Problem: Alcohol – over 25 years
Abstinent: 13 months (and counting)
I can see now, after working through all aspects of my recovery, with TBRP and AA that I was born an alcoholic. By that I mean I had a reaction to alcohol that produced the addiction, this ‘ism’ that I now understand and recognise completely as being prevalent in me from an early age; the mental compulsion and, most definitely, the spiritual malady.
My family were big drinkers in as much as alcohol was a constant in their daily lives. Alcohol was poured whatever the occasion, to celebrate or to commiserate or just because they deserved the treat. All events were considered good reasons to have a drink. And I never really questioned it. To me it was the secret, almost mystical, world of the grown-ups and I really wanted to be a part of it. So when I got the chance (probably around the age of 12) to try a sip or two of whatever was on offer – babycham, shandy, port and lemon – I took it. I never refused a drink, even if I didn’t like the smell or taste because I wanted the feelings associated with alcohol, the warmth, the inclusion, the acceptance. It was like being admitted into a secret society because, on the whole, I was pretty ‘lost’ as a child. I didn’t seem to have the skills necessary to communicate with people my own age. I always felt disappointing, embarrassing and uncomfortable. I didn’t understand the ‘rules’ or the etiquette and was usually ignored by the boys and ridiculed by the girls. So I avoided them on the whole spending my time reading, listening to music and living inside my own head.
I was probably in my early twenties before I really turned to alcohol as a ‘support system’ as such, using it to change my mood or enhance my behaviour. I went to university in London and found the chaos and continuous noise living in halls of residence difficult to cope with. A bottle of Thunderbird in my small room every night soon did the trick. The student bar was a place I could forget my social awkwardness and become ‘part of’ something again. Despite my differences I became the ‘same’ as everyone else because I drank but I also drank because I wanted to escape from the people around me! And that kind of contradiction seemed to follow me all my life.
I stayed living in London after my degree. I sought out people who, like me, enjoyed partying and lived with someone for a few years who worked in the music industry. Recreational drugs appeared alongside the drinking, always to enhance the effects of the alcohol – speed, ecstasy, acid. We were supposedly living the life. Both of us in our twenties with no responsibilities, enough income to live comfortably, living in a city where the possibilities were all there but I was spiralling out of control, always pushing everything to the max, nothing ever seemed to fulfil me. The void was always there and, repeatedly, I felt out of place, even though I sought out people who drank like I did. Only they didn’t really drink like I did. I didn’t have an ‘off’ button and it wasn’t long before my friends started to pull away. I became someone other people didn’t want to be around.
By the time I turned thirty I started making some terrible decisions. Pissed up one night in the centre of London I met a homeless man who seemed to ‘get’ me and I decided it was a great idea to share his cardboard box. He, and his friends, didn’t criticise my drinking or question my behaviour so I stayed with them. I knew my life was descending into madness but I felt unable to do anything about it. So I told myself I was having fun, told myself I was free at last.
Needless to say my life hit a brick wall. The ‘freedom’ became suffocating. My boyfriend’s erratic and, usually violent, behaviour escalated until I ended up in hospital and he faced a prison sentence. By good fortune and some definite interference on a spiritual level I managed to get out of London. I met someone who wanted to help me and moved to Surrey to live with him, again someone I hardly knew, with only a carrier bag of belongings. I became pregnant soon after and that certainly saved my life at that point.
I lived in Surrey for six years, had two children and lived fairly ‘normally’, fairly ‘respectfully’ and was fairly ‘happy’! I still used alcohol as a ‘crutch’ to a certain extent and as a way of coping with life situations, but, on the whole I was physically and mentally well and emotionally sustained through motherhood but, I can see now, spiritually receding into myself as my relationship failed and my drinking was becoming ever more chaotic and out of control.
As a family we moved to West Yorkshire in 2003. I’d wanted to be nearer my parents and to bring my children up in a better environment. Basically I wanted to come home but I didn’t know where ‘home’ was anymore. Around 2007 I approached my GP because of increasing anxiety and panic attacks. My drinking levels were addressed and I was offered help through CSMS [now Calderdale Recovery Steps]. I started seeing a key worker on a fortnightly basis. To be honest I don’t really remember much from those sessions. I talked but didn’t really listen. I must have been a nightmare. I wanted the bad stuff to all go away but I couldn’t envisage life without alcohol and wasn’t prepared at that stage to even contemplate it. Realistically alcohol had ‘got me’. I could pretend to myself and to others that my children were the centre of my world but the reality was that I was drinking in order to cope with motherhood. I felt different to the other mums I socialised with, struggled to fit in or identify with them and blamed myself for being socially inadequate yet again. I was scared of everything but still trying to pretend I wasn’t and, under that illusion, I gradually became more and more isolated, more broken, more lost and more fearful, but couldn’t stop drinking.
