How I made it to eleven years clean despite having a nervous breakdown and thinking terrorists had poisoned all the blueberries in my local supermarket.
When I went into rehab at the beginning of 2005, my seriousness and dedication to my treatment can be deduced from the essential items I packed:
12 pairs of Agent Provocateur lingerie (in case I got lucky)
A vibrator (in case I didn’t)
Enough benzos and diet pills to get me through the first week.
17 pairs of designer shoes (later smuggled up to 70)
My therapist said I looked like I’d escaped from the set of TV Sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous.” I sincerely believed this was a compliment. I had chosen St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, as I felt it would look best on my C.V. and hoped to bump into a celebrity. Despite having been arrested at Heathrow airport, as sundry dogs, passengers and tea ladies detected that my passport and all my possessions were heavily (and visibly) coated in cocaine, I considered myself to be a party girl who had simply partied a bit hard. Quite what party I was attending when I was scoring drugs in a Jamaican ghetto at midnight, thinking I was likely to be gang raped and have my throat cut, is still a mystery. Other adventures I’d got up to included being seduced by a (female) teenage stripper in Jamaica, who’d killed someone the week before (and then stole my car). And deciding that the best medication for a cocaine induced heart attack, was (naturally) to take more cocaine.
Only a few days after the benzos I’d taken into rehab ran out, (which caused major panic attacks as well as a serious problem with imaginary insects that kept on biting me) I was forced to do “Step 1” of the AA 12 Step programme “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” The reaction from my therapy group to what I’d been getting up to in Jamaica was, instead of the laughter and applause I’d been expecting, shocked silence and a recommendation “to write it all down as a public leaflet to warn people not to take drugs.” That Step 1 changed my life, reducing my denial from the size of the Titanic to a one person canoe. Instead of just having a break from my using, I now decided I was going to get clean.
After relating a catalogue of disasters with my mental health, the psychiatrist at St Chillin’s diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and said I had “too many problems” to be treated in the private sector as I would “bankrupt my family.” This diagnosis came after previous diagnoses of clinical depression and bulimia in my early twenties. The psychiatrist said I needed to move to a state rehab. I decided I’d better listen, as my decisions had ended me up in rehab, totally broke. The only place my local council would fund that had a bed, was a tough rehab in South London, bristling with ex-cons, where I met the “love of my life” an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail. Naturally, when I left residential rehab at the end of 2005, he moved straight in with me. But I’m not sure I would have got through that first Christmas out of rehab clean if he hadn’t been around.
I was going to 12 Step meetings, which I had always primarily viewed as places you went to pick up men, arriving at the end of the meeting, with my telephone number tattooed on an exposed breast. I had chosen a sponsor in NA because her handbag collection was much much bigger than mine. My local council decided I was too deranged to be left in society on my own, so my GP referred me to the Waterview Psychiatric Unit where they had a programme to treat people with Personality Disorders. I immediately renamed it the “Prison View Psychiatric Unit” as water was as absent as lakes in the Sahara, it was actually overlooking a juvenile detention centre.
My behaviour at Prison View was bizarre. For 3 months I would leap out of bed at 3am in the morning to iron the leaves of artificial plants. As I had purchased thousands of leaves, to decorate the communal parts of the Dry House I was living in, this process took the entire night, leaving me completely shattered. From early childhood I had always had a manic surge at 3am in the morning, which the doctors said could be cyclothymia. I was therefore put on respiridone, an anti-psychotic, which made me sleep at night.
The first major challenge to my sobriety came with my mother’s death in 2006, when I was a year and a half clean. This came after a horrendous 6 year illness in which she had been paralysed but shaking uncontrollably, having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am to midnight every day. This unbearable situation was the major factor behind my drug addiction in Jamaica. Me and the ex-armed robber went together to visit my mother in Jamaica as she was dying. It was shocking to see her, she was catatonic and barely recognised me. Then we went back together for the funeral which was devastating again. He was incredibly supportive and without him, I really don’t think I would have got through my mother’s death without relapsing.
