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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019

Column: My long journey of recovery from alcoholism

Author Catherine Barry tells how she realised she had a drink problem – and why no threats will ever save an alcoholic.

Catherine Barry

IN MAY OF 1992, I found myself walking into my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. How did I get there, and what set me apart to qualify for being there? Well, the answer is a mish-mash of events which occurred simultaneously and catapulted me into a whole new world.

I had been vaguely aware for almost two years that there was something abnormal about my drinking. However, the word ‘alcoholic’ had connotations of something rather evil, and in truth had probably kept me from entering the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous sooner. In hindsight, it didn’t really matter, as recovery appears to arrive in what can only be described as ‘divine timing’. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and I was no exception to this law.

Everybody gets their moment of truth, and I had mine at a Peter Gabriel concert. Through his lyrics and music I became painfully aware that I was not the person I wanted to be, and that the drug alcohol had brought about my untimely demise. I had reached my rock bottom.
As alcoholism is rampant in Ireland and it is a problem that remains unaddressed by health officials, let’s get clear about what it actually is and is not.

Even in these so called modern times where information is freely accessible, I am shocked about how this disease is misconstrued and misunderstood. I think my own personal favourite definition is ‘an egomaniac with an inferiority complex’, but let’s keep it simple for now!
You do not have to take a drink in the morning to be an alcoholic. It does not matter if you drink only wine, spirits, or beer, or even all three as some do. This does not define an alcoholic. How often, and where you drink, does not identify this deadly disease either.

Alcoholism – famously known for being the only disease that tells you you haven’t got it – can be explained in the following questions. How does alcohol affect you and your life? When you pick up a drink, does it interfere with any of the following areas of your life: work, relationships, financial status or health? If the answer is ‘yes’ to two or more of those questions, then you most definitely have a problem.

‘I knew I needed professional help’

Through this first step (see the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous) I was able to clearly identify my own alcoholism. Like any other person diagnosed with a devastating illness, I knew I needed professional help. My family doctor recommended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which I have now been attending for over twenty years. It was in these meetings that I learned to take my medicine through my ears, as opposed to an oral solution.

Stopping drinking is one thing. Staying stopped is another thing entirely. In my own humble opinion, I do believe it is possible for any alcoholic to find recovery and maintain it. I am often asked: ‘Why are some people able to stop and others can’t?’ My answer is always the same. You have to WANT to stop. Cajoling, threats of lost jobs or relationships, and even the loss of one’s children, interventions and at times unbridled rage from loved ones, did not stop me drinking. But I had to come to a place where I wanted to change my life, and I changed it completely.

I learned in Alcoholics Anonymous that stopping drinking was the merest beginning of a long hard road back to wellness. After all, when alcohol is removed from one’s life, the underlying pain and unresolved personal issues rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. These issues must be addressed, or sobriety will be an agonising white-knuckle rollercoaster ride, and at best, a short-lived theory. Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on a regular basis, enlisting the help of a sponsor, Charlie Gallacher, and getting the concept of a ‘higher power’ in my life, all proved to be essential support systems. There is no known cure for alcoholism, all any of us have is a daily reprieve. A twenty-four hour programme that works when you work it.

‘One day at a time’

My first published book, The House That Jack Built, details the journey of an active alcoholic right down to the chronic last stages. Although it was released as fiction, I drew on my own personal experiences and emotions to accurately depict the descent into alcoholism. I felt compelled to tell the truth about that horrific escapade, having found most books on alcoholism lacking description on how an alcoholic’s mind operates.

Similarly, with my present book Charlie and Me, I realised the road to recovery was not written about in depth. For readers to really understand how hard it is to stop drinking and stay stopped, I knew instinctively that Charlie and Me would have to be a personal account of my own struggle to maintain sobriety to gain maximum impact. Alcoholism is a disease of the emotions and this fact seemed largely unexplored in other books I had read.

So far, I know of nine people who have entered treatment after reading Charlie and Me. Charlie and Me is currently number ten in the top 100 best selling autobiographies on alcoholism on Amazon UK and The House that Jack Built is recommended reading in the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin. I feel honoured to have been instrumental in their decision to get well. If only one person had stepped precariously onto the road to recovery as a result of my scribblings, well, that would be all the inspiration I ever needed to continue to carry the message of hope to all who suffer from this unfortunate malady. One day at a time, and with God’s help may we all continue to grow and sow the seeds of recovery for those who will undoubtedly follow in our footsteps.

Charlie and Me: A True Story is published by New Island, price €9.99, available now from all good bookshops and online. Catherine’s earlier books The House That Jack Built, Null & Void and Skin Deep are available on Amazon. Catherine Barry photo by Caitriona Bolger.

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About the author:

Catherine Barry

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