Alumni Update: I can finally start thinking about the future

Alumni Update I can finally start thinking about the future

I expected that rehab would kick start my road to sobriety but it was so much more than that. The Cabin, and its holistic approach, encouraged me to dig deeper and look at the way my personality and behaviours have contributed to my alcoholism.

I arrived at The Cabin on April 18 2015. I can honestly say this was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life and was to be the beginning of a brand new way of life.

When I made the decision to book myself into The Cabin I was pretty desperate. My drinking was becoming progressively worse with every day, despite my determination to stop or cut down. The harder I tried to stop the more I seemed to end up drinking. I’m usually very strong-willed and every time I drank (having started the day determined not to) I felt like a useless failure and that would lead to a case of the ‘fuck-its’ and I would just drink more to forget what a useless waste of space I was.

I expected that rehab would kick start my road to sobriety but it was so much more than that. The Cabin, and its holistic approach, encouraged me to dig deeper and look at the way my personality and behaviours have contributed to my alcoholism.

From a very young age I have felt like I don’t fit in. I never really got on with the other kids at school. I was a very shy and sensitive child and I couldn’t cope with the bullying. My answer to this was to withdraw, to isolate.

At the age of 13 I started a new school and was determined for things to be different, I would to try to be sociable, to not be the misfit. I made a friend who was funny and popular and, strangely, we became ‘best friends’ immediately. I still felt uncomfortable around the other kids but I began to feel that there was hope that this was something I could overcome.

Unfortunately, within 2 months of starting this school and meeting this girl, something awful happened. After a school party my new friend had a massive asthma attack and died in front of me, at my house. Suddenly, not only had I lost my new best friend and was grieving, but I was being whispered about, nobody wanted to talk to me (they didn’t know what to say), and once again I withdrew.

At 18 I left home and moved to London to start Nursing College. Again I was determined for things to be different and I tried so hard to be sociable and to fit in. I think this is when I really discovered alcohol. Although I was still quiet, and it took a while for people to get to know me, it quickly became known that I could drink. I could drink harder, faster, and longer than any of my friends, and this became my identity. I was the shy, quiet, unsuspecting girl who could drink anyone (male or female) under the table. I liked this and played up to it.

I moved into student accommodation with a great bunch of girls and began to feel like I was finally fitting in. But once again my life was to take another turn and isolation would be the result. To cut a very long story short I started dating a guy who had a drug addiction and, as a result, he ended up arrested for murder. He was ultimately convicted of manslaughter and I made the decision to stay with him and support him. I now realize this was a co-dependent relationship, so typical of the addict’s lifestyle. I thought I could fix him.

But how do you tell people you are dating a convicted killer? I would go to work and go to any lengths to avoid personal conversations so people wouldn’t ask me anything about my life. I had one or two close friends who knew, but even they became more distant as I insisted on staying with him and allowed him to move in with me when he was released from prison. This isolation went on for several years until his behaviour became so bad I finally made the decision to end the relationship.

I mention these things because I think they highlight a repeated pattern of behaviour which, for me, can be self-destructive and probably set the path of things to come.

A year or so after ending my relationship I decided to make a complete break and take a year to work and travel around Australia. After a year I realized that the UK had nothing to offer me and made the decision to stay in Australia.

When I made the decision to settle in Perth it, again, took me some time to make friends. I had acquaintances that I was friendly with but close friends were hard to find.  For probably obvious reasons I had steered clear of getting involved in another serious relationship so I gravitated towards other single people and a group evolved who all enjoyed eating out and, of course, drinking.

I’m pretty sure this is when things really started to spiral out of control for me. This group of friends was smart, witty, successful, funny, charismatic, and so many things that I was not. I constantly felt like I was going to be ‘found out’ for not really being one of them. I knew I wasn’t good enough and, when they realized that, I would be dropped. Drinking relaxed me, enabled me to join in their conversation, it quieted the negative voice in my head, and allowed me to fool myself that I could be like them.

It wasn’t long before I started having panic attacks. I had no idea what was causing them but I now recognize that I was trying so hard to be someone that I wasn’t that consequently I was living in a constant state of anxiety.  With the panic attacks also came depression. I ended up medicated and under the care of a psychiatrist but continued to medicate myself with alcohol.

The depression got so bad I became suicidal. I never admitted this to anyone but I absolutely believed I was going to die. It was at this point that I remember giving up. There was no point fighting the will to drink anymore because I was going to kill myself soon anyway.  I tried twice…unsuccessfully obviously!

Not even being able to kill myself successfully I decided just to keep drinking until either things started to improve or I was able to do the job properly. Once again I withdrew. I didn’t want to burden my friends with my depression and panic attacks, but also for me drinking was no longer a means to aid social activity, it was hard work watching the rate at which everyone else was drinking and trying to slow my pace to match them, or to guess how much I could drink before meeting them without them realizing I was already drunk. It was so much easier to drink in the privacy of my own home, I wasn’t hurting anyone and could drink there without judgment or guilt.

