Preferred Name: Ben
Ben is a qualified chef but was not working at the time of the interview while in residential rehabilitation. He’s single with two young children, and lives with his mother. Ben describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he was born in Australia, as were his parents.
Ben started drinking and smoking cannabis as a teenager when hanging out with friends. In his early twenties, he began drinking more often as he experienced work stress, financial difficulties and increased responsibilities after becoming a parent. Over the next few years he continued drinking regularly. After his GP diagnosed him with alcohol dependence, he tried several kinds of alcohol and other drug treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, short detoxes, residential rehabilitation programs and alcohol and other drug counselling. At the time of the interview Ben wasn’t drinking as he was undertaking a residential rehabilitation program.
By his mid-twenties, Ben says he was living with depression and drinking regularly. His relationship with his partner had become ‘shaky’ and he went to stay with his parents, who tried to support him to reduce his drinking. He wasn’t surprised when his GP diagnosed him with alcohol dependence but he says receiving a diagnosis of ‘alcoholic hepatitis’ (impaired liver function from liver inflammation) ‘put a scare into [him]’. He did two week-long detoxes and attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and alcohol and other drug counselling. With his mother and partner’s encouragement, he also completed a six-week residential rehabilitation program ‘to try and get [his] life back on track’.
After this rehabilitation program Ben didn’t drink for four months until he again had difficulties with his partner and his siblings, and was struggling to find work. He resumed drinking and moved in with his mother. He subsequently lost access to his children when he lost his driver’s licence for drink driving. Ben says these events led him to put himself on a waiting list for a local residential rehabilitation program. At the time of the interview he was participating in the program, which had helped him establish a new routine involving ‘a good sleeping pattern’, healthy eating, socialising with new people, gardening and cleaning. For Ben, being occupied ‘takes the temptation away’, as does the ‘natural high’ he says he gets from these activities.
He says he’s becoming more confident, happy and thoughtful, and is setting small, achievable goals for his future. He’s ‘trying to concentrate on the now’ while working towards his long-term goal of remaining abstinent. He also wants to train for a different trade so he can avoid the ‘tricky situation’ of having alcohol around him at work. When he completes rehab he plans to get his ‘own place’ where his children can come and stay.
Ben (M, 29, works in hospitality, alcohol) says that not telling his partner about his drinking caused relationship issues.
Well, I was a closet drinker, really. I was hiding it from my partner […] I hid a lot from her. Hiding bottles around the house, in the shed, wherever I could, in the car. Yeah, I’d sit down and we’d have a drink every now and then, but I was already drunk and that sort of caused a lot of fights between us. And then she started finding grog lying around everywhere. A lot of trust was lost and we had a shaky relationship for a few years.
I have [spoken about my drinking] a little bit with my mum and dad. Yeah, I think it was just because mum was clicking, and because me and my partner were having troubles […] Yeah [my mum] sort of got more involved and, well, it just got to that point of her pushing me into my first rehab and paying for it, thank goodness.
Having the support of family and friends helps Ben abstain from drinking.
My mum was always really supportive [of my decision to stop drinking]. Dad was a bit more closed off because he lives up north, although he did put up for me to go up there for a week to work for him, and just to get me away from the grog and the rest of it, which didn’t really work 100%, because he kept taking me to pubs and stuff every night. But, yeah, look they were leading me in the right direction and giving me the support that I needed […] And, yeah, same with my partner, like she’s always been supportive. And even now, we’ve got a really good relationship so the trust is growing back.
[…Stopping drinking] didn’t really affect my social time that much. When I would go out, it would always be with a couple of mates and they were really supportive. They knew my situation. So, yeah, I would go out and I wouldn’t drink or anything […] So it hasn’t really affected my social life a great deal. The one time it sort of did, but I took the right approach to it […] It was at a Christmas party with a lot of old school mates. And it was fine up until a certain point and everyone started getting blind [drunk] and a bit reckless and I just had to leave. I just felt uncomfortable […] I was actually lucky [because] I had a couple of good mates who I was talking to and they were always checking on me, because I would sort drift off to the back. I just didn’t feel a part of it, but, yeah, they were always trying to keep me in it, keep me afloat having a good time, which I did, but enough was enough.
Ben thought he had alcohol dependence and his doctor confirmed this when blood tests suggested alcohol-related damage to his liver.
