right in front of me, but I’m pretty good at resisting.”
Now Russell is raising awareness for people facing similar challenges, and particularly those in the boxing world, where he believes drug and alcohol issues are heightened by pressure to achieve and a culture that makes it difficult to seek help.
He works as an engagement and team support worker at Kaleidoscope.
“Now I’m a better father, husband, brother and son. I want people to know that addiction can grip anyone, from any background. But, there is support out there, walk through our doors and you’ll be greeted with a warm smile and a cuppa,” he said.
To thank the charity for its support Russell will ascend the three highest peaks in Yorkshire – Pen-Y-Ghent, Whernside and Inglebrough – alongside his wife Charlotte Pearce, over a distance of roughly 24 miles on May 30, 2020.
A fundraiser has been set up here, where money can be donated towards the cause.