Veteran Tom’s Alcohol Addiction Recovery
Tom is a 47-year-old Veteran, who has been sober for 66 days. He completed a 28-day program at Hader Clinic Queensland after receiving DVA funding to attend.
My parents were both heavy drinkers. They went to parties regularly but there was no abuse or domestic violence in my childhood. I was an anxious child, I found it very difficult to fit into the world around me. Back then we rarely talked about anxiety let alone get treatment for it. I remember my brother was similar.
Growing up personal relationships were hard to maintain. I have never been able to sit still and had a very nervous energy about me. I have always been very methodical, everything had to be how I wanted it to be. I remember my dad telling me that I was self-centred. Looking back, I can see that I was just full of fear.
My parents and extended family were always drinking around us. I even have memories of my parent’s drink driving with us. I was bought up thinking that people who didn’t drink were strange and it was just a part of life. The very first time I drank alcohol, my family and I went to stay with relatives. My cousin gave me a few cans of VB and I couldn’t stand it. I was very young; 12 or 13. I remember thinking how disgusting it tasted and I couldn’t believe people drank alcohol. My mum smelt it on me and I said, “don’t need to worry about me I will never drink, it’s horrible”. They all laughed.
At 15 I started going out to clubs and pubs, things weren’t as strict back then and I was quite tall for my age so it was easy to get in. This is when my drinking really ramped up. It gave me the confidence to go and talk to people and girls. My nervous disposition was nowhere to be seen. I could dance and I felt free. It was routine. School, work, and drinking on the weekend. That’s all I saw other people doing, this was life. I don’t recall ever thinking that it could be a problem. I thought an alcoholic was a homeless drunk on the street.
I went to university straight after year 12. I was very disciplined and determined. In 1996 applied for the air force, and I was not accepted due to an inner ear imbalance. This was the career path I wanted, and I was crushed not to get in. I was focused on getting this job for 6 or 7 years. I had put all of my eggs in one basket. A few years later I joined the Police Force. This was a really structured 6 months in the academy. I was very focused and determined again. Within this structured environment, I was able to not have a drink the whole time.
As soon as I finished at the academy I went back to drinking heavily, after every shift we would drink. We drank every opportunity we could that didn’t impact our work. There is a heavy drinking culture in the police force. I found myself only drinking at the station or with other police. Between the unusual hours and the stress of the job my alcohol use really ramped up and it didn’t affect my work performance. We had our own club at the back of the police station. We even had a vending machine that was filled with alcohol for a while.
I left the police after 8 and a half years and went into the Australian Federal Police. I still had no idea my drinking might be a problem. I went to NSW and just stopped drinking altogether for a while. I would look back at this time to assure myself I had complete control over my alcohol use. I thought I could so easily stop or start. I see now it was just the situation and my perfectionism made sure I didn’t jeopardise anything in my new role.
We got deployed to East Timor on a UN peacekeeping mission. It was extremely dangerous and high anxiety. We were living in a compound with the Military. The danger and anxiety of day-to-day life there were exhilarating. Any free time we had, the whole compound would drink. There was nothing to do except exercise and drink. I loved the danger and the adrenaline and the comradery, I felt part of something. But when I look back now it was a situation in which I could have died many times a day. East Timor had fallen apart, and the government and police had disbanded. People were fighting in the streets with machetes. We would be attacked in the street daily. Our job was to take over and set up functioning police stations and restore some order.
There was so much trauma during this time. I had seen death before, but this was truly horrible. It all seemed so senseless. I was there for a year. The second time I was deployed to East Timor it was much more fulfilling. The country was a lot safer, I was able to work in a command role, and it was more productive. I could see a glimmer of hope for the country. There was a lot of downtimes to drink, and the culture supported it.
I was 34 when I got back in 2009. My anxiety got worse, I noticed I couldn’t even go to a shopping centre. I had a short fuse and no tolerance for stupidity. I would get angry quickly and was frequently in arguments. When we arrived home from the mission, a psychologist gave me a survey that asked some questions about drinking amounts and my general mental health. I was so concerned about not getting deployed again that I answered dishonestly. There was no education or follow-up in any way. I really didn’t connect my anxiety, depression, and bad temperament to the trauma I had suffered.
