What it was like for us - Pamela ’s story
A young professional woman’s story about her battle with alcoholism
I was born into a normal, stable family in a South Wales city, the middle child of three. I was a bright and happy child but shy and fearful of new situations, for no reason I have ever been able to work out, finally putting it down to just being part of my personality.
I felt overwhelmed by life
As I became a teenager, all these feelings were amplified, I felt overwhelmed by life and very small in a big, busy and noisy world. I was shy around boys and awkward in social situations, but alcohol changed all that for me, it became the answer to my feelings of shyness and of not feeling good enough. With a drink inside me, I felt I could dance, chat boys up, be funny, basically do anything. It gave me confidence and made me believe in myself. It also represented a passageway to adulthood. I desperately wanted to grow up because I thought adults had no fear and that becoming an adult would remove all my doubts, anxiety and confusion. My grades dropped slightly as my teen years went on but I got into college, though only lasted a year.
I was drinking pints of beer whilst other girls were drinking lime and soda
It was at this English college that I experienced, for the first time, people who didn't drink like me. I was drinking pints of beer whilst the other girls were drinking lime and soda, I honestly believed this was because I was Welsh, that I was a seasoned drinker at the age of 18. At the end of the first year, I was kicked out and went travelling. Returning home, I went back to college and then got a job in an industry where drinking is part and parcel of the everyday working life. It was also an industry where you moved jobs a lot and therefore moved towns and cities, every time having to start afresh, meet new people and make a life, a nomadic existence which continued until I was 29. I knew in my early twenties I was a heavy drinker but thought I would grow out of it, would settle down, get married, or just change.
I was looking to external things to help fix me
In hindsight, I was subconsciously looking to external things to help fix me, the hole inside me, whether it was a job, a boyfriend, a new city, new friends, new clothes, a car, holidays, anything. By my late twenties I knew I had a problem with alcohol, but thought that this ‘problem’ was a very different thing to being an alcoholic. I had also settled in the city I still live in, having grown tired of moving around.
I got a good job with a prestigious company and later met a man, who I fell in love with and thought I would spend the rest of my life with. He was a heavy social drinker and big party animal, it was then that the all night parties began, which at first scared me. However, I didn't walk away from it and I often think that if I hadn’t been an alcoholic, maybe I would have. There were a lot of us who would party all night, which normalised it. Everyone kept their jobs and their homes, so it had to be ok, it was the modern world - work hard, play hard, we deserved it. We all worked in creative industries, so I thought it was bohemian and romantic.
I started to suffer from anxiety
Drugs had also been a part of my world since my teens, though I had a healthy respect and fear for drugs and mainly used ones like speed and cocaine, which enabled me to drink for longer.
The cracks were starting to show however. I would get upset when drunk and started to suffer from anxiety and horrendous hangovers. Everything changed in the early 2000s when I was attacked in the street by a stranger. I took it very badly and was sent to see a psychiatrist, who put me on anti-depressants. Despite the warning on the package clearly stating patients were not to drink on this medication, my psychiatrist said I could have one or two.
And then the blackouts started
Most of the time, I only meant to have one or two, but continued to drink as heavily as before and then the blackouts started. These blackouts were not a case of not remembering going to bed. They could be hours within an evening that I was not present at, even though to everyone around me, it seemed though I was awake and with it. In these black-outs I became a completely different person to the one I normally was, a complete opposite – abusive, violent or overtly sexual, things I would never be when sober. I behaved horrendously in these blackouts and would come to in the middle of an argument. It’s a bit like waking up from a deep sleep but you are in the middle of a fairly serious situation.
I managed to buy a house I couldn’t afford
I would try to stop drinking intermittently, lasting anything from a day to five weeks. My life began to slowly fall apart from this point, signalling the beginning of three painful and difficult years. My relationship fell apart and I moved out. Deeply in debt, I managed to buy a house I couldn’t afford by the skin of my teeth and got deeper and deeper into debt. It was around this time, I first went to an AA meeting, but decided it wasn't for me as I didn’t want to be an alcoholic (who does?) but what it tells me now is that I still hadn’t had enough.
