A good job. A lov­ing fam­ily. Of course I couldn’t be an al­co­holic

She crashed her sis­ter’s car, passed out on the kitchen floor and spent two nights in a po­lice cell. But SARA LAWRENCE still re­fused to ad­mit she had a prob­lem...

Scottish Daily Mail - - In­spire - by Sara Lawrence

The shout­ing sounds muf­fled, dis­tant. I think I’m in bed, dream­ing, un­til some­one starts shak­ing my shoul­der. My eyes open to re­veal a strange man lean­ing through the win­dow of my car. I’m at a weird an­gle and it takes a minute to re­alise I’m in a ditch on a coun­try lane near my par­ents’ house in the New For­est.

It takes an­other mo­ment to re­alise there’s vodka all over me and the seat, spilling out of the wa­ter bot­tle I filled be­fore I left. I can see our three fam­ily dogs in the rear-view mir­ror, look­ing as con­fused as I feel. It’s 10am and I’m sup­posed to be tak­ing them to the ken­nel be­fore head­ing to the air­port to join my par­ents on hol­i­day in France. I clam­ber out but am shak­ing so much I have to sit down. The man, a farmer, tries to move the car us­ing his trac­tor, but it won’t budge.

I can­not stay here stink­ing of booze with the car stuck and loose dogs ev­ery­where so call my brother be­fore some­one alerts the po­lice. The ex­quis­ite rage on his face when he ar­rives and re­alises I’m drunk again is not some­thing I’ll ever for­get. he screams at me the whole way to the ken­nel, then takes me to the air­port be­cause I ob­vi­ously can­not take my­self. Re­la­tions with my fam­ily are at an all-time low thanks to the in­creas­ing reg­u­lar­ity of in­ci­dents like this.

It’s Au­gust 2013. Three months be­fore, I had been asked to leave the lovely Lon­don flat I shared with a uni­ver­sity friend be­cause there were only so many times she could come home from work to find me passed out on the kitchen floor af­ter drink­ing all day. So at the age of 34, I had moved back in with my par­ents, de­ter­mined to sort my­self out.

But it’s not work­ing. The crash is my sec­ond in as many months. I to­talled my sis­ter’s car when I stole it to buy more al­co­hol. The keys to my car had been hid­den be­cause of my ex­treme drunk­en­ness.

In fact, over the past 12 months my be­hav­iour has been atro­cious. I’ve had phys­i­cal fights with whomever tried to stop me drink­ing, thrown vile in­sults around like con­fetti, and I am al­ways cov­ered in bruises with no idea why. I ruin ev­ery oc­ca­sion by turn­ing up drunk or not turn­ing up at all. I’m drink­ing as much as I can get my hands on — a litre of vodka or four bot­tles of wine per day is nor­mal — and the amount is in­creas­ing.

There are bot­tles stashed all over my par­ents’ house and gar­den. Yet still I’m in de­nial. even at this point of cri­sis and hu­mil­i­a­tion I truly be­lieve my drink­ing is a mat­ter of choice — that if I just try harder, I can stop.

And so, through­out the au­tumn of 2013, I throw my­self into it. I try hyp­no­sis, psy­chother­apy, med­i­ta­tion and an­tide­pres­sants. I do a boot camp, two yoga re­treats and count­less na­ture walks. And it works for a while — a few days here and there, oc­ca­sion­ally a white-knuckle week — but it doesn’t last and I plunge back into drink­ing.

Un­der pres­sure from my fam­ily, who clearly see what I can­not, I go to two meetings of Al­co­holics Anony­mous, but again I let my loved ones down. I refuse to ad­mit I’m one of the al­co­holics I sit with and leave, con­vinced, again, that I can still pull this back, get some con­trol over it.

Surely, I can go back to the days when my drink­ing was fun and didn’t stand out. Can’t I?

In­sane as it sounds, I gen­uinely be­lieved al­co­hol was a symp­tom of my prob­lem rather than the prob­lem it­self, never mind that I couldn’t iden­tify the elu­sive root is­sue. With my Roedean and Leeds Uni­ver­sity ed­u­ca­tion, ex­cit­ing ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist and travel writer fly­ing round the world for glossy mag­a­zines, and strong re­la­tion­ships (up un­til now any­way), I sim­ply didn’t fit my own pro­file of an al­co­holic. ex­cept that I do fit the pro­file. A 2015 re­port from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for eco­nomic Co-Oper­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment re­vealed that Bri­tain has pro­por­tion­ally more pro­fes­sional women drink­ing to dan­ger­ous lev­els than in other de­vel­oped coun­tries. An­other study showed that while gen­eral deaths from al­co­hol were fall­ing, among women in their 30s and 40s, they’re ris­ing.

