Addiction Recovery – there is a great deal of confusion, stigma, shame and discrimination surrounding addiction, addiction treatment and addiction recovery. Yet those who have the disease of addiction (whether to illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol) and are in recovery live healthy, productive, engaged lives — the same kinds of lives as people who do not have this disease. But all the words and definitions and explanations in the world are not as powerful as the people themselves. To that end, we are grateful to the people in recovery who have decided to share their experiences so that we all may put a Face to Addiction Recovery.
Addiction Recovery – It’s real, it happens to real people, and it happens all the time. It is my great pleasure to introduce Carolyn Hughes, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
Like many teenagers I was drinking before the legal age. From the very start I loved the effect that alcohol gave me. It made me feel relaxed and confident. Most of all, it numbed the pain of my being abandoned by my mother and abused by my father. I called drink ‘The Hurt Healer’ but this self-medication was I believe the key to how I became addicted.
Over the next 20 years my drinking increased and with it my dependency and my tolerance. I became an alcoholic and at the end was consuming one litre of vodka, a bottle of wine and several cans of beer each day.
What was the turning point for you? What made you want to get sober?
Even though I knew my drinking was a problem, I believed I could give it up when I wanted to. Of course I tried numerous times to cut back or quit, but inevitably without success. I didn’t understand it at the time but my mental need for alcohol was so much greater than the physical need. I couldn’t have given up without intensive treatment.
Eventually I reached one of the most terrifying points in my life. Alcohol totally controlled me – I couldn’t live with it but I couldn’t live without it. A combination of denial, guilt and shame led to an alcohol induced suicide attempt.
Surviving was my turning point. Grateful for the opportunity of a second chance I decided to reclaim my life.
What was your initial treatment?
I was offered a six month residential rehab with The Kenward Trust (UK) to follow a 12 step programme. Physically detoxing consisted of replacing alcohol with a mild tranquilizer in reduced amounts over a few days. That was the easy part!
Learning how to deal with my psychological dependency was extremely challenging. I had to confront the demons of my past and the fears of my future. I was so completely damaged emotionally but within the security of a small female group and under the guidance of amazing counsellors I took the first steps to recovery.
Do you do anything differently today?
Recovery means putting my sobriety first and making the necessary changes. Initially I had to learn how to communicate and socialise without a drink, how to refuse a drink, how to keep myself out of temptation. And I had to experience every-day life without my crutch. It was like learning to live again.
By far the biggest change for me was making the move from victim to survivor. Alcohol had stolen so much from my life and kept me in the victim mentality. Sobriety bought me into the realm of survivor.
I started to think differently and so I began to act differently. Today, I work hard at keeping a positive, hopeful and grateful attitude.
What is your life like now?
My life as an alcoholic was a nightmare. There wasn’t any area of my life that drink didn’t affect. It caused daily chaos and trauma not only for myself but for those around me. In the end it cost me my job, home and everything I possessed. Many relationships were damaged beyond repair. My dignity and self-worth were destroyed. There was nothing for me to live for.
Today is so completely different! It has been a long, hard road of physical and emotional healing, but I continue with the 12 –Step ethos and have a strong faith. Naturally there have been some testing and demanding times but the difference now is that they haven’t been caused by my alcohol abuse.
Within a few years of leaving rehab I met my husband, moved to his native Northern Ireland and had two beautiful daughters. Sobriety has protected my marriage and motherhood. Being able to say that my children have never seen me drunk means the world to me.
Having the courage to heal has enabled me to leave the depressed alcoholic in the past. Today I am not defined by my alcoholism. I am Carolyn – wife, carer, mother, sister-in-law, friend. I am a writer with a passion for raising awareness of alcoholism and mental health issues. I am a blogger of inspirational posts for anyone who wants to live their life as the person they were meant to be.
I no longer exist with the help of a drink, I live.
Have you anything to share with others who are currently struggling with a substance misuse problem or addiction? Or anything to share with their friends and family?
Any substance misuse problem or addiction isn’t just an issue for the individual. It impacts everybody. My advice to anyone, whether it is the problem drinker, drug addict, prescription pain-relief user is to ‘Get Help.’ My advice to their friends and families is to ‘Get Help.’
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows that you getting off the downward spiral of addiction and choosing a better life.
Addiction is not a solitary activity. And it is one that is accompanied with huge amounts of stigma and misunderstanding. The road to recovery is tough and can’t be done alone. Reach out and get support from those who have been there and from the professions who can direct you to the best treatments.
What is the best part of your recovery?
Fourteen years of sobriety has given me freedom in every sense of the word – physically, mentally, and spiritually. The best part is that I can live as my authentic self. My life is filled with faith, honesty, forgiveness, serenity and joy.
Nothing to hide. Nothing to fear. That’s recovery!
Thank you, Carolyn, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 14 years RECOVERY!