Patricia’s Story of Alcohol Addiction Recovery
My name is Patricia and I’m 58 years old. I’ve been sober for almost 15 months now. And since I started heavy drinking years ago this is the longest period I have ever spent without alcohol in my system.
I have lost over 30kg just in the last 10 months. Before I checked myself into Hader Clinic Queensland for 28 nights of alcohol rehabilitation treatment, I had lived for years as a chronic alcoholic but it wasn’t even obvious to my family or colleagues that I had a serious problem.
I think of myself as a kind of “Plain Jane” alcoholic. My story doesn’t involve any DUIs, hospitalisations, violence, or episodes of blacking out. But in late 2021, I’d come to a point in my life where I realised I could not control my drinking. Even when I wanted to stop, I found it impossible to cut down.
I had gone from a woman who barely drank for most of her life, to putting away a couple of bottles of wine a day (and sometimes spirits too, if they were on special). On the weekends I might start the day off by drinking tea, then switch to alcohol, and pass out exhausted sometime in the afternoon. I would wake up around dinner time, tell myself I wasn’t going to have anymore, but then pick up the bottle again.
My addiction to alcohol seemed to creep up later in life. I married young and by age 22 was settled in with two kids and a mortgage. My husband might have had a couple of drinks on the weekends socially, but I barely touched the stuff.
When my kids were growing up I was very much anti-smoking and anti-drinking. I don’t like peer pressure and wasn’t strongly compelled to join our friends when they drank. The effort of raising the kids and working as a Registered Nurse kept me busy. But one divorce and one long-term relationship later, my genetics caught up with me.
Addiction was rampant in my family. I think that’s why for decades I avoided substances – growing up in a family of violent alcoholics will do that to you. As a kid, I remember cowering under our kitchen table when my father and uncles got stuck into each other during boozing sessions. My mum was a chain smoker more than a drinker. But when she did have a couple of drinks, she would turn argumentative and start baiting my father, and he would hit her.
Mum always said she would die with a cigarette in her hand, and my father would die with a drink in his. And my mother did eventually die of emphysema. Dad realised he had a problem a few years ago and has cut back on his alcohol intake, but he’s never stopped completely. I think I’m the only person in my family who’s managed to go completely dry after living as an alcoholic.
After my divorce, for most of my 40s, I was in a long-term relationship with a woman I loved dearly. My two sons had grown up, and I moved in with her into a big house we shared with four other people. For those years my world was very different. I started a life of socialising and drinking.
Our home was the party hub for our group of friends, and my partner was always at the centre of that crowd. Our friends would stay over for the whole weekend drinking and taking drugs. The partying would start most Friday nights and keep going until Monday morning. I was known as the Hostess With The Mostest – topping up everybody’s drinks and providing food for everyone.
Alcohol was part of the fun and interesting lifestyle we had together, but it soon made things difficult for me and my partner. I would get verbally abusive with her when I drank. I spent years after we broke up feeling guilty about it and feeling lost without her. I kept in contact with some of her friends afterwards, but it wasn’t the same. My relationship with my ex had become part of my identity and my drinking habit continued after we separated.
Since giving up nursing, I worked in a medical supply chain role. Some of our employees had ‘obvious’ drinking problems. As the line manager, I was the one in charge of sending someone home if they showed up inebriated (eg: with slurred speech or brain fog) but nobody knew the person making these decisions was a high-functioning alcoholic herself.
I was great at my job, and never had any performance issues (apart from taking some time off when I broke up with my partner). I never seemed drunk or hungover, but perhaps that’s because I’d built up a tolerance.
I would plan my life around my drinking, ensuring I had enough to sustain me during the week. And I put effort into hiding my alcohol consumption from everybody, even strangers. I used to visit many different bottle shops so that none of the staff would see me come in regularly.
I could spend a weekend with my aunt (who is a religious non-drinker) and managed to restrict myself to only a couple of glasses. She had no idea I was an alcoholic. One of my sons has three kids of his own. I would drink before visiting him and the grandkids, stay dry for the whole day, and then start drinking the moment I came home. It was my priority to keep my family in the dark.
