The word, “cheers”, the clinking of glasses, the swish of alcohol, the insipid smiles on faces in preparation for celebration is something I cannot connect with or relate to. I see no joy in using alcohol to ‘celebrate’ anything anymore. Far from it. Alcohol is a mind altering substance, why would you actively change that natural high for the false, fake promises that alcohol delivers? It masks and disguises the beautiful, natural, heartfelt feelings we are so blessed to have without having to lift a finger. Living my whole life with addiction, initially through a loved one and then becoming a hopeless addict myself, after reading this, you may see why I have a cold shudder that runs through to my core everytime I hear that word, “cheers”.
I love my family. I adore my parents. I was even a Daddy’s girl before I knew what was really going on. Something way too big for me to comprehend or understand. Baffling. As I grew up I soon learned why Mummy would get so upset, angry, fraught with tears. Sheer frustration through gritted, seething teeth. Shut crying in her room for days on end, whisking the 3 kids away in the middle of the night, driving from Scotland to England or vice versa to stay with family. Our promised trip to Disneyland never happened but that’s nothing in the scheme of things. Moving house every 6 months for Dad’s new job or to ‘find his happiness’. If Dad found his happiness, we’d all be happy, it was our quest as a family. The only time I saw Dad happy was with a drink in his hand, but he wasn’t truly happy. Far from it. Dad changed with a drink and soon turned into a monster, a stranger to us all, pleading with him to be the Daddy we loved so much.
Hidden bottles around the house, sneak drinking at very opportunity, lost jobs, crashed cars with police at the roadside breathalysing him, endless arguments, holidays cut short, parties ruined, the hideous odour, our mortifying embarrassment. Harrowing arguments seemed to be my connotation with home life. My reluctance to leave my Mum with him for fear of what would happen. I was frightened and really struggled with school to the point where my siblings and I were home taught for a period of time as it was near impossible getting me, in particular through the doors.
The last to flee the nest, I spent my last few years at home living in silence with my father. A tense cold hatred that felt like torture every time we passed. Arguments, resentment and bitterness in every family activity. Absolute hatred toward someone I loved so very much. It hurt. It tore me apart. Alcohol. Mum and I would talk for hours, trying to understand why he couldn’t stop. Why was it so hard? Did he not love us enough!? We were stumped and mystified.
My parents moved to France in my early twenties, much to my surprise as Dad’s drinking was far from conquered, I thought Mum as mad. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. And I felt so sad that she’d moved away with him. To live in solitary with that man, that problem and without me to support!? I felt useless to say the least and I felt completely alone. I wasn’t really a drinker back then, in fact I’d pour it away whilst out with friends, I just wanted to fit in. Slowly, in my early twenties, alcohol was everywhere for every occasion and so naturally, I started social drinking and started to enjoy the freedom it gave me with my social fear and painful lack of confidence. I’d regret it briefly the next morning whilst suffering with friends and laughing about the fun we’d had. Alcohol was fun and without anxiety or worry, I began to feel cool, accepted, funny, entertaining when intoxicated. All these things I didn’t think I could be normally… I didn’t know who I was but I did know that I was shy and afraid, I lived with a fear of most things.
When living on my own or the first time I was lonely. I’d find a comfort in drinking at home, alone, alcohol was like a reliable friend to me. A few drinks each night began to be routine. I’m a performer, I graduated with a Diploma in Performing Arts and a promising career in the West End. I loved pretending to be someone other than me and so, naturally I’d have a drink before a show to calm the nerves, some during, some after to celebrate, some after that to wind down. I was self-medicating with alcohol and it seemed to be working. If I felt rough the next day I’d have a drink in the morning to combat that. Bored, ill or worried at work? I’d have a drink at lunchtime. Did I mention it was my reward after work? Yeah, why not. Alcohol daily to medicate every emotion, tiredness, loneliness of every single day. Alcohol had a reason and I had an excuse.
