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Support Services

Beating the Bottle

Personal Stories

Beating the Bottle

This indeed takes courage, putting pen to paper as I feel I have become a second class citizen after acquiring a brain injury four years ago. I had a stroke while on the operating table as a doctor was clipping an aneurysm. On waking I could not talk or move my left hand side and the therapy started straight away. I just wanted them to leave me alone so I could get my jumbled thoughts together or simply sleep. There were no warnings about the long term difficulties I would be facing with epilepsy, partial paralysis and an inability to stay focussed. It would have helped in the early days to speak to someone who had been through the same things. It is much harder when you have to work it all out by yourself.

Humour as Medicine
My first real laugh came in hospital when a doctor told me his name was Livingstone to which I replied "Dr Livingstone I presume?" The poor fellow must have heard it a million times but it turned a light on for me as I realised I had strung a sentence together and that all the speech therapy was starting to pay off.
It was also the first hint that laughter would be the best medicine and I laugh at myself frequently. For example last summer I put both my legs in the one side of my shorts and almost fell over. My pride hates needing someone to help me get dressed but laughter can help you accept the things you can't do for yourself.
Another helpful thing is to keep looking back which gives a clear picture of how far I have progressed in my journey of discovering more about myself. I now have dreams and aspirations that I never held before, that have come about due to this incurable, frustrating, destructive injury. It changed some behaviour patterns that were socially destructive- for example I was the chardonnay queen, always turning to alcohol when depressed, thinking it made me a happier person more in control of my life.

The High Cost of Drinking
Hard as this is to admit, I was discharged from hospital and kept having two glasses of wine for breakfast and lunch instead of food, but one morning my head twisted to one side and no sound would come though I was trying to scream for help with my whole body convulsing. I was stabilised in hospital and though any normal person would realise the danger of this I did it again and again with massive seizures and hospitalisation every time.
Normally I would not be such a slow learner. My drinking had already cost me my last marriage so somewhere inside my brain was the knowledge of how destructive drinking was, more so when in the tight grip of denial and the effect of selfish insane behaviour on your loved ones. I had low self esteem, physical pain, poor mobility, my daughter was disgusted with me and I could not even cuddle my grandchild.
So there came a time when befuddled as I was there was some serious thinking to be done. If I continued drinking I could forget physical rehabilitation and scare away my grandchild who was scared of my seizures. Some say you can't beat alcoholism with will power but I am a living testimony that you can. I made up my mind the drink had to go before it either killed me or prevented me rebuilding bridges with my daughter and seeing my grandchild grow up.

One is Too Many
I now lead an alcohol free life and have absolutely no regrets. If you have something to aim for it helps you to stay positive and focussed. In my case it was knowing that I was a good person and alcohol did not have to rule my life, and wanting to be a grandma to be proud of. These two reasons stopped me in my tracks every time I even thought of having a drink. One is too many and a thousand are not enough!

People with brain injuries often turn to alcohol for help. If any of you are having a swig or two thinking there's no harm done be warned it is a sly, secretive and destructive habit that will quickly grab you and make your already difficult world a living hell. If you can't love yourself enough to stop, focus on someone precious to you and imagine how empty your life would be without them in your world.

Help is out there although it is not always easy to access. Sometimes you knock on doors which just don't open but that made me more determined to keep trying. I was rewarded with a wonderful stroke support group. It was run by a fellow survivor and I felt at home straight away, less alien and very welcome. Meetings were lightly structured so they flowed well and everyone is encouraged to participate with a lot of laughter amongst ourselves. If you have been toying with the idea of attending a stroke support group then do yourself a favour- stop making excuses why not and enjoy the fellowship of some kindred spirits. Friendship is one of life's treasures and a group can help to hold yourself together, set goals, dare to dream and get a life!

Learning to Read
Alcohol was not the only problem of course. I wanted to enjoy reading again so I started with the newspaper and Readers Digest as the articles are short. At first I managed word for word but eventually these ran into sentences then paragraphs. An added bonus was my memory improved as I read more. Today I am an active reader again with a real appreciation for language. They say "talk is cheap" but it isn't when you have been denied the ability to verbalise or write down your feelings because your brain can't. You really learn to appreciate the simple tasks in life when you can no longer take them for granted!
I am not a miss goody two shoes, having made plenty of mistakes through lack of judgement but I no longer bash myself up mentally. All these experiences have led me to value myself more highly nowadays.

A New Beginning
In a sense my life is just beginning. My granddaughter told me the reason I can't move my arm is "because you haven't got it switched on". In a way she is right- while I was drinking, misusing my medication and verbally abusing others. I wasn't switched on to love, light, recovery and happiness. My experience is that loving those around you provides an inner strength and determination to carry on.

Although we've never met
I see your sadness, know that hidden smile
And though the familiar ties of the past
Are tattered and torn
Be brave, get a new life, don't mourn.
Believe it or not
Time will bring you some peace
And from your heart
All that pain will release
Let your heart be glad
My wish is you will not be sad
Enjoy the days that God gives you
Find a strategy that helps you cope
Never ever think less of yourself
Or that there's no hope.


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