Brian Cox Devotes His Life To Helping People Recover From Alcoholism.

By Bridget McManus

December 3, 2009

BRIAN ''Coxy'' Cox brings new meaning to the worn-out term ''Aussie battler''. The tough-talking, 69-year-old recovering alcoholic with 20 years' sobriety under his belt has worked around the clock for 17 years to help alcoholics with nowhere else to turn.

From a modest house in Preston, with no wage and no government funding, he has seen hundreds of desperate men and women detox, relapse and detox again. Some eventually break the cycle, some keep coming back and too many die. But as Cox explains in the hard-hitting SBS documentary series Last Chance Saloon, the success of his self-made program is not something that can be measured easily.

''People ask me how many successes I've had,'' Cox tells Green Guide. ''Well, my successes are in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. I see them all the time. The Government can't show you their statistics, or what happens to people when they leave [a state-funded] seven-day detox. If they're homeless, they go out and drink again, 'cause what's the good of getting sober? It's horrible. These are human beings, male and female, beautiful people and their lives have been taken away by dirty, rotten, stinking alcohol.''

Like his charges who agreed to be filmed for the four-part series, one of seven exploring unique Australian stories under the umbrella title Secrets and Lives, Cox is all too familiar with the booze battle. Twenty years ago, he was sleeping rough, drinking cask wine when the going was good and methylated spirits when it wasn't, soiling himself in public and being hauled from lock-ups to hospitals, to detox centres and back again. The ''miracle'' that saved him, AA's 12-step program of abstinence, also instilled in him a desire to help others.

''I've got no time to think about myself and that's part of the recovery,'' Cox says. ''It's a self-centred disease - it's all about 'me'.''

While his no-nonsense attitude and black humour anchor the series, other strong characters emerge who are equally compelling.

Mike, a quietly cheeky, middle-aged man whom Cox describes as a ''knockabout'' and who has served nine years in jail, is his ''right-hand man'' at the centre - until he relapses, taking with him Scott, an attractive young man whose warmth and intelligence are at odds with his frank account of drinking aftershave and injecting isopropyl alcohol.

Nikki, a bright-eyed woman who has lost custody of her daughter and faces a jail term, is equally articulate about the disease that has destroyed her life. And Cath, Cox's partner and the centre's accountant, is a sassy blonde who left a corporate life in New York to get sober.

BRIAN ''Coxy'' Cox brings new meaning to the worn-out term ''Aussie battler''. The tough-talking, 69-year-old recovering alcoholic with 20 years' sobriety under his belt has worked around the clock for 17 years to help alcoholics with nowhere else to turn.

From a modest house in Preston, with no wage and no government funding, he has seen hundreds of desperate men and women detox, relapse and detox again. Some eventually break the cycle, some keep coming back and too many die. But as Cox explains in the hard-hitting SBS documentary series Last Chance Saloon, the success of his self-made program is not something that can be measured easily.

''People ask me how many successes I've had,'' Cox tells Green Guide. ''Well, my successes are in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. I see them all the time. The Government can't show you their statistics, or what happens to people when they leave [a state-funded] seven-day detox. If they're homeless, they go out and drink again, 'cause what's the good of getting sober? It's horrible. These are human beings, male and female, beautiful people and their lives have been taken away by dirty, rotten, stinking alcohol.''

Like his charges who agreed to be filmed for the four-part series, one of seven exploring unique Australian stories under the umbrella title Secrets and Lives, Cox is all too familiar with the booze battle. Twenty years ago, he was sleeping rough, drinking cask wine when the going was good and methylated spirits when it wasn't, soiling himself in public and being hauled from lock-ups to hospitals, to detox centres and back again. The ''miracle'' that saved him, AA's 12-step program of abstinence, also instilled in him a desire to help others.

''I've got no time to think about myself and that's part of the recovery,'' Cox says. ''It's a self-centred disease - it's all about 'me'.''

While his no-nonsense attitude and black humour anchor the series, other strong characters emerge who are equally compelling.

Mike, a quietly cheeky, middle-aged man whom Cox describes as a ''knockabout'' and who has served nine years in jail, is his ''right-hand man'' at the centre - until he relapses, taking with him Scott, an attractive young man whose warmth and intelligence are at odds with his frank account of drinking aftershave and injecting isopropyl alcohol.

Nikki, a bright-eyed woman who has lost custody of her daughter and faces a jail term, is equally articulate about the disease that has destroyed her life. And Cath, Cox's partner and the centre's accountant, is a sassy blonde who left a corporate life in New York to get sober.

''It's never too late to help someone,'' Cox says. ''I've had people here that should be dead. I've had a lot of people from the corporate world, I have supported ambulance drivers, doctors, police, footballers, you name it.''

This may be the first time a film crew has entered Cox's rehab centre but he is no stranger to television. Over the years he has developed a profile as a grassroots commentator on alcohol rehabilitation. He has appeared on Today Tonight, A Current Affair and The Morning Show. In 2006, 60 Minutes featured Cox and his most famous ''client'', champion boxer Lester Ellis.

''I went through about eight months' [rehabilitation] with Lester,'' Cox says. ''He was totally depressed and emotionally burnt out. He's a lovely, lovely man. I cannot speak highly enough of him.''

While the occasional pixilated face pops up in the series, Cox says the residents were overwhelmingly positive about the prospect of their journey being broadcast to the nation.

''The biggest part of the recovery process is people owning up to the problem and being honest about it,'' he says. ''A lot of people don't want to talk about alcoholism. They want to keep it quiet. They don't want to go on TV or be in the newspaper, because they say, 'Everyone will know I'm a drunk'. Well, to those people, I said, 'Everyone knows it now!' I just said to [the film crew], 'Make yourself part of the family. I'm all for it because there's nothing getting done out there and we need all the help we can get.' Look, I'm not a money man but I need funds to run this place.''

Cox is unconvinced that mental health advocate Professor Ian Hickie's recent push to raise the legal drinking age to 19 will help curb binge drinking.

''My opinion is that it doesn't matter what [the Government] do with alcohol,'' he says.

''They can charge you $20 a bottle, it's not going to make a difference. If people want to drink, they'll drink, because it's an addiction. I think we need to get some education programs out there instead of just another Band-Aid treatment.''

Last Chance Saloon premieres tonight at 8.30 on SBS One.

To contact Alcoholics Anonymous, www.aatimes.org.au/

The Age.com.au


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