real life

'I missed my flight home because I was in hospital.' The day I knew I needed to get sober.

You wake up one day at 45 years old. You are a recovering alcoholic, a recovered anorexic, a former prostitute, and former drug user…. you wonder how you got here. Are you meant to be HERE? Has the big hand of life placed you where you should be while in the midst of addiction, obsession, blackouts, and anxiety? Are you still where you are meant to be?

I feel like I am probably one of the lucky ones. I have a good job. I have a loving partner and a great home on the beach, I don’t own it and maybe I would have if I hadn’t drank, binged or drugged away the majority of my money over the past 20 years, but I am safe and I am loved.

But I still wonder. I made so many decisions based on pleasing my innate desires, my faulty wiring, the fears that quietly chased me down dangerous roads and backstreets to find safety in shadows.

I grew up in a small town, my parents divorced when I was 16 and it wasn’t pretty, but is it ever? I don’t think most teenager girls then starve themselves down to hospitalisation weight, and almost die. Most don’t head overseas to London to escape as soon as they have gained enough weight and then enrol in Psychology at university (probably to work out why I was so fucked up), and prostitute themselves through five years of study.

Maybe you think non-judgmentally “ah well, I guess people go to all lengths to get themselves ahead in life” and that’s very kind of you, but no, I still borrowed off the government to pay for everything, the money from sleeping with strangers for five years went on cocaine, ecstasy, alcohol and a good time.

Nothing tangible, not holidays and certainly not my education. I was already living to feed my desires. Sometimes I slept with gang members, sometimes I was dropped at fancy hotels to sleep with famous people, sometimes it was old men that just wanted to chat. I had no thoughts for my safety and sometimes I think I didn’t really care about myself enough to worry anyway.

I moved to Sydney, got a great job in Sales (so glad I spent all that money on a Psychology degree when anyone close to me could have told me for free a) I was crazy and b) I didn’t like people enough to be a psychologist!)

So began 15 years of serious partying. It was fun, in the beginning. I went to clubs Thursday through to Sunday, I took copious amounts of drugs, I made lots of friends, I dressed up, I drank, I blacked out, I woke up and did it all again for weeks, months, then years on end. I held down a job, I had relationships, I lived with guys. It was all FUN….until it wasn’t.

Somehow alcohol went from a friend to an enemy that was trying to kill me. A best friend that had whispered horrible words about everything else in my life. It had wedged myself between my will to live, just like anorexia had, but this was so much worse.

alcohol recovery
"Somehow alcohol went from a friend to an enemy that was trying to kill me." Image: Getty
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I drank every evening. But that wasn't when it was bad, that was just an inconvenience as I didn't feel that great at work but I still went, and I still did well.

Then I drank every week evening and Friday through to Sunday non-stop. I was hospitalised with withdrawal and vomiting for the first time at about 37. They pumped me full of valium and anti-nausea drugs on a drip. I stayed overnight.

I was so embarrassed. I swore to myself I would go back to just drinking sometimes, just on special occasions. I was better than that. How silly!

It happened again, I couldn't stop and I was scared. I saw a counsellor, a psychologist, a psychotherapist they were all useless against my enemy.

Now I was drinking all day, at work, after work, in the mornings, I didn't go out, I didn't socialise because no one would drink like I wanted to drink.

I took so many days off sick that my job was in jeopardy, my relationship was suffering. My health was in serious threat, weight was falling off and not because I wanted to lose it. I had fought hard to be a healthy weight. This was worse, I couldn't eat because I had gastritis all the time from drinking straight vodka 24/7.

The final months were hell on this battleground. I had booked an overseas holiday for my 40th birthday with my partner. It was supposed to magical, a lovely getaway, romantic, relaxing.

We arrived at a beautiful artist's cottage in the hills for a week. There was a fully stocked liquor cabinet. I couldn't help myself. I drank it, and I drank it all over the six days we were there. We missed our flights home because I was in hospital. Again. So desperately ill from the withdrawals of trying to stop drinking the day before our flight. I won't go into the details but it is serious. You can die, and I had done it to myself. I had ruined our holiday, my birthday, never mind the thousands it cost for going to A&E overseas, new flights and accommodation.

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I got home to Australia and two weeks later I was in hospital again. I was now fighting for my life. In all the personal battles in my life, I had never contemplated suicide until this point. I had reached that that stage I now know happens in alcoholism. I couldn't live with alcohol and I couldn't live without it. I was broken and I was out of ideas and weapons.

I took leave from work, my partner and I sat on the couch for two miserable days trying to work out how to save my life.

Rehab was the only answer. We found one and they could take me in three days at the end of the week. You know what I did the day before rehab? I stole my credit card back from my partner and told him I was going to the gym, bought vodka, sat in a park and got drunk. I didn't want to, I no longer had any control over my decisions, my actions. I was obsessed with filling the need to drink. The wiring in my brain was SO skewed I was not in control anymore.

That's a scary place to be. I was outside myself watching a slow car crash.

I went to rehab, I listened. I had the gift of desperation. I met really lovely people and made true human connections I hadn't made in a long time. We all understood each other inherently even with drastically different backgrounds. I remember a lovely old guy in my group who was 70. He was just trying to sort his life out now. He was an alcoholic too. I thought "I have to get this now. I cannot be trying again at 70, I won't even live that long."

That month was long enough for my addiction to be quiet. Long enough I could get out and go straight to the safe space of AA. The only thing that's worked. My craving has gone, my insane thoughts have gone. I connect with other people again. My health is better.

It's been a year. I feel sometimes like I did when I woke up from a blackout. "What happened and how did I get here?" Is this where I am meant to be?

I guess anyone can ask this regardless of whether you have been numbing away huge parts of your existence. The best answer is yes, I have decided. I am humbled, I am grateful. I now work at a charitable organisation for the homeless. Because I was one of the lucky ones.

I will be fighting this for my whole life, but like my other battles, once you reach out for help, find out which weapons to use, where and when to hide and how to keep yourself safe, it will be ok.

Now I just want to make sure that other people know there is always hope.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has decided to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. A stock image has been used. 

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