Phil’s Addiction Recovery
After this 5-year-old son had a life-changing accident in his care, Phil’s teenage drinking habit became a lifestyle. This is the story of his residential addiction treatment and recovery.
Before everything happened, I would only drink on the weekends.
When I was a kid, I was quite nerdy (I played dungeons and dragons). When I was 15 though, I grew out my hair and suddenly became popular. I got into the party scene, and my new friends and I would party and drink on weekends. After finishing school, I lost those friends and took up ice skating as a hobby. Me and my ice-skating friends would go for a drink after skating on Friday and Saturday nights. At some point I ended up having a drink before skating as well.
And I did this for years until I was about 26, when there was big snowfall that ended up destroying the ice rinks.
But I maintained my habit of drinking. Occasionally I smoked weed as well.
I met my wife in November of 1996. We got engaged in February, and then a year later, were married in January of 1998. My first daughter was born in 1999, and in 2004, my family decided to move to Australia.
In 2005, my son Jordan was born. We built a house, and life was very normal. We were your typical nuclear family you’d see on TV.
In 2010, Jordan had an accident.
It was a Wednesday night. My wife wasn’t at home at the time, so he was with me.
He choked on a piece of Lego.
He basically died in my arms.
He turned blue and stopped breathing, and did CPR on him until the Ambos arrived. They managed to get his heart beating again. They rushed him to the hospital, got the piece out, but by that time the lack of oxygen had damaged part of his brain.
I think because of that, I do suffer from some PTSD.
He now can’t speak or swallow or move his arms or legs. We just communicate through blinks, smiles, cries, and laughs, but that’s about it.
That’s kind of when things started.
I was drinking on weekends, but then it spiralled. I don’t know how it happened, but it became every day. I would go from work straight to the bottle store and buy a bottle of Jim Beam. I’d drink three-quarters of that on the way home, then pretend I wasn’t drunk. But obviously, my wife saw through that straight away.
For years it was a blur. I wasn’t there for my family; I wasn’t there for my wife. I basically isolated myself. I’d be in one room, and they’d be in the other.
I guess somewhere in my head I thought if I can’t see it, it isn’t there.
It got to the point where she had had enough. On September 16, 2020, she said she wanted to separate. That just hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt overwhelming emotion and I broke down.
She said, “Oh. I didn’t think you’d take it this hard, I thought you’d be happy.”
I was like… “No way.”
I said I’d do anything. I googled all the rehabs and got into Hader Clinic Queensland. I went there for alcohol addiction treatment, not knowing what was going to happen. I still had hope at that stage, that things were going to work out between me and my wife.
I did my thirty days, which was very interesting.
It wasn’t what I expected rehab to be.
You hear about rehab and see it on TV, and you think hospitals and doctors, and a clinical setting. But it was different. It was good. You got involved in everything. You were responsible.
The biggest thing I learned in rehab is that addiction is a disease – a physical and psychological disorder. I never knew that. I had once thought it was a choice.
Learning that it’s something that’s hardwired in your brain was a real eye-opener for me.
The whole concept of it changed. I’d tried to get my wife at the time to go to al-anon to get some perspective on it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
It was also eye-opening to see other people who had the same problem. Even though the drugs were all different, the psychological effects and symptoms were the same.
We could relate to each other’s stories. There were people in there I’d initially just thought were “druggos”, but they were really just everyday people. It was crazy finding out how many people have these problems. My old way of thinking was that I was the only one. But it’s a widespread problem. So many people are going through this.
It was a very supportive environment there. The staff were strict but caring. There was always someone to talk to if you needed it, and they took everything you were saying very seriously. They didn’t just brush you off.
You’d get phone calls on Sundays. During my last phone call to my wife in rehab, she said she was done, it’s over.
I said, “Please don’t say that yet.” That was heart-breaking.
I got home and she was still there. I didn’t get any hugs or anything.
I got out of rehab October 23rd and Christmas was really awkward. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know if we’d still be together or not. But come January, she said, “I think we should start talking to some lawyers.”
That’s when it hit home that this was actually happening. I thought coming out of rehab, I’d be different. But I was still the same person, just not drinking.
I reluctantly had to go to a lawyer. I went through the motions, ended up selling the house.
I’ve been living alone since February 6.
It’s kind of ironic – February 6 is the day I proposed to her. And it’s also the day I moved out. 24 years later.
Living alone isn’t bad. Sometimes it gets lonely and boring, but I just keep my mind active by doing things.
When I got out of rehab and things were spiralling, I was very suicidal for a while there. I lost a whole lot of money trying to find ways to euthanise myself, with drugs from overseas.
At the end of the day, I didn’t end up doing anything. I guess there was a reason for that.
I got through that. And I’m still here. But there was a time, just last week, where I felt the same way. I think it’s because of Christmas. This will be my first Christmas by myself. The kids have kind of ignored me. I haven’t had a visit from them at all since February. I have to go down there to see them.
I think my daughter pretty much blames me for everything. Unfortunately, like a lot of people in this world, my now ex-wife seems to think that it’s just a choice. That you can choose not to pick up.
I tried to explain to her that it’s not quite that easy.
I tried to do everything I could to fix things, but obviously for her it was too little too late. She’d made her mind up. I don’t see us ever getting back together, even though I’d like to.
I’m not proud of what I became, but every day, I’m trying to be a better person.
I think my heavy drinking started just to numb the feelings and the pain and guilt of my son’s accident. Those feelings will probably stay with me forever.
It’s just the way it is. I can’t change what’s happened. If someone had a time machine, I would go back and change things.
But I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what the reason was, that Jordie had his accident, but maybe if he hadn’t had his accident, a week later he could have been in a car crash and died, I don’t know.
When I feel down or negative, the best thing that works for me is going for a drive. I live in the Gold Coast, so I like to drive up to the Hinterland. Or jump on my bike and go for a ride. Go kayaking. Anything that keeps my mind active and not getting in my own head. It’s easy to slide downhill when your mind goes to that place. Even just the other day, I thought, what if she’s got another boyfriend, what if she’s moved on? What if this guy is treating my kids as his own?
Then I had to snap myself out of it. That thought would have gone somewhere bad. I’m still on medication for antidepressants and stuff. I don’t know how long that’ll be for, but I leave that up to my GP.
Really, I just put one foot in front of the other at the moment and live in the present.
If I look too far ahead, I worry. But you never know what tomorrow might bring.
My advice to anyone starting rehab is this:
Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for anyone else.
I went into rehab for my family. More than myself. And that was the wrong reason. I learned, and it’s an unfortunate thing, but anything you put in front of your recovery, you will lose. So do it for you.
And listen. Listen to the staff. They know. They really know.
Rehab is not a quick fix. It’s not like you go to rehab and come out “Yay! Things are great again!”
No. It’s just the first step. It’s a massive journey, a lifelong journey. So be prepared for the long haul.
If you’re struggling, ring somebody. Get phone numbers. Ring somebody. Even to say “Hi, how you going?”
You’d be amazed the difference that makes. Getting it out of your head, on paper or speaking to somebody, it changes your perspective on what’s going on. That’s important.
I’m not ashamed to say I’m an alcoholic. I’m no longer an active alcoholic. I’m a recovering alcoholic.
And I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.
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