Addiction - and how to deal with it ....
One of the things that had most definitely not been on my list of ambitions was addiction. In fact, alcohol had completely passed me by in early years, probably because it was never in the house, Dad was a teetotaller and I didn't learn until later of his father's problem. I didn't go to university and, on the equivalent wages of £3.75 a week, there wasn't much money to spare for that kind of frivolity. However, despite apparent outward appearances, I did 'enjoy' a great sense of inadequacy and when I did have my first drink at a friend's parents' pub I was amazed and delighted by how much self confidence it provided. Quite quickly it became a great friend whenever a problem needed tackling, especially one that involved overcoming self-consciousness.
So I began to make good use of it and, eventually when I was self-employed and living alone, it got increasingly out of hand. I discuss the eventual outcome in my memoir So, what next? so I will avoid repeating it all here. Suffice it to say I have learned the hard way what hell it can bring to the sufferer and all their uncomprehending friends and family. And in due course I wrote a book on the subject aimed at young adults.
Though the latter's story isn't mine, it contains a lot of the reactions common to addicts - especially denial not only of the problem but of the characteristics that contributed towards the addiction in the first place. It would never have occurred to me that I suffered from either pride or envy, let alone that I could conceivably have my life dominated by something as seemingly trivial as a bottle. And when I first came into recovery one of the most difficult aspects was to identify with the quite hair-raising stories that I heard. It takes time for most addicts to understand that it is not the quantity of the substance taken, it is the effect it has on major aspects of our (and others') lives.
Some Amazon reviews of my book
Merle Cunningham reviewed Courage to Change I couldn't put this book down. If you have ever lived with an alcoholic, you would know what I mean. Slipping into the pit of addiction and denial is such an insane thing to watch.
Nikki's childhood was blighted by her father's drinking, so she knew she would never lose control of her life like that. But things didn't work out as she had planned. This is her story through a succession of jobs and relationships, and the final acceptance that her life had become unmanageable.
The following are extracts from the first chapter:
“Sorry, Nicole,” Mother said. “That’s a really bad idea. And do stop chewing your hair.”
It was always Nicole rather than Nikki when she thought I’d got things wrong. I allowed myself a moment of defiance before removing the end of my ponytail from my mouth and glowered at her. “I just don’t see why,” I protested, my voice coming out squeakier than intended. “I... we’d planned it all so it wouldn’t be extra work for you. I think you’re really mean, Mother.” Her elevation from Mum to Mother seemed relevant to my own recent elevation to the High. I went on: “Laura’s bringing sandwiches, Madge’s mother is making a gigantic cake, Jane’s aunt has this magic recipe for éclairs, and Rachel’s Mum does these dreamy iced things.”
“And you, Nicole … what are you doing?”
“I’m providing the venue. And of course the birthday.” I tried to look my most appealing. “Mum … Mother, this is a really special day. It’ll be my first birthday at the High when I can invite my new friends. And I’ll be twelve for heaven’s sake.”
“And what about your father?”
“Oh, Dad.” He hadn’t been elevated to Father status yet. I felt something tight, like a clenched fist in my midriff. We’d stopped pretending that Dad’s behaviour was anything but an embarrassment. Mother explained that it wasn’t his fault, he just couldn’t tell when he’d had enough to drink, so he just went on until he became very silly or ill or noisy. And embarrassing. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t his fault. If I did anything stupid, I was expected to make up for it: do extra jobs or something. Then I had a brilliant idea. “Can’t you take him out somewhere? Have a meal out that evening, or something?”
“Who’s taking me out somewhere?” Dad asked cheerily, coming in from the conservatory. Mother and I exchanged glances. From his mood and demeanour, we could tell that he’d had a drink or two, but not enough yet to make him stupid.
“Did you remember to get the bread, James?” Mother asked.
He clapped a hand to his head. “Oh sorry! Sorry, darling, I bumped into a couple of chaps from the cricket club and we decided to have a quickie at The Lion. And you haven’t told me who is taking me out somewhere or why.”
“It was my idea.” I said quickly. “You know it’s my twelfth on the 12th, and it’s the first party when I can invite my new friends from the High. I thought if you and Mother went out ….”
Dad gave a roar of laughter, “… so we wouldn’t see what mischief you were getting up to. Great idea. It’s ages since I took your mother out.” That was true enough.
“I’ll get the bread,” I said. I was ashamed of my part in the conspiracy and couldn’t meet his eye. It was only a ten-minute walk to the Co-op, along the side of the park, past a garage and a hotel. Pete was coming out of the shop as I went in. He was in his running kit and grinned “So how are you getting on at the High?”
The fact that Pete would be at the High had been one of the few pluses about going there. Most of my friends were moving to independent schools, but apparently we couldn’t afford it. Of course Rachel, one of my best friends at Primary, was going to the High, too. But though I like her enormously, she’s, like, mega brainy and always has her nose in a book. So quite soon I palled up with Madge, Laura and Jane who all came from another Primary and had some wicked ideas. In fact Jane, because of her birthday being when it is, is already in Year Two. She is Laura’s special pal.
“Yes, OK,” I said in answer to Pete. “It’s just a bit awesome.”
He nodded. “Yep, I felt like that first. You’ll get used to it. Isn’t it your twelfth soon?” How did he know that? Oh, probably his younger sister.
“Mmm. Everyone’s been marvellous helping me plan a party.” I hesitated, then added, “Sorry you’re not invited, but it’s girls only.”
He grinned. “Don’t think I could cope with all those girls.”
