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 Mick Hirst, today’s Face of Recovery.
How did your addiction start?
Now in sobriety and on reflection, I was a functioning alcohol dependent for over 30 years of the 50 years I have been breathing on this planet, over 66% of my life. This is a shocking and mind-numbing statistic! My life has been full, varied and exciting. I have traveled extensively and had numerous interesting experiences with which to entertain you. But………….
……………….…my name is Mick Hirst, and this is an insight into the last 30 odd years of my Alcohol Dependent Life.
My parents were educated professional people with good University degrees. My Dad was a high church Anglican priest, who said Mass at 0730 every morning consuming his first fortified wine of the day, as the consecrated blood of Christ, at about 0755. The amount of wine he put in the chalice each morning increased over the years, and by 1030 each morning he was in need of a gin and tonic! My Mum taught English Language and Literature to A an A/S level. She came home for lunch, Dad used to drive to fetch her and take her back, and they both had a sherry and a glass of wine. Each afternoon Dad had a gin and tonic before collecting Mum from school, and on return they had a sherry together before Mum made the meal. A gin and tonic each while the meal was prepared, and then wine with the meal. Dad often had parish meetings in the house during the evening. If he didn’t take a drink in with him, he ensured he needed to leave the meeting “to get something” – when he had a quick drink! Late evenings consisted of whiskey drinking before bed. This was the day to day scenario that I learnt was normal, not any day of special celebration. They rarely went to pubs, and when they did they were not local as it wasn’t the done thing for the clergy to be seen in them, therefore their measures of spirits were not 25ml per shot!
If genetics can be considered as a trigger, it is worth pointing out that my Dad’s parents drank heavily in their later years, though not entirely through their lives. I cannot remember Dad ever acknowledging he had an alcohol problem, though my Mum did, but with the proviso that if she drank half the alcohol in the house, Dad couldn’t drink all of it. I now know this to have been co-dependency. It was her way of helping him, by limiting what was available – her excuse!! Amazingly Dad was only caught DUI twice – within 7 days of each other – in 40+ years of driving – and this was after he had retired from active Ministry. As a family we joked that God must have always been in the car with him! I kept him from jail with my argument to the Court that he was mentally ill and unable make rational judgements. And a promise that I would sell his car!
Alcohol became a regular part of my life around the age of 13, though I had had alcohol given to me by my parents before that. The regularity started at the family evening meal when there was a glass of sherry as an aperitif – a small one for me because I had responsible parents – and a bottle of wine or two on the table with the meal from which I was always allowed a glass, or two. This I liked, I enjoyed the taste and the feeling that being allowed alcohol made me feel that I was grown up. It was the norm, to me socially acceptable, and every family must do it.
Alcohol related illness contributed to my parent’s early deaths, Dad at 66 and Mum at 62, within 3 month of each other in 2001. I still didn’t learn!!
As a minor, progressively the quantities I was drinking started to increase. I knew where the alcohol was in the house and that it wasn’t under lock and key. When I was in the house alone I would swig from the bottles in the pantry or the fridge. I stole bottles of alter wine from the study and hid them in the garage to drink later. Dad never suspected as he didn’t count them. If I was helping at the church I would sneak into the vestry and have a swig! This was of course in the 70’s when the alter wine was still 12 to 13% proof rather than the alcohol free wines used in most churches these days. I was allowed to drink cans of beer each evening that were always in the fridge, 2 on school nights and 4 each Friday and Saturday from the age of 15. By 16 I was drinking regularly in local pubs – “it’s ok, he’s the vicar’s kid” the licensee used to say. I had few close friends from school as I used to travel 5 miles to the Church School on a bus rather than attend a local one, the reciprocal being that I had few friends locally either. My friends were people I knew in pubs. I was already hooked and used to buy them drinks to buy their friendship. I played Pool two or three times a week for various pub teams, and the evenings I wasn’t playing matches, I practiced – in pubs!
I know now that the Real Ale was my friend, not the people I knew in the pubs, and they were my acquaintances.
I was diagnosed as suffering depression from 1995, and the depressions were deepened by any bad events, such as family bereavements and relationship breakups – but in my head the tablets weren’t the cure for me, the bottle was! I am now diagnosed as suffering Bipolar Disorder which on reflection must have been masked for many years by my alcohol dependence.
