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Bigmouth’s Story

Member stories of addiction recoveryI came to SMART Recovery in December 2009, determined to get rid of my alcohol dependence. I had already joined back in January of the same year because I had wanted to try out a month without drinking, and found the idea of one month daunting enough to make me look for a secular online help group – and to my surprise, one actually existed! So in January I read online a little, posted about twice, decided that I didn’t need SMART Recovery after all … stayed sober for 19 days (for the first time in at least 10 years) and then went to hell in a handbag again one Friday evening after The Job From Hell had dealt me a particularly appalling week.

To backtrack a bit, my alcohol dependence “happened” to me when I was over 43 years old. As a teenager I had been rebellious but very anti-alcohol, because my father had been a nasty, unpredictable drunk all through my childhood. I used to have a drink or two occasionally but was very aware of not wanting to lose control of myself. On the other hand, from the age of 14 onwards I was an out-of-control eater, eating compulsively, getting fatter, dieting, then getting thinner, then learning some purging techniques – and this cycle went on for the next 22 years. During that period I enjoyed drinking sometimes, but also went for years at a time completely dry, as a precaution in case my heritage was lying in wait for me. When I finally got to grips with the eating disorder, it took around two years of therapy with two different therapists (a kind one who listened, and a sarky old guy who called me on all my crap), attendance at self-help groups (including AA, bizarrely), and doing the work I needed to do on myself.

I knew I was looking my own mortality squarely in the face (my parents both died in their fifties) but didn’t know how to deal with it.

After that, I could eat normally and maintain a normal weight. I met my husband, we spent six years together, and finally got married. Four years later I left my well-paid corporate job, and with my husband’s agreement, decided not to get another one. I was sick to death of the corporate rat race, and we didn’t need two large salaries. I was studying by correspondence with a university in Britain by then anyway, and had regular odd jobs doing websites for people, so I wasn’t at a loose end. But over time, the absence of that 8 to 6 workday obligation (there’s no such thing as 9 to 5 in Switzerland, in my experience) revealed a tendency to let the good times roll more and more often – not just every evening. And by now many of my good times were related to a bottle of wine.

Shortly after we were married, I went along to an AA meeting one evening because I thought my evenings had come to revolve unhealthily around wine-drinking. At that stage I could still mostly justify my wine habit in a number of ways, such as “we drink wine with our evening meal” (and for some time afterwards!), “we both work hard and need to decompress in the evening”, “I never have hangovers or any other ill effects”, and so on. But I had started to think those precious free hours after work were being spent in a rather futile way. At the meeting I mentioned that I’d been in AA before, years previously, but that I’d never felt I had a “higher power” other than the group, which had been fine by me. One person, with the best of intentions, suggested I needed to get a strong connection to my higher power if I wanted to quit drinking, and that bothered me – because no matter how hard I have tried, I have never been able to believe in super-powers or deities of any kind. So I didn’t go back, and decided the problem wasn’t really a problem.

When I left my corporate job, I was nearing the age of 50, and during this period all sorts of irritating small things started to go wrong with my health! I was at the doctor nearly every week with some new bizarre syndrome or ailment – all curable, but still unsettling. For the first time ever, I had to take medication for high blood-pressure, but looking at my youthful face and body, my doctor never thought of asking how much I drank.

After a year or so of getting used to my physical body showing trivial wear and tear, and getting used to my life of freedom from the daily grind, one of my cousins was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There was a special dread involved in this for me, because both my parents died of cancer, and so did one aunt, this cousin’s mom. When my cousin was diagnosed, her siblings and I knew our generation was in the front line at last. In under two years my cousin was dead. I don’t show emotions like sadness easily, and probably underestimated how her death affected me.

I knew I was looking my own mortality squarely in the face (my parents both died in their fifties) but didn’t know how to deal with it.

By now wine–o’clock was at 6pm every day, and if I was having lunch out with someone I’d knock back a few glasses with lunch as well. At some point in 2008 I decided that if I sometimes felt like getting smashed in the afternoon as well, why not? I had few responsibilities – and still suffered no hangovers. My course work got done, and so did my occasional paid work. I hit the gym even more frequently, convinced that my body could deal perfectly well with all the booze if I just ate well and exercised a lot at the same time. Apart from my husband – who wasn’t happy about it – no-one had any idea how much I was drinking. And if I smelt of wine when he got home, even he didn’t know how much wine.

On the surface of it, I had a perfect life, and I was aware of that: a loving partner, a beautiful home in an area of stunning natural beauty, enough money to live on, creative outlets for my programming, writing and anything else that took my fancy, and no longer any need to waste 9 hours a day – or more – putting up with corporate politicking in order to earn my living. The major irrational thought in my head at all times during this period was: “It can only go bad from here on. This is too good to last.” In addition, I thought: “You’ve run out of time to do anything really great with your talents (i.e. you’re a time-waster, lazy and a loser!) and besides, cancer is right on your horizon, ready to zap you with a slow, terrible death that will break your husband’s heart.”

