I was a very happy and social teenager. I had a beautiful and stable home and did reasonably well in school, but I also remember dabbling in cannabis and alcohol some weekends with my ‘new friends.’ Back in my day, that is what the ‘cool’ teenagers did to ‘party’.
I could count on one hand how many times I smoked cannabis – it used to make me laugh and giggle. However, my (now estranged) father reported me to the Police and insisted they arrest me to “teach me a lesson”, he said, “because it reflected poorly on him.” I was about 17 years old and living independently of him. I had taken up smoking cigarettes and smoked up to one pack per day for about 15 years. After many attempts, I successfully quit when I began to have children.
As a young adult in my early 20s, I was working and living independently in the city. I had a lot of friends. Friends that I called family and we all developed a taste for the ‘finer things in life’. Some of these things included very mature wines, vintage ports, liqueurs, soft and mature cheeses, and regular fine dining – you get the picture. At one point though, I lost my licence for driving over the legal limit. This was tough but a lesson learned.
I married and had three sons and, for many years, found myself feeling very lonely within my marriage – I lost family and I lost friends. I would later learn that the man I married was not the man I thought he was.
After separation and many years of Family Law Court proceedings, I began to drink a lot of alcohol after years of only having one or two glasses occasionally but always socially.
It was different now though. Now I could no longer stop after having just one or two and that is when I noticed that I was drinking alone now. I would start with a glass with dinner and continue until I went to bed/sleep. I noticed that I no longer had the standard of living I had always had. I noticed that I no longer had the pride in my appearance that I previously had and eventually I noticed that I was drinking to ‘block out’ the hours.
The very many hours I had in the evenings I had been using to wallow in my self-pity. I had wallowed in my losses and in my hardship. But this time, the isolation made it different.
I was always able to see the silver lining in things even though sometimes I had to look really hard for it – but it was always there, and no matter what, I could always find it. I counted my blessings and was grateful for the things I had. I had made myself a list of all the things I had versus the things I had lost, and that scale seemed unfair.
As the years rolled by, I noticed that I was gaining too much weight and I could not recognise myself anymore. All those things that were important to me were no longer important and I noticed my pride disappeared altogether. This was about the time I noticed that some weeks I was now drinking around 10 litres of sweet wine (albeit very low alcohol), but I had lost the incentive to count the number of standard drinks that I consumed (which I would usually do to count the hours until I reached a safe driving limit.)
I raised my boys on my own, worked over-night shifts and made enough money to just make ends meet.
My boys were growing up and I decided to re-educate myself. I gained a Diploma and began to develop a sense of pride again. Then I decided to further my studies and undertake a Degree to achieve my dream of becoming a Social Worker. I had given myself little rules and was able to manage my drinking.
I could not stop at one or two though, so I would not drink at all if I had to get up early the next day or if I had to drive anywhere. That worked for me because I needed my licence for everything. We lived in a rural/regional area and my drive to University was one hour each way.
I noticed how I felt on the days/evenings and next day, when I did not drink compared to the days/evenings and next day if I did and I really wanted to better manage my drinking.
I wanted to only drink socially or on weekends. That did not work for me because I could not stop once I started. I noticed that I really struggled with urges if I went for more than a day or two without drinking at all. That is when I really began to believe I had developed an addiction to drinking alcohol.
I would get quite narky and prioritised buying my wine over everyone and everything else, especially if I had gone more than two to three days without any at all. If I did not have to drive early the next day, I was like a woman possessed, in pursuit to buy some, which was totally uncharacteristic of me. I bought my wine, and I drank it until I went to bed. That is when I really saw myself and wondered who I was now and questioned why I let myself get to this point.
Five years had just gone by, and I felt like I missed it all.
I decided to stop drinking alcohol and I really meant it. I substituted wine for herbal tea or plain mineral water. It took me about two more years and many lapses (from the sugar cravings), but I did it. I turned my focus to my professional development and career and do not count the days, months, or years of abstinence anymore; I am just comfortable saying, “I don’t drink”. I say it to myself too, and I always smile when I do, because that was my secret.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Human Services and a Master of Social Work, Double Degree, but my greatest moment was yet to come.
I have always had a close relationship with my boys, and they have always included me in their ‘Gathos’ (a gathering). Their friends often seemed to be at our house and inevitably in the kitchen with me just talking and I love it.
I have always thought I was lucky to have that kind of relationship with my boys and their friends, but when one of my boys moved out to live with some mates at 20, he made some bad choices. He started using and abusing Polysubstances, to ‘party’ with his ‘new friends’. I used the opportunity to educate myself on these substances and made sure he knew how to be safe, if he was choosing to use them.
Then, one day I got a call from him. He had had a car accident. Soon after, another call to go and pick him up – he had had an overdose. Then another. I made my fair share of mistakes during that time as I learnt what to say/do and, of course, what not to say/do. I learnt the hard way.
Eventually, he rang and asked to come home. He said he needed to “get himself back on track” because he was afraid of the path he was on and where he would end up if he did not change himself. We made some very simple ground rules and he returned home.
He detoxed at home because we could not get him in anywhere when he was ready.
He lapsed a couple of times and described his experiences to me. I used all my strength to hold back my tears and bite my tongue. As hard as it was, I knew to just let him talk. He talked, and he talked and just when I thought he was well and safe, he became nothing short of emotionally volatile.
He described feeling euphoric, and described psychedelic experiences. At times, he appeared to be delusional, and other times he was accusatory and nasty. I was trained in mental health first aid, and I used all my skills. I acknowledged his feelings, let him talk, and I validated what he was saying. I reiterated that he was home now, and he was safe. Other times, he was quite withdrawn.
It was hard to remain soft and calm sometimes, but I knew it was important and I knew to maintain/hold my boundaries too – boy did he test them! And, as time passed, I could then respectfully remind him that it was my house and he chose to return home. I reminded him of the reasons why and the initial ground rules. He could leave anytime, that was his choice, but if he chose to stay, then we were doing this together as a family. He was not alone but had his own space. I reminded him that I loved him and was going to help him get through this, no matter what.
And he did. He ended relationships with those that are not safe for him to be around and he has redeveloped himself, created a routine and a new lifestyle for himself – with all new friends.
I feel grateful for having my teenage experiences so that I was better equipped to empathise with him and understand how these behaviours can manifest in the social context. But it is your choice to access and use, and your choice to change. As hard as it is, you can do it – you just have to find your motivation and purpose.
I became a SMART Recovery facilitator and really empathise with those who join my group because I tick a few boxes, so to speak. I genuinely care and continue to learn as much from each participant as they do from each other and, if I can help others by sharing my experiences, tips, tools and skills, then I am happy to do that, too. This is because I know for a fact that these resources really do help.
It is still hard for me sometimes when I watch my boys drinking with their friends, but more than anything else, I want to set an example and show them that change is possible and life is better when you make good and healthy choices. I still worry that he might lapse again after a few drinks, but I am getting better at trusting him to make good and well-informed choices.
I know his choices are out of my control; and all I can do is have the peace of mind that I have provided all that I can to support him to make informed choices. Because you can socialise and enjoy relationships without using Alcohol and Other Drugs – I think sometimes, you just have to relearn how.
As I am writing this article, I can hear my boys outside laughing and talking with banter, while they lift the weights in the home gym they made.
There is no better feeling in the world for me, than what I feel right now in this moment.
Education is the key to all things, in my opinion and as a life-long learner I have genuinely found the SMART Recovery framework, resources and team to be invaluable for learning tips, tools and skills for maintaining addiction recovery … I just wish I had done it sooner – Famous last words!
[The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of SMART Recovery Australia.]