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Coming Up From Under Water

Audio Version

I never believed I could live my life without alcohol. Drink had become the centre of my universe, the crux of my being, the only thing that got me through the day. It made life worth living, or so I thought.

But deep inside me I knew that alcohol was destroying me, that it was a one-way street, taking and giving nothing in return. I never talked about it but I realised that I was totally dependent on booze, that I was, in fact, an alcoholic.

My relationship with booze began when I left home in Perthshire to go to college in Aberdeen. I was 18 years old. On a Friday night in Ma Cameron’s pub in Aberdeen with my friends I would sit and drink pints of anything that was cheap and fell in love with booze. Anything seemed possible; the world was a brighter place. Drink filled a hole in my soul that I hadn’t even realised was there. I had always been sociable and valued my friends and now I was even more so. Nights in pubs, university discos, parties; everything was enhanced by alcohol and the way it made me feel.

But from quite early on, the dark side of drinking too much reared its ugly head. Terrible hangovers, sometimes wild behaviour, being sick the next day. Shame and guilt crept into my life and with it came occasional blackouts. Waking up in the morning and desperately trying to piece together the events of the night before was something that I was learning to live with. The fear that came along with that; I pushed it down inside me.

Fear wasn’t the only thing I was quelling inside me. I learned to suppress my emotions as the years went on. I hid disappointments in life and in love and tried to carry on as if everything was alright but deep inside I was very hurt. For some reason I had never really felt that I was going to get what I wanted out of life or that I was good enough. Where those feelings came from I don’t know. I had a very happy childhood with loving and caring parents who had always supported and encouraged me. Money was often tight but we were fortunate enough to have the support of family and a caring community where we all helped one another. There was alcoholism on my dad’s side of the family but it never really impinged on my life and my dad’s drinking really only escalated when I was in my twenties.

I became a teacher and came to Glasgow to work. I enjoyed the job although it could be hard and I never liked the paperwork! I stayed in a large flat with friends in my twenties and it was a time when there were lots of parties. My weekends were the times when I let my hair down. I loved the parties and the alcohol but increasingly I was having problems remembering what had happened the night before. Had I made a fool of myself? Who had seen me?  Had I said anything terrible to anyone? I dreaded the phone ringing or a note being slipped through the door.

In my early thirties a good friend of mine said to me “You know Jean, you have to forgive yourself”. This was after I had been telling her about being drunk the night before. I was astounded as I’d never thought like that. She made me think but I was nowhere near ready to make a proper attempt at giving up drinking. I married in my thirties. My husband was an intelligent, sociable man who had a lot of friends and we seemed to have a lot in common. But he was also a drinker. He had a responsible job and he worked and played hard, so now I had a regular drinking companion and I was beginning to drink more often in the evenings during the week. We would go to the pub with friends and enjoy friendly, sociable evenings. Problem was, I was becoming dependent on these pub sessions and looked forward to the feeling the booze gave me at night. I started hiding small cans of wine in the flat because they were easily hidden. I would sneakily drink them after we came home from the pub, out of sight of my husband. One evening he walked into the kitchen and caught me red-handed, drinking one of these cans. He was angry and told me that I never knew when I’d had enough. He took the cans away. I shouted at him “You’ve taken away my joy!” I even shocked myself when I heard myself say that. By this time I was feeling lonely and unhappy in my marriage. More and more my husband engaged in activities that didn’t include me and I was left to my own devices. Eventually I was so unhappy that I asked him for a divorce.

That was the time when financial worries came flooding into my life and lack of money has been a problem for much of my life. Looking back at that time, I think now that I had a nervous breakdown of a sort then but I just struggled on as best I could. My dad died of lung cancer in 1999. I had always loved my dad and we had a good relationship, although I wasn’t as close to him as I was to my mum. My ex-husband described him as a man you don’t meet every day and that was certainly true. Dad was a drinker but he was a lot more than that. He was a beautiful singer, a wonderful gardener, a very generous man who loved to socialise. When he died I was stunned but I couldn’t grieve for him. I tried my best to support mum but the only way I could cope with it was to shut down my emotions - and drink! It was a very bleak time.

By January 2004 I was with my second husband. He was also a drinker and by now the only time that I wasn’t drinking was when I was at work. One day my head teacher called me into her office and told me that she could smell drink off my breath. She said I had to go home, phone my doctor and phone the union and make arrangements to go for counselling. I dug my fingernails into the palm of my hand because I knew this was the end for me. I couldn’t go on in that way any longer.

I was grateful for the counselling although it didn’t help me as much as I had hoped. But it marked the beginning of my sobriety. Apart from a few drinks I had the night I had been sent home, I have never had a drink since. For me it was like coming up from under water. I saw life in a different way. The joy of waking up in the morning and remembering everything about the night before is great. Looking in the mirror and seeing a face that was very gradually beginning to look more like the old me, before I was ravaged by booze, was another benefit. Being there for my husband and mother and friends and not letting them down or disappointing them was also now possible.

Unfortunately, although my husband was very supportive of my sobriety, his own drinking got worse and worse. I discovered that he was lying to me about a number of things and that he had run up thousands of pounds on two credit cards in my name, which I had to pay back. Although it broke my heart, we had to part company.

I still hadn’t gone to AA at this point. I really wanted to go but fear of my head teacher and parents in the school finding out kept me away. Also I knew nothing about AA and didn’t know anyone in it. I finally came through the doors of AA in the summer of 2009 and it was the best thing I have ever done! As I turned the corner to go into the meeting, I heard laughter coming from people standing outside. I hadn’t expected that. The welcome I received from the men and women at that meeting was wonderful. There was a slogan on the wall at the back of the room that said ‘You are no longer alone!’ and I just thought “Wow!” I joined that group and have been a member ever since.

My experience of being a member of the Fellowship of AA has been life changing. I go to three or four meetings every week and really look forward to them. I feel that in AA I’m with my own tribe; with people who get me and understand me. I have made fantastic friends in AA and been on holiday with some of them. I have a wonderful sponsor who is a great support to me today. I have been taken through the 12 Step Programme of Recovery and that broadened my mind and helps me to live in happy sobriety.

Of course life goes on even when you’re sober. I am now happily retired. My mother is 93 and she is in a care home in Perthshire. She is very happy there and I go and visit her every week. My sister suffers bad health because of arthritis and ME. I just keep hoping and praying that she’ll get better from the ME. I have a good relationship with my two nieces and my sister’s two grandchildren and am thrilled to be a part of their lives.

I always believed in God although when I was at my lowest ebb I forgot about Him. Today I have a Higher Power in my life and I pray every morning. I try not to take myself too seriously, to be a glass half full and to hold out the hand of friendship whenever I can. I’ve found that a kind word or a thoughtful gesture can change someone’s day.

I can’t imagine my life today without AA and I’ll never have to. Sobriety and AA are the centre of my life.

Wednesday Night St Simon's Big Book Group, Glasgow.