“Anyway, Mum’s helping me to organise it, though she and Dad will be going out for a meal that evening.”
Pete looked away. “Ah,” he said. He knew, of course, about Dad. Everyone knew about Dad. There had been too many embarrassing occasions for everyone not to know.......
.........I really did not understand about this drinking business. Some of the girls said they had a glass of wine at home and got giggly but I didn’t believe them. It was the same when they got giggly if there was a group of boys hanging about. Well, that had begun happening since I started at the High. We’d had the sex classes in Primary and it didn’t sound a lot to get excited about. Mother had explained a bit more and made it sound more interesting, but I hated the idea of all that fumbling and messing about. That was one of the reasons I liked Peter. You couldn’t think of him like that. He had far more interesting things to talk about.
The first time I met him – I mean properly met him to talk to – was one afternoon last year when I was upset with Dad because he’d made a fool of himself in front of neighbours who had come in for a drink. At his invitation. Mother never asks anyone in for a drink.
Anyway I rushed out of the house while they were still there. There’s a public footpath running past our back garden, which goes down a slope to a marshy bit of land. People take their dogs for walks along it, and I sometimes go down there when I want to be alone. There’s a stump of a tree which I sit on and look across the marsh or up at the sky. You wouldn’t believe how the sky changes from angry to happy or just boring. That day it was just boring – milky grey all over, so I looked across the marsh and saw a figure coming towards me.
“Hi Nikki,” Peter said as he got nearer. “Would you like to see something interesting?”
Anything would be better than sitting there thinking about my embarrassing Dad, so I followed him down the track. It was spring and there were a lot of birds flying about.
“Go quietly,” Peter whispered and began walking very slowly,
Then I saw it: a black and white bird called a peewit, limping along the track ahead of us, its left wing trailing. “It’s hurt!” I cried out. “We must help it.”
But Peter only shushed me and pointed in another direction to where several small balls of feathery fluff were huddled together, squeaking and restless. “It’s all right,” he whispered. “She’s not really hurt. It’s the mother lapwing luring us away from her babies.”
So not only did I learn that peewits are also called lapwing, but they are really clever at tricking us humans. After that I went more often down to the marsh, sometimes meeting Peter down there by chance, or we’d arrange to meet if he’d found something particularly interesting. So I gradually learned about the resident birds and those that came here for the summer or winter. I really got into this migration stuff.
Then I had my first triumph. I rang him to say I’d found a new bird, very small and nondescript, but definitely new to me, so he came rushing over and said it was the first willow warbler of the summer and he’d never seen one that early before. I thought he was going to hug me for a moment, and the idea didn’t seem so bad.
"By the time I’d finished the last half bottle, gone to sleep, woken up in the dark and found I’d been sick all over myself, I wasn’t capable of sensible thought. Certainly I wasn’t capable of taking in the fact that while I slept someone had come into the bothy. I heard them breathing first and my heart started thumping.
There was the sound of shuffling and then a click and flare of light from a torch.
“So,” a male voice said, “Have you had enough yet, Nikki?”
The strangeness of finding someone in this remote place who knew my name overcame any sense of fear. In fact, I wasn’t aware of any feelings except the sensation that this was the worst moment in my life and I didn’t care if it ended now.
The light wobbled as the whoever-it-was moved over to the table by the window. A lighter flared, two candles on the table spluttered into life. The brightness made big white patches in front of my eyes, and then settled to flickering softer light with shifting shadows that played on that corner of the bothy and on the man’s face. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to it. It said, “Don’t be scared, Nikki. I’ve come to help.”
How could anyone help? How could anyone possibly know what I was feeling?
Then I knew who it was. “Tom,” I said.
“That’s right.” Ah yes. Tom had had a problem and been in rehab. But, even then, he could never have felt as I did. No one could.
“I have some idea of how you’re feeling,” Tom contradicted. “Though you probably can’t imagine that.” Good heavens, a mind reader. I giggled, and then I don’t remember what happened because my head burst into a mad mish-mash of images and sounds, and I felt completely out of control."
The progression from one stage to another is, of course, different for everyone, as is the progression into Recovery. The latter can be sabotaged quite unwittingly by one's nearest and dearest, as when my late husband once drank my tonic water oblivious to the fact that there was no gin in it, while I took one sip of his and was instantly aware he had given me the wrong drink. The simplicity of recovery can also present problems. It took me a very long time finally to appreciate that there can't be an umpteenth drink if there is not a first one. It took also took a long time to understand that stopping drinking is not a great problem; it's staying stopped that is.
The recovery programme I was following was invaluable in attaining this, though it was by no means easy and often required a determination and dedication that some of us found difficult to maintain. In time I found other aids, some through friends in recovery, others through the ever-helpful Internet. Among these were courses in Mindfulness whose aim was to help you live in the present rather than wallow in a bad past or fear an uncertain future. As this process is very similar to some aspects of meditation which has been practised for many thousands of years, it seems as though once again we are inventing the wheel, but it certainly is helpful to practise the process by means of following a programme than trying to do it in limbo. I used a couple of courses run by Future Learn run by an Australian university, and found it much easier to maintain interest by having a series of tutorials to follow .
The previous and following quotations demonstrate the life-changing effects of addiction which occur sometimes sometimes slowly. In my case, it was slow - partly because I did not have occasion to mix with drinkers, partly because I was an unusually serious young woman, partly and because a close family upbringing had instilled certain expectations of responsibility and behaviour. I suspect that Nikki, the heroine of my book, had the kind of youth that I might have preferred at the time, if not in retrospect. The next extract is from late in the book.