I have found this so difficult to write. But here is my recovery story:
First, the man takes a drink; Then the drink takes a drink; Then the drink takes the man.
I remember packing my bags with intermittent gulps of pills on 03 April 2018, thinking I would go to Houghton House for a few weeks to “get fixed”
But mainly because I had no other way of escaping the sordid, shameful wreck that was my life. I could not face the total fear and devastation I had caused my parents and in hindsight, I realise that checking into rehab relieved me of that for some time.
Broken and Busted
I checked in because I was busted. There are no fathomable lies left to explain leaving a new job in an ambulance after a badly misjudged mid-morning concoction of alcohol and pills in the midst of a chaotic bender. When Step One talks about powerlessness and unmanageability, I think of that moment – lying in that hospital bed listening to the frantic whispers of my parents, drenched in shame and self-loathing was disgusted by what I had become. What I still did not know (or rather, could not accept) was that I was an addict and this was just the beginning of my Recovery Story
Addiction did not happen to girls like me. For ages, I was embarrassed about my story. I felt I did not have a perceived reason to be an addict. I came from a solid home with parents who had tried to bubble wrap me. I had been the one desperately popping the bubbles, childishly desperate for the acceptance of friends and “fitting in”. I was lavished every opportunity, from private school to overseas holidays to university. Far more importantly, I was loved. I felt so disgustingly selfish that the only way I knew how to cope was to use mind-altering substances to not feel. In hindsight, I can see I was saturated in self-pity but at the time, suicide felt like the only plausible option for me.
It took me months of therapy to unpack that I had not liked myself from my earliest memories. I remember feeling different from as little as three or four years old and came to the conclusion that it was because I was ugly. No one ever told me that, but it became the platform from which I thought, felt and behaved. I learnt to wear shame from a young age, embarrassed about how I looked and in turn that it would embarrass people around me. I look at photos now of that little girl and it hurts – she wasn’t ugly. Not even a little bit.
First Clean day in my Recovery Story
My real journey starts on 04 April 2018 (my clean day) – my second day in Houghton House and the first where I had not consumed your average book club’s wine allocation just to get started. It felt so incredibly surreal, and I did not know what to expect. Unlike my other stints in an institution, I now found myself in an alcohol and drug rehab. What had happened to my life that I was now surrounded by junkies!?
Previously, I had twice gone to one of those hospital rehabs where I graduated with the justifiable labels of mental illness (chronic anxiety disorder, chronic depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder and ADD to name a few) coupled with handfuls of benzos and stimulants. Houghton House and the program taught me that my depression was in fact crippling shame and self-hate and no pill on earth could lift that. My anxiety stemmed from unrealistic expectations and a hopeless future infused with a total loss of control. The medication at my disposal was now treatment and the program, and I started taking it.
First Steps in my Recovery Story
I learnt that putting down alcohol and drugs was just the first step in my recovery. It took me three weeks and a thorough Step One to finally accept that I was an addict – that I was powerless to stop on my own and choice had long since been obliterated. With this in mind, coupled with the support of my folks, I decided to go to GAP for two months. I continued to work the steps and when it came to my counsellor, I played open cards for the first time of my life. You see, what Houghton House had started to gift me, was this sense of hope – this sense that my life could be different, that I could change and that it didn’t have to be what I thought it had to be. I learnt that I didn’t have to BE somebody, I had to BE myself and be ok with who that was.
After GAP, I moved into a halfway house and stayed there for seven months. I guess my initial idea of a few weeks in primary, much like all my assumptions about life, had long since been surrendered. I did After Care for three months and then Recovery Maintenance (which I still do) – I took everything Houghton had to give me and my hope only grew. The devastation I had caused my family started to heal, although I know I can never undo the extreme duress I put them under.
Through my Recovery Story I learnt that the problem was not drugs and alcohol but me. As corny as that sounds, the truth and acceptance of it unlocked my recovery. Alcohol and drugs were a maladaptive solution to being in situations where I felt embarrassed to be seen. It then become a solution to just being me, as did cutting and purging. The real work – in groups, in stepwork, in counselling sessions – was on me – how I viewed myself and consistently acted out from wounded and damaged core beliefs. This is where I still work hard.
Not only did my hope grow, but my acceptance of myself and comfort in who I am becoming. Going into treatment, I never imagined a version of myself where I could forgive myself – but I have. I understand so much now about myself. I accept that addiction is a disease and not a choice and that there is no cure. I accept I will have to work a program for the rest of my life and am grateful that I still have access to the immeasurable support that Houghton provides. I have worked through sexual trauma and no longer blame myself – the only cause of rape is a rapist.
Fast forward three years in my Recovery Story and I am still clean. My life is fundamentally different and the shocking truth is that I like it. I am presently completing my studies in graphic design and own a successful design agency together with an incredibly talented friend who trusts me. I have found something I am passionate about with someone I adore working with, learning each and every day.
I have two dogs – Molly (2) and Sophie (10 months) – who in their own way have been pillars in my journey. We start each and every day with a walk in the park. Watching them tear around like mad things instils in me inexplicable joy. Again, my assumptions about life have been slapped aside. I never thought I would be a mom and here I am, mom to these two cheeky scallywags.
Friendships in my Recovery Story
I have made incredible friendships in recovery – with these junkies I found myself in rehab with. I am one of them. They have been rocks, gently pointing out when I am being self-obsessed or somewhat insane. Most importantly, they have laughed at the darkness with me.
My parents no longer endure sleepless nights. We are close. We are healthier and we are stronger. I spent a great deal of time with my little nieces who are the apples of my eye. They have taught me that there is no ceiling to one’s capacity for love or joy.
Am I Clean and Serene?
Am I healed? Negative. As twisted as it sounds, giving up how I feel about myself has been harder to give up than alcohol and drugs. It’s the certain familiarity that I sometimes still cling to. I still sometimes find myself protecting myself from what might happen, rather than dealing with life in the here and now. Sometimes I push myself to the brink when the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the fear of change, and only then do I let go of my Recovery Story. The difference now is that when I look at those same pictures of myself as a little girl, I no longer see a failed life. I see a life that went off course but started to come right, and it was nothing that she could have imagined.