I diagnosed myself with [alcohol dependence] but yes, my GP definitely said the same […] With my GP, it wasn’t so much going there for a diagnosis as such. It was more just for the health check ups, blood tests, all that sort of stuff […] I’d already [diagnosed it] myself. I knew where I was at, I knew I had a problem. So it wasn’t a big shock to me at all. The biggest shock was some of the results I got back from my liver function [test], which at one point was very scary. That was before I went into rehab the first time. That was close to alcoholic hepatitis, or the next stage after that’s almost cirrhosis of the liver, so that put a scare into me and I just started treating myself well again.
While Ben values hearing people’s stories in AA meetings, he suggests the program could include other activities to help members to ‘bond’.
Going to AA meetings and just listening; just hearing the similarities to my problems that I’ve had in the past [is helpful…] So I sort of don’t isolate myself thinking that I’m the only one out there that’s been through all this [… But] maybe aside from going in and sharing your story at a meeting, maybe [the group could be] more of a social group [allowing] alcoholics or narcotic users to go and actually do something together and bond that way. To get you out of that head space, rather than listening to the stories of using because I’ve been in [a meeting] in the past hearing those stories and [I found that was] a trigger. Whereas if you’re able to go out and just do something completely different, maybe people might […] see the better side to getting to know other users.
Ben describes a negative experience of group therapy in residential treatment in which he felt ‘push[ed] to the point of breaking’.
[My] worst experience was probably rehab last year. They were just too full on, trying to push us to the point of breaking. And yeah, lots of people left because of it. They made us hate the place and I think that just deterred everyone […] from that feeling of wanting the sobriety. They wanted to go back out there and use. And I know lots of them have, because I’ve kept in contact with a couple of them. So yeah, that was a bad experience […] We are in there to recover, not to get angry and want to use. We want to be fixed, miraculously fixed, but I know that that’s not the way it happens. But they’d just push us too hard, especially in a big group of trying to open up in front of everyone and then just pushing and pushing. And even when you’ve given everything that you can, like there was no stopping. I don’t know, I just felt like there was nothing else that I could give.
Talking to a counsellor and attending AA meetings helps Ben look after his well-being, along with maintaining a ‘healthy routine’.
I see my counsellor. She’s always good to put things sort of into perspective, things that I’m confused about. As well as going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and just listening, just hearing the similarities to my problems that I’ve had in the past and using them. So I sort of don’t isolate myself thinking that I’m not the only one out there that’s been through all this. There are other people to talk to. But yeah, apart from that, just a healthy routine during the day […] Like as I said before, just being occupied with something. And eating well, drinking lots of water, trying to socialise as much as I can, making new friends, which has come in handy and really helped me a lot in rehab. Meeting all these new people with similar problems that I can relate to.
Ben defines recovery as ‘abstinence’ and plans to draw on the support of his friends when he leaves residential treatment to help him avoid drinking.
To me, in the long run [recovery means] full abstinence. I want to gain my sobriety. I want to work hard for it. It means not touching anything for the rest of my life. I can’t guarantee that I’m not going to use. I mean, I’m still young enough, there’s still plenty of time for anything to happen. But the way I’m looking at it now, it’s been […] sort of drilled into my head from meetings and from the [residential rehabilitation] program, is: don’t look too far into the future to fix yourself, just concentrate on the now. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m setting goals but they’re achievable goals. They’re small goals and I think that’s the best way to approach it at this point in time. Like, I’m not going to say I’m going to be clean sober as well as have a house in a short amount of time. It’s not going to happen. All I’m looking at is getting a job, staying clean for now. Just day by day, whatever it may be and getting my own place to be able to have the kids come and stay. That’s all I want […] I’m just trying to concentrate on [not drinking] by myself because especially […] my mum, she’s always questioning, ‘Are you ready? Are you ready? You know you can never drink again. You know you can never drink again. Are you ready?’ And that’s just pressuring so I just try and leave that [issue] alone. I need to brush it aside because that’s just breaking my concentration from what I know that I already need to do. I don’t need to be hounded about it. This is about me, not you.
But yeah, apart from that, a couple of really close mates, they’re not pressuring me, they’re supporting me. They’ve given me the time of day to go around there, to hang out without having any substance around and to see that it is possible to enjoy ourselves without anything, which has been a real big help so far.