I drank increasingly heavily over the years, still maintaining my career as a successful Registered General Nurse working in elderly care, mainly in managerial positions. My journey home always included a couple of pints of ale at least – my excuse was “I needed to chill between work and home”. In my last post I managed a 46 bedded home for long-term residents, all receiving a very high standard of care which I maintained and oversaw, generating an income in excess of £1m with annual expenditure of £600k – a highly responsible position in a profitable business! Hand on heart, I never once drank on duty during my career, but I made up for it after work. This was me in 2010, just getting home for Christmas, from a week away working, having driven 120 miles to get there – drunk!
What was the turning point for you – what made you want to get sober?
Having not been at work since December 2011 due to my health, I resigned my post on September 22nd 2012, by mutual agreement with my employer, on grounds of ill health due to depression. The depression was severe and I was having treatment, but with minimal if any effect. With little to do at this point other than feel sorry for myself, this became my daily routine:
- Wake up and have a can, or two, of 8% beer before getting out of bed.
- Get out of bed, open another can, and go to the toilet
- Drink the rest of an eight-pack before lunchtime, sat on the sofa watching day time TV
- Go to the Snooker Club and have 4 or 5 pints of beer before leaving for home mid-afternoon
- Buy another 2 eight-packs of beer and a bottle of vodka and a bottle of cola on the way home.
- Drink a mixture of beers and vodka/cola throughout the afternoon and evening
- Go to bed, taking a can for now, and one to open in the morning.
Please note the lack of hygiene and nutrition within this routine! Reflectively, this is not only embarrassing, it is disgusting and shameful. I was a disgrace to my own and anyone else’s standards.
I had hit the rock bottom, of rock bottom. Another marriage had broken up – my third, all three because of my alcohol abuse. Financially I was destroyed. I had had a decent income of £40k per year but had nothing but debts and had never been able to save. I drank what I had earned and failed to pay the regular bills. I had borrowed heavily when credit was cheap and now the creditors wanted their money back. My house and car were repossessed and I was facing bankruptcy. I did have the support of a very close friend Anne, who is now my partner, who allowed me to move into her flat (above an off-license), for which I am eternally grateful, and of my son, brother and my small family though they all live considerable distances from South Yorkshire. They were though, still there for me.
I had two choices – to carry on drinking and die reasonably quickly, or to sober up, recover and enjoy the remaining years of my life. I chose to live!!
What was your initial treatment?
Given my medical background, my first treatment choice was ludicrous. I decided to go cold turkey, with no professional support. I just chose to stop there and then. Withdrawal kicked in over the next 24 hours, the tremors became shakes and mobility deteriorated as I lost control and balance, I had decreasing levels of concentration and was unable to maintain my own safety, my speech became slurred and muddled and I became severely dehydrated. I rejected all offers of help from Anne thinking I would get over this in a couple of days and the symptoms would be gone. Things just got worse and worse. Whilst holding on to the wardrobe door, trying to get to my dressing gown, I collapsed. My last memory of this is pushing the wardrobe back so it didn’t fall on me!
An Ambulance rushed me under blue lights to Rotherham Hospital, unconscious and fitting severely. Anne also told me later that the Ambulance crew had radioed ahead to warn the hospital as they feared I may have a cardiac arrest en-route.
The next I knew was waking up in the resuscitation room, with two pretty twenty something young nurses removing my shorts so that they could clean me up. I had been doubly incontinent whilst fitting. This was humiliating to say the least and at that point I was giving up drinking forever, and hoped I would receive the necessary help to do so. I spent 5 days in hospital and was discharged home with no follow up appointments required. I had been a medical emergency admission, and that acute problem had been resolved. There was no follow up, no psychiatric referral and no professional support, and I immediately returned to drinking after my discharge. I had however realised that I had to seek help.
I visited my local medical centre and asked for help. I was lucky that my first appointment was with Doctor E who I trusted. I was started on Acamprasate to reduce my cravings and advised to slowly reduce my intake over a period of weeks. Dr E also referred me to the Specialist Alcohol Nurse who held clinics weekly at the surgery. I attended religiously and I would lie to them both telling them I was cutting down. I would lie in my Drinks Diary. I would lie to them about my depression. I would lie about it all to Anne and my family. But really I was lying to myself all the time, and they all knew it. Treatment at home was never going to be the answer in my case, so I was referred to the Consultant Psychiatrist who dealt with addiction for assessment. It was decided that an inpatient detox was the only way forward, and I attended a 4 week pre-detox group each Thursday though February 2012. I was still drinking very heavily. My frequently repeated liver function blood tests scored through the roof!
