Alcoholism Mental Illness



Today I celebrate five years of sobriety.  Yep, this day, in 2010, was the first full day I had without any alcohol and I haven’t had a drink since.

Since it is a pretty big milestone, I thought I would share what they call in AA my drinking story.  By recognising and looking back on our drinking story we get to understand how we became alcoholics and the lessons we need to learn to remain sober.  It also helps, if you are feeling you might be an alcoholic, to read others’ stories and to perhaps identify and know you are not alone.

It’s a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea!

I first became drunk when I was 14 years old.  My friend and I were going to a house party (really common in the 1980s) and we decided that we wanted to get drunk.  We took plastic drink bottles – the kind that came with lunch boxes – and filled them with a swig of every bottle of booze her dad had in his cabinet.  We then drank these bottles of booze pretty much neat.  It didn’t take long for the effects to take place.  I don’t remember much about that party but I do remember not feeling like I didn’t fit in.  Suddenly, I was the life and soul of the party and everything seemed to just flow.  I didn’t care what people thought.  I had courage to ask guys to dance.  I seemed to find friends that I struggled so hard to make.  I felt, quite literally, queen of the mountain.

I do remember my mom coming to collect us and us staggering to the car and me spinning a yarn of how tired we were which is why we had to be half carried to the car.  My mom, bless her, clearly didn’t want to face the truth that her 14 year old daughter had got blind drunk and so she accepted my lie.

From then on, I got drunk a lot.  I even took alcohol to school, as did most of my friends, though (as if this makes it okay), we would only drink after school before and after sport.  At parties, it was a free for all.

It is pretty much at this time that my emotional maturity pretty much ended.

My dad was also an alcoholic at the time.  Our family was dysfunctional, chaotic and a never ending moving platform.  Instability reigned.  Alcohol took away that pain, that uncertainty, that early feeling that I wasn’t good enough.  It helped me cope with a family life that wasn’t coping with itself.

Two years after I began drinking, my dad stopped drinking (he has now been sober for 32 years).  He began Alcoholics Anonymous and our lives radically changed.  He moved us 600 kilometres away to a new life, a new start.  It was the best thing he could have ever done for us, but at the time I was resentful.  I was fast becoming really angry at the world.

I was onto my 6th school and I did not settle well.  It was an all girls school and I really struggled to fit in.  I had a boyfriend that I had left behind and I missed him terribly.  The school was small and  everyone seemed so well settled.  I arrived in Year 11.  Friendships had been formed and I was, as always, the outsider.

At parties, I would drink.  None of my new friends at school really drank alcohol so I would hide it.  A bit before the party, a controlled amount during the party and a lot afterwards.  It gave me courage, strength to fit in.

My school work declined and I got a poor pass – far less than my academic potential suggested.  I just made it into university.

At university alcohol freely flowed.  Party after party ensued.  Uni work never got done, but I got more and more drunk.  I dropped out of university.  A long history of incomplete tertiary courses would follow.  I didn’t want to study, I wanted to party, to not feel, to be happy.

I married my long term boyfriend and we had Miss J.  I had no education and this feeling of not achieving anything would remain with me, forever ingrained into my psyche.  I would constantly feel like I had not realised my own potential.  I would constantly be searching for my “thing”, that thing that would help me identify myself, know who I am.  Because alcoholics lose themselves to alcohol, they no longer have any sense of identity other than that at the bottom of a bottle of booze.  Drinking is easier, it numbs the pain.  It certainly would turn me into a jolly person who appeared to love life.

I had my daughter and somehow I managed to curb my drinking.  I did not drink at all whilst I was pregnant with her and for a while after her birth I would only drink a little bit at parties on the weekend.  It seemed that my drinking problem had resolved itself.  I could control it. HA!

