As far back as I can recall, I have always strived for ‘perfection’. I was raised in a single parent household; my mother abandoned our home when I was aged 9 and my brother, Tom, aged 3. Our father was a hardworking executive who always put his children first, and I always wanted to show him that we would be alright without Mum. When Mum first left us, I used to hear him crying in his bedroom, though he never openly shared his pain with us. I, too, cried every night for many months, but I did not want Dad to know how much we missed Mum.
I took on the role of mother in our home, preparing meals for Dad and Tom and somehow still managing to get top marks at school. Every day was a struggle for me in adolescence and I felt that although my teachers always told me I was an excellent student, inside, I was not worth half as much as they thought. I felt like I had to work harder than anyone in my class to do well, for I wasn’t an intellectual by nature and what I really wanted to do, was be an artist. Summer in Leeds was always one of my happiest times, for I could set the books aside, pull out my canvass and head for Middleton or Chevin Forest Park, painting the beautiful natural landscapes which surrounded me and eased my pain. When I painted, I could finally be myself and that felt very liberating.
It wasn’t until I was at Uni that my drinking problem began. I started drinking at parties in my first year of Law, but soon, alcohol became part of my routine wind-down every evening after attending lectures and studying. It didn’t help that my flatmate, Martha, commonly downed at least a bottle of wine every night.
At first it was fun to get wasted and lose ourselves in the haze that is the party lifestyle but I soon got a warning from one of my favourite Professors, that the last written assessment I had handed in was way below my usual standard. She said she had noticed that I wasn’t showing up for lectures or tutorials either, and asked if I had a problem. I denied it, of course, but after hitting rock bottom a couple of times, I spoke with my Dad and decided to go to rehab. The following summer I completed a six-week stay at an inpatient centre, and continued to seek outpatient care when Uni began.
The ‘gold standard’ rehabilitation programmes often require that recovering addicts quit alcohol or drugs altogether, but somehow, I found that the ‘cold turkey’ approach didn’t work for me. I worked alongside my therapist on a ‘harm reduction’ programme, meaning I gradually began reducing my alcohol consumption. From a bottle a day, I was soon content with just enjoying a glass or two in the evening, and upon my therapist’s suggestion, I joined the University art club, meeting with other painters every weekend and heading for lovely areas to paint, sculpt and share our views on the current art scene. It was there that I met my good friend, Laurie. She introduced me to yoga, something that has become an important part of my life. Yoga helps me disconnect from stress and find the acceptance I think I had always struggled to find.
I received a mixed reaction from my friends when I told them about ‘harm reduction’. ‘Shouldn’t recovering alcoholics completely abstain from drinking?’ they asked. Of course abstinence is ideal, though sometimes drinkers just don’t have the strength to quit all at once; I will admit to having had two ‘relapses’ during which I binged on alcohol. One binge occurred when my father passed away eight years ago; the other on the first year anniversary of his death.
These days, I have completely stopped drinking. The yoga lifestyle has saved me, I often say, and I tend to seek my ‘highs’ in my legal practice (I specialise in Intellectual Property), in exercise, and in painting. To this day, I still spend any free time I have in my favourite park, capturing some of the most beautiful moments in the beautiful landscapes of Leeds.
Further reading: http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB12994/drug-misu-eng-2013-rep.pdf http://www.rehabs.com/pro-talk-articles/exploring-the-impact-of-trauma-culture-and-policy-on-womens-health/ http://www.ihra.net/files/2010/05/31/HIVTop50Documents11.pdf http://www.nta.nhs.uk/uploads/nta_review_of_the_effectiveness_of_treatment_for_alcohol_problems_fullreport_2006_alcohol2.pdf http://www.ihra.net/what-is-harm-reduction