21 Nov Addiction and Recovery – Her Story
Addiction and Recovery
I smoked my first cigarette when I was 11. My parents both smoked. My mother had beautiful hands and lovely nails which were always varnished light pink. I thought she looked extremely glamorous the way she held and smoked her cigarette. I couldn’t wait to start smoking on a permanent basis. By the time I was 14 I was a regular smoker.
My parents often had dinner parties. The following morning there would be glasses with various types of alcohol remaining. I used to taste and enjoy the different flavours. I used to sneak sips of sherry and loved its sweet and tawny flavour. I had my first experience of becoming very drunk when I was about 13. I remember how fantastic I felt until I eventually passed out to the sound of Melanie Safka’s song “Alexander Beetle”. I woke up the next morning with a terrible hangover. However, that didn’t stop me from continuing to drink whenever the opportunity arose. I was a fast drinker. It was only when I drank that I felt good, gregarious and uninhibited. I only ever danced when I was intoxicated.
I progressed to my first joint when I left school at the age of 15. That was the ultimate high my friends and I smoked marijuana in all its forms regularly at least three days a week.
From the time I was about 15, my siblings and I lived without parental supervision. My mother was in hospital on a regular basis and my father had separated from my mother when I was 11. Our house became the “party” house. My close circle of friends and I would pool our money to buy our weekly supplies. We drank, dropped acid and smoked copious amounts of dope. I loved the magical feelings and scenarios it created.
Despite regular drug and alcohol use I worked full time, studied, played soccer and, due to my mother’s absence, ran the family home will all the duties that encompassed.
I was passive aggressive and suffered severe bouts of anxiety and depression. When I lost my temper, it really would have frightened the recipient. I had no knowledge that this was due to my alcohol and drug abuse and that I was paving the way for my lifelong mental illnesses. I was obsessive compulsive, a perfectionist and buried myself into whatever job I was employed in. I also wallowed in self-pity and was extremely unhappy when I was in a state of sobriety or clean.
I am highly intelligent and was always fascinated in psychology. It was not until I went into rehab that I realised I had a victim persona and that my depression was the deep-seated hurt and rage which I had buried subconsciously into my psyche.
I became very sexually active from the age of fifteen. I thought if I had sex it would lead to a relationship. Big mistake. I was always out of it when I had sex and when I was straight I was painfully shy and had poor conversational skills. I had many ‘one-night stands’. All I really wanted someone to love me and to have a real boyfriend.
I had a few short relationships. My first real boyfriend was 8 years older than me and I was totally “in love” with him – those feelings were not reciprocated and due to the age difference, it waned away.
When I was 17 I finally had a boyfriend who I only saw once a week. Sex was the cement of this so-called relationship which subsisted on and off until I was 45. It was not until I went to rehab that I realised that I had allowed him to bully, abuse and treat me terribly for this length of time. When I think about it today I am totally sickened that I put up with this man for so many years.
I did my first geographical when I was 21 and moved to Perth. I was exhausted by my then unhappy life, from working, being responsible for caring for my mother and going to school every night to obtain my Higher School Certificate. I felt washed out and thought that the change would be a fresh beginning. Little did I realise that my mental issues would accompany me. I missed my friends desperately, felt very depressed and went home after only a few weeks.
I met the only man in my life who treated me with respect and attention when I was 21. He showered me with attention and took me out for meals, parties and was always full of surprises. After a few months, I felt suffocated and begged him to give me some space. To my annoyance, he was unable to stay away, and I resented this breach. Little did I know that I was pregnant to him and that my feelings were being governed by my rapidly changing hormones.
One night we went to a wedding and we both drank a lot. When we were asleep he woke up and vomited all over me and the bedspread. I was so revolted that I ran downstairs and vomited in the bathroom. Cleaning up this mess was a hideous task and one I will never forget. When we woke up in the morning he was as fresh as a daisy, but I felt utterly reviled by him. I ended the relationship.
Yet, when I found out that I was pregnant I immediately stopped drinking and limited my smoking. I became what I now know was a dry drunk. I was so unbalanced that I went and saw a psychiatrist who put me on medications to control my mood swings. The pills did not help so I stopped taking them and seeing the psychiatrist. I eagerly awaited the birth of my baby and had a very easy pregnancy physically.
When my baby was born I resumed drinking and drugging. The first few months of motherhood were extremely difficult as I had no support. I felt like a complete failure, I had no concept of giving love and affection and felt completely and utterly exhausted from the lack of sleep. My baby cried whenever I nursed her. She was always happy in other’s arms. I became afraid of my anger and rejection and called for help. I was terrified I would hurt my baby. I was scheduled to the local mental health facility and separated from my baby for 3 days. During that time, I slept. I was released to go home after 10 days. I still tried to breastfeed my baby but due to having flat nipples she was unable to latch on. I went to a caritone facility and abruptly weaned my baby to bottle feeding. From that day on she was a perfectly happy baby and I was a happy mother.