My first husband died in scuba diving accident.  I was 25 years old and my daughter was 16 months.  My parents swooped in, invited me to come back home where they could help me grieve and look after Miss J.  It was the opening I needed.  At night, once Miss J was asleep, I would go out on my own to the local pub.  My poor mother was mortified at this.  She would say to me that it didn’t look good that a woman go out on her own and that I should be at home with them where they could take care of me.  I couldn’t drink with them though.  My dad was by now at least 10 years sober and whilst he was really good about us drinking in front of him, I didn’t want to.  I wanted to soothe my pain good and proper.

And so off to the pub I would go.  When I look back on those days I am amazed I did not get myself into any strife.  I put myself into some ridiculously precarious positions and how I came out unscathed is a total mystery.  All I can do is thank the universe for watching over me.

I met my second husband and we partied like crazy.  We were in love and within 6 months we were married.  He got posted to a different town and so I moved away from my family.  Weirdly our drinking seemed to take  a backseat as we set up home, got used to our new life together.  18 months later we moved to the UK.  And my drinking took off again.  An off-licence was opposite the house, so getting a bottle of wine a night was nothing unusual.

I was what you would call a functioning alcoholic.  Every night I would drink, get drunk.  I would pride myself on not starting to drink until the children had been put to bed.  This seemed to make it okay. I would go to bed drunk and would wake up hungover, but I always managed to drag myself out of bed, get the children ready and take them to school.  This way, I could tell myself I didn’t have a drinking problem.  I could handle it, I was in control.

Except I wasn’t.

There were tell tale signs – I would forget things they had to do, I would be too tired to do their homework with them, I would yell a lot.  I couldn’t keep on top of the housework and would resent it if friends just dropped by.

I handed over more and more power to that elixer called alcohol, all the while telling myself I didn’t have a problem

We moved to Australia in 2006.  By this time we had a son, Master J.  We had no idea at the time he had autism.  Going out became almost impossible because of his sensory issues and so I would tell myself that drinking at home was my down time, my me time, my gift for the difficult life the universe had handed me.  I was totally isolated from my family who lived in the UK and South Africa.  I felt alone, so very alone.

I was angry and in pain and I had no way of dealing with it.  And so I drank even more.

I justified this drinking by having even more parties.  I went from one bottle to two or three bottles of wine a night.  On the weekends, I bypassed the bottles and drank casks.  By this time I didn’t care for quality.  It was the quantity that mattered.

My parental judgement became impaired.  We gave Miss J far more freedom than we should have.  We allowed her to drink “only a couple” of drinks at the age of 16.  Of course, we suspected the two bacardi breezers we gave her would blow out to much more, but we lied to ourselves.  How I cringe at that decision now.

I eventually became housebound at night because I would not drink and drive.  I was a self righteous alcoholic, judging those who did drink and drive.  I was a good person, I would tell myself, responsible even.  I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink and drive.  My husband and I would argue because I refused to drive and so he would be left sober whilst I had a whale of a time when we would go out.  Alcohol had finally got its hooks into me and my life had become a slave to it.

Each weekend would come and go and Monday mornings would see me groan with regret.  I started asking questions of how had I allowed my life to get like this.  But that is the disease of alcoholism.  It is insidious, progressive and before you know it, you are a slave to it and your life is in tatters.

The turning point came in 2010. I went to visit an acquaintance.  We weren’t close and she was forthright.  To be honest I was a bit intimidated by her.  I mentioned how one of our friends had got drunk at our house, again, how he had made a fool of himself and how he just drank too much.

My friend stared at me.

“You do know you drink too much, right?”

I looked at her, in disbelief.

“Are you saying, do you think, I mean are you suggesting I am an alcoholic?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.  You need help.”

I left shortly afterwards.  I hated her in that moment, for her rudeness, for her ability to speak the truth.

As I lay in my husband’s arms, a wreck, sobbing, I knew I could no longer deny what I had known for years.  I was an alcoholic.  I told my husband I needed to go to AA.

The following day, Monday the 31st January 2010, I walked into my first AA meeting.

It was the scariest thing I have ever had to do.  Far scarier than posting bald pictures of myself.

