My Son is Different

This morning I FaceTimed my son to see how he was enjoying his Easter break away with his father (my ex).  They have gone interstate, to a car show — an event that I had always insisted neither of my children would ever attend.  But this year, a little boy, desperate to spend as much time with his father as possible, nagged me into allowing him to go.  After our FaceTime conversation, I have realised that my initial feelings towards this event (and others like it), were founded.

‘How’s your holiday going, mate?’ I asked him.  ‘Yeah good’, he replied — with the usual enthusiasm of a ten year old whose mother is invading his play time.  ‘What did you do last night?’ I asked.  ‘I was doing shots of lemonade at the bar’, was his reply.  Mortified at his response, I frowned and asked ‘you were doing what?‘  ‘I got to do shots of lemonade at the bar’ he answered defiantly.  My jaw dropped and I hustled to get myself together, trying not to react to his statement.  He could see I was annoyed and flippantly said ‘yeah, so what?’ in reaction to my disapproving facial expression.  I quickly changed the subject as my stomach churned with anxiety and a sudden desire to vomit.  I smiled and wished him a happy day ahead before ending the call and sitting in silence, appalled by what I had just heard.  So what?  I hear you ask, as you read this, because I know that this story will bring ridicule and accusations of over-sensitivity, or prudishness.  It will have you calling me a ‘goody-goody’ or ‘uptight’.  You will think I should ‘let it go’ or ‘loosen up’.  Maybe you see no issue with what I heard this morning.  Maybe you let your kids do this exact same thing, while you’re all enjoying your drinks while on holidays.  But you see, this is different because this is my son.  And my son, is the son of an alcoholic.

For nearly three decades, I abused alcohol.  For nearly three decades, I put my health and my life on the line.  For nearly three decades, I suffered physical injuries after excessive drinking, including broken bones, massive facial injuries, alcohol poisoning and more.  For nearly three decades, I put myself into situations that could have ended my life.  I passed out in my own vomit, I passed out in bath tubs, I woke up in places I don’t recall even going to, with people I had no recollection of meeting.  I risked the lives of those around me by behaving in a way that could have hurt so many.  For nearly three decades, I lived in hell.    So before you call me prudish or tell me that I’m being over-sensitive, you need to realise that for my son, this is different.   My son is both genetically and environmentally predisposed to going down this exact same path, and for my son, I want things to be different.

Growing up in my family, my Mum rarely drank and my Dad would have a couple of beers at night, which seemed pretty normal to me.  I don’t recall ever seeing Mum drunk and Dad would only get tipsy and giggly at social events like Christmas or Grand Final Day or perhaps when we were away on holidays.  So even though alcohol wasn’t abused in my family, it was definitely a ‘normal’ part of life.  After work you drank beer, at Christmas you opened bottles of wine.  At parties there were buckets of ice, filled with alcohol that people helped themselves to and on holidays, drinking beer at lunchtime was normal.  So when I was given a chance to experiment with alcohol, in a ‘safe environment’ as a teen, nobody gave it a second thought.  What they didn’t realise (and couldn’t have, as I was adopted), was that given my genetic loading, with 3 previous generations (at least) comprising of multiple cases of alcoholism, that early experimentation with alcohol would lead to me living in the grips of addiction for more than half of my life.

Statistically, according to the British Journal of Pharmacology, relatives of alcoholics, are four times more likely to develop alcohol and addiction issues.   Other research shows that genetics can be responsible for about half the risk of a person developing alcoholism and other addiction issues, with the remainder of the determining factors coming from genetic and environmental interaction as well as environment, itself.  Environment, role modelling and how we see our peers and parents behaving, most certainly plays a huge role in how we develop our relationship with alcohol as we grow.  The importance of what adolescents see as ‘normal’ has been shown to have more of an impact on their behaviours than peer pressure.  So what do you want your children to think is ‘normal’?  I certainly don’t want my son thinking that standing around a a bar sinking shots and getting shit-faced is something that should be considered ‘normal’.  And if he’s pretending to do shots at ten years of age, what exactly will he be doing at fifteen?  Medical research also shows that early initiation to alcohol may adversely impact on brain development as well as leading to mental and physical health issues in adulthood.  However, while I’m on my statistical soapbox, evidence also shows that any alcohol use by parents will almost certainly increase the chances of children experimenting with alcohol and while moderate alcohol use (such as a wine over dinner, or for a celebration etc) may not carry great risk, a child witnessing problematic drinking by a parent, will almost certainly increase the risk for that child.

