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Audio Version

So where does one start?

I hear people talk about their first ever memory, but I’m really unsure of mine.

I have vivid snap shots helped by my mother’s fanatical obsession back in the sixties of cinematic hand held movies and good old fashioned Kodak photos.

My mother is a typical over-bearing, food feeding, controlling Jewish mother (whom I adore). She was a sex education teacher and informed me that when she gave birth to me I came out screaming and just didn’t stop.

My Dad is a passive aggressive eccentric and was a pharmacist, ill equipped at the age of 29 to have three unruly children under his feet, so he often escaped to his room where he sat for hours talking to his complete strangers around the world, as he was a radio ham.

I have two older brothers and there is 2 years and 2 months between us all. A Gemini with a dual personality and a Leo who is precocious and arrogant, and myself the Scorpion! The triple mix was volatile, aggressive, and psychologically challenging. We seemed to be in competition with each other most of the time which was quiet exhausting really.

On paper we had a very good life; we lived in North London in a quiet middle-class suburb; no financial pressures, food was abundant (of course) and our parents loved us as best they could.

I started at the local primary school in the September with my brothers and it was downhill all the way.

I had a short-term memory and poor concentration; I had an instant dislike for male teachers and didn’t care much for most of the boys in my class (for obvious reasons).

I had unrecognised and untreated dyslexia and struggled desperately with authority figures.

I was a bombastic child and I had a violent encounter with a male teacher which resulted in me never returning to that school.

I started the following September at a very respectable private girls school, which I had managed to secure a place at through sitting next to a  - very accommodating, smart and happy to share her exam answers with me – kind a girl.

So far by the age of ten I had learnt to be violent, cheating, manipulating, and deceitful and had a general lack of understanding and respect of the social interactive and education system.

The next episode of my life was in my mind the highlight experimenting with cigarettes and all smoking paraphernalia and of cause the readily available and extremely colourful liquid gold.

My parents had, in the 70s, a corner bar with sliding doors and loads of little glasses. I used to pretend I was an air stewardess serving the customers. I remember them being Advocaat, Crème de Menthe, whiskies, vodkas, sherries, wines and an array of beers. All of which I regularly returned to over a period of time.

The Sabbath night was my favourite, end of the week celebrations … it meant I had carte blanche to alcohol; as part of the religious blessings we were all allowed to drink palwin wine – which tasted very much like port. Rich rounded body that had an instantaneous effect on me ... I was sold!!

My cheeks would go bright red in two obvious patches, a bit like Aunt Sally!  My mother, a teetotaller, would say, "You obviously have an allergic reaction to alcohol", and sigh "it’s probably best you don’t drink anymore."

That was the only time I heard the word ‘allergic reaction’ until I arrived in a treatment centre years later.

Around 14 years of age my Grandma – a distinguished artist was having an exhibition ‘opening’ in Central London.

This is where I discovered Bucks Fizz. I drank them as if they were fizzy pop. I have always been a guzzler and there was never much finesse about me, especially when it involved consuming alcohol.

I was found cuddled around the base of a ceramic toilet in the crypt of the building. I remember very little and that was my first ever blackout but definitely not my last.

At 16 I worked for an airline company in their tour operator department in Regent Street, London. I was taken under the gay guys’ wings and we flew in to Soho, Old Compton Street, and all the sleazy pubs and venues of the 80s on our lunch breaks. This grounding held me in good stead for the future as I was about to embark on a whirlwind of chaos and confusion.

Having worked for 3 years, I now decided I deserved a break, and one rainy lunchtime I booked myself a round-the-world ticket. Three months later I was gone.

New York, New York here I come … oh my gosh, now the brakes were well and truly off.

I basically travelled and worked around the world continuously drinking, drugging and abusing my mind, body and soul until my demise. I was 26 years of age and spent.

I had experienced alcohol poisoning three times, been in abusive relationships, usually me as the instigator, as I have a horrendous temper especially when jealousies and insecurities set in.

I suffered bouts of depression, paranoia and psychosis; I even ended up sectioned for 28 days in Sydney, Australia, in its Rozelle Psychiatric ward and I was only 19. I was blacklisted and requested to leave their peaceful country immediately – my parents flew me back to the UK in an induced state with lithium as everyone was scared of what I was capable of doing.

