Life’s Burdening Baggage – A Personal Journey
“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you” (Nora Zeale Hurston)
This is ‘My Story’ … It is written with the belief that, in ‘recovery’, I can celebrate, and by sharing my story it will bear witness to my struggles and how they were overcome… and just maybe by sharing, someone reading this will find inspiration to continue with their own recovery…
After 25 years of addiction and mental illness, I had tried it all.
Attempting recovery alone, shelves of self-help books, prescribed medication, one to one’s, AA, other groups for addiction, counselling for mental illness and eating disorders, along with suicide attempts, many prayers and the occasional licking my finger and sticking it up in the wind
All of which failed, eventually. Another distressing event, bad experience or painful relationship etc. would ultimately lead me back to depression, anxiety, purging, over medicating and of course Vodka…
I allowed bad experiences to define me. My experiences in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, as a mother, wife and all of the ‘s***’ encounters I suffered along the way just added to my burdening baggage allowance. I would go on carrying all of this baggage around with me and with each passing year, my baggage allowance in life became heavier and heavier.
It weighed me down and held me back and the delays caused me to miss opportunities. I began to accept my destination and identity as a person, damaged, broken with bits missing and stopped thinking about my dream of an exotic far-away land.
At least all this baggage with its battered and worn ‘damaged’ label meant that when I encountered ‘normal’ people I had a clear identity for them to judge me from their perfect glasshouses. And with their decisions made, more often than not it was; “give her a wide birth she is clearly off it…” and in doing this, by disconnecting with me, they effectively allowed me to continue on my path of “habitual f*** up’s.
Avoiding any requirement to share my pain or verbalise my distress, because in my mind ‘I had got this, and I didn’t give a flying f*** because I was doing just fine on my own. I did not need anyone to fix me, clearly…
At times I had ‘got it’ I was a focused, productive, relatively professionally successful, nurturing relationships with my children, family, friends, partners and a couple of Husband’s (not at the same time, obviously!) And all through the ‘I got this’ times I was a fully functional, alcohol dependant, anorexic, bulimic, with all of my mental health issues, chronologically compartmentalized. And according to others, I was caring, nice, funny and good value….Excellent!!
And then there were the other times, where the inescapable feelings and thoughts of impending doom resulted in bad decisions, breakdowns in relationships, deterioration in health to near fatal, more alcohol, less nutrition, increasing duvet days were only shared with my far from helpful thoughts, to keep me company in familiar negativity.
Without doubt, in my mind, I was a worthless no hoper with no actual right to occupy air space on this planet when there were so many more worthy people with a more superior purpose than mine.
This belief along with large supplements of Vodka and far too many prescribed medications enabled me to justify my need for ‘self-inflicted’ isolation. I kept my family in the dark; friends were used to me “going off radar”. Any necessary telephone calls took place in the morning, when I believed I could string a sentence together without sounding as if I had already been drinking – and so the cycle continued for years.
My life once again took another bad turn of events, not my fault for once. I lost my home, was made redundant and then my Dad became ill and died suddenly 5 weeks later. Although with these events I was blameless, my reactions to them were my decisions. These decisions enabled me to leave my mental capacity unchallenged and I was once again numbing and right back to relying on the duvet, isolation, over medicating and Vodka…
Then one day, homeless, unemployed and all my life packed away in storage, drunk again, sofa surfing at my friends… She (she, being so much more than a friend to me) and already in her own recovery, handed me a leaflet about a peer support group…saying “I know you don’t do groups but”…I read it and dismissed it.
The following day, before I hit the bottle she gave me the leaflet again and said at least give them a call, although she didn’t do groups either, she promised to come with me if I was going to give it ago.
I called the number and spoke to a woman called Déanne, I conducted my own mini interview, told her that if it involved ‘all that standing up and saying … ‘My name is Sammi, I am an alcoholic’ clap trap… I am not interested…tried all that. She assured me it was not and invited us to come down and see for ourselves.
We signed up for the ‘YOU’ Programme. One day a week for 4 weeks. Ok I said to my friend, nothing to lose.
November 2017 and I enrolled onto the YOU Programme… the first day I arrived and I was not happy, I was anxious, full of suspicion, felt that there was bound to be a catch and frankly, not feeling it at all.
I left half way through the session, my friend remained and I waited for her at the pub.
Back under the duvet and I did a bit of reflection… I decided that I was being unfair and one morning was hardly ‘giving it a go,’ so we went the next week, I hope with a better attitude.
During the sessions the facilitators introduced the Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters…and honestly I thought for f***s sake, am I to believe that I have a Chimp running around in some part of my mind called the Limbic system??
Understanding this and how the Chimp works was so mind blowing I just resigned myself to accept the irony of it all. In the end I told myself, that at the very least it would keep all the other voices in my head company! In fact, perhaps they could start up their own little ‘peer group’ at least the venue was free….
I made it through to the end of the course and even made some peer connections. I was beginning to see that maybe there was something to this and I began to buy into the concept of intentional peer support and identifying with alternative ways to help myself that could be explored to help with my issues. The course ended and a date was set for a follow up course (9 weeks, 2 days a week) called YOUR Recovery Pathways which I enrolled in as I had completed the ‘YOU’ programme and even had a certificate to prove it.
Christmas loomed with all the family commitments; everyone else was excited and plans discussed already for the year ahead. I went through the motions, played charades and showed interest in the family – by marriage – that I didn’t really know, went into raptures over the home made contributions to endless buffets and I was also the designated sober driver.