Alcohol is linked to 5,000 deaths and over 150,000 hospitalisations each year in Australia.    Yet we continue to condone it’s use, misuse and abuse with tens of thousands of Australians misusing alcohol each and every day.  Methamphetamine related deaths pale in comparison with statistics showing that in 2017, a total of 280 deaths were caused by ice use.  The media has positioned the use of illicit drugs in such a way that as a society, we see alcohol as less of a risk than say, ice.  In this way, we see no problem in the daily misuse and abuse of alcohol, in our homes, in public and in front of our children who learn from us, not by what we say but by what we do.  We are relieved when people (potentially, our children’) are ‘only drunk’ because at least they’re not using ice.  We, as a society, laugh about drunken injuries and mishaps, seeing it as no issue and just part of life.  In the three plus years I’ve been sober, I’ve realised just how problematic and far reaching this issue is and frankly, it is mortifying.  

I don’t care if I come across as ‘prudish’, ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘uptight’.  Nor do I care if you disagree with the way I view alcohol or the fact that I will do whatever it takes to prevent my children from experimenting with it before the age of 18, because the thing is, most of you reading this are lucky enough never to have lived with addiction.  For me, the only thing worse than having gone through the hell that I have endured, would be to see one of my children going through the same thing.  What if they aren’t as lucky as I was — and it was pure luck — and they don’t wake up after passing out in their own vomit.  What if they DO injure or kill themselves, or someone else, while driving under the influence?  What if someone hurts them because they have made a poor decision about the people they decide to go home with?  What if they die?

My son already has the odds stacked against him, so forgive me for not finding it even remotely amusing when adults are encouraging the ten year old son of an alcoholic (or any child, for that matter) to do ‘shots of lemonade’ at a bar.

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Where Were You?

I’m not entirely sure why I’m sitting here, ruminating about this and getting so upset but I am, so I’m writing.

In Sydney last week, something really struck me.  Every single one of the women I met, who had various alcohol issues, had stories of partners who had, at one point or another, made comment on their drinking habits or tried to stop them.  One beautiful woman had her husband sitting in the audience, watching on, as proud as proud could be.  In her comments on the program and then again in private, it was evident of the love they shared and the absolute commitment her husband had shown when she was in active addiction and then in recovery.  Another lady spoke of how her husband would suggest she’d had enough to drink and the story was pretty much the same across the board.  All of these stories got me thinking about my own situation.

When I met my Exhole, I was the life of the party and he would happily join me.  The girl who could out-drink anyone — men or women — and was always a laugh a minute.  He’d come down from Melbourne to stay with me on the coast every weekend.  He’d bring flowers and grog and we’d get shit-faced for the entirety of his stay.  If I ran out of grog, he’d get me more.  If I had no money, he’d pay for it.  If I fell over drunk, he’d pick me up.  When I behaved badly, he fobbed it off.  When I was unable to recollect the night before, he’d happily fill me in so I didn’t look stupid in front of our friends.  What a fucking legend, right?  A guy who would do whatever I want, whenever I want and doesn’t care if I mouth off all fall down drunk.  A guy who doesn’t care that I’m far from thin, broke and completely out of control.  What more could I ask for?

As the years went by and I neared the end of my drinking, I would often make promises to myself about how or when I would drink.  The greatest challenge for me was to stay sober on a Friday night.  If I could achieve that, I could achieve anything (so I thought)! Every day on his way home from work, my Exhole would call and ask if I needed anything.  Wine or groceries but mainly wine.  Frequently, especially on a Friday, he’d call and I’d say ‘no, I’m not going to drink tonight’.  ‘Are you sure?’ he would reply.  ‘Yes, I’m going to try not to drink’ I would say.  ‘I’m happy to get you wine, I don’t mind‘, he would again reply.  If I managed to stay strong and not give in to his offer, I’d more often than not get to about 8.30pm and say ‘I wish I’d got wine’.  On more than one occasion, he’d jump out of his chair and exclaim ‘don’t worry, bought you some, it’s in the car’.  At the time, I thought this was loving, thoughtful and kind but a couple of years with a clear head and I realise it wasn’t at all, it was enabling.

