A Bulimic Alcoholic Finds Recovery – Mary Anne C
These days I refer to myself as not only a ‘recovering alcoholic’, but also a ‘recovering Catholic’. That doesn’t mean I am not a spiritual person. Religion has always fascinated me but I am more spiritual.
As the middle of three children I can confirm that middle child syndrome does exist. I have an older brother and a younger sister. We were close to each other growing up but I was definitely the black sheep.
My dad was a strict Catholic and a difficult man. His attitude was that children are to be seen and not heard. My siblings were obedient and compliant but I challenged him constantly and we had a very difficult relationship. He had grown up in a home that lacked love and attention. My mom was different. She had a strong family connection and had been surrounded by unconditional love and acceptance.
Growing up I never knew what was my worst hell – school or home. I had no friends at school and went to six different schools. We moved schools and towns a lot. When I was 16 we moved to East London and it was a huge adjustment for me. I picked up a lot of weight and became very self-conscious. Depressed about my weight gain, I started taking laxatives and purging – the first signs of my addiction began to emerge. Looking back I can see evidence of so many patterns in my life that emerged from my desperate need to be in control. The weight loss was great but what was even better was that through bulimia and anorexia I could be in control of the outcomes in my life when it came to eating. It felt like the only thing I could control.
One Sunday lunch just after my family had found out that I was bulimic I asked for a second helping of delicious stew. My father said, “Go ahead you pig, eat the lot!” After that he ignored me for two and a half years. He would deliberating hug my sister and show her affection in front of me. Around that time I was put on a lot of anti-depressants. My moods were very erratic. On one occasion, I had an emotional outburst while my dad was upstairs with an architect. He came downstairs and struck me with a plank of wood. Over the years, he also beat me with straps and wooden spoons. It is only in recovery that I’ve come to acknowledge years of suppressed resentment and loathing towards my dad.
Throughout my teens I did things to get negative attention: From stealing sweets and bunking to smoking and a disinterest in schoolwork. Undisciplined, selfish and manipulative, I was always looking for the next rush. I started drinking when I was 13 and drank alcoholically from day one. I got a bad name at all the schools I attended. I was known as the ‘Cadbury’s’ lady because it only took a glass and a half for me to get drunk.
Surprisingly, I managed to pass matric and went on to study fine art, graphic design and photography. My practical work was very strong but inconsistent. I ended up failing art history and eventually dropped out completely. I decided to move to Johannesburg and get a waitressing job. When I moved to Jo’burg my drinking escalated. I can’t believe I didn’t kill myself in a car accident. I spent my life trying to fix others and went through a series of unhealthy relationship with men and women.
Around this time I began dating my husband-to-be. Two years later, after being told I couldn’t have children, I discovered that I was pregnant. The following day I learned that my mom’s colon and ovarian cancer had entered a terminal phase. We visited my parents in Cape Town soon thereafter and announced the news of my pregnancy. I stayed behind in Cape Town and nursed my mom until she died. It haunted me for a long time. I was devastated that she would never know my children and I suffered from a lot of guilt about the anxiety I had caused her. Five weeks after my mom died. I got married. It was a happy day in a bittersweet kind of way.
I didn’t drink during my pregnancy but after our first daughter was born my drinking became more concerning than ever. My husband would make comments, which would always end up in a fight. Three years later I fell pregnant with twins. When they were born I had a post-partum hemorrhage and nearly died. The twins were born with a condition where they each only had one ear. This was particularly significant for me because I had had corrective surgery on my ears, my mom had been deaf and my husband’s sister had had a cochlea implant.
After the twins were born I began to feel a lot of resentment. When they were six weeks old I began visiting friends in the afternoon and would drink as much as I could in two hours. I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, which meant strong medication and a lot of time in hospital. My husband and I grew further apart but my love for alcohol continued to grow. I still feel a lot of pain when I look back and realise that our domestic worker raised my daughters. I never bathed them or read stories. I even drove drunk with them in the car. For me it was just about the next drink.