Over the years I learned to cope with the illness it made me feel, daily. It was worth it because it enabled me to cope. Working, earning, performing some amazing gigs and shows etc over the years. A career anyone would have been proud of. This was life. As my health gradually deteriorated, I noticed that my brain was not coping so well either. Forgetfulness, thoughtlessness, fabrication and manipulation of the truth, rising anxiety and panic attacks constantly and the guilt, shame and secretive nature of my drinking. I thought if no one knew, it wouldn’t cause any harm. I was depressed most of the time and found no enjoyment in my life, whatsoever. Gigs with the BBC, shows at world famous venues with big names, record deals, every second of it fuelled with alcohol. Life seemed impossible yet it still ticked along relentlessly. However, I didn’t see alcohol as a problem. In fact quite the opposite. It’s what kept me going, like fuel to a fire. Without even knowing it, my body was alcohol dependent. A dangerous place to be. But I couldn’t live with it or I’d surely die, that’s what ‘they’ say.
A slow realisation and a dismissed thought. Facts started to point out that, carrying on the way I was, physically my body would cease to live and breathe or I’d kill myself like I could well have done on numerous occasions. For example my near fatal car crash whilst drink driving, something I did daily but without caring or thought! “Missing, presumed dead.” My poor parents were told. I’d lose job after job, constantly calling in sick and underperforming. I had to move frequently as I couldn’t keep up with my rent or bills, despite earning good money I was drinking every penny I had, drinking was the only motivation I had. If there wasn’t a drink, I wouldn’t be there. For when drink wasn’t available, don’t worry, I always had a secret stash. Every second of everyday, meticulously planning my next drink. I didn’t know what it was like to be sober, I couldn’t remember a day where I hadn’t drank. I started to not know what I’d done the day/night before and swear blind that I didn’t do all the awful things people told me I’d done. I’d laugh it off. I didn’t know what blackouts were. Not passing out but literally, no knowledge of the things you actually do. Scary stuff that I learnt years later, in recovery.
I started taking cocaine and soon became addicted to that. Made my drinking less of a problem, neither was coke for that matter. One balanced the other out, cocaine would perk me up when alcohol made me take a dip. It got me going for work. I even remember taking it whilst bored on the M25, stuck in a traffic jam. I’d DJ in a strip club in exchange for a bag or two. I’d wait patiently for hours for my dealer to emerge from strange places at strange times. No fear. I do believe I was promiscuous at times, more than I’d care to remember. After breaking up with the love of my life, I only dated alcoholics, unbeknownst to me but glaringly obvious now. Most of these relationships were violent in nature but all the while I was drinking, I didn’t care. Their drinking made mine seem acceptable and normal. Alcohol made me numb to violent acts. Alcohol pulled the wool over my eyes and ears so I couldn’t hear the abuse. Alcohol was all encompassing at this point. I did however dream that one day I could be the cool, calm girl at a party, happily stood celebrating with a glass of orange juice! But that, at the time, that was laughable. An impossible dream.
I moved to Australia in the hopes that life would be different. Alas, I continued to wake and drink until I was asleep again. On returning back to the UK with my tail between my legs I moved in with my folks who were now situated in the UK. It was now that the reality and severity of my alcoholism could not be hidden anymore. I tried to work but returned home every night, drunk as I entered the house, who doesn’t drive home with a bottle of wine between their legs? After some awkward conversations they coaxed me into AA meetings of which I’d oblige in order to pacify them. Instead I’d use them as a reason to drink, all that talking about it made me want to. They were a pathetic bunch of sorry alcoholics, far worse than me, of course.
At one point I was stealing money from my parents to buy drink, they even tried locking the windows and doors to stop me going out but that wouldn’t stop me from jumping out of a first floor window in order to get out, nearly breaking my legs and/or back in the process. Nothing would stop me! Elation and a feeling of success when I battled the obstacles in my way and had that drink in my hand! One day however, out of the blue I got crippling stomach pains to the point where couldn’t even drink a small glass of water. I couldn’t eat. Mum ‘home diagnosed’ me with a liver problem, whatever is was, this was to last the next 18 months. Solid, continuous pain, doctors, tablets, liquid diet, cameras down my throat, utter, sober misery. I was detoxed from alcohol by my Mum but I found other ways of getting intoxicated, ways and means only an addict would do in order to get that feeling and to fill that void. I was even addicted to codeine at one point. Anything. I didn’t like being sober. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t like anything. I hated my life and I was utterly ashamed.
