Content note: The following deals with addiction, eating disorders and suicide. For 24-hour mental health crisis support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Sarah* is an ordinary Australian woman, who happens to be a recovering alcoholic. Now three years sober, she spoke to Mamamia’s daily podcast, The Quicky, about her path to rock bottom and how she found her way back again.
“It just crept up on me over time. I didn’t always have what they called in AA ‘the allergy’, which is an abnormal reaction to alcohol. I could put it down once I started, and it didn’t faze me whether I had it or not. I was quite a normal drinker on the outside looking in. But the allergy developed over time, where I cross this line, and I know there’s no turning back. Once I start drinking, I can’t stop.
“I would try all sorts of methods, and that would include putting rules on it, like: I’m allowed to drink before midday, or I’m only allowed to have a bottle, or I’m going to switch to just wine or light beer. But then what I found is that trying to use those techniques actually made it worse… What I found is that what I resist persists, and gives it fuel and energy. It catapulted me into quite catastrophic events.
“I tried to show everyone else in my family that I wasn’t drinking, and I would lie to them. I’d start stealing alcohol, and I’d start stealing money for alcohol. I would take it from the fridge and then drink it and then fill [the bottle] up with water and hope no one would notice. I would have intentions to replace it later, but I’d forget because I’d be drunk. So I’d be hiding the bottles around the house.
“I was deeply ashamed of my behaviour, and found that I couldn’t do anything about it. I was powerless. My family noticed what I was doing, and then they would try and control me. They put locks on the bar fridge. They would take my money. They would have restrictions on times I should come home. And what actually happened as a result of that is [my drinking] got worse, because I had no choice. I had no defence against a first drink. Eventually I started breaking into people’s houses to get their alcohol, or I’d be waiting for my mum and dad to go to bed so I could sneak out to the shed and drink the methylated spirits, because I just needed that relief. I couldn’t stand being in my skin. I wanted to rip it off. I couldn’t breathe. My head was chaotic and it would be such a chatterbox, that the only solution that I had was alcohol. It relieved me of me. I needed it. It was like air to my lungs.”
Sarah ended up in rehab. Her family wanted her to get better.
“Initially I was relieved to get away from my family; not because they were awful, just because we were hurting each other so much. It was too painful for all of us. Because I don’t suffer alone — I take people out with me.
“The rehabilitation [facility] I wanted to go to had a six-month waiting list, and I knew I was going to die if I didn’t get help within the next few weeks. I took an attempt on my life. As a result of that something in me changed. It was a miracle I survived and there was a reason I was alive, and I knew I needed to find out why that was… I believed I didn’t deserve help, but in that moment after trying to take my life, I realised that I needed to accept help.
“I actually really loved rehab. There were other people that were experiencing the same thing I was, and I didn’t feel alone anymore. That was such a comfort and quite empowering. I was so relieved, because I felt like a freak my whole life. I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know what it was.