Denial held her back

I was born the eldest of three children. Neither my parents nor sister and brother were alcoholic, which might seem unusual. In fact, I can't establish any genetic link at all in my family. I had an excellent and privileged childhood and adolescence. My parents were very moral, respectable people of good standing in the community. I was given every possible opportunity in life – private school education, a convertible at 16, trip to Europe at 20, lavish wedding, beautiful home, etc.

In short, I can't blame anybody or anything for my alcoholism, although I spent years blaming everything and everyone around me. I really believed I was incredibly unlucky - awful things just kept on happening to poor l'il ole me. So I drank.

I blamed the weather, my home, my spouse, my boss, my doctor - and I drank. My actions, I felt, were always justified by the words "if you had my problems you would drink, too". I was able to make my story sound so tragic I was always able to find people to drink with and sympathise with the sad saga of my life. If not, I drank alone and, with all the activity in my head, I really didn't care whether I had company or not.

In fact, as my drinking progressed I preferred solitary drinking. Very few people could keep up with me and I felt they had no staying power. You see, as well as all my other self-perceived talents - beauty, brains, ability, etc, I was also an authority on every subject. My God, I was wise. Those around me were truly blessed with my presence! All these things I believed when I was drinking-but oh how different was the reality.

Today, three and a half years sober, I frequently reflect on my drinking, although it often seems like a bad dream. I must never forget what it was like, what happened and what it's like now. I find it almost impossible to believe that my alcoholism had progressed to the point it had and yet my denial was so strong I truly couldn't see that I had a problem. I really believed that I was cursed with bad nerves and occasionally drank a bit too much. Denial is certainly not a river in Egypt!

I can see very clearly now that alcoholism was my lot from the day I picked up my first drink. I always seemed to want more than others and never seemed to know when to stop. As social life progressed so did my drinking. I was always surrounded by equally heavy drinkers so nothing seemed unusual at the time. It is interesting today to note that some of the old crowd are dead - others, the lucky ones, are in AA.

I travelled Europe at age 20, again naturally gravitating to drinkers and parties. I quickly learned to order booze in the language of whichever country I was in at the time. (The rest of the conversation didn't matter much anyway.) On my return to Australia, I married a man who coincidentally was born on the same date as me. We are both Scorpio, so the combination of astrology and alcohol made for a highly volatile union. Heaven or hell, but never midway! That marriage broke up after 15 months and I am happy to say today that my ex-husband and me are friends in AA in different states. He found AA just one year before me. (Another coincidence?)

The combination of the trauma of divorce and the death of my only much loved sister accelerated my descent into hell on earth - I was by now in the merry-go-round of hospitals, psychiatrists and pills. Consequently it was no time at all before I developed a dual addiction. Medical diagnosis was always depression, anxiety or nervous disorder - alcoholism was never mentioned.

My drinking at this stage, I thought, was normal social drinking interspersed with binges - the trouble being that the binges were getting longer and the distance between them shorter. Around this time I remarried, at age 35, and had a child. This, I thought, was the answer. However, life in suburbia with a husband and child was a big upheaval. I needed alcohol to ease the stress of living with a hyperactive child. The "rests" in hospital were essential, I felt, for me to cope.

Needless to say, this marriage also ended in divorce so at 42 years of age with a young child in tow I moved from the bottom of Australia to the top - which seemed a very normal thing to do at the time. A new environment and sunshine all year round and all would be well! On reflection now I can see very clearly that insanity was creeping in. Living in the tropics I became a beer drinker, a drink which previously held no appeal. Before very long I needed an extra refrigerator just for the beer and I blamed the heat and humidity for the amount I was now imbibing on a daily basis. As always I thought everyone drank like me - certainly the tropics are a practicing alkies' paradise.

Hospitalisation now became more frequent and on two or three occasions I nearly died. I lost a great job and was in a disastrous financial situation, so another geographical ensued - to a city 1000 km south but still in Queensland. I know now that I had reached the stage of chronic alcoholism. Of course, I didn't know that then - as I was too busy trying to appear normal and it was very hard work.

Within weeks of arriving at our new home all the acute stages of alcoholism had appeared. I'd spent a few hours in jail, had more hospitalisations, and written off my car, almost killing myself in the process. Daily morning slugs of booze were now a fact of life. They were essential, in fact, as my shakes were so bad I couldn't function without the booze, but I still thought it was only "bad nerves".

However, I still had some sense of responsibility. I stayed sober by day and, taking a sleeping tablet with alcohol as soon as my son left for school, slept all day. I would wake, shower and dress at 3 pm, so all appeared well when he returned home. The stress of this way of life was unbearable but I was determined to convince him and everyone else that I was a good mother. Even today, at age 13, he claims to have never seen me drunk - unconscious yes, drunk no.

After my last hospitalisation I consulted an alcohol counsellor and she agreed with me. I didn't look like an alkie! This was music to my ears. I was now going to prove I could drink socially. It seemed easy enough - 2 drinks per day and 3 alcohol free days a week. However, something always happened to upset my alcohol free days so I figured I'd start again the following week. The realisation that I could not adhere to this drinking schedule frightened me and I was forced to admit I was powerless over alcohol.

At this time, I very reluctantly contacted AA - for the simple reason I had nowhere else to go. I didn't expect much because I couldn't envisage a life without alcohol, but on the other hand the life I had was on a rapid downhill slide. Years previously I had attended a few meetings in Adelaide and had made the mistake of only picking differences instead of picking similarities and as an atheist all the "God talk" put me off. With the progression of the disease over the ensuing 12 years I had accomplished the lot - everything those members had spoken of years before.

This time, there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I was an alcoholic but, of course, knowledge of and acceptance of alcoholism are very different things. I'm a Scorpio, very determined, very stubborn - so after a few months in AA, living pill and alcohol free, I decided that the problem was pills, not alcohol - so I drank again. I can't afford to ever forget that time, because all denial was gone. I realised that I was completely beaten, that I was powerless over alcohol and AA was my only hope. Once I realised that instead of being a sacrifice giving up alcohol, it was a bonus living clean and sober, my life took on a quality I'd never known. I owe my life to AA, it has taught me so much.

Through one local hospital I do 12 Step work which I love. It gives me an opportunity to give away what I've been given. I'm grateful for every second of every day, always aware that if it were not for AA there is a very strong chance I'd be dead by now. I love every aspect of my life and the past years of recovery have been the best of all. For me, life really did begin at ... 45.

Best of all is the loving, happy relationship I have with my young son. We're each other's best friend. My life now is balanced and serene and it's wonderful. I sincerely hope I never lose my gratitude or take anything for granted. Materially, I don't have much, but when I had it all I didn't appreciate it and I certainly didn't know happiness. There is no life I want more than the one that I have and the journey just keeps getting better.

AA has given me everything I ever wanted and more than I ever dreamed of - thank you AA.