That was the day that I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, that I took back control over my life, that I started to grow up.

I found fellowship and friendship.

I won’t lie.  It hasn’t been easy.  Depression has become a big part of my sobriety journey.  Because I have to learn to live with the pain of living.  And life can be pretty darn painful sometimes.

There are days I miss alcohol.  If I didn’t I would not be an alcoholic.  Sometimes it acts like a mistress calling to me, with her promise of the numbness she brings.  But I resist.  One day at a time I resist.

And my life is so much richer for it.  My relationships are so much better.  My children can count on me.  Through my example neither of them drink.  I am growing as a person every day.  I am maturing.  I am finding my way in a world that once would chew me up and spit me out.  I now have strength to face her wrath and to withstand her challenges.  I am living life on life’s terms one day at a time.

Today I celebrate 5 years of sobriety.  A proud moment in my life.  A moment worth celebrating.

Thank you for reading my story.  If you are in need of help with your drinking, please contact AA.  Someone there will be able to help you.  It is a hard but brave step and I promise you it is worth it.  One day at a time, you can do this.

Next time I will talk about how I managed to stay sober for five years and the challenges I had to overcome.

Much love,

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Alcoholism Autism

Alcoholism, Autism and Death

October 2010. 10 months into the year – the year that has decidedly been the annus horribilus of my 42 years of life. This year, I discovered I was an alcoholic, my son was diagnosed with autism and my mother died. Add into the mix an 18-year old daughter who took it upon herself to push every single boundary a parent could put into place, and you have the recipe for a melt down.