The next few years, in a nutshell were a blurred, chaotic madness. I’ve tried to piece it together and have undoubtedly forgotten most details of it. My parents left the country once again and I was well enough to drink again with no one around to hurt, or so I thought. I’d been kicked out of my rented accommodation by the landlord after just 2 weeks. He visited my place, me passed out on the bed, I presume, the flat in a sea of bottles and mess. A letter by my head saying I had 24 hours to vacate, so I loaded my car and without a thought in my head as to what I’d do from there. I allowed two complete strangers to help me move when I heard my car being driven away from me. I didn’t go to the police, I went to steal some wine and sleep on the riverbank, naturally. So, I had no home. Burgled from all my worldly possessions, guitars, computers, photo albums and memories, everything – including my car. I started living on the street, without a second thought. I had to shoplift on a daily basis keep my dependant body going. I’d take bottles of wine into the pub, café and public toilets where I could drink in peace. Drink to sleep. I was often chucked out by security though. I was arrested regularly and actually didn’t mind a night in the cell, nice and warm, hot food, bit of company, a slap on the wrists the next morning then back to it later that day. Where next? The streets, strangers homes, the cells. I wasn’t violent so, I wasn’t upsetting anyone. This was my life.
I was often found, taken in somewhere; hospitals, hostels, doctors surgeries. Anywhere people thought they could save me but of course I’d just be let out or I’d abscond. Like I’d done previously when my parents spent a small fortune out of sheer desperation getting me into a rehab where I endured 18 hours of treatment before leaving. In my pyjama’s and slippers in the depths of winter. I’d managed to walk to a shop with £20, got wine and cigarettes, laid down in 2ft of snow, drank quickly and smoked till I was asleep. At the time I was oblivious to everything but I had what I wanted, lovely. I didn’t care if I lived or died but, what a miracle that I didn’t die on that particular occasion. I did awake with hypothermia and frostbite. I can’t feel my feet to this day.
I was arrested so many times over the years in different cities, the courts and authorities (who knew me all too well by then, known as, Amy Winehouse – clearly I’d been boasting or singing at them) They decided to take action and so placed me into prison on remand until a decision was made for this hopeless addict. I was in on remand for a month, didn’t mind it. Even got a bit of a kick out of it like I was on some ‘clicked up’ female prison drama. However, fighting my way out without being sentenced and promising to attend addiction services, I convinced my parents to take me in once again, which they reluctantly did. After 3 months with them, soberly and seemingly well, I decided to move to Brighton. The minute I was dropped off at my new place, new things, a fresh sober start, I went to the nearest shop for wine.
Within 2 weeks I was on the streets again. I opted to take the rent money back from the landlords and live off that for a while. I’d hang around with street drinkers and was taken under their wings, looked after even. Soup runs, car parks, alleyways, parks, drugs, singing in the lanes for spare change and being disappointed when given food rather than money for drink. A friend and I stumbled across a bag of drugs. Didn’t know what it was but I took it. There was a warrant out for my arrest as I hadn’t been attending probation or the required addiction services. When they found me, again a slap on the wrists and a promise to engage going forward. Sneaky Annie can be quite convincing. Then one day, completely depleted of all health, feeling like any time I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up. Weak, frail, painfully thin with hardly any energy to fend for myself, I was viciously assaulted and raped. How this hadn’t happened sooner, I do not know. I was taken to hospital so black and blue with a smashed up face, missing teeth, two broken ribs and a body that had to be photographed by detectives for evidence, 138 photographs to be precise. They didn’t show me a mirror for 3 weeks as they settled me in to a protected housing scheme where I was visited everyday by several teams, police escorts when going out etc. You know, the norm. When I did eventually see a mirror in a counsellors office, I didn’t recognise the empty, soulless wretch that stared back at me. I was missing. But I wasn’t dead.
A few months later I absconded the housing scheme once again to go and live with two new found alcoholic friends I’d made in Hove where I’d continue to drink and ignore all help. Dragged to doctors by my flatmates with the promise of alcohol if I did, real liver problems, no end in sight for my drinking days. Once again, I’d cunningly landed myself in the care of others. Drink, drugs and sleep. All I ever wanted. Eventually, they got me moved to a place where there were 51 other residents, all as hopeless and incapable as me. The workers there started getting me engaged and I started doing little things to help myself. I’d even eat occasionally. I saw people die there, use there, skank around as I did and expect to be looked after. I was taken in for a hospital detox, I came out and was drinking again shortly after but not so much this time.