I recall hungover days where I’d call friends and shamefully explain the events of the night before.  Nights where I’d fallen and torn ligaments, the night I had tripped over backwards and subsequently broken my ankle, the night I’d consumed well over a cask of wine and couldn’t remember a thing.  In my mind, my confessions were a cry for help.  I mean, if someone came to me and relayed the same stories, I would be asking if they were okay.  But I was met with giggles and flippant responses of ‘oh Kate, you’re hilarious’ or ‘we all do silly things when we drink’.  But how many silly things do you need to do before someone steps in and tries to help you?  How many times do you need to reach out for help before someone realises your behaviour is out of control?  How many times do you have to relay horrific stories before someone stops laughing at your antics and points out that this sort of behaviour isn’t ‘normal’?  I don’t want this coming across as hateful, because I have so many beautiful friends around me, all of whom I love dearly, and perhaps they just didn’t realise the enormity of the situation.  However, my Exhole was living with it.  He saw the falls, he witnessed the behaviours, he drove me to the emergency room, he knew EXACTLY what was going on, yet he didn’t say a word.

Despite him ceasing to drink around me when I decided to stop (for which I am grateful), on my hundredth day sober, he turned to me and said, ‘you’ve changed.  You used to be so much fun.  You used to drink and know how to have a good time.  Now you’re just boring’.  After I recovered from the shock of what I had just heard, I questioned him briefly.  ‘I’m not able to get up for our kids in the mornings.  I’m driving to school, probably still over the limit from the night before.  I’m wetting the bed most nights.  I can’t function any more.  If I don’t stop, I’m going to die.  I’m scared.  Aren’t you worried about this?’  His response was, ‘I really don’t see a problem’.  That was the day I asked him to leave.

So after listening to the stories of the other women in Sydney last week, I’m feeling sad, disappointed and angry.  Where was he when I needed help?  Where were the people who cared, reaching out to have that uncomfortable conversation with me?  Why were people laughing at these ever increasing behaviours and fobbing them off as funny, or silly.  I know my Mum (and probably Dad) were extremely worried about my drinking and my health but I’m not sure they knew exactly how bad it was.  I hid a lot from them, for many years, not wanting them to worry.  I wish I had reached out and been honest with them earlier.  As it turned out, only one woman, who I hadn’t known for all that long, actually sat me down and asked, ‘are you an alcoholic?’  I openly said ‘yes, yes I am‘.  So I’m sitting here today, wondering why it isn’t like in the movies where people stage interventions, pin down their loved ones and insist they go into rehab immediately.  Why wasn’t my Exhole worried that I was killing myself?  In fact, I just sent him a text and asked him that exact question.  His reply was ‘Kate, I could never help you with your drinking, you are the type of person if I told you to stop drinking you would drink twice as much, it happened when you realised you had to…’  Why didn’t he even try?

I know my sadness and anger are superfluous but to quote the saying I detest the most, ‘it is what it is’.  I guess, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter that nobody reached out to me and the important thing is, I came to rock bottom, completely and utterly broken and desperate, all by myself.  I reached out for help, all by myself and although my recovery is mine alone, I have support around me to keep me going.  My family, friends and colleagues all know my story and support my recovery as much as they possibly can and for that, I am eternally grateful.  Dwelling on what could have been is pointless and getting it out of my head by writing it here, certainly lifts the weight a little.

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug issues, please contact your GP or reach out to the wonderful people at Alcoholic’s Anonymous Australia or Narcotics Anonymous Australia and please remember, you are not alone.

The Longest Shower

Yesterday I flew up to Sydney to appear on the SBS program, Insight.  The segment was titled ‘Wine O’Clock’ — about women who drink.  Specifically, it was around women in their forties and older whose drinking (in our society) appears to be on the rise.  It was an interesting experience, listening to women with varying drinking habits, from a few drinks a night to full blown alcoholics — such as myself.  At one point, the host, Jenny, asked one of the ladies if they thought about alcohol, during the day, before they started drinking.  I was instantly reminded of the relief I felt as my recovery moved past the early stages and became less painful, when I realised my head was filled less and less with the conversations I used to have with myself about alcohol.

