It is the importance of “HOPE” that is the foundation on which I am sharing my story today. To give hope to others and share the message that we can and do recover from addiction and mental health issues.
My story is certainly not unique.
I am also acutely aware that I am speaking from a platform and history of white privilege and inclusion in my life which is not afforded to all. With this in mind, I wish to honour all women, especially those whose lives also include a lifetime of trauma, violence and/or poverty because of their race, religion, colour, gender diversity, residential location or financial status.
If we are to make an impact on changing the stigma associated with addiction and with mental illness, we need to stand up, use our voice and tell our stories. The coming together as women and sharing our stories of recovery is fiercely powerful, because we are all recovering from something. By doing this we are also collectively assisting to reduce the stigma surrounding recovery itself. We need to tell our stories of recovery with no shame, to lead the way for a new movement, which sees sobriety as the default and drinking as the exception.
I don’t know about you, but I feel constantly marketed to with public messages which glamorise and promote alcohol use especially for women, on buses at traffic lights, on greeting cards in newsagents, advertisements in magazines and newspapers, and let’s not forget the drinking memes on social media:
“Wine - how classy women get wasted”
“Today’s forecast 99% chance of wine”
“If you combine wine and dinner, the new word is winner”
“Save water drink wine”
“Wine is to women as duct tape is to men, It fixes everything!”
And baby clothes stating “I am the reason Mummy drinks wine”.
There is a time I used to laugh at these things, and actively post these on my Instagram or FB feed. Women are encouraged to drink alcohol to deal with every aspect of their life, seriously!
The wine industry has purposefully targeted women as a growth market which has given rise to a mummy wine culture where cups of tea have been replaced with bottles of chardonnay and cab sav. “Yoga and wine” classes are a thing, as are “Boozy Roller Disco Brunches” promising enough “bright leotards, spandex, leg warmers and neon to keep even the most 80's crazed character happy”.
As a society, we have been, and continue to be, brainwashed into believing that alcohol is safe, social, fun and necessary. But we are being sold a dangerous Myth!
My recovery journey started 13 years ago in 2006.
I was 38, married, living in Sydney with three children aged 8, 6 and 3.
I was drinking up to 2 bottles of wine a night – alone and in secrecy.
I would still show up for work, for school P & F commitments, for my kids.
I was a high functioning alcoholic…. Until I wasn’t.
I was a black out drinker – waking up the next morning not knowing what I had said or done, yet knowing that yet another apology would be needed to my loved ones as I skulked out of bed full of shame, promising not to drink today only to end up back where I started again that same afternoon.
I Drank to self-medicate, to escape the shame I felt. The fear, the sadness, the loneliness, the grief, and the unworthiness that made my soul ache.
I couldn’t understand how I ended up like this and pegged it as a “moral failing” on my part, crippled by the unmanageable chaos that I felt my life had become. It was sure was miles away from the fairy-tale visions I had had as a child.
SO how did this all happen?!
Growing up in Melbourne I was a very bold adventurous only child who loved making mud pies, slosh around in gumboots after it rained and catch tadpoles down at the local creek. I loved exploring the world with all the joy of my senses, and I still do have a great love for nature and its ability to soothe, regulate and nurture my soul.
But my early memories of my inner world didn’t always match my outer world.
Even as a 5 year old I can remember feeling like I was different from the other kids…
Like I didn’t fit in…
I felt an internal anxiousness, a fear...
A fear of the unknown…
A fear of everything…
I have come to understand that the initial priming for my high sensitivity to life and it’s events, occurred in utero and postnatally and most likely the result of Epigenetic phenomena… This is the switching on and off of existing gene expressions depending upon environmental stimuli (nurture), existing gene pools and inherited epigenetic modifications (Nature). So, the passing down of transgenerational grief in my family of origin, an imposed separation from my Mum at my birth for 2-3 months delaying secure attachment due to her onset of Lupus, and a vulnerability to depression, anxiety and possibly addiction in our family gene pool.
This sensitivity was both wonderful and overwhelming. It allowed me to feel and experience every moment with awe and wonder, but it also meant I felt everything fiercely.
As life progressed, I experienced the usual with some additions including:
traumatic Primary School bullying
Chronic and acute serious Childhood Illnesses – bronchial, gastro
Parental separation and divorce
Resulting financial hardship
My dad moving away interstate
Caring for my Mum when she was sick
A sexual assault, and
Each were destabilising and traumatic in their own way, in a world that I already didn’t trust as being safe. I internalised it all.
