Jen's Speech for Fundraising Dinner 2013
Hi, well as you now know my name is Jen but there is a lot you don't know! Firstly I will give you a little insight into what originally took me to St Marks. I am 39 and born the 3rd of 4 children. I was the unwanted accident child and unfortunately my relationship with my mother reflected that through most of my childhood. My father and I were however close.
Overall my childhood was not one of trauma but of underlying rules, expectations and a belief system where other people came before us. My parents were religious with a very active church life at times coming at the expense of our own financial and emotional wellbeing.
During my formative years there was the unspoken rule that we were never to be idle, either helping at home or other people whoever had the greater need. I recall one incident at about the age of 7 all of us were required to give up our mattresses for a group of visitors sleeping in the lounge while we slept on our bare bunk bases. This was just one of many events that reinforced we were always to put others ahead of ourselves. At the age of 12 my parents separated which I really struggled to come to terms with as I moved away with my mother changing school, home and area and leaving my father.
I met my husband at 14 and married at the young age of 17 and started my family at 19. My relationship was co-dependent and brought the security, love • and belonging I so desperately searched for as a teenager. Despite enjoying the role of mother and wife I had a deep underlying sadness causing varying levels of depression. Through these years I never felt good enough or that I was doing enough to be accepted. I pushed myself very hard and have vivid memories of being outside at night as I weeded the garden in torch light! I strangely thought this was normal! I constantly sought an unachievable level of perfection in everything I did and fell flat when this was not achieved.
Our marriage sadly ended 17 years after it had begun. Only 6 months after the separation my self esteem in tatters and yet another crisis with my mental health, and my co-dependency not coping with being alone, I hastily became involved in a new relationship. My boys were angry about this new man and our dysfunctional relationship. It all came to a head when I realised that the boys were actually scared of him and I felt the boys would temporarily be better off with their father. At this point drugs and alcohol were not a part of my life but I was burnt out, depressed and had pressure coming from both sides I made a decision to this day that I regret. I handed over full custody to the father of my children. I can still remember as clearly as I can see you sitting here watching the look on my lawyers face as she said "are you sure you really want to do this?" and I replied "Yes, I see no other option". And so I signed away my childhood dream, my adult reality and the most important thing in my life my children.
Over the next two years my relationship ended and I saw the boys irregularly. Over this time I tried to take my life several times, not a cry for help but rather a desperate want to be dead. I truly believed my children were being well looked after and there was no need for me in this world any longer.
At the age of 34 again I sought comfort and belonging in another relationship but this time I thought he brought answers to my pain. Unbeknown to me I was later to find out he was an alcoholic and a very heavy cannabis user and grower. The relationship seemed the answer to all of my questions I had found my bad boy who had no rules, no respect and no sense of responsibility for anyone other than himself. As long as I stayed on his side, life was fun. We went travelling around the South Island in the weekends and I thought I had found somebody good and adventurous like my Dad. We moved in together very quickly and at this stage I was still unaware that there was even a disease called alcoholism that people could have and not live on a park bench. I was unaware from my very protected and naive upbringing that the strange smell that sometimes lingered was cannabis. All his using and growing were done while I was either out or busy.
The first couple of months seemed great at the time; I'd work in the day and meet him at the Working Men's Club on the way home. We would start there and finish drinking at home and go to bed. I saw nothing wrong with this and this was my new norm. Then I was diagnosed with an unrelated illness which meant giving up my job and going on a benefit. That was great, it gave us more time together as he was on ACC so we now had time to do up his house on my good days and drink as we did it. The only time I was sad was when I had to say Goodbye to the boys after my time with them. But I always had a solution to the tears I would begin yet another drinking session, drinking to oblivion until I fell asleep. By this stage violence had slipped into our relationship but I believed I deserved it and it was my new norm. Aga in alcohol numbed the pain and took away the memories. The days merged into blurry weeks and we finished renovating and bought a small cottage on a lifestyle block in North Canterbury and nearer my Father who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. It had the potential to make a lot of money if we established the property and later built a homestead. Somehow I believed this was our new beginning and it was for the first month. Then things deteriorated.