I don’t want to sound like I am wallowing in my own misery here. Well, actually, I am wallowing in my own misery and, right now, I don’t care.
It seems to me that the minute I gave up drinking, my elixir of emotional escape, life threw at me what can only be described as one massive curve ball after another. Discovering that our youngest DD has autism (not Aspergers after all, but High Functioning Autism), was a bitter pill to swallow. When he was nearly 6, he was diagnosed with ADHD/ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) and through that diagnosis, we treated him behaviourally as best we could, often pushing the boundary in an attempt to get him to move outside of his comfort zone. We had no idea that what we were doing was traumatising him because he suffers enormous sensory overload and that his ‘small world’ is an attempt to control that sensory overload to within bearable limits for him. Not knowing what life holds for him is worrying too.
DD begins high school next year, and we have no idea how he will cope with the change of school, the demands of changing classrooms for each subject and the demands of homework three or four times a week. It is all I can do to get him to do his homework once a week!!
And, as if the universe hadn’t thrown enough at me, my mother got lung cancer, after having given up smoking 26 years ago, and passed away just 8 incredibly short weeks after receiving her diagnosis. My mom was the one woman in the world who knew me, who never judged me and, who, to me, was goodness personified. I was not ready to have her suddenly ripped from life and from me.
Mom’s last days were not good. I wish I could say that she slipped away peacefully. She looked peaceful enough, but I know that is because the drugs kept her below the surface of consciousness. She did not want to die. Who does at the age of 62? As the days progressed and breathing for her became more difficult, she kept crying, saying that she was going to miss everyone so much. She worried particularly about dad. Always thinking of someone other than herself. On the Sunday before she died, I attended her and my dad’s baptism. I am not a religious person, but I wanted to share in what was clearly very important to my mom, and of course, my dad. It was emotional, and those that were there said it was ‘beautiful’. I don’t agree. I found no beauty in witnessing my mom pleading with God not to take her life, apologising for wishing she could die in the days when my dad drank, and would verbally abuse her in his drunken state. I found no beauty in her belief that she may be being punished for wanting to die at a time in her life that was almost unbearable to live, despite dad being sober for 26 years and their marriage being happy and solid since. I saw no beauty in how everyone thought it was a miracle that my mom had committed her life to God ‘only’ a couple of months before she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Where was the miracle, where was the justice?
In her last day of life, Mom was really restless, unable to urinate because her morphine interfered with her kidney operation. The doctor came to see her, and we were told that she would not last much longer. We tried to make her comfortable on the sofa, whilst we waited for a hospital bed. My sister massaged her legs, whilst the house became an endless platform of people coming to say goodbye – a testament to the love that Mom imbued. In a quiet moment, I sat next to her, holding her hand (I loved her hands). “I love you, Mom”, I said. “I love you”, she whispered, still restless. Those were the last words she would ever say to me.
Eventually, having not been able to wee for a day and a half, and after a couple of attempts to drag her to the toilet (and I say dragging because the disease had gripped her so much that she was barely conscious), the home care nurses came to catheterise her. As they did so, she cried out whilst thrashing about, wide-eyed, like a caged animal, “Help me!”. It was barely audible because her voice had been taken by the tumour, but her expression said everything she wanted to say. We had to hold her down whilst trying to get that damn tube inside her. My mom, this once poised and gentle woman, was being violated in her own lounge. She was aware she was dying, I am sure of it. Mom had said that in her dying moments she would like to utter something profound, something that people would always remember, but it wasn’t to be. “Help me” were the last words she ever uttered. 12 hours later, under the cover of a series of drugs and, no doubt, the comfort of an empty bladder, she died.
I cannot begin to describe how the loss has affected me. I am a motherless daughter and mother and I feel wretched having been forced to join that club. I do not make friends easily. I have trust issues and I find the effort of keeping friendships going quite difficult to maintain. Mom knew that and just accepted me for who I was. I have lost the one person who understood my psyche, who understood my difficulty with the injustices in the world and my inability to do anything about it. She understood my ever changing mind, and my fierce struggle for justice for Jordan. She understood the reason why I was totally overprotective of our eldest DD and she understood that even though I so desperately wanted to, I simply did not have the energy to be the domestic goddess I believed her to be. The moment Mom died, I felt all my inadequacies woosh at me, as the realisation hit me that I would never find, in anyone, the love that she had for me, warts and all.
I know that I see mom’s death not in terms of what was taken from her, but what was taken from me. I know it is selfish, but again, I reiterate, I don’t care.
In the nearly four months since Mom’s death, I have found life difficult. I have indulged in the seduction of depression, not wanting to see anyone or do anything. I have managed to get out of bed, and ‘function’, but the reality is that I am nursing a broken heart and a broken soul. People say that time heals all, but I have yet to experience that. I do not know if time will heal the hole inside of me that has been left behind by my mother. Perhaps time will enable me to cope with the wound a little better, but I am not sure if it will ever heal.
So, here I am, able to write again, which is progress in itself and trying to look forward to the next stage of my life. Our house is on the market and I am looking forward to moving into our new house in a new community. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that when we bought that house 15 months ago, it would represent a true step into a new future, leaving behind all the bad that has happened this year. I know that life is hard (Dhukka – first noble truth of buddhism) and I know that nothing ever stays the same, but I cannot help myself hoping for a couple uneventful years. Years that will allow me to get used to the notion of living in the moment, remembering the wonderful woman that was my mom and enabling me to be there for my autistic son who is going to need his own mother now more than ever.
Until next time.

Powerless over Alcohol

Day 2:

I am powerless over alcohol.

No-one likes to admit this and I am no exception.

I have known, of course, for years that this is the case, but like any grieving process, I was in denial.

People who are alcoholics do grieve.  They grieve the loss of being that good time person, the life and soul of the party.  They grieve the dutch courage afforded them through that elixir their bodies so desperately crave.  They grieve being the person who cannot drink socially, having one or two drinks, and being content with that.

For me, it wasn’t being the good time person, or the dutch courage.  It was the numbness it brought night after night.

If I am brutally honest, I have probably been an alcoholic since I was 14 years old, when my best friend and I snuck booze out of both of our parents’ booze cabinets, decanting them into yellow, plastic cold drink bottles, and slugging it down in her bedroom, if I recall.