This went on for more than 3 years. I no longer thought about killing myself because I was silencing the thoughts with alcohol and distracting myself with constant television. But I realized I was becoming more and more dependent on the alcohol. I had rules – no drinking before 6pm became no drinking before 4pm became no drinking before 12pm. When I was struggling to wait for 12pm to come and was considering having a drink before work (to settle the shaky hands) I knew I had to do something. It took some time before I allowed the fog to clear long enough to truly acknowledge this, but once I did I knew I needed help.

So one Saturday, having decided that today I really truly was going to have a sober day no matter what, and again failing, I got on the internet and found The Cabin.  I knew if I didn’t do something straight away it would probably be another 6 months before I had the clarity of mind or courage to try again so I sent an email. I had a response within an hour. No pressure, no judgement, just an offer of help if that is what I wanted. By the end of that weekend I had committed to a 3 week stay.

Arriving in Thailand I was extremely nervous. I didn’t want to arrive drunk but I wasn’t able to remain entirely sober either. I drank enough to get me through the flight but, by the time I arrived at The Cabin, the shakes were kicking in. I could barely sign my name on the contract.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I arrived but I don’t think I expected to see a group of seemingly ‘normal’ people having what appeared to be a lot of fun playing table tennis. I remember looking at all the glasses containing non-alcoholic drinks and wondering how they could look so happy and relaxed! One of them ran over and introduced himself to me. I was pleased but embarrassed at the same time, I can only imagine what I must have looked like!

The staff were great! At no time did I feel judged. I knew that many of the staff were recovering addicts, but I felt embarrassed. I’m a nurse, shouldn’t I know better?

To be honest my recollection of my first week at The Cabin is fairly hazy. I was fairly heavily medicated to manage my withdrawal symptoms and the days whizzed by, filled with group sessions, Personal Training, Counseling sessions, exercise, massage, and meditation. But I do remember for the first time in a very long time I was entirely myself. I had no energy to fake being someone I’m not.

Before arriving at The Cabin I was dreading the group sessions. I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in a room full of strangers and talking about my emotions! In reality these sessions were incredibly educational and I was able to relate to so much. What blew me away was the total honesty of the participants. There was this freedom to discuss absolutely anything with no judgment. It was extremely liberating.

To begin with I struggled to share my own story. I felt as though I was a bit of a fraud. I hadn’t grown up with violent parents, I’d had a good education, I hadn’t lost my job or family members, I didn’t have a criminal conviction I’d had a good life. Listening to other people, however, I realized that a lot these things should have been followed by the word ‘yet’. Many individuals within my group told me how much they wished they had got treatment before these things had happened to them.

What I hadn’t anticipated, coming into treatment, was how quickly and intimately you get to know the people around you. We all learned things about each other that even the people closest to us in ‘normal life’ didn’t know. I was only in treatment for 3 weeks but some of the friends I made there I know will be friends for life. I also discovered (and this for me was huge) that people actually liked me for who I was. It didn’t matter that I was quiet, that I wasn’t quick witted and funny, or that I wasn’t the life of the party. People respected my honesty, my loyalty, and my open, caring personality.

This was also something I discussed with my counselor.  Apart from examining my addict behavior together, she also challenged me to try different approaches to dealing with people like pointing out dishonesty or lack of commitment in the group sessions. I learned that I could do this without losing that person’s friendship or respect. In fact, often people appreciated honest, constructive criticism.

Another challenge emerged as a fellow client began to overstep boundaries and abuse my experiences as a nurse.  During my counseling sessions it had been identified that I have trouble establishing boundaries with people so this situation became a good opportunity for me to ‘practice’ putting these boundaries into place in a safe and controlled environment. During the all female Process Group I was encouraged to explain how I felt and how the behaviour was inappropriate.  The counselors were able to support me and the other client throughout this process.  I was able to identify that the biggest barrier I have to establishing boundaries is fear of not being liked. This is part of my personality that still requires some work!

I think this represents what The Cabin has done for me.  I went in hoping for help with stopping drinking and detoxing, but came out with the ability to look with fresh eyes at my life and my behaviour patterns, to see how these can exacerbate my alcoholism, and the tools to challenge my ingrained core beliefs about myself.

I know I have a long way to go emotionally and intellectually, but I currently have 11 weeks of sobriety under my belt, I am getting to the gym 5 times a week, I am eating healthily, friends are beginning to comment on how happy and healthy I look (and want to know my secret!), and I can finally start thinking about the future. None of this could have happened without The Cabin and the expertise of its staff members and I am truly grateful for that.