Most people think addiction will never happen to them and I know that that’s how I felt. But I think what people don’t realise is just that once you step over this certain line and alcohol gets a grip, it’s so incredibly difficult to beat. No matter who you are or what your upbringing has been, or how old you are, what job you’ve got or if you’re a parent. Alcohol addiction doesn’t discriminate.
I wasn’t one of those kids that hung around the park in my teenage years drinking, I wasn’t like that. I started social drinking as a student at university and, looking back now, I think I used it for confidence with peers.
I think there were a lot of times when I felt not as smart as or as confident as the people I was meeting. And then that continued when I started work. My career was in the pharmaceutical industry and you’re talking to doctors for a start, but you’re also surrounded by very intelligent, very driven, confident, professional people. I was using alcohol at conferences, again because I thought it gave me confidence.
That was in my 20s – and I didn’t realise it had started to creep up. I went from just drinking on a weekend to maybe drinking on weekday evenings, and then you use excuses, like, I’ve got a stressful job or whatever, I need a glass of wine. And even when I became a mum, the mums I hung around with were the ones that liked a glass of wine. So, it was a very gradual thing. And then in my 30s, I was drinking nightly. It went up from say half a bottle of wine a night to a bottle of wine a night and then it crept up even more.
Alcohol works by stealth and it took time to settle into my life.
My husband and my close friends and family didn’t realise for a long long time that I was drinking more and that it was getting more of a grip on me.
I did all the things that you would imagine right from the start. I sat in front of my GP a lot, I went for counselling, I did all of the things that you would expect somebody to do, because I didn’t want to hurt people, I didn’t want to lose my job, I didn’t want to make my son embarrassed.
But in the early days, you do these things and then you maybe have a bit of sobriety and you think, ‘well, I’ve been sober for a while now, I obviously wasn’t that bad’, and you think you could have just one because you get lulled into this false sense of security. So then you start drinking again and convince everyone that this time it’s fine, I’m under control, and that went on for years.
But gradually it creeps up, because there’s no permanent plateau. For me, I probably spent a long time drinking at least two bottles of wine a night and was functioning, running my own business. And there are a lot of people like that who people call ‘functioning’, but no matter how long that period of time is, and it varies from person to person, it doesn’t last forever. If you don’t address it, it progresses.
Eventually, more serious things happened, like waking up in hospital on a drip and I didn’t have a clue how I’d got there, or like getting into trouble with the police. But by then even that wasn’t enough to stop me drinking. It got progressively much worse. And once it had a full grip, and people had given up hope and were sick of me and had to, out of self-preservation, leave me to it, I was on my own and I was free to drink 24/7. I’ve always said that, at that stage, being awake was to drink and drinking was to pass out. And that became my life.
I was very ill – my hair was falling out, I was grey, I was incontinent, I had an ache in my liver, but I couldn’t sober up by then because of the withdrawals. If I did start to withdraw, I had the most terrifying hallucinations. I couldn’t’ sober up because the anxiety that you feel is like impending doom, where you want to rip your skin off and climb the walls. I couldn’t sober up because I couldn’t face the people that I’d hurt over and over again. That’s what keeps you drinking, when you come out from being comatose, you just have to keep drinking because you can’t face any of those things.
Over the years I’d tried everything. I felt I’d failed at AA, I’d failed at rehab, I believed that there was nothing else.
I thought this is it, it’s beaten me, I’m dying. I don’t want to use my story to frighten people, but it’s a reality that if you don’t do something about it, it can progress to that. It can happen to anyone, but there is hope.
I can remember lying in bed one night thinking about my son, who hated me by then. He’d gone off to university and I can remember lying in bed crying, thinking I’m not going to see him graduate or get married. I know it was that love for him that spurred me on to do one last Google search – I’d done so many before.
People in addiction are very vulnerable. You’re scared of going to the GP again, particularly as a parent as you’re worried about them calling social services, so you resort to finding people online who say they can get you sober. But all this money that you spend on private people, when it doesn’t work you then drink on the guilt of the wasted money. These are things that people don’t realise about addiction.
That night, when I wasn’t ready to give up hope, I did find this unique treatment that worked for me when nothing else had. But the treatment itself isn’t the point of my story – it’s about giving hope and to never give up, because there is something out there for everyone.
Being sober, my first focus was on hopefully repairing relationships – I didn’t think about anything further than that.
My husband gradually came back into my life and, over time, I was able to rebuild my relationship with my son. That was when I realised just how absolutely incredibly lucky I had been. And I just thought that I had to help people like me.
I wrote a book about my journey to give hope to people, because a lot of people are written off. That’s my main message, to never give up searching, to give people hope, people who have been written off and are vulnerable, that’s what I spend my time doing.
The fear of facing people (alongside the physical addiction) is what kept me drinking. I always tell people that the people who matter will be kind, don’t keep drinking because you’re frightened to face them, and that seems to really resonate with a lot of people.
I’ve just got to spread the message that there is always hope. You just haven’t found what works for you yet.
On the back of the book, I was invited to the House of Lords to give evidence to the Commission on Alcohol Harm. Sir Ian Gilmore, who heads up the Alcohol Health Alliance, was on the commission and said that he’s never read an account of the progression of alcohol like the one in my book. Describing it accurately was important to me, because I wanted to try and help families and friends understand what it’s like, that it’s not a choice. I’m so proud of that, as well as my work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on alcohol harm, highlighting the vulnerability of people like me.
I encourage anyone to get sober however they can, or if they’re worried about their drinking to try to cut down. I answer a lot of emails from people who say, ‘you’ve just described me, all this hiding and the double life and the lies and the carnage’. If I can say I’ve helped just one person, that makes me very proud.
Susan Laurie is the author of From Rock Bottom To Sober Forever