I’m part of that first statistic. By Christ­mas 2013, my drink­ing had be­come not only an act of so­cial self­s­ab­o­tage, but also a se­ri­ous threat to my health. I tried and tried to rein it in — only drink­ing at par­ties, only with meals, not at home and never in the morn­ing. I read self-help books and thought I was cured, or did un­til I woke from the next bout of week­long, all-day obliv­ion-drink­ing.

AND it was ob­vi­ous to ev­ery­one wit­ness­ing the trauma of this reck­less, de­struc­tive, out-of­con­trol abuse that my lows were get­ting lower, faster. It was also ob­vi­ous that I couldn’t help my­self.

I woke up in po­lice cells — once in Lon­don, where I worked, and once in Lyming­ton in hamp­shire, where I grew up — with no idea why. The rock bot­toms in­volv­ing au­thor­i­ties were bad enough but it was the ones in­volv­ing my loved ones, cry­ing and beg­ging me to stop, that haunted me the most. The tra­jec­tory was set, the graph was trend­ing down­wards and the end re­sult would surely be death.

Thanks to a ‘quick one’ in the de­par­ture lounge bar on the day of the crash, on my way to France, I un­leashed even more chaos when I failed to get on the plane be­cause I was drunk in the air­port. To the dis­gust of my four sib­lings, my par­ents came home early from their much-needed break to find me in­co­her­ent in my child­hood bed­room, hav­ing been dropped home by yet an­other po­lice car.

That’s how I found my­self an in­mate at Clouds house re­hab in ru­ral Wilt­shire, sleep­ing in a dor­mi­tory with five peo­ple I didn’t like, sit­ting through long group ther­apy ses­sions that felt like the dystopian com­pe­ti­tion in The hunger Games — writ­ing end­less as­sign­ments about the ter­ri­ble things I’d done un­der the in­flu­ence, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­stant char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion.

In one ses­sion I was quizzed by a crack-ad­dicted sex worker with two black teeth about the neg­a­tive pat­terns in my ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships. In an­other I was told by a vi­o­lent crim­i­nal, who had spent more time in prison than out, that I was ‘hos­tile and ag­gres­sive’.

Clients weren’t al­lowed phones, toi­letries con­tain­ing al­co­hol (I’m not kid­ding when I say I would have drunk them), mir­rors or ra­zors. We had wake-up, bed and meal times, a rule book and ev­ery minute ac­counted for. There was a lot of smok­ing. It wasn’t un­like board­ing school but, where I’d loved school, I hated ev­ery minute of this. I fought

the sys­tem and my peers, threw tantrums and ar­gued con­stantly.

My favourite fel­low client, a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer who ar­rived straight from her drink-driv­ing court case, was kicked out for re­fus­ing to clean the kitchen. A com­pany di­rec­tor was sent home for procur­ing co­caine.

I wanted to leave but thought suf­fer­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence would get ev­ery­one off my back.

I might as well have taken the £10,000 it cost my par­ents and burnt it. I checked out three days be­fore Christ­mas 2013 and drank a bot­tle of wine that night, con­vinced that I was cured af­ter four weeks.

On Christ­mas Eve I bought two litres of vodka and don’t re­mem­ber any­thing un­til my brother and sis­ter de­canted me to a ho­tel on Box­ing Day with strict ‘this is it’ in­struc­tions to sober up. But there was a su­per­mar­ket down the road, so I don’t re­mem­ber the next few days ei­ther.

Check-in was a blur, but if the man­ager didn’t re­alise I was drunk, then she sure as hell knew about it by the time she asked me to leave be­cause I was ‘scar­ing chil­dren and old peo­ple’. Ap­par­ently, fam­i­lies head­ing out to Peppa Pig World don’t like it when blind-drunk girls fall down the stairs in front of them at 9am.

In the new year I crawled back to my un­der-siege par­ents, swear­ing I would go to AA and take it se­ri­ously. But I was still ly­ing, to my­self as much as them, which is pre­cisely what al­co­holics do.

Dur­ing the sum­mer of 2014 I was hos­pi­talised three times in two weeks. I drank so much at my friend’s house she found me un­con­scious in the bath­room and called an am­bu­lance.

