Breaking the cycle of addiction – Lucy’s story

It’s hard to believe the poised woman sitting across from me is a recovering addict. Bright, intelligent and articulate, Lucy doesn’t fit society’s narrative of what an alcoholic looks like. It’s hard to imagine that six months ago, Lucy was caught in a web of alcoholic hell and worried that her out of control addiction would take her life.

This is her incredible story.

My name is Lucy. I am 29 years old and my primary addiction is alcohol. I’ve abused every kind of drug you can think of, but nothing has ever worked for me like alcohol did.

For the last four to five years, substance abuse has completely ruled my life.

I was a round-the-clock daily drinker who developed a heavy dependence on the substance. I used to think I was a ‘functional alcoholic’ but the truth is that I simply couldn’t function without it.

Towards the end, I needed it to do everyday things. My tolerance was so high that although I eventually received little to no effect from it, I couldn’t stand the withdrawals. So I kept going.

I had a great upbringing.

My parents are good people who worked hard to ensure that my brother and I had every opportunity to live happy and healthy lives. I wasn’t raised a spoilt brat, but I was told every night before bed how special, precious and loved I was.

For the longest time however, I struggled with who I was internally and never really felt connected to myself or others. I knew my family only wanted me to be happy, and that society just wanted me to be ‘normal’ but I somehow always felt different, like I wasn’t enough.

As a little girl, I was full of fear. I was highly capable and bursting with potential on the outside, but was never content with who I was inside. I’ve always had this compulsive urge to do more, get more, and be more.

I’m an extremist by nature; I hyper focus on specific things and trained myself from an early age to live in only two states of being – ultra perfectionism or complete self-destruction. I was pretty good at both.

I’ve known for many years that there was something missing inside of me, a hole that I tried to fill with everything I possibly could.

As an adult, I felt like an outcast from society, like everyone else had been given some secret manual on how to live a happy, normal life and I’d somehow missed the memo.

My primary purpose in life was a combination of wanting to ‘feel good’ (whatever it took) and simultaneously control the perception that others formed of me. I had no values of my own, no principles to live by, little integrity and no self-worth.

There is no reason at all for me to be an addict.

I am white, educated, and heterosexual. I grew up in the middle-class neighbourhoods of a first world country; I never endured any kind of discrimination, abuse or trauma.

I know how wanky that sounds, but I make a point of saying it because I want to challenge society’s description of an addict and the reasons why people ‘become’ addicts.

I functioned at high levels and appeared very normal by society’s standards.

Inside however, I just wanted to die.

In a weird way I kind of was, I was simply existing through life. I’ve certainly spent the most part of my 20s trying to hide the fact that I was reliant on drugs and alcohol.

I felt so much shame in that towards the end, like I was a total fraud. The most dangerous thing about living a complete façade is that you actually end up lying to yourself.

I was in complete denial about my addiction for multiple years; I truly believed that I had it all under control and that I could stop whenever I wanted to. I convinced myself that as long as no one knew about it, it wasn’t actually a problem.

I’m no stranger to mental health.

I’ve spent over half my life on different mental health plans and have seen countless doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and nutritionists.

I was first treated at age 14 for a long term eating disorder that I still struggle with today. I’ve been diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression and have been prescribed various medications to assist my mental state. I

tried everything I could to ‘fix’ the way I felt inside, but nothing ever worked for me like drugs and alcohol did.

Alcohol in my particular, was my solution. It was the answer to all of my internal problems and the tranquillity to slow my busy mind. It was my medicine, my best friend, and my chief purpose in life. As long as I knew where my next carton was coming from, I could cope (just) with life.

In the beginning it worked fantastically… then it just worked… then it stopped working… then it ran my life into the ground. When the walls came crashing down, I knew it was time to stop. But when I realised I couldn’t, I knew I was in trouble.

At the beginning of 2018, I made the decision to relocate to a new city for a fresh start.

My life was a mess; I was caught up in the toxic aftermath of a dangerous relationship, I’d isolated myself from childhood friends and I was in serious financial hardship.

My parents were supportive of the transition, they knew I had to start somewhere fresh and clean up my life.