I was made redundant in 2021 due to restructuring after COVID. All the other available roles were physically more demanding, or at a lower wage. So, I took a few months off and lived on my redundancy payment. It was then that I began to drink every morning, not just in the evenings.
Without work to distract me, I was living a very isolated life with drinking as my only companion. I was living on my own in a unit. I had put on a lot of weight and my blood pressure was terrible. I remember my doctor saying that my knee pain would never get better unless I lost weight. But addressing those issues was impossible while I was an alcoholic.
Around Christmas 2021 I went to Melbourne to see my dad. I announced to him and to both my sons that I was entering rehab. I decided on Hader Clinic Queensland because the admission process was very easy and I knew that I needed to have a proper break from my normal life to get any hope of staying dry.
My family was very understanding. One of my sons drove me to Hader Clinic Queensland. We had a very open discussion. I think he understood I must be needing help very badly if I was going into treatment.
My first two weeks in Hader Clinic Queensland were in the detox unit, and I found the nursing staff very helpful. I used to be a nurse myself and I believe their staff did a wonderful job. I contracted COVID halfway through my stay and had to go home to self-isolate for a fortnight. But I managed to spend those two weeks completely sober, which is the first stint I’ve had without a drink and by myself for many years. I came back to complete my treatment with much more confidence about sticking to sobriety.
We got up around 7.30, had assembly check, breakfast, a fifteen-minute walk and then commenced our classes. We read the daily reflections from 12 Step Literature, and they asked us all how we felt about it. Some days were better than others, it was not always easy. I still preferred my own company but was willing to try and make connections there.
I related to some of the readings we did, even though I’m not a spiritual person. I learned I have an addictive personality. That my thinking patterns contribute to my problem with alcohol. I felt better in tune with who I am. I accepted my alcoholism is a disease.
Being away from my normal environment made a huge difference for me. What made me stay was a genuine desire to stop drinking. My doctors told me I had to reduce my weight, and my health was failing in other ways. I was sick of the endless routine, the repetitive lonely cycle of alcoholism. I had often wondered why I was drinking when it didn’t bring me any joy. It was always a compulsion and I used it as a crutch.
I organised a trivia night with a couple of the friends I made in Hader Clinic Queensland. We were all there for a common goal and had similar experiences. After I left I have not touched alcohol again which I feel – along with the weight loss – is my biggest achievement. I’m not putting away all the calories in booze and junk food while I was drunk. And my blood pressure is down to a manageable level.
I sleep much better now and don’t have afternoon naps like I used to. I believe my body was just exhausted by processing all that alcohol so it’s nice to have more energy.
After I left rehab, I called my ex-partner and managed to make amends for what I said and did during our time together. For the first time 6 years, I was able to get some closure on that relationship.
I have a new job now in a similar field, so I’m still learning new things and figuring out what I want to be. I have to pay attention a lot more than before and that’s a lot easier with an alcohol-free brain. I’ve always been a very outspoken person but since I’ve stopped drinking I’ve learned to have a filter. And I can now think before I act.
My younger son and his three kids are in my life much more now, we are mending that bridge. I can be closer to the grandkids and more emotionally connected. I didn’t really communicate much before I got sober, raising my kids to be independent and not having much closeness with my loved ones.
Now my sons and I have a better relationship. They actively want me to spend time with them and be a part of their lives. I still live alone but I’m not isolated the way I was when drinking was my whole world. After work, I usually have dinner with the family a couple of times a week. I spend weekends with my grandkids and during the footy season, I love seeing my eldest grandson play his games.
I still do the daily readings and have not had the urge to drink. The decision to enter rehab and get sober has improved my life in so many ways. There is more to look forward to now that I am not drinking to regulate my feelings and give my life meaning. I’m getting closer to who I want to be, one day at a time.
Photographs of this client have been changed for her privacy.
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