I was then asked to take redundancy, which I agreed to because I thought the change might be good for me, a new job would make me focus but my employer let it drift. I sat at home waiting for my cheque but no longer had eight hours of work to take my mind off me. I also used work to make me think everything was ok and invested too much of my sense of identity in it, so felt even more lost when faced with this ‘constant’ in my life disappearing. For six months I sat at home, waiting and trying to fill my days so I could put off the first drink as long as possible. I became frightened and scared of me, I couldn’t bear silence, had TVs and radios on all the time, even when I went to sleep, I had to have the light on all the time and lived with a constant sense of fear about nothing in particular.
No one takes a crying, drunk woman seriously
I completely lost interest in people and in myself, I felt like there was a glass wall between me and the rest of life and could only feel or express any feelings when drunk. No-one takes a crying drunk woman seriously.
I decided to come off the anti-depressants, partly thinking they were to blame for my drinking and partly to exert some control over my life. I had side effects of claustrophobia and insomnia and one night, unable to sleep went out in the car and was arrested for drink driving. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. The following day, I was let out of the cells and back home, in bed, I looked out of window and realised I couldn't do this anymore. I’d had enough, the game was up, I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it.
There could be no excuse, I would have to look at me
I was incredibly lucky with my recovery as I still had my friends and family in my life, as well as an understanding employer, who all rallied round. I went to a treatment centre, which was what I needed, there could be no excuses and I would have to look at me and what was happening. It was one of the most exhausting times of my life but whilst there, something clicked. When I came out 28 days later, I headed straight for AA because I didn’t know how to live without alcohol, I found the prospect of how to live a sober life overwhelming. The AA I went to looked like a different place to the one I had been to before, but the only thing that had changed was my attitude. My eyes had opened and I saw smiling happy, people with clear eyes and clean clothes.
I have found the most amazing friends
It was the first time in years I’d heard proper laughing that wasn’t fuelled by alcohol. I saw young women there and young people and I saw people with a serenity and a peace that I wanted and realised I had wanted for a very long time.
I went every day for five months and then returned to work, I know that without AA, I would have drunk again in my first week in work. But AA had taught me that the only person’s behaviour I could change was my own.
It wasn’t the only thing that AA has taught me and the changes in me have been so subtle I don’t notice them until much later. My attitude has changed enormously, I have grown up more in the last three years than in any of my previous years. I accept life on life’s terms these days but am free to make any changes I want. I take responsibility for my actions and tend to keep my mouth shut these days as invariably most things are nothing to do for me. I am also learning to stand up for myself and value myself, I accept other people as they are because I want them to accept me as I am. I have found the most amazing friends through the fellowship and truly understand the meaning of the word fellowship, with people who care about me and how I feel, who don’t judge me but understand me and try to help me.
I always believed there was something out there that couldn’t be defined by man
In terms of spirituality, I have never been religious but have had no problem with the concept of a Higher Power as I always believed there was something out there that couldn’t be defined by man. I do my best nowadays as oppose to trying to be ‘The Best’ and see what results come back, the relief of not thinking everything is down to me is wonderful. I deal with life nowadays, as oppose to hiding from it or barely coping with it. Life can be dull, mundane and hard but that is the case for everyone and was what I found so hard to face before. I confused pleasure with happiness and constantly tried to change the way I felt, where nowadays I accept how I feel – no matter how childish or self-pitying it maybe – as it’s the only way to let these feelings go. Feelings won’t kill me but drinking will.
I am giving myself the chance to have the best possible life
By exchanging alcohol for the twelve-step programme, I have discovered so much about myself and in the process become a better friend, daughter and sister. I am also giving myself the chance to have the best possible life I can and be the best possible me there is. And that is down to AA and the people in it. I still go to AA regularly and plan to for the rest of my life, because it centres me and gives me perspective, without AA, I might forget I am an alcoholic and pick up a drink again and if I do that, I might never put it back down and lose everything in a slow, degrading and painful death. I’m not prepared to take that chance.