As you decline into the chaos of alcoholism and addiction, many, if not all of the structures that you have worked hard to build, progressively fall away. In the haze and confusion of the unmanageability brought on by your drinking and drug binges, you can compromise everything that you once valued, including your family, friends and career, without even knowing that you’re doing it.
While the speed of the decline into alcoholism and each person’s circumstances may be different, the stories told by alcoholics and addicts in recovery nearly always have one thing in common: most alcoholics and addicts refuse to believe that they cannot control their drinking or drug use no matter how glaringly obvious the evidence may appear.
In your darker moments when you’re engulfed by loneliness the thought of stopping may enter your mind. It could be an incident or a particularly bad night that jolts you into a state of regret or remorse and you briefly entertain the idea of contacting an organisation that offers alcohol support services – you may even do so on more than one occasion – but that fleeting thought you have about recovery from alcoholism or addiction is quickly pushed aside by the ease and comfort that comes from taking another drink or drug. Without any genuine resistance the nightmare begins all over again. Once the alcoholic or addict commences on a spree there is no way of knowing when or where it will end.
In the case of a recovery friend who we’ll call Tim, everything was pretty exciting when he moved from the family home into a shared house with some mates and started working in the industry that he’d always dreamed about.
“I felt invincible. I walked into the first job I interviewed for and it was a tough and competitive industry to work in. Even then, at that early stage I thought that my future was assured,” said Tim.
Tim was creative, imaginative and talented. With youth on his side, it was time to enjoy his life and build a career. He was so inspired by his work that it didn’t matter if he’d had a late night drinking with his friends. Aside from sleeping through the alarm on occasions, he’d front up the next day and his work didn’t suffer – or so he thought.
“We all drank a lot so I didn’t feel that there was anything different about the way I drank although I do remember a colleague – an older guy, someone from middle management – pulling me aside one Monday morning when I was pretty hungover and giving me some friendly advice about my drinking. He said he’d seen me at Friday night drinks and while I didn’t do anything too concerning, the pleasure I got from drinking was pretty obvious and that I needed to be careful,” Tim said.
Tim dismissed the advice. He and his peers all agreed that the guy who spoke to him was a wowser – a real bore. He decided the best course of action was to give the guy a wide berth. If he happened to see him again at work functions he’d sit away from him and out of his eyeline.
“Looking back at it and the effort I put in to avoid that guy, what he said must have made an impact – I must have thought there was some truth to it otherwise why would I go to so much effort to avoid him?” said Tim.
The first time Tim was formally reprimanded for a concerning incident at a work function it was forgiven and forgotten because it was considered an aberration and unlikely to be repeated.
“That was nothing really. If there weren’t any clients at the function nothing would have been said. Things soon settled down and everyone seemed happy with my work. I decided I could keep having fun at functions but I wouldn’t get too carried away – that was how I dealt with that,” said Tim.
Even though the incident passed, the cracks were starting to appear. He’d fallen out with his house mates over money and moved into a small bedsit or studio on his own. The unshakeable confidence and certainty that Tim had about his future began to dissipate. He was struggling with bouts of guilt, fear and depression. He was falling asleep earlier because he was drinking much more and often on his own. He started waking up in the middle of the night so occasionally he’d have a drink to help him get back to sleep until his alarm went off.
I wanted to go out more often because I hated being alone. The people that I liked drinking with that could always keep up with me were dropping off. When we did go out, people were talking about things that happened when we were out that I couldn’t remember. Some of the stuff people said about me – it sounded like they were talking about someone else, someone I didn’t even know. You’re become confused because the person you are when you’re sober is different to the person you are when you’re drunk.
With hindsight Tim can recognise that he’d gone from low risk to high risk in the stages of problem drinking but at the time it didn’t feel like that. He still felt that when he needed or wanted to reduce his drinking or stop altogether, he would be able to.
“The thought of getting help may enter your mind but it leaves just as quickly. Instead you think: Next time I’ll go home after three drinks or I’ll have a soft drink between each beer – that’s how you dismiss it. It’s not a problem, just take control of it and watch your behaviour.”
In addition to the changes in Tim’s behaviour and personality, his family, friends and close work colleagues were finding him inconsistent, unreliable and unpredictable. The hangovers had gone from occasional to consistent and they were making Tim lethargic, unmotivated and late. He was having money problems and asking colleagues for ‘payday’ loans that he wasn’t paying back and the debts were starting to accrue. For someone who rarely took a day off, Tim was phoning in sick more often than he did or he’d sheepishly arrive late with a lame excuse that nobody considered to be plausible.
His work reviews were increasingly negative and always punctuated with a query about his well being and if there were any personal circumstances contributing to his lacklustre performance. By then it was broadly known across the organisation that Tim had a drinking problem. In a closed office meeting with his boss, Tim smelt of alcohol and was asked if he had been drinking before work. He acted as though he was shocked and offended by the suggestion but the truth was that on occasions he did take a morning drink and that those occasions were becoming more frequent.
Then the day came when it could no longer be ignored. His poor job performance was reflecting on his colleagues and something needed to be done. That was the first time he was dismissed from a job. Within a few years he had been dismissed from a series of jobs, all of them in the same industry. By then he was 28 years old. His promising career was in tatters before it had even commenced.
“I went back home to my parents and applied for other jobs in my industry but by then my reputation was pretty well known – I wasn’t even getting interviews. I got really depressed and started drinking more,” Tim said.
It got to the stage that not even Tim could deny the role that alcohol had played and continued to play in his life. His father was so sick of him drinking in his room and sleeping around the clock that he confronted him with the option of moving out with nowhere else to go or attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I went to a few meetings and stopped drinking for a bit but I never really gave myself to it,” said Tim. “It was good because those who are most concerned about you breathe a little easier. They think you’ve turned a corner. I even got a job but then with some money in my pocket I stopped going to meetings and returning to the same old places. Before long I was drunk again and it was as bad, if not worse than before.”
Tim was confronted with the question that everyone entering recovery is faced with. Do you continue to drink in the hope that your fortunes may change or do you correctly attribute your circumstances to your drinking and enter a 12 step facilitated recovery program and recover?
The Sydney Retreat is a peer led recovery approach that benefits from the lived experience of people in recovery. Not only will you be provided with the tools to stop drinking and using drugs, you will become a part of a community who help one another to get sober and stay sober. If you have a problem with alcohol and or drugs, this is a unique and affordable opportunity that will change the direction of your life. Get help today.