Sex, drugs, rock and roll and addiction.
Immersed in an industry from a young age where alcohol and drug use was normalised, Sarah has kindly offered to share her journey to, and back, from alcoholism.
This is her story.
You should believe a lot about what’s commonly believed about the entertainment industry – it is indeed filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll.
I’m a veteran of this industry – I started my career up on stage before moving into film and television. I literally grew up in the entertainment industry. I now act, and run a couple of businesses including a fashion label. I’m also a recovering alcoholic.
Working in entertainment alcohol and drug abuse was everywhere. You’d finish at 11 o’clock at night but you didn’t go home and go to bed, you’d go out to a nightclub.
Being surrounded by drugs and alcohol, I accepted it as “part of the territory” and you tend to start at a young age. I started drinking at 13 and went to nightclubs at the same age.
I never actually paid for a drink either due to my minor celebrity status. I’d be at the bar and everything was free.
The pressures of being in the limelight do get on top of you at a young age and drinking was a way for me to cope with this on a daily basis.
When I left the stage in my mid twenties, that’s when I realised that my daily drinking could be a bit of a problem. I would switch from partying all night after a show and sleeping all day and repeating this pattern to maybe reducing my partying time to a few days per week.
Then I started film and television work, which was a day job, and a bit of a shock to the system.
I’d come home after work and drink. So, the drinking at home began from my mid twenties, whereas before, it was about drinking when I was going out.
It was then my alcoholism really started to ramp up.
I started drinking wine, I started collecting wine, I started becoming involved with wine clubs. My father had a wine cellar and was in the industry and it all sounded lovely, cosy, and romantic.
This was about the time when my drinking escalated into a daily ritual, a nice wine to wind down after work – wasn’t that the socially acceptable thing to do?
At around the age of 26, I started to develop panic attacks.
I’ve always been an extremely hard worker and been self sufficient in working for myself the whole way through. I guess you could have labelled me as a high functioning alcoholic. I’ve always had to run my own race, never had any family support as such – apart from a few mentors here and there, I’ve always had to do everything on my own.
And to have a drink? That was my release at the end of the day to switch my brain off, because it was always in overdrive.
I tried so many things over the years – I’d “come good” for long periods of time, even a couple of years and then the panic attacks would start and so would the drinking.
The panic attacks were driven by having to come up with new business, think of new business, get new ideas and make a living. The drinking relieved that. I always had family issues too, nothing dire but they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed.
Because a lot of my friends were in the entertainment industry and were engaging in the same behaviours, it always helped me to rationalise things – i.e. I wasn’t “as bad” as my friends were, so I was OK, I was “normal”.
However my internal mechanisms were telling me otherwise – that something wasn’t right. I did take drugs recreationally in my 20s but they did not have the pull that alcohol had.
My mother doesn’t drink and neither does my step father. I didn’t grow up in a household that promoted alcohol at all. But my uncle was an alcoholic and I loved him – he was somewhat of a role model for me.
Looking back on it, I can see a correlation. But I think my work in the entertainment industry was really the root cause.
My alcohol use really escalated after a large upheaval in my life.
I moved overseas, came back, worked and worked and worked and was dealing with the wrong partner in my life. He was in my life for 8 years – he’d just do what I would do with drinking. He had his own issues too and our partnership became quite poisonous. He stopped drinking, but I couldn’t.
My every-day drinking changed to drinking because I didn’t want to live anymore. I was literally drinking myself to death.
When I turned to try and end it all – I had two attempts at that, the drinking around the clock started.
And then I tried to get better.
I tried to get off alcohol by myself. I went to counselling. I even went to alcohol and drug therapy. Though in hindsight, I made a mistake choosing a particular therapist – for example they told me to avoid going to Alcoholics Anonymous telling me it was full of non professionals who didn’t know what they were talking about.
This was terrible advice really, because I now credit AA and Hader Clinic Queensland for saving my life.
I also tried buddhism and looked at other religions.
I knew I was doing the wrong thing by drinking and I knew it had a hold of me. I never lied to myself about the alcohol being a problem.
I would reduce it, so I wouldn’t feel as toxic or hungover – I’d try and “dodge” my way around the problem with these strategies to make it OK, so I wouldn’t have to let it go.
Only I knew that I wasn’t OK and that deep down I no longer wanted alcohol in my life.
Things got so bad in life, I had some trauma – it seemed one bad thing after the other happened and I just got sick of living.
Everything just seemed too hard.
