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Breaking the Cycle of Addiction – Harriet’s Story

Harriet, whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality, recently completed our 90 day residential addiction treatment program and intensive outpatient program for her alcohol addiction. This is her addiction and recovery story.

My journey with alcohol was centred around the idea of “fitting in”.  I had started drinking in my teens, using alcohol as a solution to depression, anxiety and the pain from an unresolved childhood trauma. In my mind, alcohol helped me become socially acceptable. When I was sober I felt like I was just taking up space and felt worthless.

My self-esteem and self-worth were so low. Alcohol gave me what I didn’t have: the courage to talk to people.

My low self-esteem was reflected in a number of abusive relationships I found myself in. At 20, I unexpectedly fell pregnant. It was a wake-up call and I chose to have the baby.

My life had been so out of control and painful that I knew it would be a challenge, but I saw it as an opportunity to settle down, grow up and do something meaningful with my life.

I hoped I could raise my son with the compassion and protection that I yearned for as a child. My parents did their best but they had no idea how to handle the trauma that I’d faced.

Events such as moving back home with my parents, coupled with the shame of being a young, single mother reinforced my self-worth issues.

Later, moving into Housing Commission accommodation and applying for a single parent pension was a traumatic experience, which further impacted on my self-esteem.

I was trying to do the right thing and I didn’t want to claim assistance, but I had to accept that I couldn’t do it on my own. I thought that if I kept doing the right thing, things would get better. I was determined that this was not going to be a long-term solution.

After being accepted for a traineeship with a large organization at the age of 25, I met my now husband. My immediate reaction was that he wouldn’t be interested in a flawed, insecure single mother. I threw in the ‘kid card’ and warned him that I wouldn’t be good for him. Yet he persisted, and I thought that if I went for a simple cup of coffee with him, he’d be repulsed for sure because he would see who I really was.

I am glad that his persistence paid off though, as he is my rock and greatest supporter.

As I approached my forties, my alcohol use started to escalate. I had new worries. My now grown up son has drug addiction issues of his own, and that, combined with the huge change that his moving out of home for the first time brought, left me feeling rudderless and without a sense of purpose.

After my son moved out, I felt disconnected. I had been a Mum since I was 20 years old and he was my world. What was my purpose in life now?

I no longer knew who or what I was and all those old feelings of worthlessness, insecurity and poor self image came flooding back.

The intensity of these feelings hit me like a sledgehammer, crippling me to the point where I began isolating myself from others. I started secretly drinking as a means to numb the pain.

I hid my addiction well. Nobody (other than my husband) had a clue about my situation.

At my husband’s urging, I attended a three-week detox clinic. It was three weeks of air-conditioned comfort, food and a few classes. That was it.

I also saw a psychiatrist who prescribed anti-addiction medications such as Campral and Naltrexone, but within a week or two of being home, I began drinking again as I devised ways to get around the medication.

Over the next two years, I descended further into the grip of alcohol, and took unthinkable actions to procure alcohol that horrified me, such as stealing money from others.

I was feeling a sense of self-detachment and every day was a matter of survival until I could get that first drink. Then I continued to drink until I passed out.

I was still holding down a full time job, although I don’t know how. It was awful.

The continual obsessive-compulsive thinking was the worst.

I hid alcohol. I always had a bottle of wine in my work bag, believing that was the only way I could get through the day, even though I didn’t drink before work or at work due to the organisation’s random drug and alcohol testing.

As long as I had that bottle with me, I knew that I could head straight to the public toilet after work and drink it and that got me through the day.

I then started missing days of work, rationalising that I deserved time off, that I was stressed, however the reality of it was that I was taking a day out to drink myself into oblivion.

My husband was aware of my drinking but didn’t know how to talk to me about it. The final straw came when my husband, believing I was at work one day, discovered that I was instead sitting in my car at a park, drunk.

Petrified of his reaction and wanting a way out, I quickly swallowed four Valium tablets and continued to drink.

