Eight years ago I was a drunken addict living by my addled wits on the streets of an anonymous big city. Consciousness had become intolerable, and my life was dedicated to getting drunk, or getting out of it in some other way.
I had lost my job of 12 years, my home, my car, my girlfriend, my pride, the respect of my community, my optimism, my mental and physical health, my sanity and I was nearly to lose my life. The flame that once burned so brightly in me as a young boy was nearly extinguished. My horizons, which allowed me to take solo trips to India, the USA, Europe and just about everywhere in-between were reduced to a single blacked out room and tortured terrified trips to the bottle shop, doctor or dealer. I was insane with terror, would be startled by the slightest noise or movement. I went to sleep, if you can call it that, praying to die, and would wake with a start, full of terrible fears, palpitations and sweats…..afraid.
I had done the rounds of doctors, psychiatrists, alcohol and drug counsellors and health advisors of all sorts. I hadn’t told the truth to any of them, I didn’t know it myself, and none of them recognised my illness, or if they did, they didn’t tell me.
I was out of control, terrified and seemingly on the path to total destruction. I was dying, nearly dead.
One morning, having gone through the ritual of cramps, blood, shakes, puking and pain that had began my day for years — I found, to my horror, that the grog didn’t work, no matter how much I drank, nothing was happening, no matter how many pills I had, my feelings remained the same. I dressed, staggered outside, collapsed, an ambulance was called, and I was taken to intensive care. My family were told I might die, in fact I was later told, that for some time, my Mum had prayed that I might die so as I might find some peace. I nearly did, but gradually began eating again, and drinking tea, and stopped hallucinating, and began functioning a little like the rest of the human race.
Meanwhile, someone, bless them, had arranged for me to go straight to a treatment centre, or therapeutic community, on my departure. I went unwillingly; I had nowhere else to go.
I spent the next year there, I repeated the program 4 times, I couldn’t get it, for the first 3 months I was too ill to understand, my short term memory was shot, my co-ordination terrible, I had panic attacks, I was afraid, and angry and lonely, I couldn’t get it. I hated the centre, I hated the staff, my fellow patients and just about anything you care to mention, and I hated myself.
Many of the staff had been through similar things to me, and I hated that too! They could see right through me, confronted me with reality, confronted me with myself. It was hard, terribly hard, harder than almost anything you might go through in life, except it wasn’t as hard as the life I had been living beforehand. I was nuts, but at least I wasn’t mad with fear anymore.
I had loads of one to one sessions, hundreds of hours of group work and hundreds more at 12 Step Group meetings — of course, I hated those as well but attendance was part of the program. But gradually, slowly with patience, care, thoughtfulness and tough confronting questions or comments or advice, I began to get better. The staff really did know how I felt, the people at meetings really did have worthwhile things to say.
I did some voluntary work, I got a small unit, I paid the bills, and I went to plenty of 12 Step Group meetings. I tried to help others, learned to cook and clean and garden. Enjoyed the sunset for the first time in a decade and scrubbed a kitchen floor for the first time ever! I saved and bought a car, it caught fire within 5k of owning it! I didn’t use, I walked to the centre to talk about it, I went to a meeting that evening.
Now, well it’s been several years, I’m married. I work full time. I do plenty of things I don’t want to do, and somehow they add up to a series of small satisfactions that you might say are called happiness. I’ve travelled again, trekking in jungles, climbing mountains and diving in the South China Sea. I’m a good son; I’m a good neighbour and a good bloke. I go to meetings every week, more than one. I keep in touch with the centre; I help out and muck in. I’ve got that optimism back, that spark has flared up, and is now a steady, and I hope, a reliable flame.