This Is Me

My name’s Sam and I am an… we all know how this sentence ends. But not everyone knows exactly what it means to say it. That’s why I’m sharing my story which will explain the inspiration behind my upcoming novel, Forgive Me Not.

In August 2016 I found myself sitting in an addiction clinic. This will probably be a shock to those who know me. It shocked me too. My drinking had grown from the weekend, to stretch across Thursday and Sunday. Then it was every night, any excuse. It softened a bad review and added sparkle to literary celebrations. But truth be told, the problem had been growing for years, way before I became an author. I suffered from anorexia and bulimia at university and recently my eating issues have returned. The rooms of AA are filled with people who’ve had – or have – eating disorders. The mental issues behind the behaviours are very similar.

Fear and denial kept me away from the doctor. I hadn’t lost my job yet, my family, not all my friends, my house, I wasn’t drinking twenty-four seven, I didn’t end up sleeping on the streets or in prison or sectioned… My problem wasn’t yet obvious.

But certain areas of my life and the mental distress were becoming unmanageable. I couldn’t face life with alcohol. I couldn’t face life without it.

When I finally went to my GP, back in February 2016, it initially proved difficult to get the expert treatment I needed. Eventually a counsellor directed me to the alcohol services for my area and for three months I had outpatient treatment – group therapy – at an addiction clinic where I was treated by hard-talking former addicts. Then I moved to recovery services for a further three months, where I learnt about mindfulness and wellbeing. I gave talks to children in High School about my drinking and eating problems. I trained for another three months to become a peer mentor to young people in addiction.

During those nine months I shared my story and listened to new friends talk about their addiction in the context of work, domestic abuse, prison life and homelessness.

People chat to each other about trying to cut down on unhealthy foods or stopping smoking, but you’ll rarely hear a conversation where one person says they are seriously worried about their alcohol habits – because there is such a stigma attached to regularly drinking too much. And yet many people are and as long as this fear of being truthful about our intake exists, hospital beds will continue to fill with people suffering from alcohol-related illnesses.

Society needs to be talking openly about it.

A considerable part of recovery is making alcoholics aware of the hurt we might have caused others. We won’t get better until we realise that no one is to blame for our drinking but ourselves. We need to face up to the consequences of what we’ve done – and that difficult process is what originally inspired my new novel.

Forgive Me Not isn’t my story. It is made up of characters who go on their own journeys. However it is written completely from the heart. From personal experience I know that saying sorry isn’t always enough.

I’ll never forget going into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous for the first time. I envisaged there would be old men in dirty macs, sitting on their hands longing for a drink. How wrong I was. It was full of warm, welcoming, happy people of all ages and backgrounds who wanted to share their joy of sobriety. I did the Twelve Step recovery programme with my wonderful sponsor.

AA isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t scary. The thought of going is. And it shouldn’t be. Alcohol abuse is a growing problem, particularly amongst people of my age who buy a bottle of wine to unwind at the end of the day. Society needs to reach a position where people can talk about their drinking habits without the fear of being judged.

I’m still Sam the wife, mum and author, who likes cats and writing and cake. That person, in real life and online, hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s helped no end, the last couple of years, to use social media to talk about the positive aspects of my life, whilst dealing with my demons away from the keyboard. Posting my inspirational memes probably helps me as much as anyone else. It’s only now that I feel strong enough to share my experience. I’ve faced my problem head on and stopped drinking. I’ve made amends where possible and it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally forgiven myself.

I’ve accepted that this is me.

More than ever I love my amazing husband and children whose unquestioning support has been a big part of the reason that I’m now eighteen months sober. I’m full of gratitude for the help given to me by them, friends, AA and professionals.

If any of you reading this are struggling with drink, get help now before things worsen – which they will. Go to your doctor. Speak to a relative or friend. Go to AA – the only qualification needed to attend is that you want to stop drinking but can’t. They won’t take your name or ask for personal details or write anything down. No one will tell you you’re an alcoholic – you’ll decide for yourself by listening to everyone else’s stories and seeing if you can relate to the feelings.

You won’t stand out as different. Alcoholics are ordinary people.

If you are worried about your own intake reach out and tell someone before the wine o’clock everyone jokes about turns into a ticking time bomb.

You may be an alcoholic. You may not.

But if you are, I’m getting better one day at a time.

So can you.

 

 

 

80 comments

  1. Gem says:

    So much respect & love Sam, it’s never easy to open up in this world but your experience will I’m sure help others see the realities of addiction and help families of those in recovery also. Your book is full of authenticity because of your own journey xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Gem – yes, the book was written from the heart, and if this post or the book helps just one person reach out for help, then it’ll have been worth it. Thanks for the support xx

  2. JB Johnston says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences Sam. As the daughter of an alcoholic I am all too familiar with the damage addiction can cause. Your post is honest and inspiring. Wishing you well on your journey. x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much, Debbie – and I’m sorry to hear about your circumstances. Life for you, at times, must have been/must be very hard. xx

  3. Viv says:

    Very brave to share something so personal but you should be so proud to have overcome it. Very best of luck with the new book and for the future.

