My days become Groundhog Day.
I wake up, worry, drink and pass out. Wake up, worry, repeat… Everything else is a blur.
I no longer have “good” days. Now that Bear is gone they range from “numb”, “repetitive” to “really, truly, awfully shit.”
I’m struggling to function. Getting out of my head is all that I care about now, and it’s starting to take its toll on me.
My hair is matted and is starting to break. I run my fingers through to comb it but then start to pull it out instead. It’s not intentional; I was trying to make it look better. Instead I make myself look a million times worse.
I rarely eat.
I don’t have an appetite, and the more that I drink, the less able I am to keep anything down anyway. My clothes fall off me. I go from size 8 to size zero in weeks, barely noticing … getting drunk is all that I care about.
I check my reflection in the ladies. A hollow-eyed tramp stares back at me. For a second I think that there’s someone behind me, until finally I realise … the hollow-eyed tramp is me.
I head back into the bar and drink until I’m asked to leave. I should be embarrassed by this but I’m not. It happens a lot. I’m used to it now. I fall down the stairs as I try to leave. I don’t remember where I sleep.
The days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months.
I collect bruises and breaks like old ladies collect china. My head is full of white noise and a million shitty encounters.
“Friends” start to avoid me. I see one cross the street – pretend to be engrossed in some tatty old window display, blatantly willing me not to see her. It’s fine. She was never truly my friend anyway, but that’s another story…
I resist the urge to go over and tap her on the shoulder, just to see the look on her face. But I’m starting to withdraw. I don’t have those 30 seconds to spare. The off-licence beckons. She gets a reprieve.
I wonder what they think of me. The guys behind the counter, as I hand over some small change and head back out with my booty. The thought lingers for a second, but then I crack open a can and forget what I was thinking about.
I start to fall down a lot damaging my ribs, my face, my coccyx and my knee. I tell myself that I really need to steer clear of stairs. But then I fall off a kerb and hit my face on the pavement. I can’t steer clear of pavements, too. How would I get to the pub?
I tell myself to be more careful and nurse a black eye for weeks.
I go to my doctor and ask him for help. He tells me that he’s unsure as to what to do. That he took an oath to “do no harm” and that addiction is not a field that he’s familiar with. He doesn’t want to make things worse, he says. What he is telling me basically, is that he is not the guy to help me today.
I thank him for his time, Google the medications that I think I might need, go back to the doctors and get a prescription. Then I pick up my meds, attempt to guess the quantities and I try to do a home detox.
The tablets calm me. I think that this might work. But then I crack open a can and drink that as well swiftly followed by another, then another, until all of my cans are gone.
I morph into a zombie.
This is not going to work.
My life is a car-crash. I’m now running solely on alcohol and prescription drugs.
The man that I am involved with is vile.
He’s an alcoholic, too. One who doesn’t like women very much, as I quickly find out to my cost.
Our “relationship” involves him shouting, me crying, constant gas-lighting, total head-fuckery, and more than a smattering of cruelty and violence.
I hate him.
But I have nowhere else to go by now. My head is full of alphabet-spaghetti and I am totally reliant on him.
The penny starts to drop as he attempts to drag me up the stairs by my neck. As I manage to break free and make my escape, the thought crosses my mind that I really can’t keep living like this.
If the alcohol doesn’t kill me, then maybe this guy will. I think that he’d enjoy it.
The thought terrifies me.
It’s the wake-up call I need.
I pluck up some courage, walk shakily into a meeting and I beg the staff there to help me.
They take one look at my broken, emaciated frame and start the paperwork immediately.
They are throwing me a life-line.
I’m going into detox …
There are four main colours of people in here...Ashen, grey, yellow and orange. I'm one of the grey ones. Which means, that in the big scheme of things, I am luckier than most.
My friends Karl and Sam are variations of yellow. Both still in their twenties, their livers wrecked in a couple of years by drinking too much cheap sherry and cider. Sam is in a wheelchair when we meet. Liver failure is taking its toll...
