health

Talitha Cummins writes about being an alcoholic: "I blacked out more than I was lucid."

What is an alcoholic? Is it a homeless man lying on a park bench drinking cheap wine from a paper bag? Is it a deviant who doesn’t engage in society?

Let me smash those stereotypes.

I had a good job, was high functioning, educated and didn’t wake up in the morning and reach for a drink, so the label didn’t apply to me. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to seek help.

By then, I had 20 years of problem drinking under my belt. It started out as binge drinking at 14 years old and ended up with me hiding at home alone imbibing bottle after bottle at night. I blacked out more than I was lucid.

In my early thirties, my drinking hit a new low. I ended up in hospital a few times, I was in debt, I was afraid to attend social functions because I truly didn’t know what would happen after my first drink. Life had become ‘unmanageable’.

Talitha Cummins didn't fit the alcoholic 'stereotype'. But she still needed help. (Image supplied)

I’d like to say that’s when I stopped, but I didn’t.

It was a conversation with my Chief of Staff at work that was the catalyst for change. I will be forever grateful she had the courage and heart to confront me.

That was four years ago. I’ve been sober ever since.

Rock bottom for one person may be different for another. Each story of recovery is different.

For me, it was the fact my ‘work façade’ had crumbled and people had noticed. For someone else, it could be losing their house or separating from their partner.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to telling someone they have a problem. It must come from a place of love and understanding.

"There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to telling someone they have a problem." (Image: Christopher Getts/supplied)

Don’t feel it’s a futile exercise if your loved one or friend doesn’t listen right away. Because somewhere in their mind a little seed is being planted which may help them one day seek help.

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And there is so much help out there.

After ‘that conversation’ I went directly to Alcoholics Anonymous and joined Hello Sunday Morning (an online site encouraging drinkers to examine their relationship with alcohol) – what I describe as my online version of AA.

After years of trying to stop, trying everything from ‘controlled drinking’ to mixing water with my wine, I was ready this time – but so nervous to walk through the door.

I sat in the corner hoping no one would notice me, but people went out of their way to say hello and ask how I was. They told their stories of despair and recovery. These people were honest, self-aware and full of a selflessness rarely seen.

I learnt alcoholics are obsessed with alcohol and can’t control how much they drink, even if it’s causing problems at home, their work and financially.

Talitha Cummins studio 10

Talitha Cummins with her family. (Image: Christopher Getts/supplied)

Over the next couple of years I became ingrained in this little community. I committed myself to attending a meeting most days. These people became my heroes. They could stand up, brand themselves an alcoholic and tell their stories in the most awful detail – yet no one judged them. They were wise and full of funny stories and introspection. I wanted what they had.

You see, in the rooms of AA we’re all linked by a common thread: our lives are unmanageable with alcohol. How you look, where you work, how little or much money you have is irrelevant. Stereotypes don’t apply here. It could be your mum, your doctor, your favourite singer, or the homeless man you walked past on your way to your city job.

So let’s change the way we think about alcoholics. Stereotypes are holding back the discussion — and most importantly, stopping people from seeking help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, contact Alcoholics Anonymous here or Hello Sunday Morning here.

Australian Story: The Big Dry airs Monday October 10 at 8pm on ABC & iview.

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