Subsequently, I was given an admission date for my detox. The location was great – on a bus route from home so Anne could visit. The day before I was due in I went on a bender which lasted until the early hours – I was having drinks to celebrate my last drink, for God’s sake! When I walked on to the hospital ward at 9am I was still drunk. I was breathalysed and was miles over the upper limit for my treatment to begin. I would have to sit and wait until I blew a safe reading. Anne stayed with me. Withdrawal was starting to kick in big style 4 hours later, and I was still over the safe limit. The staff were worried I was going to fit so arranged for me to have some diazepam to sedate me a little. After six hours I blew reading that was marginally over the limit and it was decided it was safe enough to start treatment. After taking the first lot of medication along side the diazepam I became drowsy and was settled to bed. Apart from being disturbed for medication, that is where I stayed sleeping for the next 48 hours. As the meds were reduced I began to wander around a bit, though it wasn’t until the Friday that I felt comfortable enough with my shakes to use a knife and fork. Detox from then on was ok and my appetite ballooned dramatically, they could not fill me up. I was visited by Andy from the Lifeline Project in Rotherham – a Charitable Organisation that helps with ‘Alcohol and Substance Abuse Recovery’ and we discussed the possibilities of me attending there for distraction, one to one counselling and group therapies after my discharge. I agreed to this as I felt it would be greatly beneficial, especially as I lived above an off-license. I was discharged on the following Tuesday with full support and back-up, though I couldn’t have Antabuse because of my abnormal liver function.
From detox I was collected by Andy, and taken to The Lifeline Project in Rotherham. I had a good look round, checked out their programme and decided that this was for me – “but not today” as I had things to do and I wanted to be at home, though I arranged to return though the next day. The ‘things to do’ then went into action. With my holdall over my shoulder I walked into Rotherham town centre, passing pubs that I had recently and frequently visited. Not even the slightest twitch to make me go through the doors. I got the bus for the 45 minute journey from town to home and when I got off went straight into my local bar, had a blackcurrant squash and barred myself from buying alcohol. I left after the one drink to walk home, stopping off at every off-license on the way to bar myself from purchasing alcohol there too, finally stopping at the off-license I lived above to do the same. Mission accomplished, I was sober with nowhere to buy booze. It sounds so easy doesn’t it?
IT IS NOT!!
I did well for two months remaining totally abstinent. I was so very positive and my achievements were beyond my wildest dreams. Anne and I went to the seaside for a weekend break, we deserved it, and there was an air show on for the two days. I mixed, socialised and saw people merry on alcohol on the first day. I went for a walk around town during the evening as Anne wasn’t well, and went into bars and drank cola. I was as happy as a pig in muck with no desire to drink. Bingo – I had cracked it!
The air show on the Sunday was great with the world renowned Red Arrows starring. We had talked a lot during the weekend about the fact that I had fancied (wanted) a pint, as I had done over the previous two months. Anne gave me her opinion, that she felt this was not a good idea, but also said that ultimately the choice was mine and she would support me. Unwittingly she had given me an excuse. Our train back to Yorkshire was due to leave at 4.30. At 3.45 Anne fancied a cup of tea before we set off home. We were on the pier so we found a seat and table and I went to the bar to order. “A pot of tea for one and a pint and a half of Black Sheep Bitter please”. The half was to ‘neck’ at the bar in secret so Anne didn’t see – back to old habits. As I went back to her, she made no comment about the full pint glass I was carrying. We chatted and had the drinks, then went for the train and that was that.
Two days later I fancied another and that became four. I was attending Lifeline smelling of booze. After five days I was having two bottles of wine a day plus a beer or two. The addiction had its grip again. I was spiralling downwards to dependence again with vengeance. I had enough mental strength left to realise that I was wasting everything that I had achieved, and saw my Specialist Alcohol Nurse. My liver function tests were within the safe limits to start Antabuse, and after two days abstinence I took the Antabuse from my toolbox and haven’t looked back since.