  4. carol warham says:

    You are a fantastic person and so brave. The amount of good you will have done for others, who need help, by writing this, is immeasurable. As ever your posts are inspiring and wonderful. x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      I’m so grateful for you kind words, Carol, after a very difficult two years when I’ve felt, at times, I’m the worst person ever. Thanks so much xx

  5. Sue Mayer says:

    Wonderful post Sam and so very brave.You are an inspiration and this can only make you stronger.Good Luck with your book I wil be reading it.xxxxx

  6. Kate Hewitt says:

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt and honest post,Sam. As someone with alcoholism in my family, I know how insidious it can be, and how easy it is too fool ourselves. You are very brave in so many ways, to face your problem and then to share it so you can help others. And your book is fantastic!! xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much for that, Kate, and I’m so sorry to hear of your experience. You are right – insidious is the exact word and I’m very grateful for all the help I’ve had to get better. And so glad you enjoyed the book! xx

  7. Michael Arnold says:

    So very brave of you to post this Sam. You’ve sent me messages of support and I will always be there for you too xxx

  8. Berni Maycock says:

    Congratulations for for being brave enough to share such a personal story and being such an inspiration in every way. I have a saying ‘some woman for one woman,’ and I’m adding you to the list of people who absolutely amaze and inspire me (although as one of the best and most prolific female rom com writers around, you already were for me). Take care x

  9. stacey says:

    What a beautiful, heart-felt post. I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, but I know all about anorexia as I went through it from late teens to early 20’s. I survived on 2 Mars Bars and bottles of water a day. I was so skinny my sister’s called me a ‘stick of liquorice’ (I only ever wore black clothes). I’m now at the opposite end of the scale as I got better and then had two more kids I started to put on weight and I’ve always been too scared to diet in case I end up back in that place. You are one brave lady and I congratulate you on recognising you needed help and seeking that help, as well as staying sober for 18 months. X

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much Stacey, and I’m really sorry to hear that. The drinking was terrible and caused me – and other people – problems, but at least, to get better, I could completely cut it out. Whereas with food you have to take it 3 times a day, you can’t avoid it, and that has its own challenges. I can really recommend Matt Haig’s new book, Notes on a Nervous Planet. He talks a lot in there about accepting yourself for what you are and look like. So glad you recovered. Thanks again xx

  10. Jessica Redland says:

    Wow, Sam. What a beautiful piece and such a powerful reminder that someone may look on top of the world on social media, but we only present what we want to/need to present at that time and may actually be going through something incredibly difficult behind the scenes. I am sure your honesty and Forgive Me Not will inspire those who are facing their own demons. Wishing you all the best on your journey.
    Jessica xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Jessica. Yes, I think we look at people’s online profiles and think they have easy/amazing lives, but everyone has their story and I just couldn’t share mine before now. Thanks for the lovely words. Sam xx

  11. Johanne Percival says:

    Intelligent, talented, beautiful…. and incredibly brave. Thank you for sharing Sam. I hope that sharing this aids your recovery and helps to keep you well.
    Mental health issues shook our family to the core 3 years ago and, like you I found myself entering a world of which I had huge misconceptions. So after 14 years working in education, I began working in mental health support. I love it. It has helped me to understand, I’m learning lots and it has opened up a world that I didn’t know existed.
    Taking time and effort to understand yourself and then use your knowledge to help others is the best way to keep yourself well. Best wishes and huge hugs x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much for those lovely words, Johanne. I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s experience – mental health issues can traumatise families – and good on you for changing career in that direction, that is just so inspiring. Big hugs back at you xx

  12. Bridget C says:

    This is a very touching blog post, Sam.

    I think that even more than the stigma associated with admitting that one has a problem with drinking, is that it’s pushed everywhere. Every single day on Facebook, I see a post where someone says they have had a grotty day, and at least one person will say “You need wine”. I find that very worrying.

    I am more and more aware that ladies our age are using it as a crutch, so thanks for talking about that so openly.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Bridget. Yes, I think the whole wine o’clock phenomenon is very worrying as alcoholism is so insidious and before you know it you’re drinking every day and find it hard not to. And alcohol is just so cheap and available these days, in a way it never used to be. Thanks for reading. Sam x

  13. Glynis Smy says:

    I wish you well for the future and thanks for sharing.

    I stepped away from ‘Wine ‘clock” when the weight piled back on, it scared me. I felt the nightly drink was something I had to do being an author. Silly how we fall into traps. Sad when it grips us tight.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Glynis.

      Well done you for taking a step back. Yes, it is so easy to become swept along with it all and it can so quickly get a grip, especially as it is very easy to justify, in our heads, after a good or bad day.