Whenever I thought of stopping my wine dependence, two deal-breakers immediately sprang into my mind: if you do that (i) you’ll go back to compulsive eating, and get fat, and (ii) you’ll be so bored it’ll drive you nuts.

A number of things probably hastened my dive into a two-bottle-a-day wine habit: my last hopeful attempt at working in Corporate Hell, while fabulously lucrative, revealed depths of stupidity and institutional dysfunctionality I had never even dreamed existed before. The company I spent 7 painful months at in late 2008 was a crossroads of incompetence and petty-minded nastiness. After I ended that contract, I had two cancer scares, one after the other. The second of these consisted of symptoms exactly the same as those my cousin had had, and which had announced the lymphoma that had killed her. During the same period two other people we knew were diagnosed with cancer, and I witnessed a neighbour’s house burn down one hot summer’s day. I felt that death was out to get me! During this time I started my daily drinking every day at midday, took a nap in the late afternoon so I would look more or less functional when my husband got home, made him a fabulous dinner every night to discourage him from mentioning my pickled condition, and started on my second bottle as dinner was served.

By now I was regularly waking up in the early hours, feeling anxious, trapped, and full of dread. I had been getting steadily more and more depressed. I had considered suicide briefly but seriously, and decided that I could not do that to my husband, who had only ever been a wonderful partner. With that decision, I felt even more trapped and desperate. In the morning I would hold my hands out in front of me and wonder if they were shaking – then rush off to the gym to convince myself I was in spiffing physical condition.

I’ve been offered more interesting work contracts, met some fascinating people and had enriching experiences that I simply wouldn’t have had if I were still spending most of my day on the sofa getting drunk.

A couple of my friends had made comments about the amount I drank during the past year, but I always pooh-poohed them by saying “Sure I’m an alcoholic! But I’m functional, so what’s the problem?”

From midday onwards, I had a glass in my hand at all times, except when sleeping. There were almost certainly plenty of other people thinking: “She’s got a problem!” but who never said anything.

The moment when I felt “This is as bad as I can take, and I can’t take it any more” came when I chose to go to a friend’s party even though I had been drinking all day as usual, and felt quite ill and very depressed. I forced myself to go along, to act normally, talk, laugh and keep up appearances while feeling desperately depressed and hopeless throughout the evening. The following morning I rang a local clinic and tried to get admitted for detox – but this wasn’t possible on a Saturday without a doctor’s referral!

I logged back in to SMART Recovery Online again after an 11-month absence – and for the rest of that last weekend I read, posted and gritted my teeth until I could see my doctor on Monday morning.

My first post on SMART Recovery Online was the condensed version of this story. I still keep a list of the good people who replied to me, and what they said. Based on their replies, I thought “I’m going to try this.” I fessed up to my astonished family doctor, who has known me for 15 years and had never suspected what I had become, and together we planned a period of outpatient treatment (non-AA) at a clinic that deals mostly with depression. Against her advice, I detoxed at home while waiting for my appointment with the head shrink at the clinic – who was game but sceptical – and thus began my sobriety. After 7 weeks I quit the outpatient treatment – I was down to twice a week by then anyway – and I’ve been living alcohol-free since then.

During my first two weeks without booze my deep depression just went away. I did have regular cravings for sweet things at first, and had some sugar–binges as a result. That stopped after a few months, and I did not get fat. I spent my early sobriety compulsively posting and reading on SMART. (Compulsion can be a good thing! It depends what you point it at!) And naturally, I continued going to the gym.

I got sober 3 weeks before Christmas, a time of year I have loathed since I was a child. Having avoided most end–of–year celebrations all my life anyway, I was simply one degree more ruthless than usual about not attending any social events unless I was 100% comfortable about going.

My life has improved in many ways I could never have foreseen, in addition to the expected advantages like getting a good night’s sleep, no longer having high blood–pressure and eyes that are not permanently bloodshot. I’ve been offered more interesting work contracts, met some fascinating people and had enriching experiences that I simply wouldn’t have had if I were still spending most of my day on the sofa getting drunk. I have plans now – short, medium and long–term ones. They may not all work out, but it’s fun to have them and educational to work at them, a step at a time. Life continues to surprise me, which I enjoy. (There are not many opportunities for nice surprises when you’re on the sofa, pissed out of your brain.)

My husband is not only massively relieved, but full of admiration for what I have achieved. I had been in HUGE denial about how much worry I had been causing him with my escalating alcohol abuse.

Please Donate Today!Stopping was quite hard at first – but not unbearably hard. Besides, being desperately miserable every day for the next ten years would have been harder.

I’m not dead yet, and in fact I’ve decided I’m going to die with my boots on – in other words, while actively involved in life. (Lying on a sofa boozing does not qualify, just so that’s clear.) There are plenty of things I still want to do, even if I haven’t even dreamed of some of them yet!