I was fourteen or fifteen years old when a doctor recommended that I go to rehab. Back then I had only ever really heard of that for junkies or for old people who lived in parks. I thought that you got locked in a room until you ‘dried out’. I was in my mid teens and that to me was ridiculous. Yes, I had a drinking problem but I didn’t drink every day (even if I did think about it). I was seventeen when I realised that I was an alcoholic but in my mind my drinking was still normal and my life was manageable (no it wasn’t).
I was nineteen the first time I walked into my first twelve step meeting. I was the youngest in the room by far, and while I could scarily relate to a lot of the stories I wasn’t ready to do the work. I still wanted to be able to do what others my age were doing and drink and ‘have fun’. Although it never really ended up fun for me, I tried to manage my drinking by doing a myriad of things. I wouldn’t drink during the week. I wouldn’t drink spirits. I wouldn’t go to the bar until someone else was going to the bar (so that I could pace my drinking). But the incessant desire to get myself out of my own head and forget my problems was always there. I just wanted to have fun and relax and get a reprieve from the ever present anxiety and feeling like I was so freaking shit compared to everyone else. I felt broken and damaged and like I had to spend all my time hiding that and it was exhausting. I was convinced if I just tried some other way to manage my drinking then maybe this time I wouldn’t make an ass of myself and do something else to add to my growing self hatred.
I grew up around alcohol and addiction. I knew the patterns. I knew what it did to a child and it was only when I became a mother that I actually got sober. I had given up while l was pregnant but soon after my son was born I found excuses to ‘unwind’ and ‘let my hair down’. I would tell my partner it was my night off and he was on duty and then I would get absolutely plastered. I didn’t even mean to get plastered. In fact I just wanted to ‘have a few drinks’ but every time, without fail plastered was the result. When I was drinking I didn’t want anything to do with my twelve month old son. It was my night off after all and I wasn’t on duty (god this makes me cringe now). It was this attitude that made me feel safe that he wouldn’t see me like this or it wouldn’t do any harm because his father was looking after him and I was well within my rights to do what I liked on a night off.
This one particular night however, I was sitting out the front (alone), on the porch and I was going to have (the ever famous one more), and the next thing I knew I woke up. Once again that feeling of dread filled my chest (I was used to it, just waiting for someone to fill in the blanks and tell me what awfulness possessed me the night before, what I had done wrong, said wrong and who I had hurt or upset). However I really wasn’t expecting what happened next.
To preface this it was only some weeks before that my mother had told me a story about a man who had gone to the club and came home a bit tipsy and had been playing with his baby and thrown him in the air and then didn’t catch him as he came down and the baby died. I won’t even forget where I was standing when she told me that story because it rocked me to my core, but I was convinced that that wouldn’t happen to me as like I said if I was drinking I had no interest in my son. However, my partner informed me that the night before, the baby had woken up and I, in my inebriated fever went to his call.
I had been out on the porch, after raiding the entire liquor cabinet (apparently that one more had grown once I had passed black out stage), and my son had woken up and started crying. So in my drunken state I had tried to tend to him. I say tried because by that stage I couldn’t walk properly and was just zig-zagging up the hallway, hitting the walls and stumbling around. I thank God that at this stage of the story my ex told me that he himself had woken up and caught me halfway up the hallway. He apparently said to me (in some creative fashion) that there was no way that I was going in to him at which point I apparently called him every name under the sun. He went and sorted the baby out and then when he came to find me I was naked and hiding in a cupboard.
You would think that there would have been relief of some sort when I heard the second half of the story and to some degree there was, but the feeling of complete and utter despair at the thought that I could have picked him up was overwhelming. I could have dropped him. I could have fallen. I had no idea what I was capable of and nor was I able to predict my behaviour while I was drinking. I obviously couldn’t get away with this anymore. The clincher was that when I was a kid I used to hide in cupboards to get away from a particular drunken family member (if you’re wondering why I don’t say who this was it’s because this is my story not theirs and shaming them is not my style; living with alcoholism is hard enough let alone someone else airing your dirty laundry). I was becoming that very thing that I was so afraid of. I was literally becoming the monster that had created this anxious, scared, broken and damaged person who needed to drink to feel whole or relaxed.
I immediately blurted out the words “I need help. I can’t stop drinking by myself. I have tried I have tried so many time and I can’t - I just find another way, I feel so bad and then by the next weekend I convince myself I don’t have a problem but I do! I’m an alcoholic and I really need to get some help”. I followed it up by saying “I need to get some help today. Please don’t let me get to lunch time and start lying to myself. Lunch time will come and I’ll start trying to convince you I can do this by myself and I really can’t”. I knew the patterns. I knew my own patterns of lying to myself. Here was this little window of pure honesty and I was afraid of myself and afraid I would fall back into the pattern of bullshit that kept me in the cycle of drinking and causing more damage.
Thankfully I did get help. That very night I got my mum to take me to a twelve step meeting and this time I was willing to do whatever it took. I didn’t care if I didn’t understand how things worked. I didn’t care if it was scary or if I didn’t believe everything they believed. I took solace in their saying that the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking and to keep coming back. That was over thirteen years ago. I haven’t had a drink since. My son has never seen me drink. I never hurt him the way that I was hurt. I count this as one of the greatest blessings in my life.
I am one of the lucky ones that got help early. They say with alcoholism you don’t have to go all the way to the terminal, you can get off at any station. Lucky for me that that was before I had done half the things that I’d heard about others doing (although I knew if I kept drinking I know that it would have only been a matter of time). Getting sober and staying sober was hard. I had to do the work and I had to learn other ways to build my confidence and handle my fears and deal with my anxiety but as they say, that’s a whole other story.
I share so much of my sober journey in the blogs about wellness because all of this stuff is still a learning curve for me. I continue to learn and grow and help others as much as I can. Hopefully sharing my story helps someone else realise they don’t have to be sleeping in parks or drinking out of paper bags to identify as an alcoholic. You don’t even have to be a daily drinker for it to have a tight hold of you and be destroying your soul. I know. I didn’t even think I drank that often and it was killing me.
If this story resonates with you in some way or you have the desire to stop drinking please reach out. Don’t try and do it on your own. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Get some help and break the cycle. You are worth it, but so are the people who love you.