In Alcohol Awareness Week, it’s important to remove the stigma attached to the word alcoholic, says Emma* who’s turned her life around thanks to family support.
His dad and I had split up and I was drinking every day. I got into another relationship with a man and he was very violent too. We broke up but stayed in touch and the relationship was still very violent.
One night when I’d drunk a lot I took a taxi to where we used to live and we had a massive fight. I was black and blue from head to toe and while under the influence I set fire to our bedroom, which I don’t remember doing. My ex had left the house, so it was just me there. I don’t know if it was a cry for help. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I ended up doing six months for arson but got out on a two-year suspended sentence.
Obviously in prison you can’t drink but I was getting my hands on other stuff like antipsychotics. I was taking anything to change how I felt.
I never used to believe you could be an alcoholic at such a young age. Sometimes I still don’t like saying the word out loud but it’s so important to change perceptions and let people know that you can be an alcoholic that young.
I do feel like I was born with it; I class it as an illness of the mind, just like depression, just like anxiety, just like all the illnesses that you can’t see, and I think it’s important that young people know they can get help and nobody’s going to shrug it off. There’s such stigma attached to the term alcoholic, so why would young people want to attach themselves to it?
“Until I went into that treatment centre I didn’t understand that I was an alcoholic. But when you have children, letting them down all the time is a heavy weight to bear.”
Young people don’t always recognise when their drinking is getting out of control. It’s all about the consequences. I know loads of people who drink every day and don’t have any big consequences. A friend of mine does. It’s not great for her health but she doesn’t go out and set fires or go out and shoplift. She doesn’t end up in jail like me.
After I was released I started the Freedom Programme at the Women’s Turnaround Centre in Liverpool. The course helps women work through their experiences of domestic abuse. I had 28 sessions before joining a group tackling addiction. The group had lots of people with anxiety or depression in it and many of them were still drinking or using drugs. It was all about changing your life and your views, basically alcohol awareness.
But I was still drinking towards the end of 2015 so (just before Christmas, of all times!) I took myself to a treatment centre and have been alcohol-free ever since.
In that time I’ve been back working with the Family Impact group, which my son also attends. He absolutely loves it. He’s had counselling from another service and he’s been back home living with me full time for about a month and a half. We have our own house, I have a lovely partner and I’m pregnant, with a baby due in March. Things are lovely.
Being part of a service like this has played a massive part in me staying sober. It gave me somewhere to go and something to do. It’s good to listen to other people and feel like you’re not the only one. And it’s great for my son, who gets to meet other kids who have been in the same situation as him.
I go to AA and there are 16 and 18-year-olds in there. It’s hard work being in recovery and being that young. If I’d been able to get support from a group like Family Impact at that age it would have helped so much. I can tell Nicola, who’s working with me, what I am going through and she’s not going to cry. This matters. If you tell your friends or relatives things, it can upset them, or they blame themselves and that just makes it harder.
If I’d never been on probation I wouldn’t have known there was a group like this. And until I went into that treatment centre I didn’t understand that I was an alcoholic. But when you have children, letting them down all the time is a heavy weight to bear.
I think if I’d continued down the path I was on, if I hadn’t died through alcohol I would probably have killed myself. It’s that extreme, living with the guilt of having a tiny child, and wanting to do everything for them but not being able to. And not being able to understand why.
I am an alcoholic and I’ll always be an alcoholic until I die, it’s just that I choose not to drink today or any day.
*Emma is a pseudonym.