Debating, Sport, Dance, Art for which I won house colours became my outlets. However, I developed an unhealthy obsession with weight and body shape, which culminated in the development of Anorexia nervosa at 16 during Year 12 year at school. I exercised excessively, restricted my food intake to 300 calories a day and swallowed copious amounts of laxative pills. Even at 40kg I felt unworthy to take up space, and wrote about how much I wanted to die. With the love and support from my family and friends, some limited outpatient treatment, and I guess a sheer willingness to survive, I recovered. However, I do remember moments of pure rage towards my parents that saw me self-medicate with some secret gulps of scotch or bourbon from the living room bar.
After school I moved out of home with my best friend, and worked for 2 years firstly in a bank and then the fashion design industry, just to earn some cash for a car and rent. I went on to study Psychology at University, graduating with first class honours. But underneath this high functioning exterior was a girl still self-medicating.
I looked to other people to solve my inner turmoil, entering long-term relationships hoping to find my Prince Charming who would come and sweep me off my feet and rescue me from myself. But these relationships just became a gateway into alcohol, cigarettes, drug use, co-dependence and further eating disorder issues.
The drug use ceased due to my fessing up to my Mum who I couldn’t allow my behaviour to disappoint or to break her heart. I met my now husband shortly after. At 26 and moved up to Sydney from Melbourne to be with him. It was the hardest decision of my life having to leave my beautiful mum and family in Melbourne. She was my rock and my anchor. My soul mate and best friend, but we both knew this was the next part of my journey.
This man was beautiful, loving, caring and respectful. He was my Prince Charming, and I trusted him with my life. With him I felt secure and loved. Drinking was still a huge part of my lifestyle as was the bulimia which I secretly tried to hide from my husband, family and friends. I completed my Masters in Psychology at Sydney Uni, we got married and had our first child within the year, followed by 2 more children over the next 5 years. I did not drink alcohol during my first pregnancy, and sparingly drank alcohol during my other two pregnancies. In-between pregnancies I drank when I had stopped breast feeding, but not to the same extent as prior to having children.
I was working in my career and my youngest child was now 18 months old. Because of the Lupus, my Mum had to go in for heart valve replacement surgery. She had the operation but died 5 weeks later, she never made it out of the hospital. I watched all of her organs gradually shut down. I sang to her. I sat with her day and night. I was not ready to lose the most wonderful beautiful woman in my life, my Mum.
My medicated the grief –
2006 – rehab
2.5 years sober – some 12 step. No program. I just didn’t drink
In 2009 I was unhappy, depressed, unresolved grief, going through marriage difficulties. I self-harmed and ended up in hospital. Their clinical decision at this time instead of treating the trauma, was to treat my eating disorder and I was admitted into their ED unit re-feeding program. It was horrendous!
Needless to say, once discharged, I started drinking again to self-medicate the pain and grief I was feeling and to just cope. I had another hospital admission at South Pacific 6 months later to treat the grief, trauma which was advised by my treating Psychiatrist. It was an amazing program which saved my life, and offered an alternative treatment paradigm to trauma than traditional CBT based programs. It also saved our marriage with their amazing family support program. I continued drinking however, but chose to quit again by going to rehab. I remained sober for 4 years during which time my youngest daughter had been diagnosed with Autism, cognitive delay, ADHD and anxiety and other family challenges with the children had surfaced. I convinced myself and others that I could now moderate my alcohol use, so I went out and did some more research. I was able to moderate, but I ALWAYS WANTED MORE. This is truly a disease of more. So on October 19, 2015 I totally surrendered as I sat on our front porch and cried into my coffee saying to my husband, “I can’t do this anymore… enough is enough.”
I now have close to 4 years of continued sobriety this time around. In spite of having accumulated a total of 10 years sober over the past 13 years, it is only these last few years that I truly feel free.
Because I no longer feel the same Isolation and loneliness of being in recovery like I did before and I no longer feel shame. Recovery is a pretty badass thing to do!
I got to this place through:
Listening to Podcasts and hearing other people tell their stories out loud WITHOUT ANONYMITY
I joined online groups
Found connections with other amazing people in recovery who I have travelled overseas to meet up with at a “She Recovers” conference in LA last year.
(12 step meeting – foundation)
There is a movement happening out there and it is not a rumble…it’s a ROAR
I truly believe it is through connection with each other that we heal. Which is why I founded Recovery Buddha as an online support group for women from the sober curious to those in long term recovery. Through sitting in the bowels of darkness with each other in love and non-judgement and coming out the other side into the light we can discover self-compassion and loving kindness as ways we can honour ourselves. Walking with Grace, tenderness and compassion for my soul wounds has enabled me to rebuild my life into one of greater joy, and rich meaning.
So my hope is that there might be something you can take away from all of this and from today. And if nothing else just remember how beautiful you are and how special you are and that through our sisterhood here through the gathering of women in all its empowering glory and the gathering of men, we can find ourselves, grow, and renew…. and what a beautiful Messy joyful chaotic heart opening ride it is.
I love you.