By 2014 I had pushed everyone away, broken numerous promises to my children and was well and truly living in the dark. No solution. No hope. No way out. Or so I thought. And this is where I know a Higher Power does exist. My key worker at CSMS, Nicola, refused my piteous excuses and protestations and bullied me into going to The Basement Recovery Project, set up a meeting with Tom and drove me there herself. A lot of stuff around that time is very hazy and probably always will be. But I do know now that was the point I handed over my will. I surrendered. I asked no questions. I felt safe. The relief was just incredible. And just days after a detox was discussed I was walking into the Basement’s detox house and the rest, as they say, is history!
My detox was amazing. The whole experience was incredible and simply receiving the correct levels of medication meant I had none of the horrible withdrawal symptoms I’d been through in the past when I’d attempted to stop drinking. It was so easy. I was the only ‘patient’ in the house at the time so I was lucky to get one on one care from the three people who ‘chaperoned’ me for ten days – Marie, Tim and Richard. They were just like family – caring, loving, protecting but also demanding in all the right ways. Pushing me to talk, understand, take responsibility and get rid of all the old ways I’d developed – all the denial, the self-pity, the defences I’d hidden behind. Above all I was shown that I wasn’t weak, but that I had an illness, and that I would never have been able to break the cycle of my drinking without help. That I wasn’t alone and need never be again. They understood because they’d once been where I was so I listened even more intently and gradually the black fog lifted, the shame started to diminish and I could feel myself getting stronger.
When I left the detox house I made the decision to stick with what was working. The Basement became my second home. I simply continued to follow the programme I was on – travelling every day from Hebden Bridge, a bus journey I had so recently been too scared to even contemplate. I worked my way through Pre-Recovery and then Abstinence and attended ‘Here and Now’ most days and SMART groups. And from the outset I was introduced to AA. I’d been to a couple of AA meetings a few years before but had never given it a chance, told myself it just wasn’t applicable to me and basically had been totally closed minded. This time I heard the same words as before but in the right order.
My life without alcohol is a wonderful, energising and continuously revealing journey. My life with alcohol was never anything other than a charade, a mess and a slow loosening of my soul. I always knew that but, back then in my drinking days, I was too scared, too confused and too lost to admit it.
Addiction works in four areas – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It sets out to destroy the body, the mind, the heart and the soul. My ‘gift of desperation’ did not come to me until I was broken spiritually – and by then I had given up a) being able to articulate the pain I was feeling and b) having the belief that anyone would ever understand me. And that is how addiction works. The key components – loneliness, isolation, despair, self-loathing and a seemingly hopeless outcome to anything we attempt to do.
Now that I am free from the physical component – my body does not need alcohol anymore and, because I have ceased to think about it or crave it, I am also free from the mental obsession. Emotionally I am strengthened by admitting to myself, and to others, the nature of my illness and of being honest, open minded and willing to talk about my thoughts and feelings. But to stay well I have to be especially vigilant because if I don’t I will fall back into that place my illness wants me to be in– lonely, empty, isolated and feeling unworthy all over again.
So, for me, recovery is about motivation to look deep into myself and accept my flaws and my weaknesses, to talk about and share them with other people without fear or shame, to listen without passing judgement or blame and to maintain that honesty and acceptance I have now because I am spiritually healed. It’s also about re-learning who I am which is at times both very scary and very beautiful. It’s like getting to know someone who’s really familiar but also totally unknown.
Every day I have a reprieve from alcohol as long as I maintain my spiritual ‘wellness’ and that, to me, is the miracle of recovery. I accept I am an alcoholic and am completely comfortable with that fact because today I choose not to drink.
Recovery really is a bridge to normal living. Today I am involved in a whole load of things I never would have imagined. I sing in a choir – in front of people! I participate in groups and meetings, some of which I facilitate or lead. I am a volunteer for Calderdale Recovery Steps and am receiving training in working in all areas of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. I am confident enough now to work daily on better understanding myself and have progressed through the twelve steps with my sponsor.
I listen to other people without fear of what they may say.
I talk about myself and my experiences without guilt or embarrassment.
And my two children want me in their lives so I am a full time mum again.
And that is what recovery from alcoholism is doing for me today.