Mom beat addiction and got her ‘power back’
Mary Smith was 8 when she had her first drink. It was an accident. She took the miniature bottle from her grandfather's bar, thinking it was soda.
“It was a pretty green bottle,” she said. “Once I got that warm, fuzzy feeling, I knew it was alcohol.”
She enjoyed the buzz so much she kept returning to her grandfather's bar; cigarettes followed.
The habits continued for two years until one of her friends was caught smoking. Ms Smith figured it was a matter of time before she also got into trouble.
“Plus, I think I just got bored with it,” she said.
It wasn't until college that her life spiralled out of control.
“I started off partying and drinking and it seemed like fun,” she said. “I could drink seven shots of tequila and not be tipsy.”
She gained a reputation for being the best at holding her liquor. Consequently, her friends always chose her as the designated driver.
She was proud of it at the time, but today she knows it was a warning sign for alcoholism.
Ms Smith, who hasn't shared her real name, spoke to Lifestyle as part of National Recovery Month, which begins tomorrow. Her hope is that her story might help someone else.
“We have an enzyme in our livers that breaks down alcohol,” she said. “For people who suffer from alcohol addiction, the enzyme doesn't break alcohol down properly. One of the telltale signs is that you can smell it coming through your pores a few days after drinking.”
She stopped going to class, lost her scholarship and was forced to leave in her junior year.
“I was thinking I was only hurting myself, not realising my family was worried sick,” she said. “I tried alcohol, weed, ecstasy, and heroin. Then I tried crack; my drug of choice.
“I didn't like the way I was living, bingeing and not being able to get my life together.
“I didn't like the dangerous situations I continued to put myself in. I thought death would be better but I couldn't do it. I knew the only other option was to get help. I went to recovery in the US.”
She spent a year in rehab. The tools she learnt stuck for seven years and then she relapsed.
“I thought a little bit of wine with my steak wouldn't hurt,” she said. “The problem was that I didn't accept that alcoholism is a disease. Just a little bit of alcohol can trigger the cravings.”
She saw her life slipping away again and turned to Pathways Bermuda in desperation. The addiction-counselling group enrolled her in a Caron Bermuda inpatient treatment programme.
“It was through Caron that I learnt addiction is really a disease,” she said. “Most people don't buy into that. They think it is more about failing.
“When I went to Caron I learnt I was a sick person, not a bad person. I had an illness and needed a medication regime.” Ms Smith is now 39 and has been sober for five years. She takes her daily medication in the morning: a motivational DVD about self-love.
She also keeps a gratitude journal and tries to look at the positive side of life.
“These are things Caron and Pathways taught me,” she said. “You are powerless, but can get your power back.”
Ms Smith believes genetics played a role in her addiction. Her parents, grandfather and several other family members also struggled with it. She said: “Genetics definitely plays a big portion in it. One in ten people can suffer from the disease.
“Some people are more prone than others. The lowest days of my life were waking up only to go and buy drugs. That was all day, every day.
“I wasn't eating and I wasn't sleeping. When you are addicted to drugs and alcohol, you do anything you can to get it, whether it be stealing, selling yourself, lying, cheating, manipulating. You have to do this all day long to support your habit. This goes on for days or weeks at a time until you pass out from exhaustion.
“Then you think about everything you should be doing. You look at your life and realise you don't have anything and you are just not worth anything. You are just existing.”
She eventually turned to prostitution.
“When I look back on it, I think, ‘Wow, I did that?',” she said. “But when your drug addiction gets to a certain point you will do anything to get your next fix. It becomes a matter of survival. You just want your drugs.” Her young daughter is an added incentive to stay well and sober.
“Being that I know that this is a disease, I can show her prevention,” Ms Smith said.
She said there would never be liquor in her house for her daughter to get. She won't even allow mouthwashes or medications with an alcohol base as they could trigger cravings.
“I will tell her, ‘I prefer you don't drink. But if you do and you notice these signs or symptoms, it may mean you are at risk for alcoholism',” she added.
Ms Smith works as an administrative assistant at a drug counselling facility in Bermuda and hopes to become a drug- counsellor.
“This is the field I want to work in for the rest of my life,” she said. “I am finally walking in my calling.
“Having insight of suffering with this on every level gives me empathy towards those who walk through our doors.”
For help with addiction, call 236-0823, e-mail info@pathways bermuda.bm or visit pathways bermuda.bm
Can you down seven shots of tequila without batting an eye?
Do your friends ask you to drive them home after a night out because you’re the “best drunk”?
According to Pathways Bermuda, these may be signs you have a problem with alcohol. It’s an indication your liver enzymes may not be processing alcohol the way they should.
Here are some other warning signs:
• Because of your drinking, you are always missing appointments
• You have a tendency to isolate yourself while drinking
• You keep drinking despite adverse consequences, such as the loss of a spouse or a job
• You use alcohol in dangerous situations, such as while driving
• Neglecting your responsibilities.