Christmas and its family commitments completed, I planned my escape to a safe house where there was no expectations, no need for the show to go on and drinking oneself into alcohol poisoning was actively encouraged.
A near death experience, was a story of great value when shared amongst like-minded enablers, as the ‘survivor’ was evidence that if drinking hadn’t killed them then why would it kill me?
Predictably, I headed straight back to the not so well hidden version of me, the me I knew, my thoughts running riot whilst I tried to block them out soaking them in a vodka oblivion… To say that it went from bad to worse, is at the very best, an understatement.
The morning of January the 6th 2018 arrived and an exit from one location, relatively sober, to a friends in Bedford. I felt, looked and probably smelled like s**t. My friend in Bedford was one of my ‘normal’ friends, well, what I imagined normal might look like. Her life was on track and she did not need to explore tirelessly the bottom of a bottle to find the meaning of life.
I arrived, we talked into the night and we retired, eventually. Another sofa and another location. The morning of the 7th arrived, she had plans and said I could stay another night, and in her absence I found an oasis, purchased my substances needed for the day had a much needed bath….I really did stink!
I decided to write down my plans for the rest of my life whilst it was all swimming near the surface and to ensure I wouldn’t forget them when tomorrow came.
Somehow, my hopes and plans for my future went spectacularly wrong…I woke up hours later, in a hospital bed with my family around me, heartbroken and relieved.
I am told that my friend returned earlier than expected to find empty pill packets, an empty bottle of vodka, a suicide note and me, unconscious.
It took me a while to piece the flash backs together, and with a picture beginning to form…oh crap…the shame…
Once my family were satisfied that I was going to be OK, they reassured me that I was loved and had everything so much to live for. I was then left in the hands of the Crisis team…
I was assessed and asked how I felt? “Oh, just marvellous, what do you think?!” Another f*** up…but with a strange and new feeling of…enough now.
I asked for detox and after my consultant consulted with others he returned and said that, it was agreed, but this was my only chance. I agreed and the medication was given to prevent the withdrawal symptoms and potential risk of seizures. I was transferred to the Whitbread ward, why not I thought! Although, the Smirnoff ward would have been more familiar.
On reflection, the detox was the easy part… the hardest chapter of my recovery and probably my life was the following discharge into the care of my friends, family and the Wellbeing Service as I was still classed as vulnerable, high risk and with no fixed abode.
Reasons to stay sober back in the social community that had been my enabler for years.. I had tried to finish me off before the Vodka finally did, and I couldn’t even do that right..Not even hell would let me in. And sitting in my hospital bed, alone and completely broken I had it, what I can now only describe as my Light bulb moment. The one I had heard about. You know, the moment, event, divine intervention or interaction that all the people in ‘recovery’ have told us about.
During endless sober sleepless nights, I remembered a group text from Deanne at Impact Mental Health Peer Support. The YOUR Recovery Pathway programme was starting on 31st January. I had already re-engaged with P2R (Path 2 Recovery for addictions) and was sign posted to CLI (Community Learning Initiative, again for addictions) as I was now in Recovery. The support from P2R and CLI was great but not enough. I needed something more to sustain my recovery and before I knew it, I was responding to the text sent weeks before to say I would be attending. I didn’t know if it was the ‘something more’ or even why I had kept the original text but I had to find ‘the something’ in whatever forum available to me.
The only thing I was sure of was that in truth, ‘I really hadn’t got this at all!’ I could not do this alone. I had to acknowledge that it would mean addressing, not only my addiction but also the whole array of crap that was pinging around my head. Ever present, insistent and very, very LOUD!!!
The 31st January 2018…in we all filed, some familiar faces from the YOU programme but couldn’t remember their names. In fairness, I had nearly died since then. New faces too but it didn’t matter we all looked like a group of bunnies caught in the head lights and in fear of slaughter. I avoided the hugs offered by the facilitators and we took our seats. I opted for the one that faced the exit. And we all faffed about arranging and re arranging stuff.. picking at not existent fluff, apprehensive and waiting for the lesson to begin…..
9 weeks later YRP completed…still sober and today… On completing my story.
The s**t bits that I once allowed to define me are now just simply my past. I acknowledge that it happened because it is my history and they are only shared as a reference in my interaction and any given events. The habitual f*** ups are now a wobble a blip and they do not make me a failure. It is never a f*** up beyond repair…it is simply a bad day not a bad life…I learn the lesson and move on. When we start our journey in life …sometimes we got lost, we don’t have to remain lost and we don’t have to start our journey all over, returning to the womb is not an option, ask for direction from peers, I did. Finally, I understand and practice the tools and tips I have picked up from my time on the YOUR Recovery Pathways programme. Because there is always a different choice we can make and healthier alternatives, such as doing my Impact RAMP’s daily, setting my Intention every morning and loving my ‘Chimps’ and when they get too loud I just give them a banana and tell them to either get back in their cage or find a way to get a little self-nurture. I celebrate and share my success.
My new determination for living will ensure I continue to practice and utilise the tools I have identified to help me with my ongoing journey.
I will become the very best version of me because I now know that I am enough.
I am so proud of the woman I am today, not just because of the tough times but because of the hope I now have for my future.
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Impact Peer Support Services
Impact Mental Health
1 Brewers Hill Road,
Bedfordshire LU6 1AA
Phone: 01582 797596
Company Reg No. 8792103