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Don’t give up on yourself, it’s never too late to recover

Helen fell into the grip of active addiction as a child and continued her struggle for the next thirty years. Realising that she didn’t want her addiction to kill her was the first step towards a new life.

Helen is the Hader Clinic Queensland’s art therapist who shares her talents and her personal addiction experience helping others in their recovery from addiction. 

This is her rollercoaster journey.

Hi, I’m Helen, and I suffer from the disease of addiction. I’ve been clean since September 22, 2012.

Through sharing my story, I hope that my experience can give others who are suffering from the pain of addiction, strength and hope that they can make a change for the better.

As a child, I have few memories of actually feeling happy. I must have had moments of joy, but my dominant memory is of feeling isolated. 

My mum tragically died when I was just three years old, which left my two brothers and me to be raised by her ex-husband, who was not my dad.

I grew up grieving and confused, and feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. I felt like I had no connections. I had no idea why I felt so alone. 

As I grew up, my Nana tried to reach me, however either she didn’t know how to help me or by then I didn’t want to be helped.

I discovered alcohol at eleven years old and became instantly obsessed with it.

It had the effect of sending me from being withdrawn and sullen into rebellious and angry behaviours, which, at the time, I openly enjoyed.

By the time I was thirteen, my life was spiralling rapidly out of control.

My step parents and grandparents struggled to discipline me. I was already too far gone. I was wagging school, lying, fighting and drinking with every waking breath I could. 

I barely passed high school, but I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was drink and party. I was able to get away with this for several years. 

Then, I fell pregnant at seventeen.

Naturally, I was completely unprepared for motherhood. 

My addiction was so cunning that the birth of my beautiful son was not enough to curb my drinking.

By this stage, I was also using illicit drugs.

When my son was three, I surrendered him to his father, admitting that I was utterly incompetent to parent him.

To this day, my heart aches with regret.

However, at this time I just wanted to get back to serious party mode. The more I used, the more terrible my life choices became. The men I chose were all emotionally damaged, just like I was.

I couldn’t handle money, I couldn’t keep a job, my life was was completely without purpose and I was just twenty one.

For the next twenty three years my whole life revolved around alcohol and drugs. 

Every relationship I started involved alcohol and drugs. It was a crazy, crazy ride.

Domestic violence, arrests, driving under the influence, blackouts, “geographicals” (location changes) – you name it, I did it all.

Drugs and alcohol turned me into a person that was dishonest, unreliable, volatile and cunning.

I manipulated and stole my way through life thinking that it was my right. 

I moved from one relationship to the next, from one town to the next leaving a trail of destruction and disappointment behind me.

My talent as an artist was the only valuable contribution I made to society, however, I would use that talent to get way with unacceptable behaviour. 

I believed my art was the only thing about me worth anything, eventually I lost that as well.

I believe that, at times people tried to love me, maybe they even did love me, but I only loved whatever I could take to could get me out of it. I loved the feeling of being high and smashed.

I was utterly broken. I was completely lost. I was slowly killing myself and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

My brother loved me anyway, even as he watched me dying, inside and out. I’m not sure how he did that, and why he didn’t walk away. 

Finally, I reached a point where I wanted to change my life.

I began to slowly realise that I didn’t want to die. I also knew that I couldn’t keep living the way that I was.

You see, I made so many attempts to stop and failed every… single… time. 

Failed miserably, failed magnificently.

It seemed that psychiatrists, doctors, police, judges, family and my parents couldn’t help me.

I wouldn’t listen, I couldn’t hear them through the cravings. I believed I needed the drugs to deal with how I felt. 

Being straight was unbearable but active addiction was a living hell.

Picture this: I had nothing left, no friends, no relationship, no family, just that one unshakeable brother who never gave up on me.

I was 41kg, skin and bone, I smelt bad and was extremely ill. My kidneys ached, I drank and drove every day and I rarely ate. 

I was beginning to understand that I was living on borrowed time. I had to change but I didn’t know how.

I had tried getting help before so I didn’t see how AA or NA would be any different. Out of desperation I attended anyway. 

I remember being two days sober at my first AA meeting only because I was too ill to drink.

I don’t remember anything that was said at that meeting but I remember leaving with the tiniest whisper of hope. I went to another meeting the next day, and another the day after that. 

Suddenly I found myself 5 days sober for the first time I could remember in over 25 years.

Then I stretched it out to ten, then thirty days. I was amazed. 

I was frail, fragile, emotionally immature and I felt like an alien on a new planet. I had escaped death, now I needed to learn how to live again.

I did exactly what my sponsor said, I worked my way through the steps and I went to meetings. I worked at helping others and I made amends where I could. 

I spent every day in AA so that I could live.

I learnt who I was, I learnt to forgive and I learnt to really love.

Through my association with the fellowship, I was becoming a person that I could actually like.

Slowly I began to regain my self esteem and respect. It was the beginning of my new life.

Finally, I found connection.

I connected with people in the fellowship who knew what I had been through, I connected with my sponsor who gave me unconditional love, and I connected with a power greater than myself.

Today, I am almost seven years free from alcohol and drugs.

Tears of gratitude fall down my face as I write this – yes, tears of gratitude and joy.

My brother is proud of me.

My son is back in my life and thinks that I’m a good person, this is a miracle! 

I have healthy relationships today with good people. 

I’m fit and strong and a part of my amazing community. I care for myself, and I care for others. 

I can face adversity without the need for alcohol and drugs.

I have art back in my life and today I have the privilege and joy of using it to help others like me. 

Without the program of AA and the community within both the AA and NA programs I have absolutely no doubt I would not be here at all.

My life in recovery is a gift and so is yours.

Don’t give up on yourself, it’s never too late to recover.

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