All I wanted to do was get back overseas. When I was there I had a sense of purpose. I was deployed two more times in my career to Cypress and South Sudan. While I was deployed I felt great, but whenever I would return I would be filled with fear and anxiety again. Every time I returned it was worse. I was afraid to seek any help as I thought it would hinder me in the future. I always wanted to go back overseas. I was completely unable to be vulnerable with anyone and I could not show any weakness.
When we returned from South Sudan, there was a lot of negativity in the AFP. A lot of people who had served alongside me had so much fear about their future; me included. For my whole life, all I thought about was policing. It was my whole world, and I was terrified of change.
Other than exercise the only coping mechanism I knew was drinking alcohol. My drinking became daily, but I was still going to work and getting the job done. I was hungover every day and full of resentment towards the organisation. My wife started to worry about me. I would drink until I fell asleep on the couch. The alcohol addiction had started to take over. I was very isolated.
In 2015 I left the AFP and started working in the private sector. For a short time, it was perfect. I thought that I had found the solution I was looking for. This only lasted a short while. I became indignant and angry at my employers and the people around me. Thinking they didn’t acknowledge the experience I had. I found excuses to hate the job and the boss. I realise now that I was trying to find a justification to drink.
I still refused to seek help, I needed to control everything, I needed to be perfect. I was paranoid and afraid. I was doing geographicals and changing jobs thinking this would fix the situation. I was trying to escape but I always brought myself along with me.
A few years later in 2017, I could see that I could not control my life. I was always involved in arguments. My behaviour had started to impact my relationship. My wife asked me to seek help. I went to see a GP, got referred to a psychologist, and attended an AA meeting. None of this helped me. I would go to the psychologist and try to convince them that I was doing well. I wasn’t ready yet.
Everything spiralled out of control again. I got a deed of separation from work, which is a polite way to be asked to leave with pay. I still couldn’t see I had lost my job as a result of my drinking and being abusive on the job. My mental and physical health were deteriorating. I was lethargic all of the time. I lost interest in everything that I loved. Work, travel, relationships nothing interested me.
My wife and I moved to Malaysia, to start fresh. I thought moving would fix it again, that I wasn’t to blame. It was everyone around me. We stayed there for about a year. It was the same problem again. Me! It got to the point where I was in complete obsession and compulsion with alcohol. I couldn’t get through a day without drinking. I thought about it all day every day. Everything went downhill really quickly and when COVID hit we decided to go home.
I got back to Australia in January 2021. I wasn’t working, I drank all day every day. I tried to limit what and how much I drank. But I could not stop completely. I would have huge arguments with my wife. This went on for over a year. In May, my wife left me after 14 years of marriage. I was completely alone, I was constantly angry at everyone around me. I was unable to take any personal responsibility. My wife asked me to look at going to rehab before she would even consider reconciling.
I searched online for help. I found Hader Clinic Queensland’s website. I saw that DVA funding was available for residential addiction treatment. It shocked me that I didn’t know about this before. It hit me that there were others just like me and that there must be a real problem if a funding program has been created for Veterans. I read stories about people suffering from PTSD. It was the first time I realised that I was suffering from alcohol addiction. There I was completely powerless over the situation. No job or relationship or move overseas was going to fix me.
It was a very quick and easy process. Even though we were separated my wife helped me through it. We got in contact with Hader Clinic Queensland. In only a week I was approved and going in to receive alcohol addiction treatment. I felt it was a great location on the Sunshine Coast. It was peaceful.
The staff and nurses were wonderful. In the early stages, I thought I would just get some information and go through the motions. Once my head cleared, I started attending the classes, I was educated on the disease of addiction. I heard so many stories from other recovering addicts. This gave me hope and really opened my mind to the possibility of recovery. I realised I wasn’t unique and couldn’t do it on my own.
We were introduced to 12-step meetings and recovery literature. This was a turning point for me. We attended meetings daily and I started to see that I was going to need to change everything. Everything I was taught there gave me a foundation for success and still helps me today.
My life has improved tremendously, my wife can see the change in me already in just over 60 days. She has come home and we are working through this together. Not drinking anymore has cleared my head. I have job opportunities. Every single aspect of my life is already different and improving.
Thanks to all the staff at Hader Clinic Queensland I finally have a chance at an alcohol-free life. They taught me to open my mind and be vulnerable so I can finally receive the help I need.
Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.
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