Leading up to the move, I was still drinking every day – in secret of course.

My physical and mental health was beginning to deteriorate but I kept on going, living in hope for the ‘new sober life’ that I had promised myself would start as soon as I relocated. I had a brand new job to look forward to, a new apartment, new opportunities, new everything.

It was all there waiting for me to rebuild. All I had to do was stay sober – I knew that. But I couldn’t.

I remember the day I got my keys to my apartment. I had no furniture yet or anything, all of my stuff was due to arrive on the delivery truck that afternoon. But I found myself sitting on the floor of my new living room with a carton of bourbon, cracking open a drink.

I remember the insanity of it all really hitting me then. How the hell did that happen?

I look back on it now and think of course it did. I didn’t know any other way of processing my emotions – happy, sad, anxious, whatever – the solution was to drink. All I could do was continue what I knew, the geographical change was irrelevant.

The next 6 months saw the real beginning of my real downfall.

Alcohol, the one thing that had always ‘worked’ so well for me, was beginning to work against me.

The normal anxieties of trying to find my place in a new town, coupled with excess drinking, saw my mental health starting to deteriorate rapidly. I was losing the one thing that I’d always valued so much – my mind.

In January, I was hospitalised for suicidal ideations.

My parents were aware at this point and were thinking that it was just ‘substance abuse to get her through a tricky time’. To support me, they came and stayed with me on and off to supervise me and help me remain sober.

I’d go OK for a bit, and then I’d pick up again. I even went to AA where I got 16 days up and then relapsed.

I went on to try everything… Mondays… a new month… Dry July… Eat well… Go to the gym… Join a footy team… New medication. Nothing worked long term for me; I kept going back to drinking because it was my default mode.

I’d abused it for far too long.

I even asked my Dad to help me manage my finances. I gave him full access to my bank account so he could monitor the money going in and out each pay. I thought that surely if I knew he could see what I’m doing, I wouldn’t be able to pay for it in the first place. It didn’t stop me.

I was selling things, I was pawning things. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of to feed my addiction. I’ve carried that guilt and shame around for a long time, but I’m grateful to be free of it today.

By this stage I hadn’t been to work in weeks.

I love my job but I was simply in no fit state to go in. I was caught in the terrifying cycle of active addiction.

I work for the government, in a professional industry where it’s not a good look to show up ‘off your face’. So I just didn’t show up.

Instead, I went back to hospital a few more times. This time I didn’t have a choice. An ambulance was called to my house to check on me and I was told that by law, I was in an ‘unfit state’ and had to go with them to the hospital.

I refused so they called the police who eventually escorted me into the vehicle and off to the psychiatric ward.

I wasn’t violent, but I was scared.

I knew I was losing my mind but I didn’t know how to stop. I remember bringing a few cans with me in my handbag and being completely dumbfounded when I was told it was against the law to drink in an ambulance.

I was kept overnight but left in the morning against medical advice. I went straight to the bottle shop of course. That afternoon a friend drove me back to hospital when I noticed blood in my vomit and faeces. I was placed on a drip and told that I needed to do a supervised detox or I could die from alcoholic seizures.

I think that’s when it really hit me.

If I didn’t do something about this, and get some proper help, I was going to die.

I googled rehabs and looked up a few places online. I searched the public places first but the waiting lists were so long. I knew I needed to organise treatment while I was desperate enough to do so. Then I found the Hader Clinic Queensland and discovered they offered specialist women’s addiction treatment programs.

I spoke to Hayden on the phone and he advised me that he could get me in within a few days.

But I needed financial help. I had some money put aside but didn’t know if my parents would help me. I hadn’t spoken to them in a while, they loved me a lot but wouldn’t talk to me in active addiction.

I picked up the phone hesitantly and told them about the Hader Clinic Queensland. I said I’d like to go if they were able to help me pay for it. They agreed, telling me that they had wanted this for a long time but that it had to come from me.

I was relieved.

Going to rehab is the greatest gift I’ve ever received, but it would be a long time before I’d fully understand and appreciate that.

Initially I planned to do thirty days because I thought I need to sober up and that I was going purely for forced abstinence. That was what rehab was for, right?