  14. Anne Williams says:

    Sam, that’s such a brave and wonderful post – and it moved me deeply. My brother wasn’t able to ask for the help he needed, and died from alcohol related problems at aged 52. Thank you for your exceptional honesty – and I’ve immediately added Forgive Me Not to my “must read” list xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much for those words Anne – and I’m so very sorry to hear about your brother, for him, you and the family. It must have been so tough witnessing his decline – but sadly nothing can be done if the person in question isn’t ready to accept/seek help. Big hugs. I hope you enjoy the book xx

  15. msedollyp says:

    A brave piece to write, so glad you found the courage, I read it from the otherside, being part of the family of someone who drinks too much and the mental hurt it causes. Maybe one day he will find your courage.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thank you – and I’m sorry you and your family and he are going through that. I hope he does get the help he needs. Addiction causes a wide ripple effect of damage and hurt and it must be very tough for you all. Sending best wishes.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much, Clare. I haven’t started the mentoring yet – I think my way of helping, now I’m 18 months sober, is going to be giving talks about drinking (in workplaces etc) and I’m excited to give something back. Thanks for reading.

  16. Lindsay Bamfield says:

    Congratulations. I’ve said that before about your books but now I’m saying it about your bravery. It’s brave to take the first step to recovery and it takes bravery to keep going. It was also brave to write this post, which I think may well help others who are struggling. And yes, congratulations on the new book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  17. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this very brave and important post, Sam and congratulations on making such a great start to your recovery. You certainly won’t be the first writer to put on a bright, positive face to the world whilst hiding your troubles. We don’t know each other well in ‘real life’ but have known each other for many years through our shared writing journey and you know I’m always there for you if you ever need to talk xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks, Wendy, I really appreciate that. Yes, everyone has their story, behind the scenes – I think social media makes us lose sight of that sometimes. Thanks again xx

  18. Sue Blackburn says:

    You’ve always inspired me Sam since I got to ‘know’ you on FB and started reading your brilliant novels. But this brave and inspirational post is something else. It puts the despair of a drinking problem, the havoc it can wreak, right out there where it needs to be to reach, help and inspire others to obtain the help they need.
    Congratulations very special lady, on this inspiring post and also on your inspirational book which I can’t wait to read
    May your one day at a time end up being the happy and fulfilled life you and your lovely family so richly deserve. xxx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Sue, those words mean a great deal. My one day at a time was made a little easier last year with friends like you online, to cheer a challenging day, and I thank you for that. Wishing you well too <3 Sam xxx

  19. Cass says:

    You have my utmost respect for this open, heart-felt post, Sam.

    Your honesty is not only refreshing but may be a great way of helping others to take a good look at their own drinking habits (myself included)!

    I only ‘know’ you through Twitter, but I hope it’s okay to say here that I’m proud of you: proud of the decision you made, the steps you took and what you have achieved. You’re going to be a fab mentor!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much, Cass – appreciate that. Not started the mentoring yet. Learnt a lot from the course and just trying to decide now what volunteering to do. Thanks for reading 🙂

      • Sylvia Broady says:

        Dear Sam thank you for sharing your story. Your words radiate understanding and honesty and you are a truly brave and inspirational lady. My very best wishes to you and your family. Sylvia x

  20. Francesca Burgess says:

    Thank you for your honesty, Sam. My mother was an alcoholic for whom wine o’clock got out of hand. She ended up nearly dying as a consequence and spent the rest of her life unwell. That was nearly 50 years ago, but it’s still such a problem for people. So glad you got the help you needed. xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much Francesca – and for you honesty too. I am so sorry to hear that, it must have been tough for you as well. It’s such massive problem due to the availability and cheap pricing of alcohol these days. I suspect there are far more people out there like your mum, and the old me, than we know. xx

  21. Jackie Baldwin says:

    I have such respect and admiration for you Sam for overcoming your addiction and having the courage to share your story. I am sure that this post will encourage some people to step back from the brink before it is too late. I will definitely be reading your book. A fabulous achievement!

    • Sam Tonge says:

      What a kind comment, thanks so much Jackie. I really hope so – even if it makes one person face up to their drinking and stop before it is too late, then it will have been worth it. Thank you!

  22. Alison Drew says:

    Oh Sam, this post bought tears to my eyes for your bravery at speaking out. I know how hard it is to suddenly ‘change’ in front of people and they don’t know how to treat you or talk to you. I became the ‘lady with cancer’ and lost all of ME.
    You have always been on the top of my favourite author list as you know so just remember how much you give back, the pleasure gained from your books, And yes I recommend “Forgive Me Not” to everyone.
    Much love & stay strong xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks so much Alison, I was a little apprehensive about “coming out” – although funnily enough I feel more “me” since doing so, probably as I have had these problems (certainly the eating) on and off for nigh on 30 years and they are part of me in many ways. Whereas your experience must have been/be so tough. Much love back to you, I see you about on social media and you are one strong cookie, Alison xx

  23. Rae says:

    Your openness is inspiring, Sam. I volunteer at a food bank and regularly hear of the damage alcohol addiction causes both individuals and families. It’s incredibly difficult to avoid alcohol when it’s on supermarket shelves next to cornflakes and washing up liquid. Wishing you every success with Forgive Me Not and also with your recovery journey. xxx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks very much, Rae, and good on you for doing that. Yes, the ripple effect of the damage alcoholism causes is far-reaching and alcohol has never been cheaper or more readily available. Something needs to change. xxx

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