Sometimes helps comes from the most unexpected of places and makes a difference to your life that you never thought possible.
On the Edge
This story charts one person’s journey through alcoholism, depression and health problems… and how after several years and a spell in hospital, they began living again.
Having a drink problem can happen to anybody. You might think ‘I am not that kind of person, I wasn’t brought up that way, I know how to control myself’. But in the right circumstances it could very easily be you. Life happens to all of us and everybody deals with things differently. But one day, something will hit you harder than anything ever has done before. One day, you will break.
I always enjoyed a drink. It tasted good, smelt good and made me feel good. I loved being old enough to go to the shops by myself and buy it. It made me feel all grown up. So many different things to try and I wanted to try them all.
I used to enjoy a drink after a long day at work. I sometimes had one after a good day at work as well, to carry on the good feeling. I found I was starting to have more bad days, so I was having more to drink. A drink after a long day eventually turned into a bottle. The bad days eventually took over the good days. Bad days were definitely in the lead. The more I drank, the worse I felt and the worse I felt, the more I drank.
I used to turn up for work feeling half asleep, fuzzy headed and useless. I battled through until the end of the day knowing that when I got home I had a nice drink waiting for me. It was my main focus for the whole day. What the reward would be at the end.
I was spending so much on booze to drink at home that I never had any money left for anything else. I wasn’t earning much as it was and I spent the majority of it on booze. It was cheaper having it at home. Plus after a long hard day at work I didn’t want to go out. The less I went out, the less I wanted to go out. My friends were always asking me out but I just didn’t have the money and I didn’t feel like it most of the time. I went out with them occasionally, but it got less and less. One friend was always inviting me over to her house and saying I wouldn’t have to pay for a thing. But that might mean a whole evening without a drink and I didn’t find that fun. Why would I want to go out in the cold, rain and dark when I could stay in nice and warm with a drink. Eventually my friends stopped asking me out. They knew I wouldn’t come and they were right. We never fell out and we still kept in touch, but not much. I was just pushing them further and further away. The same thing was happening with my family. We were constantly falling out and having arguments. I just wanted to be alone to get on with my own life. I was a grown up now, I didn’t need anybody else.
The more I drank the worse work got. I started to make mistakes. The mistakes got bigger and bigger. I was constantly being watched and judged and criticised and I couldn’t stand it. The stress of constantly being watched led to more mistakes. I used to go to work some days after only 3 or 4 hours sleep, still drunk from the night before. I was a disgrace and I knew I was. I shouldn’t have been anywhere near work in that state, especially not with the job I was doing. It was unforgivable. I hated myself so much. I wasn’t concentrating on work at all. All I could think about were all the horrible thoughts going around in my head. All I ever did was let people down and mess everything up. I was just ruining my own life and I couldn’t stop. I tried to cut down sometimes but it never lasted long. I was never planning on stopping completely. I was in too deep. It was the only thing that was keeping me going. I had nothing else to look forward to. I had ruined everything else. So why would I want to stop?
I was on the very edge of reality and some kind of life.
I had been off work for weeks with a sprained ankle. I fell out of a taxi of all things. I hadn’t had that much to drink at the time. I was almost fit enough to go back to work and then I started having problems with my sight. I thought I just needed new glasses at first and I couldn’t afford any. So I didn’t bother getting it checked out. Over the coming weeks it got worse and worse. I just about managed to go into town to buy booze, it still amazes me how I got back safely. I could see maybe a metre in front of me. The rest was just thick fog. Eventually I got my eyes checked out. I was on drops for glaucoma which had stopped working and I needed an operation to stop me going completely blind.
After the operation my sight was even worse because of the stitches and scarring, but we all had hope that it would improve. Over the next six months it did improve a lot, but then it stopped. Eventually I realised that it probably wouldn’t improve any more. And that was it… forever. Although my sight had improved a lot, it was still nowhere near as good as it used to be. I was registered as severely sight impaired/blind. This was a certificate saying that I had a disability, that there was something wrong with me. Yet another thing to add to the list. I didn’t want to be labelled. I just wanted to be me. I wanted to be able to see.
I couldn’t go out independently any more, only to the local shops to buy booze. I walked into things, I walked into people and I just couldn’t do anything right. Lucky for me at the time they all knew what I wanted at the shop. They used to turn to the shelf and ask how many I wanted. How bad is that!