Mornings were usually the same.  Wake up with my head throbbing, unable to open my eyes, desperately trying to recollect the night before.  What had I done?  Who had I called?  Had there been an argument?  Had I broken anything (including myself)?  Had I slept in the same bed as my partner or was he in the spare room?  Questions came flooding into my mind as the anxiety built in my churning gut, before I could even contemplate facing daylight.  Once my eyes were open, I waited for my head to catch up and then into the shower.  That’s where the conversations started.  Every morning, while the water poured over my head, I would berate myself for yet again, fucking up.  Even if the evening before had been non-eventful, I had still fucked up.  I’d had a drink, or perhaps even 18.  I’d been so drunk that I’d passed out and was now struggling to remember kissing my sleeping children goodnight or getting myself into my pyjamas, if I’d even bothered.

Pounding head and the sharpness of the water falling over me, while I argued and promised and cried, criticising myself for not being stronger.  ‘You’re fucking disgusting.  You’re a shitty mother.  Your children deserve way better than you.  You’re ugly.  You’re fat.  You’d be better off dead.’  That was the usual gist of the morning conversations in my shower.  Eyes closed, tears pouring down my face, the sound of the water running, preventing anyone from hearing my pain.  It felt like hours that I’d stand there, tearing myself to shreds, knowing that inevitably, I’d have to turn off that water and step into the reality of the day.  Promises were made under the purity of fresh water, only to be broken over and over again.  Each day bringing with it a new set of arguments, a new mass of scorching self-accusations and an even deeper, darker desperation.  I’d do my daily routine, usually feeling hideous both physically and mentally and as the day went on, the next conversation would start.  ‘I’m not going to drink tonight.  Look at what happened last night.  Remember how fucking awful you felt this morning?  You can do this’.   As the hours went by, and the night before grew less and less vivid, the conversations again changed.  ‘Okay, so maybe tonight I’ll just have one bottle (as if that was okay!).  I’ll definitely not drink more than 2 bottles and I’ll go to bed before 10pm.  If I start drinking about 5, I should have finished by then and it’ll be too late to go to the bottle shop for more.  If I’m in bed by 10pm, I shouldn’t feel sick in the morning.  That way I won’t be driving to school hungover… Yes, I’ll just do that’.  

Insanity.  Complete and utter fucking insanity.  By the end of my drinking, this was my daily routine.  Starting the day filled with regret, shame and contempt for this person I had become, followed by hours of negotiating with my inner demon, rationalising the reasons for repeating the same thing, night after night after night.  In the rooms of AA, they talk about the insanity of alcoholism and addiction.  This is it.  How could any sane person, living free from addiction, possibly think this was normal and repeat it daily, FOR YEARS?

The entirety of my days were filled with these conversations.  Not an hour would go by where I wasn’t either living in regret, censuring myself or revelling in the task of buying and consuming the poison that was slowly but surely, destroying my life.  Looking back now, with just under 1000 days sober (yes, I count them), I realise just how freeing sobriety is, if in no other way but this.  The hours in my day are now mine, to do with as I please, to expend on thoughts, feelings and actions which bring with them positivity, inspiration and a movement in the direction of a life that is authentic and clear.  My time in hell is over — but I am ever mindful that the darkness is only one fuck up away.  Being surrounded by people whose stories are not unlike my own only reinforces that.  One day at a time, always.

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug issues, please contact your GP or reach out to the wonderful people at Alcoholic’s Anonymous Australia or Narcotics Anonymous Australia and please remember, you are not alone.

 

Saying Goodbye

Goodbyes are hard and I’m feeling sad — again.  Two days in a row now, not my best week.

My Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) worker went on placement as part of his further studies back in May and at that point, we kind of ‘broke up’.  I had been sober nearly two and a half years and really, unless I was at risk of lapsing, his time was going to be better spent with others who needed him more.  In saying that, although my file was officially ‘closed’, the option to come back in and see him at any time after his placement finished, was always there.  This week, he returned and we decided that a ‘maintenance and follow up’ appointment would be appropriate — even though we probably only wanted to catch up for a coffee.  What I didn’t realise was that this would most likely be the last time we’d sit together at the community health centre, because he’s moving on.

