gas on a low flame
gas on a low flame. PeaPod. I celebrated a sobriety birthday recently: eight years in my personal recovery from alcoholism, opiate and stimulant addiction. I thought it was worth posting my story, a version of which first appeared on Wired In over two years ago. Here it is: Usual story really. Frightful family history. Alcoholic parent and chaos in early life as a result.
Drinking went from social to problem to dependent over a period of time with the drip, drip, drip of loss quietly present in the background. Loss of little things to start with. Reliability. Focus. Timekeeping.
Then bigger things. Honesty. Abililty to turn up at work on a Monday, then a Monday/Tuesday as the weekend gatecrashed the rest of the week.
Then health. Mental health. Periods of ‘black-dog’ depression. My spirit began a decline that others saw first. My spontanaeity, drive and passion withered like a crumpled rose petal falling from the vase. I couldn’t get fun from ordinary things any more. Nothing mattered more to me than my next drink. My liver swelled, my stomach ached and I lost weight. My gas was on a very low flame.
Loss and more loss. Friends. Family. My relationship faltered and stalled. I lost perspective and the ability to see things the way they were. I thought the world was wrong. I had been dealt a particularly unlucky hand and woe was certainly me. Blame. Externalisation. Rationalisation.
I lost my drving license. My values went too. I decided my work was to blame, so took time off to ‘sort myself out’ and discovered the relief of morning drinking. I realised one morning as I sipped whisky while listening to the snap, crackle and pop of my breakfast cereal that this couldn’t go on.
Finally, I went for help. Despite my trying to be honest about my drinking. My wonderful (and she was wonderful) GP poo-pooed that and diagnosed depression. Let me tell you now, Prozac does not cure alcoholism.
I saw a general psychiatrist who, fortunately took two minutes to diagnose a barn-door case of alcoholism. An addiction psychiatrist was the next stop on the recovery tour. I was detoxed and did some CBT, filled in diaries and had my anti-depressants adjusted at regular intervals. That was treatment. If it helped, I was unaware of the benefit.
The psychiatrist warned me off Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t know any better and neither did he.
Life without drink was a dreadful experience. It seemed worse than what had gone before. I was so empty inside. No surprises then to find that opiates sorted that out. Of course, they can make you sleepy, so uppers seemed a good idea in my quest for better living through chemistry.
I didn’t think to tell the psychiatrist about the drugs and he didn’t think to ask. If drink took me down a slippery slope with impunity, it was an amateur player compared to drugs.
Within weeks, I was in a worse mess. In a year, I had lost my job (of 15 years) and my partner was writing suicide notes. I ended up being prepared to go to any lengths to get what I needed.
In Robin William’s words, I was “violating my standards faster than I could lower them” and I was so dead inside that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. And the horror of it all? I couldn’t stop, despite having every good reason in the world to do so.
I got help. What did I want? To get well, recover and be able to live comfortablly in my own skin without having to drink or use. Tall order! Residential rehab. Five months. For the first time, I heard what was wrong with me and what I had to do if I wanted to get well. I’d been around services for a few years by this time and I’d never heard this simple message: you are sick, you can recover; here’s how!
I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and met lots of guys who’d done what I had done, who’d been where I had been and weren’t there any more. I liked what I saw and I hung around to get some of it.
I had never seen addicts recover, but I couldn’t argue with the evidence at meetings. I still wonder if I’d been referred to AA when I stopped drinking, whether I might have avoided the misery of the last part of my addiction. When I first went to meetings I thought: ‘why is this such a secret?’
As the weeks turned into months, my spirit re-ignited; my enthusiasm for life returned and I re-awoke to living. I took all the support that was going from others in recovery, finding a sponsor and working through the programme.
These days, recovery for me is not about struggling to stay sober or clean (although not using or drinking is still at the top of my daily ‘to do’ list). It’s about living life to the full. It’s about connecting: to others, to myself, to things bigger than me. It’s about putting something back. It’s about being grateful for a new chance and letting my flame burn brightly.
More than anything, it’s about having spirit, passion, drive and conviction; the rewards of recovery.
That’s my story.