On my return the psychiatric team assessed me weekly and I was kept under their watchful eye for 6 months. I believe they were ill-equipped and never had a chance to diagnose my real illness - that being alcoholism -  due to me having so many other isms that masked my primary sickness.

Now on that fateful day I had just returned from a 4-day bender having spent it at the Notting Hill Carnival with my best friend. As I got home I was consumed with insecurities, anxieties, deep, dark depression, isolation and I was desperate.

I had had enough, I foolishly tried to slit my wrists (unsuccessfully) in a cry for help and from that event my parents asked one of the Alcoholics Anonymous help lines to speak with me.   The man on the phone said to me, “When you don’t drink, do you still suffer from paranoia and all the feelings of misery and suffering that you put yourself through?” There was a long silence as I was in a deep thought, sifting through the years of mayhem and madness I had caused myself and others I was later to discover.

With that Eureka moment I confirmed that ‘No’, I didn’t. It was then for the first time ever in my twelve years of binge drinking that someone had so simply revealed to me that maybe – just maybe – alcohol could in fact be the problem.

I was baffled, dazed and very, very scared but I was happy to be guided to my first ever meeting in Southgate, North London where I was welcomed with open arms.

A year later after doing a geographical and not quite ready to surrender completely, I met up with that ‘man on the 12th Step call’ at the same meeting. He informed me that he was just about to move to Bournemouth to open up a 12 Step day treatment program and he felt I would definitely benefit from attending.

So a few weeks later I was on a train heading south into the unknown. I felt overwhelmed, anxious, frightened and suspicious, to say the least. I had no concept of what it entailed and I didn’t know what to expect.

I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. He introduced me to a lovely lady who was a nurse in the treatment centre. I was to be staying in a little loft room in her father’s property in Boscombe. This was a ‘dry house’ … I had never heard of that terminology before – in fact there were going to be a lot of firsts experienced in the 12 weeks I had signed up to.

The first was that on 12 September 1996 the day I had arrived down here was to be the first day sober…I have never needed to ever pick up another drink again.

I was propelled in to another dimension; I was hungry for knowledge, facts, information about the disease / concept that I have an allergy towards alcohol (my mother knew it way before I was ever ready to listen). I absorbed everything, I poured my heart and soul out to my peers and learned how to be honest, open minded and willing. It took time for me to change completely as I resisted in certain areas. Like I had a terrible habit of stealing toilet rolls and tea bags from the meetings but my AA sponsor taught me that what I was doing was stealing and harming my spiritual development and internal growth process. What she suggested was to fill my heart and soul with love, to do kind and selfless acts, to show compassion and empathy when to be honest all I wanted to do was the opposite, especially behind the wheel of a car and towards my ex-husband.

The one main question treatment revealed to me through a process of writing down my feelings was, “What is it you most desire and hope to achieve whilst being in treatment / recovery that you can take with you throughout your AA journey?”

This was easy to answer … I have my whole life been searching for ‘peace of mind’; I used substances – so I thought – to achieve this, but what I was actually doing was ‘losing my mind’. So with the joys of the 12 Step Programme, AA meetings, sponsorship, commitments, homegroup and a patient lady that had been through the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in its entirety I have been privileged with the life of peace and harmony I have today, true peace of mind. 

Yes, like so many others, I have experienced marriage, divorce, birth, death and depression all in recovery. However, I’ve left no stone unturned. There are no hidden dark secrets left inside my head to grow and fester.

I have worked and lived the 12 Steps a few times. They change as I grow emotionally, and this helps when I take a sponsee through the Big Book as I’m able to see my own personal development.

My connection with my Higher Power is consistent – I feel best when I’m up at Hengistbury Head, feeling the energies of the sea, smelling the salt in the air, seeing the energy moving the landscape and appreciating all that Mother Nature created. I feel such intense comfort knowing I’m not alone. I have been guided, blessed and protected along the way – today – these past 20 years have flown by; I cherish my sobriety like I cherish my children.

I am totally free, I have been granted serenity, even if it’s only 20 seconds at a time. My zest for life is endless and I live everyday like it’s my last.

My gratitude to all those that have walked before me is heart-felt, and I will endeavour to continue to carry the AA message in all my affairs.