Addiction Recovery Stories – Marie
Abstinent: 7 Months
(at time of publishing)
When did you first start drinking?
I first got drunk when I was about 13. A friend had got hold of a couple of litres of vodka and we were at another friend’s house sharing it around. I hated the taste but I loved the feeling it gave me. I drank enough to make me really poorly but it didn’t put me off. These one-off binges would happen every so often through my teenage years but it was when I started university in 2008 that my drinking really took off.
When did it become a problem?
My family and friends raised their concerns with me while I was studying. I’d reluctantly agreed to see a doctor when I was 19 who told me my drinking was putting me at risk of some serious health issues if I carried on like I was. This didn’t deter me as I didn’t place much value on my health and wellbeing but I hated my family worrying so I reluctantly agreed to stop. I spent six months of my second year abstinent and life was undeniably better. My mental health improved, I was more productive and my relationships with friends and family flourished. After these six months, I had a couple of cocktails on my birthday and the obsession to drink was well and truly back. My attitude was one of complete defiance. I’d done six months without it so don’t tell me I’ve got a problem! What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that each time I had that first drink, I lost all control of when I could stop. I would routinely drink to blackout then unconsciousness, swearing off it the following morning before picking my next drink up hours later telling myself that tonight would be the night I’d win the battle and drink successfully (no blackouts, no dramas, no passing out under a table in the bar, no wandering off and getting lost with no phone battery or money to get a taxi home, no waking up with no idea where I was or how I got there).
I clung to the justification that excessive drinking was a requirement of uni life and it was just a rite of passage. I’d settle down when I graduated and the problem would go away. To some extent this was true. I graduated, returned to North Yorkshire and started a marketing job which I threw myself into. A new relationship, new home and a rescue dog completed the picture of what I believed adult life should look like. Despite having everything I thought I wanted on paper, there was something inside me that just never felt right; a void I couldn’t fill with work or my relationship or material things no matter how hard I tried. Alcohol remained a constant but it ran at a more ‘socially acceptable’ level for a few years. Nights out with friends, a bottle of wine on a Friday night after a busy week at work but again, this progressed to weekday nights and lunchtimes at the pub to eventually having to hide my alcohol consumption from my partner. In hindsight, this was a real turning point in my drinking as my behaviour changed to enable me to drink in secret. I’d lie about working late, hide bottles in my car and so on. Inevitably the relationship broke down after six years and I felt as though my world had turned upside down. Despite being deeply unhappy, I had a life I was familiar with, stability and routine. Without these, my drinking felt more exposed, like I was going to be found out and everyone would see that I was a fraud, just going through the motions and failing at life. It was a mentally dark and painful period that I wanted to run from and avoid at all costs. I was given the opportunity to do that when I was offered a marketing role in Sydney, Australia by an old colleague a couple of months later. It felt like divine intervention at the time; a ticket to a shiny new life on the other side of the world. Surely this was the answer to all my problems! The first year passed quickly and I recognised that rather than being the solution to all my problems, they became magnified as I had to work harder to keep up a pretence of succeeding in life when internally I felt like I was screaming. My drinking became more serious and I was hospitalised and detoxed several times as by now I was physically dependent on alcohol. It was no longer possible to brush the consequences under the carpet and forget about them. My employers were very supportive but I shunned any form of help, believing I should be able to ‘sort myself out’ and feeling increasingly desperate when I couldn’t. At the advice of my doctors during my fourth hospital admission in 2018, I tried AA. In hindsight, I went for all the wrong reasons and can now acknowledge that I wasn’t ready to stop. However, it sowed a seed that I would come to reach out for when I became desperate enough.
The unmanageability of my life led me to return home to the UK in early 2019 and I moved in with family in West Yorkshire. Despite their love and support, I still couldn’t stop and decided that I knew what was best for me. I got a job and rented a flat thinking all I needed was some responsibility to fix me. As it happened, that took me to my internal rock bottom that led me to finally accept I couldn’t do this alone and ask for help.
What made you get help?
I was broken. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I wanted to stop but I couldn’t, I felt like I’d tried everything and the only other option was to end my life. The exhaustion was chronic and I couldn’t stand what I was doing to the people around me. I’d build up their hope by telling them what they wanted to hear before bringing it crashing back down with another drunken crisis. After having my last drink in the early hours of a Monday morning, I went to work in the onset of what was to be the worst physical withdrawal yet. Despite having been physically dependent since living in Australia, I was still very ignorant of the risks of suddenly stopping drinking. By Tuesday, I’d been taken to the doctor and signed off work but the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms had gripped. I did a home detox with medication from the doctor and got to my first AA meeting in the UK. The days that followed were harrowing but I continued to get to a meeting every evening and it was at my seventh meeting that someone suggested visiting the Basement. I had no idea about the service but I was willing to try any suggestions put forward and the following day, I arrived and spoke to a staff member. I was shaking, sweating and could barely string a sentence together but I felt safe for the first time I could remember. There was no judgement, no alarm on the faces of the people I saw there, just a genuine desire to help and the offer of reassurance that things would be ok.
Why the Basement Recovery Project?
From going to the Basement on that Tuesday morning, eight days into my abstinence, I had hope for the first time that I wasn’t on my own with this. I started the 16-week recovery program and attended groups every day. People were so welcoming and understanding. It was a place of safety that offered real hope that things could be different. The recovery program gave me insight into and understanding of what it meant to be dealing with addiction. It smashed the preconceptions I had of what alcoholism and addiction were and gave me the opportunity to finally admit defeat and know I was well and truly beaten trying to battle this shitty disease on my own.
Where would you be now?
One of the things I’ve learnt in recovery is that a lot of my anxiety stems from obsessing over what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. I try now to practice keeping things in the day and appreciating what I value in my life now as a result of finding the Basement and being taken through the program. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be now without coming into recovery. What I do know is that the way I was living (or existing is probably a better way to describe it) prior to being given this opportunity wasn’t sustainable and my world was becoming smaller and smaller.
How is life today?
Life today is manageable thanks to TBRP. I live in a TBRP run supported house which allows me to fully immerse myself in recovery from a safe and structured environment while accessing the support available on a daily basis. The people I’ve met over the past seven months have become my recovery family; both fellow service users and staff. I can honestly say I enjoy living today. We’re learning every day, experiencing new opportunities and discovering more and more about ourselves. While recovery is not an immunity to life events happening, it gives me the tools to cope with and respond to those life events daily. I recently and suddenly lost my Dad; an experience that I wouldn’t have believed it possible to survive without alcohol. But the strength and love from our collective recovery family gave me the faith to recognise that drink isn’t my solution to anything anymore. Instead, the solution is surrounding myself with like-minded people and leaning into the reassurance they offer rather than running away. We laugh together, cry together and live life together now, appreciating life’s gifts that were previously overlooked and letting go of things that we can’t control.
I can’t put my gratitude for this service into words but by actively working at my recovery and giving back when I can through volunteering and sharing my experiences, I really hope it gives other people the message that admitting defeat and asking for help is probably one of the best decisions you’ll ever make!
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“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”