Chris’s Abbeycare Experience.
Abbeycare Resident in 2009
I was a typically wayward young guy, with a good education, a comfortable life and the need to pull it all apart. My self-destructive tendencies led me through school expulsions, endless relationships, drug experimentation and the law courts. Emotionally I was dangerously unstable, though had no idea that this was the case. My anxiety levels were dangerously high so I drank to relax … which made me more anxious, which made me drink more … Repeated ad nauseum every day.
The Contemplation Period
I knew something was wrong. Terribly wrong. My anxiety had peaked and brought me to experience disassociative anxiety attacks – a constant feeling I can only describe as ‘walking vertigo’. I had used drink for years to drown out my fears and try and be the part of society I wanted to be. After leaving several jobs, losing relationships and watching my life disintegrate around me; after noticing that nobody ever called me or came round to visit; after spending every waking moment physically struggling to move myself around between drinks, then I surrendered.
I was lucky. Having worked in nightclubs for many years, I could see the effects of alcohol on others. I had seen many people evolve into alcoholics. Typically, though, I did not se it happen to me, but memories of those men and women inspired me to find help.
I had no idea what treating addiction was all about. I had no family experiences to recall, and no friends left to talk to. I went online and swam through the deluge of information. I came up with a lot of information but very little of it had any value. Yet, for some reason, the Abbeycare Foundation site ‘spoke’ to me. The setting was perfect – out in the country, away from the endless city noise that echoed around my inner monologue. I distinctly remember being drawn to there being trees! I was raised in the countryside but had lived for years in city centres and needed a change. Due to my ignorance of alcohol treatment, I barely looked at the programme. At that moment I had to make a choice. I knew I was going to die if I didn’t jump at this chance. Ironically, with alcoholic recovery, only after you have jumped do you realise that people are there to catch you.
My main fear was the fact that everything else I had tried to keep off the drink had kept me away from people my own age. This doubt was almost instantly quenched when I phoned the centre. They told me that recovery, at the start, is an all-welcoming discipline. Who cares what age you are? You have been to hell and back, and people want to help you get better. Being around older people means you are surrounded by more experience, while they, in return, get a younger perspective. Win – win!
Arriving at Abbeycare, I was terrified. I am not ashamed of that. To keep up appearances (so deluded! I was a shabby mess!), I had not had a drink all day so was withdrawing badly – my anxiety levels peaking and my mind swimming with fear.
Upon arrival (I had been met at the station by the Service Manager himself) the relaxation began. Straight into the garden with a Support Worker for an introductory chat and a look over what my stay would involve, followed by a bite to eat and some time to myself to adjust. The pace was ideal. Bravely I had said I wanted to get on with it, but what did I know?
Over the course of my stay I sat with various therapists and counsellors, who used my tales and heartaches to explain to me the aspects of my thinking and personality that had got me into this horrible mess. It was shown to me that recovery is not the ‘quick cure’ I was expecting but an on-going process of learning, awareness and evaluation – a steady exploration of what it means to be ‘an alcoholic’. The passion they showed for their subject, and the honesty with which they discussed it was palpable. These people – staff and clients – were exploring their selves, bouncing ideas around and making sense of their chaotic lives.
With the programme being reinforced and supplemented by support groups, educational movies, discussions, presentations, etc., I left Abbeycare not only with my confidence and my Sobriety, but the tools and skills to maintain both indefinitely. I was taught how to recognise my destructive patterns of mood and behaviour before they caught up with me. Where previously I would get seriously drunk to smother my Rage, now I barely get stressed about anything. I can concentrate and focus my intention at last! These are skills essential for life, not just alcohol treatment.
The Staff were and are Ace. From the moment I walked in they knew instinctively when I needed to be moved into action, and when to pull in my reigns. I tend to over-analyse and intellectualize things, and my anxiety manifests as either hyperactivity or crippling depression. They not only knew how to manage me, but how to incorporate beating my fear into beating my addiction.
Particularly inspiring was the fact that many of the Staff were in recovery themselves, putting something back into the process that gave them their new lives. They didn’t need a drink to get up in the morning and handle their day, and from then on I wouldn’t either. Just having someone around like that is, I think, like a constant reassuring hand on your shoulder. Of course, it’s not essential. Only compassion is, and all the staff have that in spades. You don’t learn that at school, you can’t hang it on your wall. You can’t touch or smell compassion, but you feel it all around you when you are with people who actually give a damn.
Part of getting into Recovery is awareness and acknowledgement of what it is that makes you drink. It could be something specific, but for me it was generalised anxiety. The Abbeycare staff helped me to understand what my triggers were, how to avoid them and what to do for ongoing support. I was often reminded that it is what you do After Care that makes a recovery successful.
I walked on clouds out of Abbeycare Foundation and into my new life. I was able to make sweeping changes to my lifestyle and enjoy every day. I am now able to live my life. I have purpose and goals. I have never had these things before, and now I get to experience them all the time! I feel anxiety and fear the same as everyone else, but instead of letting it cripple me I learn from it and grow.
After having stared into the abyss, and having it stare into me, I could not go back now. I simply cannot imagine having a life with drink involved. The thought makes me cringe, and it’s not fear. Like a freed prisoner I savour every sense and sensation and get more in return than drink ever gave me.
Alcohol to me is like a tired clown: you already know the trick, so why keep it around?
Life really is better, sober.