I spent 36 hours at­tached to a drip at Southamp­ton Gen­eral hos­pi­tal. A week later I was taken out of Water­loo sta­tion on a stretcher to St Thomas’ hos­pi­tal af­ter drink­ing all day in­stead of get­ting a train home. Three days later the ex­act same thing hap­pened again. I fi­nally con­ceded I did not know best and asked for the help I spent so long re­fus­ing.

Check­ing into re­hab will­ingly was the best de­ci­sion I ever made and I spent 14 weeks at Fo­cus12 in Bury St Ed­munds in Suf­folk. This so­journ cost £750 a week, so was cheaper than Clouds, but still came in at £10,500. My par­ents stepped in again. (I have since paid them back.)

I lis­tened, learned and wanted to

Five years sober: Sara still goes to AA change. Cru­cially, I made the switch from be­liev­ing I was drink­ing be­cause I was un­happy to be­liev­ing I was un­happy be­cause I was drink­ing. I came to un­der­stand I would never con­trol my drink­ing or tri­umph in the war against my al­co­holism. I had to stop fight­ing — sur­ren­der to win. I left in Jan­u­ary 2015 know­ing un­equiv­o­cally that if I wanted a nice life it must in­volve a com­mit­ment to AA.

Newly sober, rid­dled with shame and guilt, I couldn’t imag­ine talk­ing openly about my sit­u­a­tion as I do to­day, let alone writ­ing an ar­ti­cle like this. I re­cently cel­e­brated five years of so­bri­ety and, given that I could barely go five min­utes without a drink at my worst, this feels like a mir­a­cle.

To­day, I’m proud rather than ashamed. Proud of how far I’ve come, but proud­est of those who didn’t give up on me when no sane per­son could have blamed them. Some did, of course, but I see now they did me a favour — know­ing who has really got your back is an ex­tra­or­di­nary gift.

The sim­ple idea that I had car­ing friends and fam­ily kept me from sink­ing when my new sober life felt like wad­ing through fast-set­ting con­crete. My dark and twisty jour­ney from rock-bot­tom drunk to grate­fully sober has also taught me it’s not what hap­pens that de­fines us, but how we re­spond.

KArEN TyrEll, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at drug and al­co­hol char­ity Ad­dac­tion, says most of us know some­one with an al­co­hol prob­lem: ‘It’s an is­sue that touches al­most ev­ery fam­ily in the UK. It’s really com­mon and def­i­nitely some­thing we all need to talk about.’

I cel­e­brated my 40th birth­day in Fe­bru­ary with a huge party at the Grou­cho Club. This was the scene of much of my drink­ing, as it pro­gressed from party to prob­lem­atic, apoc­a­lyp­tic to al­co­holic — and when I was fresh out of re­hab, I couldn’t imag­ine hav­ing fun again or be­ing com­fort­able not drink­ing among drinkers. But I can and I did.

My sur­round­ings are the same but my men­tal­ity is dif­fer­ent. I al­ways used to think the grass was greener on the other side. Now I know the prob­lem was me.

The ini­tial ab­sence of in­sa­tiable crav­ing, as­ton­ish­ing enough when it hit half­way through that fi­nal re­hab visit, has mor­phed into a deep-rooted in­ten­tion not to take the first drink.

Al­co­holism is a killer dis­ease that tells you don’t have a prob­lem; that, more dan­ger­ously, what you’ve got is some sort of willpower fail­ure; that if you can get some con­trol, ev­ery­thing will be OK.

At least ten peo­ple I’ve met along this road are dead. Over­doses, sui­cides, a house fire (she passed out hold­ing a lit cig­a­rette), car crashes. The ways are end­less but the cause is the same.

re­gard­less of how long I stay sober, I be­lieve it’s al­ways wait­ing for me to for­get I’ve got it. I go to reg­u­lar AA meetings be­cause I need to re­mind my­self how hel­lish it is to be out there un­treated.

It was partly this which led me to write about my drink­ing. The re­sult is a mem­oir, It’s Five O’Clock Some­where. It was painful to write in parts, but re­mem­ber­ing the trauma is al­ways good for me and I hope might be use­ful for oth­ers.

It is also a love let­ter to my sup­port­ers and a mark of my grat­i­tude, which I try to make my main fo­cus these days. As a wise man at Clouds kept say­ing, grate­ful al­co­holics don’t re­lapse. I was in­ca­pable of hear­ing him then — but it’s loud and clear now.

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