Monday, August 4, 2008

When one drink just isn't enough

One drink leads to another, and another . . .

This weekend alcoholics from around the South Island will be in Ashburton for an Alcoholics Anonymous assembly. They come from all walks of life, but they share a common desire to stay sober. Reporter Michelle Nelson tells the story of two women affected by alcoholism. Rita is a recovering alcoholic, and Jane talks of the impact her alcoholic father had on her childhood.

My name is Rita, I’m an alcoholic.
Many of you know me, few of you know about my alcohol and drug addiction.

I live among you, work with you, stand alongside you in the queue outside parent-teacher interview rooms, chat with you in the corner dairy and deal with you in a professional capacity.

That’s the odd thing about alcoholics – you just can’t pick us. There are those in our ranks whose drunken behaviour ends in the mayhem and violence that attracts media attention, but the majority of us are living right alongside you. These days, with the support of AA, I am a recovering alcoholic.
For me, only another addict can understand the despair of addiction.

One of the first AA slogans I took on board was “don’t pick up the first one and you can’t get drunk.” It took a while, but therein lies the essence of my “problem.” Cliché; it’s not what we drink – it’s how we drink.

Have you ever told yourself you won’t drink tonight? This week? Until your birthday? Until someone else’s birthday?

Or that you deserve a drink because you had a bad day? Because you had a good day? Because a bird flew overhead?

I made a lot of promises to myself and to those who cared about me. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend – and I am an alcoholic, I have a disease and my addiction to alcohol is symptom of that disease.

Nobody in their right mind would choose to be an addict. But there is something wrong in my mind; when I pick up a drink I don’t stop until I’m pissed.
There are scientific theories to explain my disease ranging from a genetic predisposition to drink like a fish to my upbringing in a family of boozers – both of which open a stupid chicken or the egg debate, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter.

The fact is I am an alcoholic. And these days I’m okay with that. In fact I really wonder why I was so scared of being sober.

You see, I never could live life on its own terms. I was an insecure kid and alcohol was a magic potion for confidence - and fear of being exposed kept me drinking.

And that’s one of the things that bond us alcoholics. Underneath the social trappings we all battle common demons and insecurity and fear are a common thread.

By the luck of the gods I found myself in Queen Mary rehab some years ago now.

There I heard a dear old lady speak of stabbing her husband. I ate with a man who tried to cut his girlfriend’s throat.

The stories of the multi-millionaire, who owned a helicopter, the doctor who never prescribed anything he hadn’t tried himself, the accountant, the teacher, the truck driver, the transvestite sex worker, the priest, the gang member and the nurse have much in common.

Alcoholism, or any other addiction for that matter, plays no favourites. It takes no account of race, colour or creed, whether you are rich or poor, or educated and powerful. If it’s going to get you it will. The question is – what can be done about it?

AA is the only thing that worked for me. I tried counselling and saw psychiatrists, walked out the door and got pissed. Today I am sober and that’s what matters.

An eight-year-old child and her little sister sit in a car parked outside a pub. They have been there for a long time.

They are arguing about who will go in to drag their father out of the pub. Both children are frightened of drinking men – and with good reason.
Eventually Jane goes. She is fobbed off with a packet of chips and her father’s promise not to be long.

Hours later he staggers from the bar and gets behind the wheel. The girls know better than to argue.

“He would sit me on his knee so I could steer the car, then I learned to drive and soon I was driving a drunk home, I was only eight or nine years old.”
Soon Jane’s father began taking her on ‘trips’ – which were in fact pub crawls, on which she was frequently abused.

“His hands would be up my dress and he’d say your mother’s doing the same thing to your brother.

“I was disgusted, I loved my mother and I thought what he was saying was true.”

Jane was fed many lies as her father set about isolating her by maligning her mother’s character.

“He told me my mother was having an affair with the headmaster, I thought that was true too.”

Jane doesn’t remember a childhood. Her story is more about her survival in a warzone awash with alcohol.

“I know now that my mother had to beg for money to feed us, but there were always flagons. I never felt like a little girl, I was always worried about what would happen next. I was always trying to keep mum safe, keep my sister safe, keep myself safe.”

When Jane was in her teens her parents separated and her mother learned of the sexual abuse.
“She had a nervous breakdown, it was terrible.”

Again Jane picked up the pieces, setting a pattern she would carry into adulthood.

“All my life I’ve been trying to save people.”

But while Jane was trying to save others she was bent on a path of personal self-destruction. Not surprisingly she left school with few qualifications; she began binge drinking, developed eating disorders and formed a succession of unsuccessful relationships with men.

Two years ago Jane ended a violent relationship and was diagnosed with traumatic stress disorder; she thinks it is responsible for the panic attacks she has long suffered.

“It’s always been there, all my life that I can remember I just never had a name for it.”

Emotionally and physically battered and determined to turn her life around, she made contact with an abused women’s support group then Al-anon, a support group for family members whose lives have been blighted by alcoholism.

“There was no where else to go. Being raised by an alcoholic almost destroyed my life.

“I’m learning to put my needs ahead of others, I can’t save them but I can save myself.”
source: Ashburton Guardian,

No comments: