Three years ago I had hit my personal rock bottom, and was at a point where I was ready to take my own life. And yet here I stand, today, blessed to be three years into a life fully-recovered, healthy, and completely free from any desire to even touch alcohol.
There are countless women who think there is no hope left.
I feel mandated to be part of the message of hope that recovery and freedom can happen, and to help people see the truth of what alcoholism can look like – that it begins, for many of us, with a very unhealthy relationship with “wine o’clock”.
Many a work-day ended for me with a wine or two. Over time, for me, that “one harmless glass” of wine insidiously became one bottle, and then two.
Suddenly – I was in my thirties – and I looked in the mirror to see that I was in the grip of a disease that nearly took my life.
The first thing people ask me is: “how did you get that way?”
It wasn’t like falling off a cliff and having a tragic accident. It wasn’t sudden. This thing took hold of my life when I was 18, and manifested over a period of more than twenty years. It began as a series of traumatic events and abusive relationships that happened when I was an extremely naïve young country girl.
I was simply not emotionally equipped to deal with what happened to me in that part of my life. But those things stole my youth and my hope and my future.
A few beers at a party helped me to find my courage socially as a young woman, because I was paranoid, ashamed, and scared. Alcohol was all around me in rural Australia. In the country party scene where I grew up, it was the ‘done thing’ to binge at parties. It was a badge of honour to get as drunk as possible. This provided a terrific way for me to escape so much of what plagued me.
A pattern of alcohol entered my life. Over time, it remained with me as a way to either relax, get to sleep, shut down bad memories, or just to become the confident person people thought I was. I loved the freedom I thought alcohol was giving me.
I didn’t want to see the truth of the matter. That it was nothing but a façade that was taking over my life.
My twenties were basically a disaster. But somehow, in my thirties, I was fortunate enough to marry a truly wonderful man.
By my mid-thirties, I had begun trying (again and again) to get healthy and sort my life out. It was very apparent there was a problem with booze now. It proved to be almost impossible. But I still fought and struggled desperately with the concept that I was addicted. I could not, for the life of me, look the “A” word in the eye.
I didn’t drink every day. I didn’t drink DURING the day. I worked SO hard. I was successful. Surely I couldn’t be an alcoholic? If my husband or anyone suggested I was – I would become angry and offended.
When my husband and I tried and failed numerous times to start a family – and it became apparent we wouldn’t be able to – something inside of me broke. I was already broken – but the façade I had so carefully tried to maintain began to crumble.
The unfairness of this off the back of what had already been stolen from me as a young woman just undid me completely – and my drinking took on an entirely new level of destruction.
By my late thirties, I was frequently contemplating suicide. I felt like the worthlessness and fear and shame and grief had finally caught me. I was so trapped in self-pity and bitterness and grief that I couldn’t see hope anymore.
Hitting rock-bottom ended up being the greatest thing to ever happen to me.
Because one day, out of complete desperation – I tried one last time. One last thing. I picked up the phone, and I reached out to a recovery support person. For the first time in my life, I saw hope. I met somebody exactly like me. I stupidly had thought prior to this that I was the only person in my situation. Suddenly, everything changed.
This person educated me, and showed me the truth of what alcoholism looks like, acts like, and presents as. And it was nothing that I had imagined. I grabbed that small spark of hope, and I threw myself completely into the second chance I realised was there.
I stopped lying, pretending, and minimising the truth. I turned around for the first time and looked into the mirror and became 100 per cent honest for the first time in a long time. It’s a cliché for sure – but I admitted I was powerless over alcohol.
For the first time in my entire life, I said the “A” word.
I spoke the truth in front of my family, friends, and eventually everyone. I was an alcoholic.
And – again, it’s a cliché – but it was through the process of surrendering to the truth that I was able to become strong again. The fear I’d carried suddenly lost its power over me.
I worked harder than I had ever worked in my life. I did everything I could to follow the advice and suggestions from successfully recovered people that I could.
I believe that what happened to me then was a miracle. The desire for alcohol left me completely. I stopped thinking about it, wanting it, and needing it.
Three years later, I am completely recovered, healthy and well. It feels like I am finally being given the chance to live the life I was blessed with.
Given how heartbreakingly rare this is (most people fight the need for alcohol the rest of their lives) I made a decision, then and there, that I would use the freedom I had been given to help others.
What I now understand – especially in rural Australia – is that the stigmas, judgement, and fearfulness surrounding this much-misunderstood hellish thing are rampant. We still live in a culture that embraces, celebrates, and revolves around booze. So, for anybody who’s headed for (or trapped in) an addictive or destructive cycle, seeking help becomes a seemingly mountainous impossibility.
I now try and help bridge that gap of understanding. Because people are dying from a preventable disease out here.
My entire aim is to help people understand that for those trapped in alcoholism, it has long progressed from a ‘choice’ to a full-blown addiction, and that the people trapped need to be educated and supported, not further condemned.
But it’s a complex and emotive topic, and I am the first to admit that when I was in the grip of alcoholism I was no longer myself. It is absolutely a monster that ruins people and families and lives.
But there is hope. And there is a way out.
Shanna is a guest on tonight’s episode of Insight at 830pm on SBS, which explores why women over 40 are drinking more.