This post is the twelfth in our series of local recovery stories. If you’d like to submit your recovery story for publishing please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beating the Denial
My first memory is being in the garden of my childhood home. Huge flowers are around me, dad is holding my hand and I am happy.
But as I grew up, that contentment seemed to slip away, and in its place came an abiding feeling of being different, other than. I put it down to the fact I was adopted.
I’d always known I was adopted and my parents made sure I was made to feel special – they had chosen me. I felt proud to be different.
With professional parents, my home life was privileged, private schools and suchlike. But I wasn’t, and couldn’t be, one of the ‘in crowd’. However, during my school years it didn’t seem to affect me that much, the feeling of other than seemed to develop slowly through my adolescence and early adulthood. With it came increasing levels of anxiety, and fear.
The one shadow in this otherwise happy life was dad’s drinking. He would shout, mutter, put the world to rights. I felt responsible for his behaviour, it was my fault he was like this and so the fear began to creep in. My friends found drunk dad quite entertaining – but he’d be fun up to point then snap, change completely and that’s when he was in blackout.
I felt I couldn’t do anything right, despite my parents’ assurances. I believed I wasn’t as bright as I, and others, thought. My head told me I was crap while my parents were telling me I was wonderful. I believed my head.
I adored my father and would do anything for his approval. At seventeen I was leaving AA leaflets around the house – I have no idea where I got them from!
So, school was not a problem, uni was a breeze. I had my first drink at fifteen or sixteen – a Martini. There was no desire for more. Seeing how alcohol affected my father had given me a fear of drink. My uni friends thought me rather boring as I studiously attended lectures and kept my social life under control.
But when I left the safety and structure of study, the fear of getting a job and all it entailed hit me. I stayed in the north, close to family, but was eventually persuaded to head to the bright lights of London, to where all my friends had been drawn.
Once in the city, I found a good job which I enjoyed. I was in my twenties, working hard, playing hard – and drinking. I had arrived!
In my late twenties the crushing hangovers kicked in. I didn’t get blackouts, just utterly debilitating hangovers.
Despite a busy life, I was distinctly uncomfortable being on my own. I always wanted a boyfriend. After a couple of years in my twenties on my own I felt something was seriously missing in my life – I needed a man.
Happily, one just happened along and off we went to Australia for a couple of years. Having had bouts of anxiety which was put down to stress, pressure of work, not feeling comfortable in my own skin, I suffered my first experience of depression whilst in Australia. I put this down to all sorts of reasons – but not alcohol. I didn’t feel my drinking was a problem. Yes,I’d occasionally get drunk, be stupid, but there were no blackouts, no real consequences.
Returning from down-under, I married. And on our honeymoon I had the thought: ‘I’ve made a mistake’.
In that first year of marriage, my drinking changed. I’d work late, stumble home drunk. Blackouts started, the lost days began, but I still managed to function and hold down a job.
After a year, the marriage, unsurprisingly, ended.
Work remained the constant in my increasingly haphazard life, but about the age of thirty, my current husband came in to my life. He pursued me, and I felt I’d met my soulmate. I put him on pedestal, but when I started to meet his family and friends, all I could think was ‘I’m not good enough for him’.
We both enjoyed a drink, but for me it escalated and took on a different meaning. I wasn’t drinking socially at all. I couldn’t cope with his friends and I thought a few drinks made me prettier, funnier and more clever. The dependency had started, although I was oblivious to it.
I was now at the stage of life where I wanted a family and being adopted somehow strengthened that feeling. The next five years were pretty much spent being pregnant. I had a miscarriage after which I drank heavily, but during my pregnancies, I didn’t drink and I didn’t miss it. In fact, the only time I felt in tune with my body was when I was pregnant.
When my first child was born, I became stressed. I wanted everything to be right, and suffered post-natal depression for a time.
Then came a period of contentment – I was married, had a child and everything in the garden seemed rosy… for a while. After the birth of my second child, the anxiety cranked up. I’d returned to work between having my children, but the feeling of not coping just swamped me. Panic attacks started, becoming more and more severe.
Then came the mums’ nights out, social drinking, but slowly it crept into home life. My husband and I would get through three bottles of wine a night. It was out of hand and all my efforts to stop or contain my levels of consumption failed. He could stop – I just couldn’t.
Then the shaking started and I’d need a drink to still it. My perception at the time was that my kids was my ‘happy window’ – the time of day when I was fine. I now know that wasn’t the case. As the drinking escalated, my starting time got earlier. I’d open a bottle at 5pm and neck as much as possible before my husband came home.
The deceit was all there, hiding bottles, leaving one ‘on show’ while drinking from a hidden supply. Civilised drinking with a meal rapidly became drinking to blackout, daily drinking, starting earlier and earlier, turning up at the school gates drunk. If I went out I acted like a prat.
Eventually, I did seek help from my GP, who recommended a programme with another organisation. It didn’t work. I then tried a couple of AA meetings but was convinced I wasn’t that bad. My husband could see the problems but he didn’t want the stigma of an alcoholic wife, but for me a seed had been sown in those early AA meetings. I didn’t know it, but that seed would save my life.
Then came a period when I was totally out of control. I just stayed in bed drinking. I ended up in hospital and my husband refused to take me home. I was admitted to a clinic, underwent a detox and awaited a court case – for drink driving.
I stayed sober for three whole weeks. Thought I understood alcoholism and had it under control. So, I had a glass of champagne that Christmas. Then the spiral started.
Life was unravelling. I was desperate, terrified, my parents both had Alzheimer’s and my life was in tatters. I could not believe this was happening to me. All the best doctors, clinics, friends, family were there for me, but I could not stop drinking.
By now I genuinely wanted help and went to rehab for four weeks. While there, a counsellor helped me separate those deep-rooted feelings from early infancy, the probable cause of my anxiety, from drinking.
In rehab I learned that this was a journey and continuous work was needed and for three and a half months I threw myself into it, getting a sponsor, doing service etc. But my denial was so great, I still believed I could have the odd drink. I came to meetings claiming lengths of sobriety because I hadn’t actually got drunk! I was clinging on to every hope that I could drink normally.
Inevitably, the old obsession came back and now my reason for drinking was my husband – I need alcohol to cope with him.
In December 2011, after a raging row with him, I booked myself into a hotel and went on a four-day bender.
Luckily, that AA seed was still there, and somehow, still drunk, I crawled to a meeting and collapsed into the arms of my fellowship friends. I was welcomed with open arms, and helped. I returned home the next day, where I laid in bed for three days feeling like death. The final surrender.
I had to truly believe this illness could and would kill me to reach that point of surrender.
For me, life continues to bring its challenges and with each one, my acceptance grows. I’m learning to function sober today, to do the next right thing and see that life is not all about me.
In sobriety, I have dealt with the loss of my mother, the loss of my birth father who I knew for a couple of years, and I’ve developed a good relationship with my my birth mother. At home, things are not always easy, but today I deal with situations in an adult way. I continue to work on myself and can sense my emotional sobriety developing.
Establishing a relationship with my Higher Power was a biggie for me. I was raised to believe in a punishing God, who would damn me to hell for the things I have done. But today I know my Higher Power is looking out for me. I don’t know what my Higher Power is, it’s certainly not religious in any form. It’s a loving entity, something inside me which I am not controlling.
I remember the first time I prayed properly – a feeling from deep within that went everywhere and I felt so calm, so serene. I don’t know what it is, but today I’m happy to call it God.
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