Thanks to Anne, my family, new friends and especially Lifeline I am writing this 9 months on and still sober! THANK YOU ALL XX
The photo above is me in September 2012; 5 months post detox, and feeling great, in a pub and drinking cola!
Do you do anything differently, today?
My life today is so completely diametric to my life before. I am on benefits, but I am saving for a holiday. I feel physically well, have a great appetite (some say too great!), new friends and a fantastic feeling of self-worth! I am excited about the future. If I could get my sleep pattern sorted and stop smoking cigarettes, my life would be almost perfect. I still take it one day at time and don’t set myself targets. I take my Antabuse as I get out of bed and use it as a psychological gun against my head. I know that if I have a drink it will shoot me and I will feel very ill – and I don’t like feeling ill!! I have forgotten once in six months and panicked all day as I was out and about and ringing Anne frequently to remind her to make me take it when I got in!
I work as a volunteer at Lifeline. I have marketing, communication and media skills that I want to use to raise public awareness that there is help just around the corner for those in the position that I was in, and I want to encourage people to make that individual choice to help themselves, for themselves – not for anyone else. I have my medical, care and counselling skills from my professional life to offer to those who need them. When my medics decide that I am well enough I intend to seek paid employment within the recovery field, preferably with Lifeline, and be proactive in developing a local recovery service to work with offenders in local prisons before they are due for release.
I have stayed alcohol free, attended all appointments with my Alcohol Nurse and Doctors and thrown myself into The Lifeline Project in Rotherham, a charitable and non-judgemental organisation which provides Open-Access, One to One Support, SMART Recovery groups, group work, family support, media access and activities. If I am not at home, I am at Lifeline!
I chose not to attend the exercise and fitness programmes as they weren’t for me, but put my energies into group sessions, group activities and particularly SMART Recovery. If we have trips out, Anne comes with us and joins in the fun. I have set up the Client Led Open Group (CLOG) which meets weekly to discuss and solve individual’s problems or just for a social chat. We are now recognised as a Service User Group by the Contracting Commissioners in Rotherham. I was asked to collect someone from Detox yesterday for the first time, which was fantastic as it made me feel that Lifeline have confidence in me!
I have, and still am forging links and friendships with other organizations up and down the UK and aboard. To share recoveries, strategies and ideas. And I am most grateful to those people who have let me into their worlds.
I don’t judge people; I try to understand them and how they feel. I don’t lay my personal rules down on anyone else, they are MY personal rules. Anne enjoys a couple of drinks every now and then at home and I am very happy that she does. My life was the one that needed to change not hers. I have friends in abstinence, friends who have achieved control and friends who have started the journey and have some way to go. I respect them all because they are my friends, but most importantly I respect them all for making their own individual choices! If people choose to ask my advice or for my assistance I will freely give it. If they choose to follow it or ignore it then so be it, but I will be proud that they asked me.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with someone currently struggling with a substance abuse problem or an addiction? How about anything you’d like to share with their family or friends?
Millions and millions people throughout the world struggle with addiction whatever their chosen weapon, without knowing, and for them there is little hope of recovery until crisis intervenes. When the crisis intervenes for you, there is hope if you are able to make that choice to recover. You must need and want to change in order to succeed.
Recovery is a selfish option that may benefit others in the long-term. I have loved being selfish and it has come at a cost, but I feel that the benefits for myself and to others now, are worth it.
I posted this original statement for discussion on Facebook recently and it provoked a large debate which was both interesting and valuable. As this piece is for a blog dear reader, what do you think?
“While the power of addiction remains more powerful than the mind’s desire to change, the addiction will win the mental battle, leaving emotional, physical and financial mayhem in its wake, whatever the cost.”
If you are waiting for any target date in life, a significant birthday perhaps, you might strike off the days of the countdown on your calendar. I suggest this in recovery, FOR EVERY DAY YOU ARE ABSTINENT, CHALK ONE MORE DAY ON YOUR CALENDAR! I have been asked many times “Will you ever drink again?” My answer is always the same, “I can’t promise you that I will never drink again, but I can promise you that one day at a time, I will try not to.”
What is the best part about your recovery?
Discovering the real me – the person I might have become 30 years ago – and I quite like me!
Thank you, Mick, so very much for sharing your story, and CONGRATULATIONS on 9 months RECOVERY!