Most of us daydream of who we’re going to be when we grow up. We have visions of a wonderful life, a happy family, and an exciting job.
You become more realistic as you get older – and more concerned about career prospects and Sydney house prices – but, you still hope to live a good life and aim to be a respectable, trustworthy human being.
I was no different.
Let me tell you that I certainly did not set a life goal to one day get so low I would need intensive drug rehab for 15 months to rebuild my life.
I was born into a loving family and grew up in Sydney. We never went without. There was always food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over our heads. My father worked long hours to support us, but he was also a very heavy drinker. As a child, I had this strong mindset of not letting anyone know, of hiding my shame and resentment, acting like everything was shining and wonderful. I pretended, fibbed or told outright lies to avoid hassle and confrontation as much as I could.
I never wanted to get into trouble or bring home any disappointments. I became a people pleaser, learning to supress my emotions and changing my personality and my version of the truth to fit the occasion.
As I later came to realise, that unhealthy habit became an ingrained way of life.
I lived in our family home until the day I was married in the mid-1980s – the big hair, the puffy sleeves and the matching pale coloured tuxedos. Within a couple of years we were able to buy our own home and we had the first of our two kids. We even began our own business, machine parts for agriculture equipment, and persevered through the first few tough years to build a strong business. It all looked wonderful – a young loving couple, two beautiful kids, a thriving business and we had just upgraded to a much bigger family home.
The pressure of maintaining this life was hard and I can look back now and honestly say at times we were in over our heads. We took on too much. I started habitually drinking in my 30s. This increased when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and cracks began to show in my marriage.
Life went on like this for a long time. We went through the motions of raising our family and running our business and our relationship started to decline. My drinking increased and arguments were becoming a daily occurrence. I began to gamble as a social outlet, to seek that feeling of the thrill and what I thought was at least some joy in my life. I was numb for many years.
10 years ago, I made the choice to leave my husband. So, after 25 years of marriage I found myself alone for the very first time. Our once strong family unit crumbled around me. We split our assets in half and I bought a business of my own. From the outside it looked like I was taking charge of my life and starting anew, and it felt like that at first. But I couldn’t handle the constant feelings of guilt, shame and loss of my marriage and family, the grief over losing loved ones, and simply the sheer exhaustion of keeping up a certain lifestyle.
Life wasn’t supposed to be like this and I was in crisis. I didn’t seek help or let my loved ones know how I was screaming and hurting inside. Instead, alcohol became my go-to way of coping, and my once occasional social outlet of playing the poker machines became my life.
At the time I had the money to finance my gambling habit, but it all slipped away quickly and I started to dip into the business’s money.
Three or four years of this lifestyle led me to debt and despair.
People were chasing me for money, I lost my business, my house was repossessed, I blew all the money on the pokies… and then I started selling stuff that wasn’t mine.
That behaviour was so totally unlike me – or who I used to be – that I knew it was time. I was only holding on by the skin of my teeth.
I knew in my heart that I needed rehabilitation if I was to ever lead a life without addiction, lies and shocking choices. So, I took my first shaky steps into Odyssey House’s long-term residential rehab program.
At first I found it extremely hard and confronting, but I soon threw myself into the program.
I came to this vital realisation that I was a “passive observer of life. I had always thought I was good at coping, a strong capable woman in so many ways. But actually, I was even better at standing back, lying or avoiding situations when it was more convenient, pretending everything was okay, putting on a brave face and not reaching out for any help.
But doing that meant I wasn’t being true to myself. It is a façade, an unconscious, unhealthy and self-destructive habit. So, we picked apart how my ways of thinking and acting had become an ingrained habit and how I could deal more constructively with life’s twists and turns. It was an amazing journey of personal growth to discover who I am and how I can be the best version of myself.
By going to Odyssey, I broke those habits and learned to replace them with helpful, healthy ones. Now, two years later, I have a job and I have rebuilt my relationships with my children. I have been abstinent all this time and I am excited to turn that into forever.
*name changed for privacy
Odyssey House is dedicated to protecting your privacy and making sure your payment is secure. All credit card transactions are secured through an authorised online certificate that provides safe encryption. All donations over $2 are tax deductible.