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Substance Abuse

Relationships and Family


“The reflection in the mirror belied the memory of an enthusiastic young girl who was going to take on the world. The tears that ran down my face could not wash away the unbearable guilt and shame I had felt deep within me for what seemed like forever. The glowing eyes and flawless skin had been replaced by bloodshot eyes, a red nose, ruddy complexion, and a bloated face that even the heaviest makeup could no longer hide.

This was the result of years and years of alcohol abuse. Today was a repetition of so many days before. I was drunk again. Blind, blotto drunk once more, after promising myself that very morning that I would never drink again. But as usual, that promise only lasted until about lunchtime when I would take my first drink.

“Only one and no more,” I promised myself. This “one” drink, or “the hair of the dog that bit me,” was just to take the edge off of the awful hangover I was nursing. Looking back on it now, it was quite comical in a sad sort of way, how I was able to convince myself that today was going to be different from all the rest.

Then I needed a second drink to stop my hands from shaking, followed by a third which supposedly would settle the nauseousness in my stomach. By the time I reached for the bottle once more, I was starting to feel mellow so instead of putting the bottle back in the cupboard, I poured myself another drink, and then another.

Then my booze-soaked brain took over and told me that since I had screwed up my promise not to drink today I may as well make a good job of it. “Drink as much as you like,” it told me, “Because tomorrow you will definitely stop drinking.” And so the daily downward spiral to alcohol-induced oblivion was well on its way.

I usually avoided mirrors, as I hated myself and the way I looked, but this night on my way back from the toilet, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror in the passage and for some reason I stopped. I grabbed hold of a nearby door to steady my drunken sway and took a long hard look at my reflection through squinted, blurry eyes. I had often been “dronkvedriet” (an Afrikaans word that literally means drunk and remorseful and feeling sorry for oneself), but what I felt at that moment went far beyond that.

My mother had died two weeks ago, the man I loved left me because he could not handle my drinking, and my children had had enough of my disgraceful behaviour that they were ready to lock me up and throw away the key. A feeling of emotional pain so heavy and so great suddenly came upon me. It was like nothing I had felt before and the intensity was so overwhelming that I felt like I would explode. It churned up in my stomach, rose through my heart, constricted my throat and then like a river bursting its banks, streamed from my eyes in a torrent of tears.

I staggered to my room and dropped to my knees at the edge of my bed. As I sat there with my head and arms resting on my bed, the tears continued to flow until I could cry no more. I thought of my mother, who I loved so much, but seldom told her so. Instead, I treated her badly and even blamed her and my father for my drunken behaviour.

I thought about my beautiful children and the pain I caused them as a result of my drinking. Having grown up in an alcoholic home and having suffered much as a result, I should have known better. How could I have done this to them? Their faces flashed in front of me and their all-too-familiar look of love, mixed with desperation and disgust was just too much to bear.

I thought about my shattered life and how much time and money I had wasted on booze and how I had alienated myself from my family because of my addiction.

My tears eventually subsided and I felt totally spent. Even in my drunken befuddled mind, I knew that this was the end of the road, the point of no return—and I was so scared. No, I was terrified. There was no happy ending to the terrible mess my life was in. I could end up in jail for driving under the influence or end up in the gutter, homeless, or I could die as my alcohol-soaked body couldn’t take any more abuse.

I had to change and take control of my life. But alcohol had been part of my life for so long—how was I going to cope without it? My life was so out of control, was there even a chance of rebuilding it? As overwhelming panic arose within me, thoughts of suicide once again flashed through my mind.

Then I did something I had not done for many years. As I knelt at the side of my bed I began to pray. I asked God to please help me sober up as I could not stop drinking on my own. Actually I didn’t ask; I begged. Then I dragged myself into bed and passed out, totally unaware of what lay ahead of me.”

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