In August 2011 I went to Cape Town for a couple of days with a girlfriend, leaving the girls with the maid, as though this were a completely normal thing to do. I woke up one morning having got completely hammered the night before and my friend started screaming at me: “You are an alcoholic. You are destroying yourself and family and if you don’t do something about it I can’t be friends with you any more.”
I cut my trip short and flew home that day. The following day, a Friday, my husband and I went to see Dan at Houghton House (I had met Dan before and completely lied to him). I was admitted into the primary care programme at Houghton House on Monday, 1 August 2011. I was adamant that I was going to be there for three weeks but ended up staying for almost six months.
A Bulimic Alcoholic Finds Recovery
I began to follow suggestions. After completing six weeks in primary care I went into the GAP for almost three months. Then I gradually weaned myself back into life.
My husband was amazingly supportive. He gave me the space to have the longest and best treatment possible. Now we don’t have alcohol in the house and if I feel uncomfortable in social situations he is happy to leave immediately. When I was in treatment he joined Al-Anon to learn more of my disease and gained support from other families experiencing similar struggles.
During my first year in recovery I was still convinced that my circumstances were entirely my husband’s fault. After completing treatment I continued to go to meetings and follow the suggestions I was given, yet I continued to engage in friendships with other men which was inappropriate and ultimately caused a great deal of trouble. I constantly sought affirmation and attention from men, which I think had a lot to do with the neglect and rejection from my dad.
So much hatred, blame and anger emerged while working through the steps in the programme. The scariest thing for me was realising that alcohol isn’t the problem, I am – my anxiety, my need for escape and my perfectionism.
I only really started to recover in my second year of sobriety. Growing up I’d been told never to discuss family issues or money with others. I never understood why people at Houghton House told me that I wore masks. But a year into recovery I began to fall apart. This helped me to understand that I needed to start asking for help. I realised that noone was going to help me until I asked for it. I began to see the part I had to play in each difficult situation in my life. Learning to feel pain at that time is what has taught me to love.
Over these past three years a lot has changed in my life. Recovery has given me the gift to start becoming the person I know that I was born to be. I have developed meaningful relationships with my husband, my children and my husband’s family. I am respectful and grateful towards my domestic workers. I’ve learnt to put myself first in a healthy rather than selfish way. I try to be consistent and keep my promises, rather than over-promising and under-delivering, like I used to. I have also learnt to communicate honestly and constantly need to check in with myself because it is still so easy to be manipulative. I value structure and routine in my life and get up at the same time every day. I have discovered how to accept compliments graciously but also to be proud of myself rather than waiting for validation from other people.
It is incredible to think that some of the things I’ve always wanted to do are starting to come true in recovery. I’ve learnt that I need to make things happen rather than sitting back and waiting. I’ve done small things that I had always wanted to do, like swimming with dolphins in Mozambique and now for the first time in my life, I’m training to do something I love because I asked for help.
The things that I value in life have also changed – I’ve realised that it isn’t about the car and the house. We used to live in a large luxurious house in Morningside and I drove a ridiculously big 4×4. We now live in a much more modest home and I drive a small car. But this enables us to do the things we really value, like family holidays or spending Sundays with the kids. I cherish my relationship with my husband. I now really do love him and I don’t think I did before because I was unable to love myself. I’ve let go of all that stuff with my dad because it was keeping me sick. Today I can phone him and tell him I love him. And honestly mean it.
I don’t hide the fact that I’m an alcoholic because it might give me the gap to start drinking again. I am also open with my daughters. If I am sad I cry in front of them. I never tell them not to cry or teach them to suppress their emotions. They know about alcohol and drugs and have met some of my friends in recovery. I know they will drink though I don’t want them to. But I want them to be open about it. My husband and I teach them that it is okay to go and make mistakes as long as they learn from them. My parents never did this for me.
After I shared at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting one evening someone commented that we are a room full of ‘missed opportunities’, but I disagreed. I am what I am because of all the things I have done. I understand now that this is what has made it possible to get to this peaceful point in my life. I thank God every single day for my second chance at life.
Today, I can honestly say that I am a brilliant mother, because I am the best mother I can be. I am present as a mother and as a wife and for now that’s okay. The rest will fall into place.