My husband gave me his first and only ultimatum: “It’s the drinking or our marriage.”

I admitted that I needed help and we went from one detox centre to another, only to be turned away.

Then we found The Hader Clinic Queensland.

I truly believe there was a higher power working for me that day. Coming to the Hader Clinic Queensland was the hardest, yet best thing I could have done.

Even on my admission day, I consumed a couple of bottles of wine before leaving home. Despite going into rehab, I couldn’t control my drinking for even one day.

During the ninety-day residential treatment component, I started to sober up and realised that I was physically and mentally broken and desperately needed help.

I was grateful for the opportunity to push the pause button and get my shit together despite the shame of knowing where I was.

I decided that I was going to give the 90 days my best shot. I was going to strip back all the lies I had been telling myself and others for years and be completely honest. I was desperate and scared, but I wanted to be free.

The intensity of the emotions that surfaced as I relived my childhood trauma without using alcohol to numb the pain was overwhelming.

Exhausted by the ferocity of these emotions and desperately wanting them to stop, I contemplated suicide.

However, I decided to pray for guidance: “If I go to sleep and it is Your Will that I wake up tomorrow, then so be it. And if I don’t, then so be it as well.”

My perspective was different when I woke up the next morning, thinking, “wow, I got through that”. I began to realise that these emotions would continue to overwhelm me if I didn’t confront my past and find new, healthy ways of dealing with them.

I began to realise that I was suffering from a disease (alcoholism), and that that disease needed treatment.

My experience at the Hader Clinic Queensland’s residential program taught me the value of the therapeutic community, which is based on self help and support.

It helped me learn about myself, gain self esteem and self respect, learn about others and foster mutual respect, while establishing and maintaining appropriate levels of responsibility, authority, language and behaviour that were important and valued by the community.

The formal structured groups and individual therapy sessions with a registered psychologist allowed me to utilise and develop skills such as communication, decision making, problem solving, empathising, reaching out, helping and teaching in a safe, supportive environment.

Even the most basic activities, such as doing laundry, cooking and maintenance, were therapeutic as they enhanced my personal growth and assisted me to improve the life skills necessary to manage my ongoing recovery outside treatment.

I was also exposed to daily AA/NA meetings.

This allowed me to identify with other addicts and alcoholics through their stories, which described where they were, what happened and where they are now. These stories showed me that long term recovery was possible, even for me.

My life is very different now than when I was in the grip of addiction.

In my journey, I have learned that addiction is a cunning, baffling, powerful, progressive and fatal disease. I’ve also learned that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.

I am a very grateful recovering alcoholic who is sober today thanks to the grace of my Higher Power, the Fellowship and the 12 Step program of AA and NA. This program has taught me not only how to stop drinking, but also how to stay sober and live a meaningful life, one day at a time.

I will always be an alcoholic and as such this disease continues to try and isolate me and make me think I’m cured. But if I don’t pick up the first drink and I stay connected, help others and remain grateful, I know I’ve got a chance of staying sober and happy, just for today.

Recovery is a journey, not a destination and I must put it first so that everything I love in life does not have to come last.

Since leaving treatment I have travelled overseas, been on a cruise and returned to full time work. I am also repairing my relationships with my husband, my son and my family.

I have attended AA/NA meetings at sunrise on Waikiki Beach in Hawaii, and on board a cruise ship. I continue to go to meetings during my lunch breaks, every weekend, and most evenings.

By doing what is suggested by members that have been sober for longer than me, listening to newcomers, sharing my story honestly, being of service to others and using this program as a blueprint for my life, I am able to accept myself and have a life that is better than I could ever have imagined.

I also return to the residential treatment facility once a month to share my story with the current residents and give back what has been freely given to me.

Addiction gave me a life of isolation, fear, darkness and despair. But recovery has given me a life of connection with others, purpose, limitless possibilities and hope.

As my addiction was progressive, so too is my recovery. It just keeps getting better and better.

It’s not always easy but it is definitely worth it.

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