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Alcoholic, homeless and broke - until rehab saved me

Published 27/05/2008

I've always partied hard and I was famous for never leaving a bottle of booze unfinished.

But what started as social drinking while I was working in London spiralled out of control when I relocated to Pembrokeshire in 1999 to run my own company.

I had been hitting the bottle harder than usual since the death of my father four years previously, and the pressure of running my own business, coupled with supporting my mother through breast cancer, soon saw me going on all-day benders and even driving drunk.

By this time last year I was having regular blackouts, and terrifying family and friends by going missing for days at a time.

I'd been abusing my body for 15 years and it started to shut down. I was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy - I'd become so drink-dependent I'd run my business into the ground and my house was about to be repossessed.

I knew I was at rock bottom and needed help. So last July I used the remains of my savings to check into the Lynwode Group alcohol rehabilitation centre in Barnsley, Yorkshire.

This is what happened...

I am filled with anxiety as I walk towards a small stately home. Although it looks like a hotel, it's a clinic - and my last chance to kick the alcohol addiction that is slowly killing me. I'm nervous about what lies ahead but determined to succeed.

I check-in with the rest of the ‘guests' - my fellow alcoholics. Half of us are women, half men, aged between 20 and 65. Then I'm shown to my room which is sunny and welcoming.

Finally, I'm going to get the help I so badly need. I'm put on a week's detox and have to take regular medication to help me cope with withdrawal symptoms.

I'm in lockdown, meaning I can only stroll in the grounds under supervision in case I try to drink. Although I have the shakes, I'm not sick, and thanks to daily counselling and medication, the alcohol cravings aren't as bad as I'd expected.

On my first full day I'm able to say those crucial words: "I'm an alcoholic and I'm ready to accept help."

I'd forgotten how delicious food can be. For years I've just eaten whatever came to hand, mid-alcoholic binge. Almost all of my calories were liquid. At Linwood Group there's a big emphasis on communal eating.

We gather three times a day around the big kitchen table and enjoy fresh, healthy food. In the morning we have an hour-long group therapy session. I admit to the others, and myself, my weakness for alcohol has made me dishonest and manipulative.

I once escaped a drink-drive charge after giving a sob story to police about being ill and needing to get to hospital. I also constantly lied to friends and family about the scale of my problem. Opening up to strangers is cathartic and it feels good to talk about it.

I still have the shakes but my withdrawal has been mild compared to some others, who barely sleep and suffer excruciating headaches.

There is a close bond forming within our group. It really feels like we're all in this together. I'm now sharing a room with another woman. This ‘buddy system' is meant to encourage us to share our experiences. And it does - we stay up until the early hours talking. It's great to meet people who are like me and don't judge me.

We're allowed visitors, but I've told my family and friends I don't want to see them. They understand. After years of being strong for them, I need to focus on me and on getting well again.

But I'm not lonely. We're already like one big family in here.

I've told my therapists everything. How I was a high-powered City girl who drank for business and pleasure, and how I believed that as long as I hit my work targets, alcohol was still my friend.

My father died when I was 28 and I was too busy to grieve for him, so I parcelled up the pain and put it away.

Then my mother developed breast cancer and I was by her side as she went through months of gruelling chemotherapy before finally being given the all-clear. I told them that I was the kind of person who gave 150 per cent to everything, including drinking.

They told me I had to stop blaming other people and other things for my alcohol addiction. They said I was like a lot of alcoholics, controlling and oversensitive, so that when I was faced with things I couldn't handle - like my dad's death - I turned to drink.

Alcohol had been my crutch, but it had finally destroyed me. After a month in rehab I'm ready to leave. On my last day I feel euphoric - it's my first natural high in years.I feel free of my old life, as if the slate has been wiped clean.

A friend comes to pick me up and drives me to Glastonbury, where I plan to make a fresh start as a yoga instructor.

Eight months later I am teetotal, and as happy and carefree as the day I left Linwood Group. Addiction cost me my business, my home and my financial security.

It would have cost me my life, if not for rehab. I'm single and enjoying living without booze. Although I still go out with friends, I have swapped vodka for mineral water and enjoyed my first sober Christmas in years.

I'm not tempted to drink. Even the smell of alcohol reminds me of those dark days when I was addicted to it. I also feel and look much healthier. I'm fitter, and my skin is no longer pale and pasty. I'm teaching yoga and also training to be a counsellor so I can help others like me.



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