I started working with J in November of 2014, when I was still drinking heavily.  When he first contacted me for an intake interview, I remember thinking I wouldn’t like him much.  He sounded flippant and rushed and I couldn’t possibly imagine having any sort of connection with him but that changed the day I walked into his office.  From day one, I felt free with him, able to talk, to share, to be honest, without fear of judgement.  During that first appointment, he drew me a diagram of a little boat holding two people, going back and forth between two shores. He said that he and I were in that boat together and that our journey would continue back and forth across the water until one day, I was ready to get out of the boat and continue my journey without him.  I was always working towards moving on alone but never really imagined my world without him.  

Maybe this sounds dramatic to some.  I mean, it’s not like either of us are dying but to me, he is and always will be, one of the most important and impactful people in my life, no matter what the future holds.  He gave me hope, courage, strength and a safe place to talk about my darkest thoughts.  He stood by my side during the breakdown of my relationship and guided me through hideous amounts of stress and uncertainty when my life would have otherwise fallen apart.  He listened to my parenting woes and supported me as a mother and as a woman in recovery.  He shared with me some of his own amazing life experiences and inspirations and fuelled the fire within me to choose the path I have taken into the world of social work.  He lifted me up when others knocked me down and never once doubted my ability to get sober, get my life back on track and be the best person and mother I could possibly be.

I know that people change and move on and I know that his time has come to do just that.  The path he is taking is beyond courageous — choosing to work with people at the end of their days — and to be honest, if it were my time to close my eyes forever, I could think of nobody else I would rather have by my side, guiding me to the end of the journey that is life.  There are no words to describe how thankful I am for the impact he has had on my life, which is beyond frustrating.  But how could I possibly thank someone who literally saved my fucking life?  My post feels tenuous in comparison to the emotions flooding through me today and perhaps I’ll need to come back and add more to it when I feel able.  But for now, I’m going to sit with the sadness and revel in the world around me, which would be vastly different if it weren’t for this remarkable, kind man.

Love at First Sight

16559284_10158209868205181_568654128_nI remember the day, the very first day I fell in love.  My very first, true love.  I was 14 years old, it was my Dad’s 50th birthday party and it hit me like a freight train.

I was standing in the front garden at home (pictured), dressed in my new shirt and wide legged pants which had been purchased especially for the occasion and this feeling just swept across me, like a wave of relief, a beautiful, peaceful, numbing wave of instant, intense love.

I imagine Mum and Dad had let me have some champagne, a little bit, just to celebrate Dad’s birthday.  They were not big drinkers and were always cautious when letting me have ‘a sip’ but on special occasions, there was always wine, champagne and beer in the house for friends and it was easily accessible.  Why wouldn’t it be?  I don’t suppose they ever thought their teenage daughter would be taking advantage of the situation!

Christmases, birthdays, Grand Final Day and the like were always a fun time in our house.  Friends and family would gather and laughter and excitement would ensue.  There was always plenty of food and a well stocked esky or laundry sink filled with ice and grog.  From the day I fell in love, these days were even more exciting for me.  You see, from the day I fell in love, my focus shifted.  It shifted from normal teenage things to wondering when I could be with my new found love and escape from my reality.

An escape from reality was certainly what it was.  Suddenly I was no longer fat and ugly or the girl who’d never kissed a boy — suddenly, I was beautiful, creative, thinking deeply and FREE.  Suddenly, the pain of teenage angst mixed with undiagnosed depression, was gone.  Suddenly, I had found a way to live.  On that day, in 1989, I remember making a conscious decision that this new found love must become a permanent fixture in my life.  Oddly, 20 something years later, I remember the moment vividly.  It was an epiphany.  This was IT.  I had found the remedy, I had found an out, I had something that nobody else could possibly understand and I had no intention of letting it go.

For 26 years, I didn’t.

 

If you are struggling with alcohol or drug issues, please contact your GP or reach out to the wonderful people at Alcoholic’s Anonymous Australia or Narcotics Anonymous Australia and please remember, you are not alone.