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Voices: Facing my alcoholism head-on was the only way I could get sober

Voices: Facing my alcoholism head-on was the only way I could get sober

My name is Nikki, and I’m an alcoholic.

I’m also a professional, a wife, a mother, and a respected member of my community. I never set out to become an alcoholic, but I became one nonetheless.

Now sober, I try to reach out to those who are silently suffering with the guilt and shame that alcoholism brings. We tend to think of alcoholics as fitting some lazy stereotype, or acting in some particular way. But the reality is that alcohol doesn’t discriminate. Alcohol can affect anyone: from teachers to lawyers; from doctors to your grandad, or your sister.

After talking on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 show recently, I received hundreds of messages to my Twitter account (@ASoberLady) saying that they had burst into tears when they heard me. The fact that my story is so similar to their own meant that they finally didn’t feel alone.

So many are suffering, and we need to change the stigma and narrative that still surrounds this disease. People are too afraid of the consequences of reaching out to their GP or their work occupational health department, but the consequences of not reaching out are much graver. Because of that, we need to feel free to be able to talk about alcoholism; or, hell, any type of addiction.

So how did I become an alcoholic? “Why me?” is a question many in my position ask themselves.

For me it was to numb the pain and trauma in my past. “Alcohol is legal”, I told myself, “what harm could that do?” But while alcohol may be legal, it doesn’t mean it isn’t lethal.

At age 11 I was sexually assaulted on the way to school. When I ran home I wasn’t believed. It was then that I took an alcoholic drink for the first time to numb the pain. People pick up alcohol for many reasons. I never set out to be an alcoholic.

Later in life, I was known as the party girl, always looking for a good time, and so no one batted an eyelid if I was hammered. Over time the social drinking moved on to drinking at home for any reason: a bad day in the office (or even a good one), if it was cold outside, or too hot. Any excuse really.

And the amount kept increasing. The chaos and carnage after a day or night’s drinking kept mushrooming, and drinking went from being something fun to something insidious.

The more you drink, the more you tolerate. The more it seems to help with numbing any trauma or general life issues. And in the end, that’s how you end up coping with everything.

I knew I was an alcoholic long before I admitted it, but the denial and shame kept me from doing anything about it. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and unless you do something about it, it will continue to get worse.

The compulsion to drink became stronger and stronger, until I finally realised that I’d lost control. Alcohol was becoming the priority in my life. I have heard people say that you have a problem with drinking when alcohol starts to cost you more than money, and for me it was doing precisely that.

Some people don’t like to use the word alcoholism, but I don’t mind it too much. It may be an abhorrent word that makes people recoil and look down on others, but I feel like if I called myself anything less I’d risk letting myself start to think that maybe things weren’t quite as bad as I initially thought they were. That maybe I could have just one or two drinks.

That won’t ever work for me; I’ve tried everything I can to cut down, but I’ve found that once I pop, I just can’t stop.

I am now 900 days sober – the longest I’ve ever been sober. What has made the difference this time is admitting that I have a problem. Complete honesty. Until I did this the destructive cycle kept spinning.

Attending a recovery programme and meetings was pivotal. The support and understanding it gave me was invaluable. I don’t kid myself anymore that I can have just one, because I know where one will take me – straight back to three bottles by tomorrow.

It’s similar to smoking for me, I gave up 20 years ago, and still I know if I had one I would be straight back to a full pack a day. The addiction/relapse cycle works the same no matter what the vice.

I’ve also started to address the reasons that I became an alcoholic in the first place. It’s a tough and long process, but one I must endure in order to learn how to deal with life without alcohol. To learn how to deal with emotions that have been stunted by my alcohol abuse over many years.

I write on Twitter to reach others – maybe even help them – as I know how dark and lonely that pit can be once you fall into it. It is only through sober eyes that I can now start to work out why I ended up this way, and figure out how I can start to rebuild a life beyond my wildest dreams.