Despite this, I was struggling with being ‘straight’ and experiencing unbearable depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. My body rebelled causing constant headaches and back problems.
Nine months after my baby was born I met a man with whom I “fell in love” and he eventually moved in with me. He lavished me with love and my baby adored him and he reciprocated those feelings. He played with her constantly. During this period, I had a nose job which made an enormous difference to my psyche. It was whilst I was in hospital that I discovered that my partner had been busted for drug dealing and that his backyard supported a marijuana crop.
When I was 24 I moved to Byron Shire and purchased a home. I again thought that moving away and starting afresh would bring me happiness. Once the moving high elapsed I sank into my deepest depression and attempted to take my life. I ensured that my toddler was safe and cared for when I did this. When I awoke I attempted to seek help but, in that era, attempting suicide was treated as a crime. I brought my daughter home and felt extremely guilty for what I had done to her. I sought help from a counsellor and received a beneficial dose of reverse psychology which brought me back to life.
Once I found a job, life settled into a manageable routine. I grew my own dope and got stoned every night. It was during this period that I met the love of my life and he introduced me to cocaine. Cocaine gave me extreme confidence and social ease. No matter what state I was in my daughter always came first and my drug and alcohol use never affected the routine she needed for a little girl.
Due to the overwhelming financial burden, I was forced to sell my home and return to the life of renting.
My relationship was extremely toxic. We drank and drugged and had amazing sex. When I moved in with him I realised he was an alcoholic. He would start drinking first thing in the morning. Eventually, the relationship deteriorated and I left him after only six months. I fled to Perth to start a new life…
Without going into further detail of my life at this stage, I stopped taking drugs at the age of 30 and just drank alcohol in escalating quantities.
I threw my self into my work and started my own business with a view to completing my education and going to university. Some nights I worked until 3 for 4 in the morning.
It was not long after I turned 45 that I was introduced to the insidious addiction of poker machine gambling. Ironically, I was working in the Registered Clubs, Liquor Licencing and Gambling sector of a large legal firm. I had never heard of gambling addiction and typically, I befriended a woman at work who was a gambling addict. We went out a few times and our post-dinner activity was to play the pokies.
I was sharing a house with a friend during this time and I did not enjoy living with her at all. On the way home from work I would stop in the local pub and have a couple of drinks before I went home. Being as shy as I was, I did not want to sit by myself in the pub area and sat in front of a poker machine. Within in a very short period, I was hooked. The more I drank the more I gambled.
For the first time in life, I began to lie about my whereabouts and financially struggled to stay afloat. When the lease ended where I was living I put most of my things into storage and moved into a room at a friend’s home. I continued to drink very heavily and gambled. Until I entered rehab I had always believed I was an extremely honest person and loathed my increasing dishonesty. No-one knew about my gambling, so I thought.
An event occurred during Christmas that finally made me realise that my drinking was out of control. Our staff party started at lunchtime and continued until late into the night. As usual, I drank copious amounts of alcohol. My last memory of the party was dropping a drink on the floor of the pub and my boss saying he would get me another one. Late that night I awoke on the floor of a pub. I was not wearing my pants or shoes. I had no memory of going to that pub. I picked myself up off the floor. I felt completely disoriented. I put my pants over my arm and carried my shoes. I could not understand why I was being stared at. I started to walk up George Street towards the bus stop hoping I would be able to get home so late. I groggily realised I was only in my panties and my top… I passed out again in the bus and at the end of the journey was awoken by the driver telling me to get off the bus. The bus had terminated at least 5ks from home. I was busting to go to the toilet. I managed with great difficulty to get home. Once I arrived home I went to the bathroom and then I crawled into bed and passed out.
When I awoke the next morning, I felt like death warmed up. I vowed never to drink again but of course, that did not happen. As the day dragged on it dawned on me that I may have disgraced myself with my work colleagues. I dreaded going to work on Monday. On arrival at work on Monday, I asked my co-worker if I had done anything to shame myself during the party. To my relief, she told me I had just disappeared.
After 32 years in active addiction, I had reached the stage of passing out on pub floors, footpaths and when I attended functions. I was kicked out of clubs. I had blackouts and felt extremely ill. I suffered severe bulimia.
