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.