Preferred Name: Emma
Emma is married with two children. She works part time in retail and is also studying. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Australian’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.
Emma started drinking as a teenager and by her mid-twenties she says she had a ‘serious problem’ with alcohol. She’s been through several kinds of drug treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), short detoxes, residential treatment programs and a ‘non-residential post-withdrawal treatment program’. Since her last experience of treatment in a non-residential post-withdrawal program, Emma no longer drinks.
A couple of years before the interview, Emma reached a point where she felt she ‘couldn’t cope any more’. She took an overdose of pills and was admitted to hospital. She then went into a residential treatment program for a couple of months. A month after she returned home, she resumed drinking. Since then Emma has been through three short detoxes, a residential treatment program and a non-residential post-withdrawal treatment program. Reflecting on her experiences of treatment, she wishes she’d been offered ‘more of an insight into how […to] cope’ when ‘really anxious’. She has an anxiety disorder and takes codeine to ‘subdue the ‘hyperactivity […] you get when you’re really anxious’. She describes her consumption of codeine as a ‘bit of a security thing […] like having packet of Band-Aids in your purse’ and believes she has an ‘addiction to codeine’.
Emma no longer drinks and at the time of the interview, had not been drinking for a year. She wants to share what she’s ‘learnt through this […] journey with other people’ and hopes her story can help those experiencing issues with alcohol and other drugs.
Emma (F, 42, works in retail, alcohol) says that she may have inherited an ‘addiction’ to alcohol from her father.
My mum’s the same. We can go all day without a cigarette. If we can’t, we’re not one of those people that will find somewhere to smoke. If it’s not appropriate to smoke, then I won’t. But so then I thought, ‘Well, I’m not addicted [to cigarettes]’. But yeah, I am addicted. The same thing with alcohol, I didn’t realise the addiction. I didn’t understand the physical addiction. People saying like, ‘It’s genetic and everything’. I could never work that out. Like how does that work? You can inherit it and my father’s an alcoholic and I always thought that maybe I’d follow his path.
Emma recalls ‘self-medicating’ with codeine and champagne to be able to ‘get through the day’ without having an anxiety attack.
I also suffered from a horrible anxiety disorder. I was always anxious, always, and when I look back at it now I realise how debilitating that anxiety was, and I just didn’t do anything about it. So [I was] self-medicating [with] codeine, which used to numb not only physical pain, but [also] just that hyperactivity that you get when you’re really anxious. It just made me go into, you know, la-la land. So then, yeah, champagne, codeine – before I knew it, you know, it was just like an everyday thing.
At the time that was how I coped. That was how I could get through the day without, you know, having an anxiety attack.
While Emma enjoyed her stay at a residential detox centre, she says it didn’t prepare her to cope with her everyday responsibilities when she returned home.
I think [my family] organised for me to go into detox and I was refusing. I was kicking and screaming saying, ‘I’m not going, I’m not going’. But I finally went […] And that was a seven-day detox and it was the best thing that ever happened. The people [at the service] were just incredible. Like, I just never knew that there was such caring people out there. I think, looking back on it, I enjoyed it too much. It was a way for me to escape the anxiety I had at home of being a mum, which I wasn’t coping with at all. Being a wife and earning money […] I wasn’t coping with any of that. So being away from all of that and […] having my own room, and having meals, and having friends around, you know, friends, people to talk to. I didn’t care about drinking. I didn’t crave it once. So that was when I went, ‘Ah, I think I know what I’m running away from’.
So when I came home I remember being in the kitchen with my sister and my mum, and them just hugging. All of us [were] crying and hugging because we thought, finally, you know, after seven days I was cured. But then I remember sitting outside and just going, ‘Oh my God, it didn’t work’. And that was, you know, just after I had been giving my mum and sister a hug, I’d realised straight away that, no I want to drink now. So, you know, looking back, I wish I had recognised that and then said, ‘Hang on, wait, help’, you know, but I didn’t.
Emma describes a difficult experience of group therapy as part of a residential treatment program.
Through group therapy it was like, I call it ‘emotional boot camp’. It was getting down to, I mean everyone’s different, but guaranteed nearly all people with addictions either had no coping skills or if they did, they lost them all through drug use. So getting back to, how are we going to cope with everyday things? So we had things like conflict resolution. So we’d have to sit in a circle with all the other residents and people would write conflicts about you, or you could write a conflict about someone and you’d have to sit opposite that person and then sort of say, ‘When you didn’t clean up the other day I felt really angry’ […] Conflict was my biggest fear. It was like, ‘Oh my God’, you know. And then being so exhausted by the end of the day, I’d sit there and think, ‘How did I even drink?’ Like, it’s 8 o’clock and I’m falling asleep because I was dealing with all of this stuff, you know. All my anxieties and having to sit in that room covered in sweat just going, ‘Oh my God!’ It was like I was about to be shot and thinking you’re the only one. You know, I think I’m the only one who’s this nervous or I’m the only one who hates this so much and then in group therapy I’d sit there and say, ‘I think I’m really abnormal’ and everyone would be like, ‘No way’.
Drawing on a recent experience of short-term residential treatment, Emma describes what makes a good residential treatment facility.
The facilitators were just incredibly awesome and they were really, like, wanting to learn with us. So it was more of an open forum and it was a really nice environment. You know, it was like a really safe place [with] couches and free food […] And it was holistic, too. They had yoga and meditation, and a nutritionist. I mean, she was just awesome. She was a recovering alcoholic and really, really open about it. They all were, actually. All the facilitators were very open about their own personal journeys. And I think that really made us all feel comfortable rather than feeling like there’s a professor up there who’s studied this for 50 years but never had a drink in his life, you know? So it was just amazing. The course was fantastic and then after[wards…] I stayed sober for three months and that was the longest I’d been sober in my whole adult life.
To support her decision to stop drinking, Emma says she’s changed her lifestyle and now spends more time with her family and mostly avoids going out in the evenings.
I’m not putting myself in [certain] situations. I’m not a ‘yes’ person any more. I was always the one [saying], ‘Yeah, let’s have a barbecue on Sunday afternoon. Yeah, we’ll have it at my house.’ Or you know, ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s go out for dinner on Friday night’ and I’m just not doing [that any more]. I don’t think I ever really liked doing those things but I think because I was so scared of being on my own […] I just kept going out all the time […] I’ve always been a social butterfly, you know and I was always so scared of not having friends. That was my biggest fear was ‘Oh my God, what if I don’t have any friends?’ And now I look at the handful of friends I’ve got and there’s not that many but I don’t have any angst towards the people I don’t see any more […] I don’t have any fear that they don’t like me or, ‘Oh my God,’ that whole comparing yourself. Like, they all go out for dinner and I want that […] So I was trying to get that but I was doing it all the wrong way […] Like Friday night some girls were going out for one of their thirtieth birthdays and I was happy to go. I knew I’d be okay, I wouldn’t drink. I wouldn’t go out to the hip hop club afterwards […] that’s a bit too much for my age! But at the end I thought it’s not because […] I was scared I was going to drink, I just didn’t want to go.
I think that’s how my lifestyle’s changed. I’m happy to stay at home on a Friday and Saturday night […] It took me a long time to get out of that […] whole, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m home,’ even though I’ve got two young children, it still just didn’t sink in that most people do stay at home on a Saturday night. I always thought that was abnormal […] And if my husband and I ever do go out, if he ever organises anything, he doesn’t drink, so we just end up walking around. He likes taking photos of street art and we go see some of his friends at coffee shops, but we do things during the day rather than at night.