I thought that’s all I needed – to get clean and sober. But I was wrong, I needed to learn how to live again. I ended up doing the whole ninety days and got a brand new life.

I did rehab tough.

I really ‘broke down’ in there. I had no coping mechanisms and really avoided looking at myself for a long time.

I broke all of the cardinal rules and was placed on a behaviour support plan because I clashed a lot with other residents and gave the support staff a bit of grief. I fought with everything and everyone. I challenged the system, the staff and the classes.

Put simply, I was a brat but I didn’t know how else to be.

I’d lived such a fake life for so long I didn’t really know who I was without alcohol.

I hated myself so much for allowing myself to get to a point where I needed to be there, so I hated everyone else as a result.

I made some good friends there, and had days that were enjoyable. But if I caught myself having too much fun, I felt guilty and hated myself again.

I wasn’t proud to be there. When I saw other people who came across that way, it irritated me. About one month in, my eating disorder resurfaced badly, so at that time I had no nutrition in me and my body stopped absorbing my medication.

So while I’d put down alcohol, I was actively engaging in and trying to manage another addiction. At the time, rehab felt like the worst decision I’d ever made.

However, something happened that I did not expect.

Towards the end, my experience started to change… or maybe I did.

I stopped fighting people and began to appreciate them for the lessons they were teaching me about myself and my addiction. I developed a real respect for Jay and the support workers who, despite my attitude, were unconditionally kind and patient with me.

I started to listen in meetings to other fellowship members who shared their stories with me. It gave me hope.

I started to develop some close friendships and I bonded strongly with others, even those I’d once clashed with. But time and time again, I would see people leave, pick up again, relapse, go to jail, and even die.

I got frustrated, I got sad, but most surprisingly – I actually got grateful.

Towards the end, I realised how lucky I was to still be there. I was still alive and still had a chance at recovery. I felt blessed, and with that I turned a corner. I remember Paula telling me that “sometimes you have to completely break down before you can rebuild something new”.

I decided right then and there that I was ready to rebuild.

I set up a desk in the dining hall and I started to read the literature I’d been given. I took my own study notes and became passionate about learning as much as I could.

I got a sponsor and actually starting doing the Twelve Step program.

The best thing about the Hader Clinic Queensland is that they attend NA and AA meetings. I don’t know how other rehabs aren’t.

We did one meeting a day for ninety days and I’ve been able to continue that outside of the rehab because there are literally fellowships everywhere.

For me, recovery started to work when I began to work the program… just like the staff said it would.

The support workers at the Hader Clinic Queensland are absolute gold. I didn’t value them enough at the time. It was only upon reflection that I realise how absolutely blessed I was to have each one of them put in my path.

The selfless work they do at the clinic is priceless. I hold each one of them with such high regard today.

I’m now just over 6 months clean and sober and have completed the twelve step program with my sponsor.

It’s given me a blueprint for living and I continue to live in and work the program to the best of my ability each day.

I’m a person who hit rock bottom, almost destroyed their life and rebuilt it for the better.

I was a drink driver, a thief, a liar and a fraud.

I had convinced myself that I was a burden to society and that the world would be a better place without me.

Now, I have recovery and it’s a downright miracle. My life today is a blessing, it’s one that I treasure and protect. I’m lucky to not just be alive but to have a new life.

My primary purpose in life now is to pass on the message of recovery and help and be kind to others. It’s a simple way to live, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have recently re-entered the workforce and find pure joy and happiness in what I do.

I have strong, genuine friendships that I treasure and my family and I have never been closer.

I will be forever in debt to the Hader Clinic Queensland for introducing me to a program of recovery.

I went to rehab thinking I only need to put down drugs and alcohol and stop self-destructing. I knew I needed forced abstinence. But what I received is far beyond that.

For the first time in my life, I am completely content with who I am.

At times, I experience a euphoric sense of serenity and peace within that I’ve never had before.

I can make eye contact with strangers, I can smile and I can laugh. I respect myself as a human being who is worthy and loved. Because of that, I’m able to get outside of myself and connect with others.

That old hole inside of me has finally been filled with love; love for self and love for others. I no longer have a desire for ‘more’ of anything.

I am free.

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