I was engaging more in talking, key working, someone gave me a guitar and got me playing again and slowly, started to enjoy little things like that. I’d still binge and get myself into spirals where I couldn’t look after myself at all but there were people there daily who saw it and helped and got me engaging in things once again. My drinking started to affect the things I found myself enjoying and wanting to do, I didn’t like that so I’d actively try and drink less or more carefully so that I could do more. A seed had been planted, a realisation that I started to like doing things. A slow realisation perhaps but, my brain was changing. I was offered another detox. This time, I really wanted it. Each drink I had was painful, I didn’t get any enjoyment anymore. It was kinda getting in my way… I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
On the 9th February 2016 I was detoxed. Sober. Opening up my eyes a little more and starting to enjoy little things, even if it were initially just brushing my teeth or trying a piece of toast. I’d try and get out for little walks which over time turned into running. The toast became lovely feasts. I’d do art in my room, play my guitar and start writing music again. People would start to compliment me on my looks! Or my funny personality or the fact that I was always so happy. I was encouraged to be me. I was assigned a peer mentor through an addiction service, she became my first real friend in sobriety. We’d go out together, have coffee, play ping pong, even laugh! I found I could be funny, interesting, good company. I saw people reacting to me, valuing my opinion and actually liking me. Trusting me. Little me. Annie started to become alive, perhaps for the first time.
I got involved in a film course with Kennedy Street and found a whole new world where I’d wake up with real purpose to my everyday, a newfound appreciation, so huge for such tiny things. An unconditional love of my family that never gave up on me, new friends who showed me love for no other reason than the fact that they liked me, something I could not understand at first. I worked really hard at being sober, gritted my teeth daily, like a soldier a war. I was my own drill sergeant. If I could get alcohol come hell or high water, I could do this. AA and CA meetings weekly, initially not really knowing why but I was white knuckling and just desperate to get to bed sober each night. I set myself goals like a 5k run for Cancer research. A sober gig. Volunteering. Running a Drybar. Being in a film about my recovery so far. An AA meeting when I could, finding a whole world of people doing exactly what I’m doing and finding it an amazing awakening despite the difficulties. It was hard but I wasn’t alone.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t magically cured. I’ve had two lapses since, however, the lapses were a little crack in the window opening slightly so that I could just have a glimpse at what life was like and could be like again within the matter of, well, picking up just one drink. I’ve had a little taster of recovery now and boy, oh gee whizz. There are simply no words to convey what I feel everyday now and how life simply amazes me. I am working my 12 steps with a wonderful sponsor, I give my time and effort and thought to everyone and everything I engage in. I take pride in myself. I love my meetings and the fellowship because it’s what kept me going when I was walking blind with nothing but hope and faith in my heart. I’ve learnt to love myself because, that little shy girl doesn’t need a mask in order to tackle life. She doesn’t need to put on a show or pretend to be anything other than the being that she is today. Annie is not afraid anymore for she has dealt with things that have at times seemed impossible to the point where death was the easier option. The only option. In the very word, ‘impossible’. ‘I’M POSSIBLE!’
I now have a life I love. A home I cherish and bless everyday. Family and friends who I have unconditional love for. A body and brain that, God knows how, are still working and working well. This body and brain is respected by others too, enough so to find myself working as a Creative Director for Kennedy Street, the people I went to initially in recovery as a student. I will be training as a ‘Wellbeing coach’. I have also been appointed as a freelance film maker for a TV company where, I hope to spread the word, the truth and the hope that there is in recovery.
Plenty to celebrate one might say. Yes. And the cherry on the cake is that, I got my Daddy back. His own path to recovery is just that, his own but he did it also and in his own way. No two stories of recovery will ever be the same but the similarities shock and amaze you. It is a miracle that my Dad and I are still on this earth and, more importantly stronger than ever.
So to my dear old friend, alcohol, for old times sake, “cheers mate”. I’m quite alright celebrating with my orange juice. It is most delicious. Orange is indeed the new…