It was a premeditated affair.  We had been planning it for weeks.  The effects were almost immediate. Within minutes I was running atop my friend’s four foot wall, yelling I wanted to die.

Alcohol has always played a part in my life.  My dad, and I know he won’t mind me telling you this, is an alcoholic.  His brand of alcoholism was not pleasant and had reached a particularly nasty high (or is that low) around the time I turned 15, 6 months after I had my first experiment with alcohol.  Life had become pretty unbearable and I remember begging my mom to leave my dad.

She almost did, but then he convinced her that their marriage was worth saving and at 5am on the morning we were due to leave, my parents woke me to tell me that they were going to give it one more go.

I felt so betrayed.  My mom and I had planned the exit with mission impossible precison.  We had colluded to leave my dad in such a fashion that it would be too late for him to convince us, again , that he would indeed stop drinking.  Now, my mother had betrayed me.  I felt isolated, and alone.  Not the first time and certainly not the last.

Three months later, my dad gave up alcohol for good.  He joined Alcoholics Anonymous and has remained sober for the last 26 years.  He is, and always will be, an inspiration.

So it was with great shame that I came to the realisation that I indeed was also powerless over alcohol.  Deep inside, I knew of course, but I did not want to face it.  I am sure, if I am honest, that my friends and family knew it.   They never said anything, however.  On the odd occasion someone might have suggested something along those line,  I would dismiss it and tell myself that they should try walking in my shoes for just a day and see how they would feel.

Justification is a big thing in an alcoholic’s life, I have come to realise.

My confrontation of this addiction came out of the blue.

Yesterday, I was visiting a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long while.  We were talking about our lives, filling in the blanks where we had left off, about a year ago.  I had mentioned a couple of times about my increase in drinking due to some stresses that had occureed in the past year.

Suddenly, my friend stopped talking, hesitated, looked at me right in the eyes and said:

Do you think you are an alcoholic?

The question slapped me right across the face.  I felt my face flush.  Tears immediately welled up.  I stammered and then simply said, “Yes”.

Despite knowing the signs, and knowing deep down inside that I had become caught up in the grip of alcoholism, I really didn’t want anyone else to know.

I should know better, I should be able to control this monster.  I had been to Al-Anon and Alateen for God’s sake.  I did not belong on the other side of the fence.  The shame was unbearable.

My friend is a good friend, and being a nurse, she urged me to get help.  She urged me to see my GP and to join AA, and to even see a psychiatrist if I wanted to.  I am not sure I am ready to talk to my GP as yet, but I am ready to go to AA.

I think being around people who share the same affliction may give me some comfort.  If I am honest, I am scared out of my wits.  I don’t want anyone else to know.and I certainly don’t want my father to know.  He must know of course.  He must have watched over the last 26 years, in his sobriety, saddened and powerless, as I descended further and further into the abyss of alcohol.

The shame I feel is haunting.

It must seem strange that I am blogging about this, since I have said I don’t want anyone to know.  Well, strangely, this is cathartic.  By  writing down my thoughts, my feelings and confronting my issues via this blog, I am no longrer able to run away from them, or pretend that they don’t exist.  I am able to say yes, this is my problem, no longer hiding, but standing up and saying no more will I put myself through this turmoil, no longer can I pretend that there isn’t something drastically, horribly wrong.

So, today, is day 2 of sobriety.  I had planned on having some wine last night after seeing my friend, but funnily enough, it just didn’t have the allure when I got back home.  So yesterday was Day 1.  I will keep blogging my progress, more for myself than anyone else.

I need to do this to help me be accountable.  I hope I make it.

In AA, they have a saying:

Just for today

So, just for today, I will not drink.  Just for today, I will be strong.  Just for today, I will be grateful for my friend, who had the courage to make me confront the inevitable, and my family, who have watched helplessly as I disintegrated as a person, yet have unyieldingly stuck by me, showing me every drop of love they have every single day.  Just for today, I will find some pride and make them proud.

Just for today…

Until next time,

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