Detox is harrowing, humbling and an absolute Godsend. In here I am cushioned from the madness outside that used to be my life. In here I can breathe. I feel safe.
I do everything the staff tell me to do to the absolute letter. I want to get well again as quickly as possible and I will do anything to achieve that. Obeying rules and sticking to the program comes before anything. I keep my head down and my nose clean, making sure that nothing and nobody sways me.
I take my meds, go to classes and try and learn new things. The girls in here help me to comb out my dreadlocks. I get my appetite back, endure vitamin injections and gradually I begin to put on some weight.
I read, pray, meditate. Sleep, do yoga, make jewellery. I make two tiny little figures out of clay and put them on my windowsill. They cheer me up when I see them.
There are 24 hours in my days these days. Without alcohol to blur the edges, I have a lot of time to fill. I make sure that I use it wisely.
I am focussed. Determined. “A woman on a mission”. Completely unrecognisable from the dishevelled, 6 stone scrap of nothing that was me when I got here barely two weeks ago. I am starting to look like a human again.
The other guys look up to me. They ask me what my secret is. I tell them that there is no secret. I just don't want to die.
It's a good motivation to get well. Several others follow my lead. A couple more make a break for it and climb over the wall. It hits us all hard when we realise that they've gone.
You get attached in here, form bonds, try and be strong for each other. Days like today are grim and a stark reminder that this could be any one of us if we take our eye off the ball for a second.
We are all new to this. Fragile. We need to remember that we are all in here for a reason...mainly because we have an addiction that wants us all dead. Going over the wall will speed up that process. I stay where I am... I am choosing to live.
A new girl is admitted. She OD's that night in her room. We all look on in horror as staff try to resuscitate her whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
They bang on a door that no-one can open because the staff with the lanyards are desperately trying to save her life. I run into her room and announce that they are here. I try not to look at her face.
They wheel her away on a stretcher. There is a coat over her head. It's a horrible night for us all and a stark reminder of what we are up against.
I take this as a warning and work as hard as I can every day. When it's an uphill struggle I think about Bear. When I start to lose focus, thinking of him keeps me going and I get myself back on track again.
I go to meetings twice a week. AA and NA. Although not compulsory, the staff encourage us to go. I give them a try, but they don't really resonate. I prefer to tackle this in my own way. I'm determined to get my normality back the best way I know how and meetings on the outside are not part of my plan. I prefer to push my way forward alone. When I finally get out of treatment, it will be down to me anyway to keep myself on track. I'm fully aware of that...I'm just starting early.
In treatment I am picked apart, broken down, and then finally rebuilt. When I emerge from rehab 4 months later, I am older, wiser and, most importantly, sober.
There is no doubt in my mind that this has saved my life. I feel cleansed, renewed, reborn...I never want to drink again.
I move into a homeless hostel.
The walls are like rice paper, there are holes in the wall and the door has clearly come away from the doorframe on more than one occasion, but it's a roof over my head and somewhere to sleep. I am grateful that I have this much. There are people in this town with nothing.
I feel wobbly. Vulnerable. Out of my depth. I don't have any friends here, and the others in the hostel have their own demons to slay. I choose not to get drawn into conversation or ask too many probing questions. “Good morning” and “Goodnight” are the extent of my repertoire, unless I am speaking to staff.
The house is oppressive. The staff seem indifferent. I try not to spend too much time here and so I spend most of my days outside by myself.
My friend Sam dies.
It hits me hard. We went into detox on the same day but only one of us got to get our life back on track. He had a little girl. His family are broken...
There are pubs and clubs on every corner here. I can't afford to let my guard down. After everything I've been through, failure is really not an option. I've come too far and worked too hard to let this news break me.
I grieve for him without reaching for a drink. I know that I can do this, I just need a different kind of coping mechanism. One that doesn't involve dragging myself straight back to hell via the nearest bar as soon as I have a bad day.
Something easy, something healthy, something portable, something cheap. Something that I can turn to 24/7 when I need a distraction from my head and this shitty set of circumstances.
Nothing springs to mind.
Until I pick up a pen and then I start to write...
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