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Experiences with Alcohol

Preferred Name: Dawn

Gender: Female

Age: 38


Dawn is single and has two children. She works in manufacturing but was in residential rehabilitation at the time of interview. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Samoan’: she was born in New Zealand, and her parents were born in Samoa.

Brief Outline:

In her late twenties Dawn started drinking heavily on Saturdays when her children were visiting their grandmother. One Saturday evening when out with her friends she was arrested for violent behaviour, and court ordered to attend an anger management course and alcohol and other drug counselling. Several years later, after an argument with one of her children, Dawn was court ordered to attend a residential rehabilitation program. Despite having reservations about not drinking, she’s stopped while in the program and doesn’t plan to resume in the future.

Dawn's Story:

Dawn works in manufacturing but wasn’t working at the time of the interview while in residential rehabilitation. Most important to her is spending time with her children and grandchild. An avid reader, she prefers thrillers, biographies and self-help books.

Dawn had her first child in her early twenties with her partner at the time. Her partner was violent towards her and she says she was ‘living in fear’ until their relationship ended a short time later. After the breakup she began spending more time with her cousins and close friends, going out with them on the weekends and drinking heavily. Having experienced anxiety and depression for many years, she says drinking made her feel ‘so much better’ because it helped her to relax, socialise and ‘block [out] the memory’ of her previous relationship.

In her mid-twenties Dawn began a new relationship and had her second child. For the next few years she worked in a factory and cared for her children during the week. Every Saturday, to give Dawn a break from caregiving responsibilities, her mother would look after the children for the day. With the children away, and needing to unwind after the working week, she began drinking heavily on Saturdays. She found that drinking helped her relax and cope with stress but says she ‘couldn’t just stop at one’ drink and often drank large amounts. She says that after a while she ‘needed’ to drink every weekend and was ‘restless’ if she didn’t. She began getting into arguments with her mother and partner when she was drinking and occasionally became violent. On one occasion Dawn was arrested for assault and court ordered to attend an anger management course and alcohol and other drug counselling. However, she found she wasn’t getting the support she needed through counselling and stopped going to the appointments after the court order ended.

Around a year before the interview Dawn’s partner ended their relationship. She found it hard to cope as a single parent, particularly after her eldest child became pregnant. After an argument with her daughter, Dawn was court ordered to attend a residential rehabilitation program and her children went to live with relatives.

Dawn says the experience of rehabilitation has been ‘confronting’ as she ‘struggles’ to deal with her emotions and anxiety, particularly in the absence of contact with her children and new grandchild. While she says she’s ‘afraid’ that she’ll ‘miss alcohol’ when she completes the program, she doesn’t intend to resume drinking and is very much looking forward to returning home to her family.



In her late twenties Dawn started drinking heavily on Saturdays when her children were visiting their grandmother. One Saturday evening when out with her friends she was arrested for violent behaviour, and court ordered to attend an anger management course and alcohol and other drug counselling.

Dawn (F, 38, works in manufacturing, alcohol) says that residential treatment enabled her to learn coping skills, discuss her problems and acknowledge her feelings.


Part 1

I guess [treatment involves learning] how to deal, not just with your addiction, because a lot of your behaviours, your emotions, go hand-in-hand with your addiction. So I guess it’s also giving you some […] life skills to be able to live your life sober […] and they are giving you strategies on how to cope without craving for whatever drug you have and [to cope with] your emotions.

Part 2

Well they do have a good, say, routine. We do have morning groups where you can voice […] whatever you are having a problem with and there are no repercussions […] That’s a good thing too. I mean, if someone was really bothering me, I guess I would tell them off, where[as] you can’t do that here. You just have to, as they say, sit with your feelings. That’s a very big saying: to sit with what you’re uncomfortable with. And yeah, that’s a big one for me.

Dawn finds it hard to open up to others in her residential treatment program. She also says it would be helpful if the program addressed mental health issues such as anxiety.


Part 1

There’s so many people here and you really have to be open […] I mean, no one’s going to force you to tell your whole life story but it does help. And […] if you are not totally open, then […] you’re not rehabilitating so I’m really struggling. I’ve always been a very private person and […] I avoid crowds. I mean that’s what’s happened in the past as well when anxiety and depression has hit really hard. I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in my house for a good three days because I didn’t want to leave.

Part 2

I think, yeah, there should be more awareness of mental health, especially of anxiety. I mean, they do talk about it and they touch on things. I mean, we do […] things about trauma. But because it’s a rehab, it’s really about addictions and your behaviour […] For someone like myself where anxiety really does […] affect a person, more [focus on] mental health […] in rehab […] would help.


Dawn advises those starting treatment to be kind to themselves and seek support when they need it.


[If you were starting treatment], I’d say to you, ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself’ and ‘everyone’s been where you are’. Well, not exactly your experience but [I’d say] ‘just be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up too much’. I mean, I should be telling this to myself but yeah, that’s what I tell most people that come in. [I tell them]‘You’ve got a lot of support. Yeah, just really be good to yourself and give yourself that time to take everything in’.

When Dawn was facing assault charges, she says she felt like her lawyer judged her conduct and thought she was a ‘drunk’.


I think a lot of [people working in the legal system] are understanding. The guy that represented me […] I really felt that he was judging me for what I’d done. He was also a lawyer for kids and so when he was representing me, maybe I just felt that he […] really felt that I didn’t deserve to go to rehab […] I know that he was being very honest […] but I really felt that he thought that I should just be thrown into jail and I was a drunk. But that’s not the whole legal system. How they’ve dealt with me is all I can say really.

Dawn says she’s concerned about remaining abstinent when she leaves residential treatment but is looking forward to returning to being her ‘real’ self.


I’m afraid of [the idea of recovery] in the sense where, I’ve got to be honest, I really am going to miss alcohol. It’s been part of me for so long. Even though I felt like it was my friend, it really wasn’t, but on the other side of recovery, it’s great, I mean, just to be able to be sober and live my life without alcohol in my system and to be able to […] be real and be that person, be me without alcohol. Because that helped a lot too in social situations, the alcohol. I could come out and have the fake confidence. But yeah, that’ll be great, health wise, mentally, physically, but I really am scared to be without it.


 I guess recovery starts with me as well in that aspect where it’s not going to work unless I get off my butt and really get involved with it. So I think it’s an individual thing, recovery. Everyone’s got their own time and how you think about it. I guess I’m still really negative about recovery. I’m all for it, I just don’t know if it’s going to work for me.