Losing a lot of my sight tipped me over the edge. My life went from being just about bearable to absolute devastation. All of the time I was drinking more and more. The worse I felt the more I drank, the more I drank the more I messed up, the more I hated myself and my life, and the more I drank. There was no way out other than to stop drinking and I couldn’t do that. It would prove everybody right. And why should I change just to suit everybody else?
I used to hear stories about all these amazing things that blind people could do. It was supposed to be encouraging, but to me, it just felt like failure. Why could they climb a mountain when I can’t even walk to the top of the road safely? Why do they get it so easy and I don’t? Why can they live with this and I can’t? What was wrong with me? Why was I so pathetic?
I drank all night and slept all day. There was no point in being awake. All I ever did was stress people out. Sleep was my only real escape.
I had lost all control of my life and myself.
I was extremely, extremely depressed, as depressed as you can probably get. It happened slowly over years. To start with it was just mild things. I doubted myself a lot, but I always used to be able to talk myself around. By the end you don’t think you might be a horrible person, you believe you are a horrible, disgusting, vile waste of space. There was no talking myself around because that is what I was. I felt like scum and toxic. Everything I touched just crumbled away. Everybody tried to help, but it didn’t feel like help. It felt like blame, accusations, disapproval and like I just wasn’t good enough. Everybody was trying to control me and change me because I wasn’t good enough as I was. I was a complete disappointment to everyone.
After a few years of torturing myself I started to become unwell. My skin had a yellow tint to it and I was shaking. I remember I couldn’t even keep food on a fork because it just shook off. I couldn’t stand food, the smell, the taste, the texture, I just couldn’t keep it down. I hadn’t eaten properly in years anyway. My appetite had completely gone and now I couldn’t even keep food down, or drink. The doctor said that all the drinking was damaging my liver. I did cut down by about half. No way was I stopping completely. There was no point anyway, it’s not like anybody wanted me around. Or so I thought. I used to go to bed and I honestly didn’t care whether I woke up the next day. I had just had enough of fighting with everyone and fighting with myself. I was in a constant battle with my own mind. The one thing you can trust. If you are ever in a situation where you can’t trust the people around you, your mind is the back up plan, at least you can trust yourself. It turns out that isn’t always true. My mind was the one that was attacking me. It was pecking away at me and it had been for years. Pecking and pecking and pecking until there was absolutely nothing left. There was nobody left. I wasn’t a person anymore, there was no personality. Just a wreck of a body.
I kept drinking and drinking until I ended up in hospital. I was critically ill. I had pneumonia and liver failure. Two days after going in, I was in an induced coma and on a ventilator. While I was in the coma I had some very long, vivid dreams. These dreams made me realise how loved I really am and how worried everybody was about me. I think it was my brain’s way of letting me know what was going on around me, and that I did have something to fight for. When I started to come round, it was a very slow process. They reduce the sedation very gradually. You don’t just wake up and go home like they all seem to on TV. I remember them saying, don’t try to talk because you have a tube down your throat, just squeeze my hand. When I was completely off sedation and the tube was removed I could not talk for weeks. My voice just would not work, I could barely whisper. My throat had to get used to not having a tube down it. I was having hallucinations and was very paranoid. Apparently these are common after-effects of being on a ventilator. I had a few extremely scary experiences while I was in hospital. Experiences which taught me a lot. They taught me how ill I really was, how loved I really am and how desperate I was to stay alive. I have never fought so hard for anything in my life. It was like somebody had just flicked a switch. I laid there saying to myself, this is not happening, not now, not like this, not today. I said it to myself over and over and over again until it was screaming in my head.
Three months later I came out of hospital a completely different person. I didn’t have a clue who I was, but in a good way. Finding out was going to be fun. I just knew that I didn’t ever want to feel that depressed again, I didn’t ever want to feel that scared again, I didn’t ever want to be that close to the end again and I didn’t ever want to taste alcohol again. I hadn’t had any for three months and I was happier than I had been in years.
I am one of the extremely lucky ones. I survived. I am now and always will be extremely grateful for every single day that I am alive. However good or bad at least I am still alive to have those days. When I was at my most scared the only things I wanted in the whole world were to have family and friends who love me, for them to know how much I love them and to one day be well enough to go home, and live a reasonably normal life. Nothing else mattered, nothing at all. I promised myself that as long as I have those few things, I won’t need anything else. So if I am ever feeling down I think about those few things and remember, when it comes down to it, nothing else matters.
Just for the record, it’s been five years now. I am extremely, sickeningly happy and still haven’t even considered having a drink. Plus me and my family and friends are all closer than ever. And I see my friends regularly!