We were living like unkempt pigs; we did the dishes occasionally, we cooked on a barbecue if at all and certainly didn't do any housework. Our decisions blurred by constant drinking were nonexistent, irrational and impulsive. Beatings again were regular but now involved the Police. Things went from bad to worse. My father saw evidence of the bruises and tried multiple times to get me out of the situation but my need for a man and a place to drink freely and the fact I had no self esteem took me back. Finally after a wakeup call from a Police Officer saying next time it was likely to be an ambulance that took me away and possibly a funeral, I managed to leave with an elaborate plan from women's refuge. I left behind my dream and as it turned out all of my equity I moved into a secret address.
Once again living alone I believed my alcohol consumption would stop as this in my view had been caused by my x partner and there was no family history of alcoholism but it didn't. I saw my boys more regularly but only just stayed sober for my time with them and between their visits I drank more than ever before sometimes not stopping after a cask of wine. I would stay in bed only getting up to purchase more alcohol or tidy away the evidence of my drinking. The fact I had no control over it sunk in when I lost my license for the second time making it difficult to collect the boys from school.
I finally accepted I needed help and went to my first rehab for an 8 week residential program and I managed to get some time up before relapsing after the earthquakes, having to move house twice, going back to a full on job and my father only having weeks to live. But I don't blame or use these as excuses in hindsight I understand it was my complacency. In my first sobriety I completed rehab believing I was fixed and wouldn't have to do anything to maintain it.
One thing about this disease that shocks me to this day is that it's progressive. Within two months of picking up my first drink my life started sliding downwards as my drinking increased back to the volume I had been drinking at the end of my drinking and more. I have since seen it affect others in exactly the same way. My drinking went from weekends only to adding nights and lots of sick days particularly - on Mondays. This pattern was soon observed and at the time of my contract renewal it was ended. My father passed away shortly after this giving me an excuse to have one of the largest binges I'd had spending days in blackout.
Sometime after this I moved in with my current partner. He was loving and supportive and unknowingly enabling me. He made excuses for me and kept our home life resembling something that looked normal for my children's visits. My drinking at this time was mainly done in secret.
I managed to gain another job but the alcohol was causing the same problems but this time it had affected my memory and my brain and at times I sat looking at my computer with absolutely no idea what I was meant to be doing. I resigned before I was pushed out then tried a less demanding role. On the day my three month trial was up they ended my job.
At this point I felt like my world took a big turn for the worst I was drinking morning and night and was verbally abusing my partner. I didn't care about looking for another job preferring to stay in bed and drink. I missed a friend's wedding and many family events. My friends were beginning to give up on me and my partner was close to leaving but still I drank. I let myself completely go not caring about my persona l hygiene or my future. I was only existing not living.
Then in desperation one day in January this year I was showering feeling sick with uncontrollable shakes and I cried out loud I'm sick of feeling like this. That morning I made a call to my A and D counsellor and began my lengthy process of getting help. After assessment after assessment it was agreed I would go to medical then social detox before coming to St Marks, then the bad news. There was a waiting list and as I had had a seizure once before when I stopped drinking cold turkey I had to keep drinking. For the first time I drank and didn't want to. It had lost its purpose and importance and all I was now doing was keeping the DT's at bay. Finally the waiting was over and I could stop.
On March 11th 2013 I spent one hard and frustrating week in medical detox followed by three weeks in Social detox then finally I was ready for the next step.
I arrived by bus at St Marks and within 5 minutes I wanted to turn around and leave. I decided these people couldn't help me and maybe I didn't need to be here and the residents were all scary and awful!
Two weeks into the program this changed and I went from being there because everyone else thought it was the best place for me to be, to wanting and knowing I needed to be there.
I presented my long and daunting life story to the other residents and staff and they decided on my strengths and my issues. They gave me 7 treatment goals that they thought would help me to heal and move forward in my life. I was stunned they pretty much knew me better than I knew myself! These goals spanned my 16 weeks at St Marks.