I then became obsessed with having a baby and purchased a family house. This had an unfortunate effect on the relationship between the ex-armed robber and me. He’d been perfectly happy living in a dry house which I didn’t own but as soon as he moved into my house, he started being aggressive towards me as he felt out of control. The next big challenge to my sobriety came when, after a year of escalating abuse, he hit me and smashed up the house in a frenzy of violence, causing us to split up. I fell apart as he had been my lover, best friend everything to me. But my fellowship friend Nicola and her mother looked after me in their beautiful Edwardian House in North London. I thought I had found my perfect home and my perfect family.
This was shattered when they sold the house and I had a falling out with Nicola the following year. I turned to God, doing the Alpha Course on Christianity at my local church where instead of becoming a Christian, I decided on taking a swifter route to union with God by marrying the vicar instead. Unfortunately he turned me down, with some excuse about a wife so I was left on my own.
I’ve had a number of psychiatric relapses in recovery, almost all linked to coming off medication, or my decisions to reduce the dose to lose weight, because of my eating disorder.
Encouraged by my sponsor in NA, I came off all medication in January 2008. I was OK for a few months but when I was facing what I regarded as a financial catastrophe, I fell apart, planning to kill myself every time I woke up shaking and terrified at 4am in the morning. I had to go back on medication.
In September 2008 I become disillusioned with the family house I’d bought and saw another one I thought I should have got instead. I became consumed with an obsession to pour petrol on myself and light it killing myself and burning down my house, which lasted for two weeks.
After I split up with the ex-armed robber, I felt like a demon was possessing my brain and forcing me to kill myself. Every time I left the house I thought the demon was going to force me to crash the car, and I was seriously contemplating going back into a residential psychiatric unit.
In 2012 I decided my former lodger was going to kill me and was told I probably had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was put on paroxetine to treat the PTSD but this sent me into a whole new stratosphere of paranoia. I couldn’t leave the house and, when I did, I interpreted the tiny cuts in the packaging of the blueberries in Sainsbury’s as “evidence” that they had all been poisoned by a terrorist group. After a day in which I had 9 panic attacks, and ended the day deciding I was definitely going to kill myself, I came off the paroxetine.
In all these psychiatric relapses, although killing myself was a distinct possibility, using definitely was not. I had imbibed the 12 Step philosophy to such an extent that I believed, relapse was as bad as death. Indeed, when I was using, I was warned by the doctors that I only had months to live so this was probably true.
The biggest threat to my sobriety came when I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013 which was linked to a financial crisis and the fact that the ex-armed robber was having a baby with someone else. I had wanted to get back together with him. The symptoms of the nervous breakdown were that I started to do crazy OCD checking rituals 10 hours a day, from 5pm to 5am in the morning. There were so many days during the nervous breakdown where I thought there is no way I will get through to the end of this day without getting drunk. Alcohol seemed a possible way out of the nightmare of the OCD, as when I had been drinking the OCD was under control. My sponsor in AA convinced me that my life would be even worse if I picked up alcohol and I think that she was right. If anything, just as when I was tired I had to check more for fear of making mistakes, if my senses had been impaired by alcohol the OCD could have got worse. I used the 12 Step Philosophy of picking up the phone and asking for help to get me through the nervous breakdown, gathering a circle of people around me to look after me. Eventually the OCD was brought under control by medication and therapy.
Though my 11 years of recovery from alcohol and drugs have been incredibly difficult because of my mental health problems, I have had one absolute rule: never pick up alcohol and drugs no matter how hard life gets. And now all my addictions and mental health problems are in recovery, through 12 Step fellowships, therapy and medication I am happier than I have ever been and am looking forward to what I think will be the best chapter of my life.
Today’s MHF story was submitted by “Caroline Turriff who writes about mishaps with men, mental health, journalism and drugs at bloginhotpants.com“
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