Even the Love for my Child Couldn’t Stop Me from Drinking
Anne is a registered nurse that recently completed a 90-day alcohol addiction treatment program at Hader Clinic Queensland. She is now just over 5 months sober after picking up her first drink at the age of 10. This is her story.
I was a happy child and was part of a loving family. My parents were heavily involved in the church. I felt my parents were very busy with their work, but I was loved and supported. When I was 10 years old, a friend’s father sexually assaulted me during a visit. It was a singular event. However, the trauma I experienced changed the course of my life forever. I felt so afraid and alone. I felt I couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened. Even if I wanted to tell someone, I couldn’t find the words. I loved it at my friend’s house. She had horses, and I wanted to be allowed to go back. I wanted everything to stay as it was before.
Shortly after this event, I had my first drink. I remember thinking this is a wonderful feeling, this is a real escape. Looking back, I can see that I threw myself into anything I could to escape from the reality of the pain & confusion I was experiencing.
I got into ballet. It became my world, and I did it obsessively. The music and movement took me somewhere else. I was a complete perfectionist about it. Dancing was an escape and gave me a place I could feel peace in my mind.
I didn’t have another drink until I was 14. It was with some girls at church. I noticed they didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. My behaviour was erratic and not acceptable. They took me home to my mum and told her I had been drinking alcohol. She said I would have a headache in the morning and that would be punishment enough. It shocked me she didn’t get angry. I wanted her to. I see now I was trying to get her attention. It was a cry for help. She didn’t tell my dad, so I felt like I got away with it.
In my mind, it was a pretty normal teenage experience to binge drink. Even though I often drank so much that I got sick. When I was 14, I met my future husband; he was 18. He was a very caring and loving person. I felt happy when I was with him. It had been 4 years since I was assaulted and I had told no one about what happened to me. During my teenage years, I continued to use alcohol and the relationship I was in to escape.
We got married when I was 20. During the first year of the marriage, I started drinking red wine a few times a week. I felt very depressed and trapped. I didn’t know if I wanted to be married. I had been in this relationship since I was 14 and felt that I didn’t have a childhood. I wondered what other girls my age were doing. There were a lot of powerful feelings.
My unresolved trauma, regular drinking, and feelings of being trapped led me to have a nervous breakdown. I told my husband that I just wanted to run away. Anywhere would be better than where I was.
I went to Tasmania with some money I had saved. I wanted a break from the marriage, a break from my reality. I stayed at BNB’s and hotels. I would go out at night to party and drink heavily. I was very promiscuous and would go home with random men. I wanted to be as free and wild as I could be. The holiday lasted for 3 weeks in total. I rang my husband and told him I had affairs and that I didn’t want to be married anymore.
When I got back, we separated. I had progressed to drinking 1 bottle of red wine a night and was a regular at bars and nightclubs. This was a very wild time in my life. I don’t recall having any control of my emotions. As devout Christians, my parents were very concerned about my divorce. I didn’t care about anything; I don’t recall caring what anyone felt or who I was hurting.
Things spiralled out of control, and my alcohol addiction was progressing. I was a registered nurse and I stopped working for around 6 months. My parents supported me financially. Because of the divorce, we sold our house in the Blue Mountains and I moved in with my sister. I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t stay with my parents as I wanted to drink and had also started smoking pot. I lived with my sister for around 4 months.
When I was 23, I moved into a share house and started working again, but only part time. The rest of the time I was drinking and going to pubs and clubs, I still had the same agenda of escaping with men and alcohol. Shortly after moving into the share house, I met my second husband. He was a friend of one of the people I lived with.
He was a binge drinker but didn’t consider himself an alcoholic as he didn’t drink every day. My daily drinking habit concerned him, and this caused friction during our marriage. He would often talk to me about it and would even try to enforce restrictions on the amount and time I could drink.
He was a daily pot smoker. After a year of being with him, I fell pregnant with our first son. I continued to drink occasionally and smoke pot with my husband.
In the late 90s it wasn’t as unacceptable to smoke and drink a small amount during pregnancy as it is today, there wasn’t as much information about the harm it could cause. Even so I felt guilt and shame about doing it. I was rationalising and justifying my behaviour. We had 2 more children, a boy and a girl. All of my children from this marriage were born healthy. I remained married to him for 14 years.
Our marriage was not a happy one, and I had still never addressed the internal struggles I faced daily. There was no limit to the amount I drank. I would often drink so heavily that I would have blackouts. My husband was an interstate truck driver and he would go away for long periods of time.
I was working as a nurse full-time, so I only drank at night, but most nights so heavily that I would pass out or not remember what had happened. I rationalised it was ok as I would make sure the children were fed and put to bed beforehand. Although everything I did for the children, I had a drink in my hand. It was the only way I could cope with life.
There were periods where my husband would want me to stop drinking. I would try to stop, but deep inside I didn’t see it as an option, as it was my only coping mechanism. Our relationship became really unstable when he realised I had a drinking problem. He would get in his truck and leave us. He was dishonest and unfaithful. The more he lied to me, the more unhappy I got and the more I would drink to cope. It was a vicious cycle. It felt like I was trapped in this horrible cycle of alcohol addiction and couldn’t get out.