I was alone, trying to work. I never had a decent partner and I’m so relieved that I never had any children to any of them – they were all complete idiots who I ended up taking care of.
To be honest I got to 40, got engaged and I though “oh great, I’ve met a sensible calm guy” but as we got to know each other, his true self was revealed.
I felt like life and everyone else was passing me by. I had nothing to look forward to.
My mother was sick with cancer, I wasn’t coping and I simply felt like I didn’t want to be here.
To be honest, I still have bad days, as we all do, but the difference is that today I don’t have a toxic alcohol fuelled brain driving my thoughts, which makes it easier to cope with.
Alcohol just clouds everything.
I know life is what you make of it. But when you’re affected by alcohol, everything seems way worse. When I was in complete alcoholism, I felt like insanity was kicking in.
You look at someone on the street and can rationalise by saying “they’re insane and they don’t know what’s going on” but my experience tells me they do know what’s going on, and that’s the mental anguish, the prison that they find themselves in.
I just wanted to sleep.
The drinking around the clock started about 18 months before I went to rehab.
I just didn’t want to deal with the living arrangement I was in and I just couldn’t see a way out. When I saw a way out, it was too much work – I was sick or insane, basically.
By the time I got to the Hader Clinic Queensland, a girlfriend came and got me and took me to the clinic.
I had left the house I was living in with my then partner and had gone to my mother’s place.
She was looking into rehab places to send me to. I wasn’t kicking and screaming against it, but when my girlfriend finally said “it’s time” I knew that it was really time.
I had a broken coccyx bone, I had to be helped downstairs. The drinking really was killing me. I was cranky, severely underweight and malnourished, I was a complete mess.
My friend saved my life. I wouldn’t listen to my mother as I thought she was an idiot, nor my partner, because I thought he was a maniac – and even after rehab, I could see that he was a bad choice for me.
When I got to the rehab centre, there were lots of younger people who I wanted to throttle, however I made friends with one mate who now works for me in one of my businesses. I’m quite a people person.
Initially, I found it confronting, I felt like I was in jail.
However as soon as that feeling of insanity started to lift – I was detoxing from the alcohol – things improved.
It was a lot of hard work, but I actually enjoyed working on myself.
It was terrifying walking into that environment when your ego is saying, “you don’t belong here”. Then there was the internal chatter – “you’ve really done it now, look how low you’ve gotten”.
Like everyone, I had a few frustrations, but on the whole it was brilliant.
Every staff member there… just amazing.
I think the fact that they have all had their issues, they’re so well experienced, is what makes it work.
Every other person I tried to get help from had no idea because they had never experienced what I was going through – they’d either read it in a textbook or learned about it at uni.
With that, how could they counsel me about a panic attack when they’d never had one themselves?
How do you know what the insanity of alcoholism is like if you’re not a drinker?
So the fact that I could sit down in a class situation with the guys that worked there and hear their stories made all the difference.
That’s why AA works, it focuses on our similarities not our differences.
This, I feel, is the key to it all, along with the 12 Step program.
The staff were all brilliant and I take my hat off to them for what they do for us. I also found that I was laughing more and having fun towards the end of my stay, something that hadn’t done for a long time.
I did everything I was asked to in my 30-day stay and then I did my ninety meetings for ninety days project with AA.
I recall having a terrible bout of flu at the time, but I got myself there regardless. I used the textbooks and workbooks that I was given during my stay in rehab, and that’s what I tell people if I share at meetings – you don’t have to do it all at once, but work on yourself, a tiny bit at a time, every day.
I go to AA, we don’t talk about alcohol really. It’s a LIFE program, I’d really like to share that with everyone. It’s saved my life.
These days I’m at a meeting once a week. I’ve found a really wonderfully supportive women’s group.
Sometimes finding the right meeting with the right people for you takes a bit of trial and error. If I find myself getting frustrated with someone else’s journey, I resist the urge to judge, but pull back, do some work at home or find another meeting.
I read the “Daily Reflections” and “Just For Today” every morning to kickstart my day as well. I know that I’ve got to focus on keeping on working on myself.
Bite sized pieces!
Sometimes it can get overwhelming, but what they say is true, it does get easier.
You CAN get through a day without thinking about alcohol, whereas when I got out of rehab, my brain was still thinking about it every five seconds. Thank God the pull towards that softens.
I have to keep reminding myself of how far I’ve come and celebrate those wins.
I’ve still got to watch myself in my industry and, being a people person, make sure I’m with people that are good for my recovery.
I’ve been sober for the last 18 months and it is great to feel that life is meant for living, not existing.
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