A Derry woman has spoken about her journey to reclaiming her life from a hell-like existence of drink and drug dependency.
The woman, now in her 30s, said she wanted to send a message to others that there was light at the end of the dark tunnel of addiction, but said that like many others, she could not have done it alone.
She was speaking after Sinn Fein Councillor, Patricia Logue, last week spoke of how the levels of people mixing alcohol with prescription medication - often prescribed for someone else - and other drugs was in danger of becoming an “epidemic” in Derry.
Describing her own harrowing journey, the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, said: “I probably had a problem from the first drink I had when I was 15. I had always struggled with emotions growing up.
“I was brought up in a good home with good parents and I couldn’t have wanted for anything. A lot of people assume you need to come from broken home but I didn’t. I did a lot of activities, went to youth clubs, I danced, but something was never right emotionally.
“I would have self-harmed from a young age, cutting, nipping and punching, my emotions were that intense and there were outbursts of anger.
“I can only look back on that now when I am in recovery and I can see that’s why the drink was like a coping mechanism as a teenager. But when I drank everything became 100 times worse.”
The woman said she got into trouble and fights while intoxicated, which in turn led to the self-harm would getting worse. “I did things I wouldn’t have done sober,” she said. “It became noticeable I had a problem at around 17/18. I needed it; it took a hold of me. I was going up the town and I would go into bars and get myself shots just to keep myself going.”
After leaving school, like many in Derry she moved away to England to attend university, but the problems with alcohol continued. “The drinking took on a new league of its own. I would be lying in the street at 4.00 am. My parents said they never slept for three years because they were always worried about me. I made lots of friends but when they saw the drinking side of me, they left and I left Uni with no friends because of the drinking.”
On returning to Derry at the age of 21, she took a succession of jobs in local bars. “I was drinking whilst working. I was drunk on shift a couple of times. The blackouts had started at that stage. They were really bad. I lost a couple of jobs. You end up not washing, you start lying, cheating, stealing. I never stole from my parents but I would have at parties.”
At 22, she knew she couldn’t carry on and went to Alcoholics Anonymous. “I got sober. I relapsed a couple of times, but I was sober for about a year. I was going to meetings and was back at university doing a post-graduate, got a new job, the relationships were building again. I thought I was cured of the disease. I thought ‘I have got this sorted. I can do this on my own’. Within two months I relapsed.”
But this time it wasn’t alcohol. “It was cocaine, ‘monkey madness’ and it went from every weekend to every day. I lost my job again and my mental health really, really deteriorated. The paranoia, lying, cheating, stealing came back 10 times worse. For about two years I was taking drugs daily. I had let my family down. You were pushing yourself away from people.”
At rock bottom, the woman said the help she received saved her life.
“I ended up going to Northlands for six weeks and still I go to Narcotics Anonymous. I am five and a half years clean now.
“Northlands saved my life. It was in there I realised I didn’t want to die. Before that I did. I was hurting myself, hurting everybody around me. Then I realised I was worth more than this. Ever since I came out of Northlands there has never been a week where I haven’t gone to a meeting. My sponsor has helped me the whole way. For the rest of my life I will be going to meetings to stay on track.
“Without the help I definitely wouldn’t be here. You cannot do this alone. It is too hard to do it alone. It is a disease and they say there is no cure. But it can be arrested.
“I do believe it works. It has saved my life. Even on bad days I come out of that meeting feeling completely different.”
Urging others in a similar predicament to the one she was in to seek help, she said: “You are never too young to admit you have a problem. I was 22 when I went to AA, 26 at NA. Your life is not over. I have been to weddings, hen parties, been on holidays and now people want to spend time with me. I have a full-time job, I have bought my own house; I passed my driving test and I have my own car. My family and friends are here, my friends came back to me.
“There is life on the other side. A lot of young people feel if they stop, what is there to do. Well, they will get a life that is beyond their wildest dreams because you get a bit of peace between your ears. Living with addiction is like living in hell. You can’t do it for other people, your wains, for your mammy or daddy, partner. But you can do it.”
*Anyone seeking help with alcohol addiction can contact Alcoholics Anyomous on Helpline: 0845 769 7555.
Details of local Narcotics Anonymous meetings can be found at www.na-ireland.org/na-meetings/north/derry/