One of my goals which seemed peculiar to begin with was carrying around a doll for two weeks as if it was my inner child treating it as I would have wanted to be treated. There were times as a child I felt hurt and alone especially as I didn't feel the love of my mother very often. It was interesting during this goal that memories came up that I had forgotten about but by the end what I learnt most was that as an adult rather than reverting back to feeling like that scared child my adult can reassure me, I don't need another person or a drink to feel safe and know that I am ok.
One of the most impacting goals I did was a Co-dependency Educational Session and relating it to me. During that time I realised all my past relationships had been co-dependent and so was my. present relationship. My identity was in theirs, it was in the roles that I undertook not in who I was. I had continued to give to others at the sacrifice of myself just as I had been taught as a Child. I wasn't ok with being myself without doing, giving or people pleasing which became very evident with the residents at St Marks! I identified changes I would need to make if returning to my current relationship and that is what I have had to do hence tonight he is in Christchurch and I am in Blenheim standing in my own power! It is still a work in progress as we both adjust to a different and healthier relationship than before. We are already noticing some really positive changes. I am now more assertive and am thinking more about what is best for me before giving more of myself than I should and then resenting it.
Many years before coming to St Marks I had abandoned my religious beliefs followed both as a child and by choice into my adult life and I had never worked out why. Through a process of fulfilling a goal aptly titled researching the differences between religion and spirituality I found some answers. I came to a clear and deeply felt conclusion that the God of my understanding was not who I had abandoned but rather the man made practices, leadership and structure of some of the Churches that I had shut the door on. In fact I found I am a spiritual person who has a belief in a God who is a far greater power than me and all he wants for me is the best, it really is that simple for me. It has reignited a passion for God and I now consciously communicate with him and know he is walking with me every step of the way.
During some of my time at St Marks I was raw with emotions and feelings I never expected to feel, grief at times overwhelmed me as I came to an acceptance of the years in my life that had been hard, things I had unnecessarily endured. During this time I attended both Group Therapy and a Grief Group along with time with my Counsellor which helped me to accept the grief process, grieve and then in time start looking forwards and not backwards. It felt like unloading baggage off my shoulders as week by week I cried and processed my issues. There came a point where I was aware of starting to feel hope and being able to allow myself to look forwards and think about a future.
This coincided with my final goal which was a Vision Board of the next five years after St Marks. By this stage in the •programme I was ready to do this and wanted to consolidate all the pending excitement about simply having a future. With the help of staff and other residents I put together a Vision Board and rather than it being a wishy washy dream board it now represents something I live by. Recovery in every coming year comes first, establishing a strong recovery foundation by regularly attending meetings, working on my steps and having friendship with others in recovery. I also have a sponsor and do daily readings and journaling to maintain my sobriety. It reflects that recovery is so much more than not drinking. It also showed spending regular time with my children, partner and attending family events and this has already started to happen. It accentuated the importance of balance and taking into account my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. After this foundation is strong my vision is to enjoy work and further study with my goal being to work in the Addiction field. I am presently researching cross crediting my unfinished psychology degree to a degree in Addiction Studies.
So as you can hear already my life is a completely different picture than at the beginning of 2013. I no longer spend days on end in bed, my house is tidy and more importantly my relationships are healthy not only with others but also with myself. This was helped immensely by my very first goal that was set. I had to stand up every night after dinner for 16 weeks and say out loud I am a strong, beautiful independent woman who is standing in my own power. And thanks to St Marks I can stand in front of all of you and say it with my head held high and believe it and as of Wednesday I have now been sober 6 months!
And Just before I go I would like to thank all of the Staff, The Board and all the other people that made it possible to have this new beginning, who have given me hope and a future. Without you all I don't believe I would have seen another year, and my Doctor can confirm that had I stayed in that awful place of active addiction I would have died. Thank-you St Marks and I hope and pray many more people can also be given a new start here.
Thank-you for listening.