This is such an awkward share for me and I feel narcissistic writing about myself at such length.
I know there are people out there who have endured and suffered WAY more than I have and haven’t slipped into addictive behaviour. My story is extremely mild compared to many! And I know that many people who drink or take drugs are not addicts.
However, for those who look at the shiny Instagram accounts and think that everyone is doing better and leading a struggle-free life, this is not the case.
‘Regular’ people have addictions and I think we should talk about this more. I also want to give hope that it is possible to turn things around and it is never too late.
Around 12 years ago I was on the brink of losing everything. My home, job and possibly even my child.
I found myself in debt and in a cycle of alcohol and drug binges that I couldn’t imagine getting out of. I was losing more days at work due to being up all night drinking and spending more than I could afford on an unsustainable and unhealthy lifestyle.
How did this happen?
When I was 12 years old, someone made up a crude rumour about me. This evolved into a collective bullying campaign at school and in the streets where I lived. It followed me all the way to university until I finally left for London and a fresh start.
I found it very traumatic and responded by shutting down, physically and emotionally.
I didn’t eat until I was forced to and then became a secret bulimic until my mid-twenties. I started drinking around 13 and was in full swing in pubs and clubs from 15 onwards. I first tried drugs at university and I see now how it was a way to experience all the emotions that I had shut down as a child. You don’t just choose one emotion to shut down, they all vanish. So by using drugs, I experienced joy, elation and confidence, all those things that I felt unable and unsafe to express in real life.
At the time, I honestly felt in control as everyone I knew was doing the same, plus I have always loved exercising so was in the gym several times a week. I was working as a solicitor and had bought my own flat so from the outside, it all looked very stable. But I hadn’t dealt with my early trauma and in my early thirties, everything spiralled.
At a particularly low point, I met a new man. I didn’t realise he was an almost daily drinker and drug user until I had moved him into my house! I am horrified now and ashamed of myself. He also chipped away at my self-esteem whilst allowing me to fund his lifestyle. I didn’t want to listen to what my family of friends said about him until one day I flipped and kicked him out.
Even now I give thanks to wherever strength came from, perhaps a glimpse of what the future held for my son if I didn’t make drastic changes.
By this time, I was also deep in the throes of obsessive behaviour and I just felt really sad and lonely. It was a pretty horrible time and I am just thankful that my story forked along the right path as it could have so easily gone in the opposite direction.
How did I change the path?
I made better decisions. I met my husband, I left a job I didn’t like and I changed my social circle. Sadly I suffered two pregnancy losses at the start of our marriage but, rather than sinking back into the old pattern of dependency, I decided to focus on my health and wellbeing as I wanted to be in the best place to conceive and carry a child and look after my growing son.
We were blessed with two girls and I then decided to retrain in wellness.
I have never looked back and I do not miss that old lifestyle. Of course, there are times when I feel boring but more often than not I feel alert, enthusiastic and motivated.
People assume I don’t drink because I am a yoga teacher but the opposite is true. I am in wellness because I don’t drink. Training to be a yoga teacher is physically and mentally gruelling so it would have been impossible before. As a massage therapist, I need to able to tune in to how people feel. I couldn’t do this if I was tuning out of my own body with a dependency.
I still have demons to deal with. I weigh myself every day and care too much about my weight. I occasionally get cravings for both drugs and alcohol but the difference is now I know that cravings pass and ‘feeding’ them only makes them stronger. Nothing is fixed or satiated, it’s just a very temporary non-solution.
From my personal experience, what helps me the most is:
- Reminding myself of the likely outcome for me and my child if I had stayed in the drink and drugs cycle and wanting to be the most present mum I can be for my 3 children now;
- Educating myself about addiction. Discovering what happens in your body, what might make a person more susceptible to addiction, what are cravings and why do they happen? I found that understanding the biological and psychological components of addiction has allowed me to step back and assess it logically when old thoughts and cravings kick in. I highly recommend ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts’ by Dr Gabor Mate, a very readable and informative book on addiction;
- Making sure my health and wellbeing are a priority daily. This is non-negotiable;
- Changing my social circle and initially avoiding people and places who would trigger my behaviour. I am fine with people drinking around me now but couldn’t be around people doing drugs;
- Talking to people about my early experiences and hearing their stories has made me realise that mine is not that special. That helped as previously I had imagined that I had been singled out and there was something innately wrong with me but I realise that this isn’t the case. Most people have a ‘story’ and I feel humbled by those that have been shared with me.
At this time, I haven’t taken drugs in nearly 10 years, I don’t drink alcohol at all and I eat regular, healthy meals. I am fine with this but there are definitely boundaries that I need to keep in place and lines that cannot be crossed. I can’t just have ‘one’, it is all or nothing so I have no choice but to remain sober.
I don’t have all the answers but please do feel free to contact me privately if you want to chat about anything this article has brought up for you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.*
If you would like to join my yoga classes this week, the theme is Changing Patterns. You can book online here.
Sending you all much love,
* I am not an addiction expert so if you are struggling please reach out to someone who can help you professionally. Here are some sources of support from the Mind website.