Sam's story

“You promised me you wouldn’t drink anymore mummy”, were the words that finally made me want to change.  To say I was utterly devastated by these words will never properly describe the way I felt that morning.  I was totally beaten by a situation that was of my own making and I knew I had to change.

Two years previous to that I had woken up in hospital covered in blood with a broken nose, two black eyes and no recollection of what had happened to me.  I remember my sister coming to visit me and sitting on the end of my bed crying “Dad doesn’t want to know any more, he won’t be visiting you, Sam you’re an alcoholic, please stop doing this to yourself”.  My whole life was falling apart and I couldn’t see it. I would not accept that I had a problem, even though it was staring me in the face.  My denial was huge and because of it I would continue to drink for another two years, becoming ever closer to losing everything I had ever loved and known.

This is one example of how destructive my drinking had become, but to admit and accept that I had a drink problem was far too painful.  I would always use the excuse that because I had never drank in the mornings or every day, I couldn’t be an alcoholic.  I had two children, a husband, a mortgage and a job.  To me an alcoholic was someone who was homeless, who sat on a park bench drinking out of a bottle.  But there was to be no denying that my episodes of drunken behaviour were becoming more and more frequent. I would overstep boundaries and I would stay out all night not telling people where I’d been.  I would drink and drive and the worst of my behaviour was becoming physically and verbally abusive to my family and friends. The list of unacceptable and destructive behaviour is endless.  To admit in the first place that I had a problem was mentally something that I couldn’t come to terms        with.  To actually physically stop drinking was something different altogether. 

At first I believed that I would only drink at the weekends, or if it was mid-week I would allow myself just two glasses of wine and then stop.  At this stage of my drinking ‘stop’ was a word that had no meaning to me.  It was at this time I began to drink alone at night, so to the outside world I started to control my problem, but in reality I was just masking the bigger picture.   My behaviour was becoming erratic and unstable, the shame and guilt inside was torturing me, and I knew there was something mentally wrong with me and really felt totally isolated.  I would suffer with bouts of depression, staying in bed for days, becoming more and more detached.  Even when my therapist tried to persuade me that my depressive bouts might be related to my drinking, this was something that I just wouldn’t accept.  I felt by that time alcohol was keeping me sedated and in a strange way it was.  It was keeping my feelings of self-loathing and hatred controlled.  Even when my family tried to section me I wouldn’t surrender, I was terrified that I was losing my mind.  Deep inside I knew I had a drink problem but the thought of letting go of my crutch and not being able to drink for the rest of my life scared me even more.  My whole life was falling apart and I refused to look at it.

My moment of clarity came that morning when my beautiful little boy said those gut wrenching words to me.  To see the disappointment in his eyes, to see the pain and sorrow made something click inside, the game was up, I couldn’t go on like it anymore. I had to stop because I hated the person I’d become.  I needed to accept that I had a drink problem. I had avoided looking at the person I had become for a long time – I hated myself and I felt that I’d let myself and everybody down.  I was stuck in a circle of behaviour that I had no control over, feeling guilty and ashamed about how I was behaving.  So to stop these feelings I would turn to drink to give me temporary relief.  When I had eventually sobered up those dreadful feelings would rise up inside me once more.  So I’d start on my cycle again, hoping for a different result.  I had to recognise I was the only one who could stop my behaviour.  I had to be the person to bring around the change and stop. If I could do that and start to look at my problems I could be the person I wanted to be.

The first step I needed to take was to accept that I needed help because for far too long I thought I could do it alone.  I looked at asking for help as a weakness, that by letting my guard down people would see the scared and vulnerable person I had become.  By far the hardest part for me was acknowledging the guilt and shame that I was feeling- these two very powerful emotions were the ones that always led me back to a drink.  My guilty feelings made me withdraw from everybody who loved me.  I felt that I’d let everybody down and not lived up to their, or my expectations of how I should be.  To stop drinking I knew I had to give it my all, I was prepared to go to any lengths to get sober.  This is when I decided to approach AA for help.  To walk through the doors to my first meeting was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I sat at the back of the room and wouldn’t make eye contact with anybody.  I sat and cried, all I could think was, has it really come down to this, sitting in a smelly church hall surrounded by people hearing about how great it was not to drink anymore.  I hated every minute of it, I felt totally alone. 

In the meantime my GP referred me to ADAS where I was to visit on a weekly basis to have one-to-one sessions with a therapist.  I had been in and out of therapy since the age of sixteen and felt that in some way they had made things worse for me – I was fed up with talking about my childhood and how I felt.  Being taken back to the past and remembering how painful it all was, was something I just didn’t want to deal with.  To me it became much easier to shut the door, move on and pretend that I was happy with my life and that everything was great.  That was my biggest problem.

I had never been totally honest with myself and others around me.  For the first time ever I started to be truthful. I told my ADAS counsellor Ruth I wanted to stop drinking and proceeded to tell her about my life and what was going on for me.  I will always be grateful for the understanding and empathy Ruth showed me.  One week I’d shout and scream about how it was everybody else’s fault I’d ended up there, the next I’d sit and cry about the guilt and shame I felt.  Ruth made me look deep inside myself and accept that the problems were within me.  I had to let go of my old views that other people could change me, and that it all came down to me, my actions and the way I looked at the world. 

To bring around the change I so desperately wanted Ruth suggested I went back to AA to listen to the similarity and not the differences.  So I returned with a stronger need to stay sober, I wanted what they had, to live a peaceful sober life.  To realise that other people felt the same way as I did and that I wasn’t alone made me feel accepted.  To say the words “my name is Sam and I’m alcoholic” was a terrifying experience and to speak in front of people also filled me with dread, but doing so has been hugely beneficial to me. I have had to work extremely hard to accept and understand the person I am, it has not been an easy journey but it will be one that I’ll continue for the rest of my life.

For me change is a continuing process.  Becoming sober and living a sober life is the best thing I have ever done.  My life has become better because I‘ve become better, a better mother, partner, daughter, sister and friend.  My problems are still there but by being sober I am able to deal with them instead of hiding them under the influence of alcohol.  I no longer blame other people for my situation, or where I am in my life.  Just by writing this assignment shows me that I have changed.  To be in a class room learning a new skill is something that my alcoholic head would never have allowed me to achieve.  This makes me feel happy that I’m taking part in changing my own life; it gives me a sense of achievement.  I hope one day I will be able to help other people to see that there is a life after alcohol and it’s amazing!

Sam has remained sober for the past six years. She is now in her final year of training to become a qualified counsellor and is currently working at another charity.