I vowed to stop drinking on my 46 birthday. I sank into a deep depression and cried many tears. I continued to gamble. I finally sought help. The counsellor, after a couple of sessions, advised that alcohol was my primary addiction and that my gambling was an ancillary addiction.
One night I finally realised I could not cope to live in the hell that had become my life. I called my boss and advised him that “I could not play the game any longer and could not come back to work”. I was emotionally, physically and financially bankrupt. I was terrified of developing into a bitter and twisted person as was my father.
I stopped drinking but was unable to stop gambling. I started going to twelve-step gambling and alcohol meetings. I listened but was unable to “share”. The meetings did not help me, so I stopped going.
I entered a rebab which focused on cognitive behaviour therapy. I hated it and its rules. The food was disgusting – I walked out.
I spent my days sobbing. A friend told me I needed to go into a long-term rehabilitation facility and advised me to contact the Salvation Army which ran a 12 Step Programme.
I packed my things and entered rehab in 2011. I was very nervous and scared. I was amongst girls of all different backgrounds. Many of us had been abused, raped, some the victim of child sexual abuse, domestic violence and women who had spent time in jail for committing robberies to finance their addictions.
Group therapy and 12 Step meetings were conducted every day. We were given written exercises which taught us how addiction had negatively impacted our lives. Rehab was extremely emotionally confronting. We were not allowed any phone calls, visitors or to watch television. We were to focus on ourselves and nothing else.
I found, slowly, that I had accepted that I had been living in denial of my alcoholism and addictions. I had to share a room with 3 complete strangers which was extremely confronting particularly because I had been isolating for the last couple of years and had become social phobic.
I also learned that I was not the honest person I believed myself to be. I had been lying to myself for many years and that I was the metaphoric “queen of denial”. This was a very disturbing lesson to me.
As the weeks passed I began to realise how much help and understanding of my life in addiction I needed to address. I learned that I had major anger/hurt and resentment issues, was from an extremely dysfunctional home, mentally and physically abused by both my parents, felt that I did not deserve to be loved and tolerated relationships that embellished self-punishment.
I learned that I needed to learn to forgive and to stop being co-dependent. I had always thought that co-dependency was the need to have a partner – my co-dependency was to help everybody else as a subconscious means to focus on everyone except myself. I learned I had a victim persona, was people pleaser and unable to create personal boundaries. I subconsciously thought if I said ‘no’ people would not like me anymore.
We were also encouraged to journal to express our daily feelings and to release negativity and negative thoughts. We learned that we were responsible for all of our action and the Serenity Prayer was our daily mantra.
Part of the healing process was to write letters to those who had hurt us and apology letters to those I had hurt. I wrote long letters to both of my parents. I also wrote a very long letter to my daughter. To this day I am still ashamed of what a terrible life she suffered due to my addictions and dysfunctionality. The final letter was to myself.
My co-dependency issues subsisted, and I was not aware of this. We were told that rehab would gradually chip away our issues to enable us to change. “Nothing changes if nothing changes” was another mantra and those five words remain in my brain to this day. The rehab alluded to a sculptor gradually chipping away at a piece of work to enable the finishing touches to be completed. Unbeknown to me, the counsellors had decided I needed to be forced to realise my inability to focus on myself. They metaphorically smashed me over the head. It was the most confronting lesson and I cried for nearly 24 hours and finally realised that their scheme had worked. My personal counsellor told me later that they thought I would leave. I was given paperwork to read about boundaries, the destructiveness of co-dependency and being a people pleaser. I learned that I could say ‘no’.
I am extremely grateful to the Salvation Army for their 12 Step Programme. The time I spent in rehab was the best of my life. I am no longer a victim, I am not bitter and twisted and am able to forgive. I am no longer passive aggressive and recognise that I am resilient and strong.
I never judge a book by its cover and am not judgemental any more. If I have an issue with someone I now wait until I have cooled down until I deal with it.
With the help and support of some of my lifelong friends I was renting my own place and had obtained full-time employment within 4 months of leaving rehab. I connected with a counsellor who I saw for the next five or so years. To this day I still visit her whenever I am in Sydney. She helped me so much, she challenged me, and she taught me how to cry again. She is my angel and I love her with all my heart.
I am now 63 and still in recovery. I see a psychiatrist regularly and have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. My medications keep me emotionally stable. I refer to myself as a legal junkie.
I still find it hard to say “no” but I am almost there. Recovery is a process to be lived one day at a time. We will always be addicts. It is so important to reach out and ask for help if you feel you are going to relapse. Every day in recovery is a day out of hell and a day to be thankful for. Be kind to yourself, be humble and grateful for the rewards that recovery will reap upon you.
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