MP owns up to his alcoholism

By Angela Gregory

For a Labour MP who has crashed his car after drink-driving and admitted himself to an Auckland alcohol rehabilitation clinic Mark Peck seems strangely chirpy.

Even more bizarrely for a politician, he is keen to be interviewed, admit his alcoholism, and talk about what he says is the worst thing that has ever happened to him.

That's because, as he says, once you've hit rock bottom things are only going to get better.

"It is my 23rd day sober ... er yes, it is 23 days ago I had the accident," he told the Herald yesterday from the clinic where he is being treated.

Mr Peck, 51 last month, crashed his car in Queenstown and has been charged with drink-driving and careless use of a motor vehicle.

The Invercargill MP had been at a pub drinking beer, his alcohol of choice, and decided at 11pm he wanted to go trout fishing.

"I felt fine, but to alcoholics it's a different fine. I had been driving over an hour when I lost control as I took a bend and became airborne."

The Toyota Surf landed on its roof and Mr Peck was trapped until help arrived.

He said he felt very calm, not even worried about whether the vehicle might catch fire, and remembers everything including receiving stitches and dressings at an accident and emergency clinic.

"I can remember my wife coming in and saying 'Where is that little shit, I'm going to kill him'."

Mr Peck said it was not until the next day the events really hit him.

"I thought to myself well bugger, if I don't do something about my drinking I'm dead. For the first time in my life I realised I could not drink."

Mr Peck said he was grateful no one else was involved in the crash in which he suffered deep cuts to his knee and elbow.

A blood sample showed he was over the 80mg legal limit.

He won't say what his level was "because it's sub judice", but that it was under the old limit of 100mg which he said showed how useless that was.

Mr Peck said alcohol had been with him since he was a young man.

"I went to parties, got pissed, fell down ... the difference with alcoholics is you don't grow out of it."

He was a little shy and needed a few drinks to feel relaxed and confident. "I ended up a pretty ugly individual."

Mr Peck found over the years the amount he needed to drink to enjoy himself increased, even after significant periods of abstinence. He had a classic addictive personality and gambling was also a problem.

Mr Peck might have been a smoker too had his mother, who caught him puffing as a 7-year-old, not locked him in a cupboard and forced him to smoke a packet.

"I didn't smoke after that."

Mr Peck said his problem with alcohol got worse after he missed out on promotion to the Cabinet in 2002.

"That's when it really started getting bad ... I saw myself sitting on the back bench until I was 60."

In retaliation he cut himself off from his colleagues and eventually suffered "considerable loneliness" which did not help.

"I loved being an MP but was facing the reality the chances of advancement were minuscule."

He was in denial and only now beginning to accept a large part of the problem was his own behaviour.

"Alcoholism didn't help my prospects."

Mr Peck said that in Parliament there were lots of social functions where alcohol was often present, and when socialising with colleagues after hours it was "inevitable a couples of wines are available". Mr Peck was not alone with his drinking problem. "It is a similar proportion to the population ... take 100 MPs and about 10 will have a drinking problem."

Mr Peck said he had decided on his birthday in July he would not stand for re-election.

He was now being open about his alcoholism because it was important for others that they realised they should not feel ashamed that they suffered a chemical addiction.

"You've got to believe in something, it doesn't have to be God ... I'm calling it my guardian angel. I could be dead."

MARK PECK

Age 51.

Labour MP for Invercargill.

Often spoken about as a possibility to get into Cabinet but never has.

Wrote Labour's 1996 policy on genetic modification of food.

Various roles in Parliament, including chairman of commerce committee.

Keen golfer who took up fly fishing "with limited success".

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