I had my first telephone conversation with Sarah as I embarked
on my journey into wellness. I’m going to abandon my diary format for this last
‘Official’ message as a client; it has served its purpose which was to make it easier for
me to be consistent in writing every day and, hopefully, for Sarah to select the
meaningful from the chatter.
I have lost count of the number of my previous attempts at sobriety. These began
even before alcohol tightened its insidious grip and transformed me from a regular
drinker into a dependent one.
My first concerns.
I remember realising first that I liked alcohol too much in my late teens and early
twenties. Though I rarely drank at that time, any alcohol that passed my lips ‘hit the
My first sharing of these concerns.
I confided in my husband in the early 1970s that I thought the seeds of alcoholism lay
within me. His response was to laugh. I felt embarrassment and relief. By that time
he was already an internationally known toxicologist.
My second sharing of these concerns.
During my early forties I consulted the Alcohol Problems Advisory Service (APAS), an
independent organization which, despite its name, helps people with a variety of
addictions. I booked an appointment and saw a very kind therapist who gave me a
longish form of the tick box variety to fill in. My responses were scored and the
results shared with me. I was assured that I did not have an ‘addictive’ personality
and was highly unlikely to become dependent on alcohol.
My third sharing of these concerns.
I phoned Drinkline about ten years ago. I explained that I had drunk a whole bottle of
wine and was worried about how much I was capable of consuming at a sitting. They
were kind and reassuring. It was understandable given the personal pressure I was
GPs over the years.
My first discussion about my drinking habits arose with my GP at the time (c.15 years
ago) when a blood test for something quite other showed that my red blood cells had
changed in shape and size; it was rightly pointed out to me that, although my liver
function tests were normal at the time, this morphing was usually seen in patients
where alcohol consumption was excessive. I was sent away with this shocking
knowledge and asked to return for more bloods in six weeks. As I entered that
doctor’s consulting room for the second time my eyes latched on the bottle of red
wine standing on the desk – a present from a grateful patient no doubt but an omen
to me. My blood profile had returned to normal and I proudly told the doctor that I
had renounced all alcohol in the intervening weeks. She was astonished. ‘I didn’t tell
you to stop drinking, just to stick to guidelines;’ and that was it. My mind was already
focused on the bottle and telling me that of course I could control my intake while my
honest inner self knew that this would be impossible.
My attempts to gain support from various GPs went on. These were always met by
the suggestion that I moderate my drinking to within medically advised guidelines;
give my system a break for a month after new year; that all would be well when
deeply distressing elements within my life had been resolved. At no time was it
suggested that I have checks on my liver function that may have highlighted my
deeper problem. I presented as a high functioning professional and a supportive and
tireless parent to my children. I appeared in control.
I embarked on a course of psychotherapy in 2009 after a double bereavement. I
mentioned my concern over alcohol and specifically in the amount drunk on visits to
close family who were my most important source of support. I was advised to cut out
drinking regularly and just binge at those times I went to stay with these people.
This situation persisted until the sadness and pressures of my personal life led to
complete breakdown in March 2010. I went to a new GP specifically to tell him of my
drinking habits and to ask for help. He was not patronizing. He was understanding
and kind. He referred me to ‘Last Orders’, an organization with support from
Nottingham City NHS. I was to go to a surgery in a nearby town on the afternoon of
the appointment and wait to be called. I did not have to report to reception nor say
anything to anyone so my anonymity would be protected. It still took a great deal of
courage to go but I made it. As I sat waiting I was approached by an officious woman
in nurses’ uniform who loudly asked who I was and why I was there. Not wishing to
draw attention to myself I whispered that I had been told I need not announce myself
and gave a nod in the direction of the Last Orders poster stating there were
appointments that day. But she persisted. I fled.
I did not give up on the Last Orders service but contacted the office to tell of my
experience and arrange to go to the main base in the City Centre. This time things
went more smoothly. In the waiting room I was given two forms to fill in. The first
gave my drinking habits a score of 19/20. The second form was only for people
scoring more than 20 but I filled that in too to give as full a picture as possible. I saw
two counsellors together. They wanted to know what help I was looking for. I had
been abstinent for a week and my BP was normal. I felt I was wasting their time. I
said I was concerned that I would go back to abusing alcohol and was looking for
support over the six weeks permitted attendance to aim for sobriety. They suggested
I keep a diary of my daily intake which seemed to ignore completely my aim for
sobriety. It was all left up to me; I was clearly not a serious case.
I’ve lost count of the number of contacts I have made over the years with AA. But
each time I did ring I was treated with courtesy and compassion and offers of
company to go to a meeting. But I was oh so put off by the idea of going out in the
middle of the evening to sit around a table in a church hall to hear that I had to hang
on to sobriety, one day at a time, by the skin of my teeth; that I would never fully
I knew all along that I needed to give up drinking alcohol. What I was looking for was
the kind of diagnostic procedure to be expected on a visit to the doctor for any other
kind of illness. I wanted tests to be run and maybe a specialist referral and then
advice, support and any appropriate medication to help me recover. What I wasn’t
looking for was patronizing attitudes and a deepening of my already well-developed
sense of shame.
When I saw the article in The Times mentioning Sarah’s work I grasped the
opportunity to consult her as the last chance to save my life. There is no hyperbole in
this; no attempt at over dramatizing my situation. Too many years and too much
effort to quit had gone by and the fight had all but gone out of me. I knew from first
contact that I had at last found someone who could support me towards full
recovery. Sarah knew exactly where I was coming from and what I had been
through; she treated me with respect and caring and I felt real hope. As the days and
weeks went by my daily diary entries gradually evolved from weathering the cravings
for alcohol, to finding my mood lift and my physical health improve, to being
surprised at finding immense pleasure in simple things and a novel sense of
enthusiasm for life. Finally I was beginning to find the real me.
Thank you Harrogate Sanctuary.