When this relationship ended, it was terrible. He fought for custody of the children. He used my drinking to say I was an unfit mother. The children were old enough to decide, and they went with their father. He had really painted me as an unfit mother to everyone that would listen, including my kids. I couldn’t cope with this. I felt so alone. I drank a lot.
Anytime I wasn’t at work, I was drunk. I was devastated and mentally unstable. This was the first time I contemplated suicide. But I knew I had to stay alive for my kids. They needed me.
I eventually got my children back in my care. They were gone for four months. It was a bitter break up and this feud continued for years.
When I was 38, I went out with a friend of mine. I met a man and got into a new relationship. Things moved fast, and he moved in shortly after we met. He was great with my kids at the start. However, he was a heavy drinker and a heavy smoker. I liked this about him. It was a total green light. He completely enabled my drinking. He was 10 years younger than me, and we had the common interest of sex and heavy drinking.
2 years into this relationship, I fell pregnant with my youngest daughter. I was still drinking heavily and smoking pot. I rationalised I was healthy and that it hadn’t affected my other 3 kids. I had no choice to stop. The relationship struggled. He became very abusive after my daughter was born. He would runaway through the night. I knew he was an alcoholic, but I later found out he was an ice addict as well.
When our daughter was 6 months old, he became very violent towards me. He refused to work so I had to go back to working full time. I had 4 kids to support and a mortgage to pay.
For the next 2 years, I was assaulted physically, mentally and sexually daily. My drinking was continuous and I would regularly have blackouts. When I was unconscious, he would assault me. He would always come back despite me trying to end the relationship. I was powerless, my life became a living nightmare, I was so sick. I couldn’t end this relationship or stop drinking.
Our daughter was 2 when I finally got him out of my life. My parents came and stayed with me on and off. They helped me get him out of my life for good. I took him to court and got an AVO against him.
They charged him with the physical and sexual assault. They offered me domestic violence support which helped me, but I was still drinking so heavily that even though he was gone, my life remained completely out of control.
My daughter had learning difficulties at school. She couldn’t read well and was behind her peers at school. I took her to specialists. They thought it was because of all the trauma she experienced. They later diagnosed her with foetal alcohol syndrome, complex trauma, and depression. I was devastated. I could no longer deny the impact my drinking and my unhealthy relationships had on my children’s life. I desperately wanted to stop but could not find a way out.
I had no choice but to live in this horrible cycle of drinking to cope with life. The constant shame and guilt I felt was unbearable.
Two years ago my family intervened. They took my daughter to Cairns to live with my sister. My alcoholism had progressed so far, and I could not care for my daughter. I couldn’t do anything. The alcohol was the most important thing in my world and I became completely depressed. I tried to commit suicide multiple times.
My parents gave me an ultimatum to either get well or I could not have my daughter back in my care. Even the love I had for my child couldn’t stop me from drinking. For 18 long months, I was in a living hell. I still had my house and my job but I was completely alone. I had no family, no children. The only person I could speak to was my sister, and this was only to talk to my daughter.
The isolation and the degradation I felt are unforgettable. I missed my daughter immensely. I made many attempts to stop drinking on my own. I was never successful. I did not understand the disease of addiction. I would try to stop cold turkey or try to just smoke pot. I could stop for short periods of time, but I couldn’t stay stopped on my own.
Six months ago I had come to a point where I felt like my life was so awful, I was so unhappy. I knew I couldn’t continue this way. My sister said to me, why don’t you just go to rehab, just give it a go for even just a month? I did some research online. I saw Hader Clinic Queensland offered a 90-day rehabilitation program. Rehab had not been something I had considered previously.
After some research, Hader Clinic Queensland seemed like the best place to go. I felt I had a good chance to get sober there. I thought if I am going to do this I want to go somewhere that I had a good chance of recovery and reading through the recovery stories gave me hope.
I decided to go there. I was not forced or manipulated to go there; the choice was mine. I think that is important because all the other times I had tried to get sober had been for other people. This time, I wanted it for myself.
Of course, I was afraid and didn’t really like the idea of going to rehab. I slept a lot in the first 5 days and just took direction from the staff. I felt awful but I knew I was in the right place. After the 3rd day, I started going to the classes. The staff really cared for me and supported me.
The Hader Clinic gave me a great foundation. The accountability and structure they taught me still help me today. I learned that alcoholism was a disease, that it was a progressive fatal illness with no cure. The only way out was to follow the program they gave me. They also encouraged me to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and work the 12 steps. Since leaving rehab, I have thrown myself into the AA program.
I have made connections with people in the rehab and in my fellowship. I am now coming up to 5 months. Hader Clinic Queensland changed my life. I have now bought a house in Cairns and I am working as a nurse.
The tools I have learned help me be a part of my family and my community in a way I have never experienced before. I go to my sister’s house every day to spend time with my daughter. She is 10 next week and is going to stay with me regularly.
Hader Clinic Queensland gave me the knowledge that I was just a really sick person and being with other people with the same illness showed me I was not alone in this. They introduced me to Yoga and many daily practices that keep me healthy. Body, mind, and soul.
I finally have a reprieve from this disease. I have replaced alcohol with real coping mechanisms that help me deal with a range of emotions and live my life to the fullest. My mind is clear and I can finally find the words and the strength to get help with the trauma I experienced as a child.
I am finally free to be my true self. Today, I experience true joy.
Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.
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