Saturday 17th May 1997: FA cup final. Sitting on a table, alone, in the student union bar. Most people had gone home after exams or were somewhere much more fun. Booze was very cheap and I spent 2 hours drinking vodka and nothing was happening. The "hole in the soul" was not being filled, no ready brek glow of emotional soothing, no fuzzy head blotting out intrusive thoughts. Quite frankly, alcohol was not working. Class C was still happening and I was obsessing about class A.
Rewind 18 months previously: A locum GP had rather rudely told me that I had issues with drugs and alcohol and I should really go to the local centre for a stern chat. My response was something along the lines of, "You should see the people I hang out with" and "Yeah maybe". I did go. It was rather obvious that I was not in a good place. I called from a phone box as I had no landline, walked 5 miles to the appointment as I had no money or transport, and filled in a questionnaire. I clearly recollect thinking, "I should be ok as I haven't injected heroin". The man assessing, very gently explained that actually taking speed for breakfast, marijuana at tea breaks at work, shots for lunch, and a boggling amount of other chemicals as evening fun, could be considered problematic (And the fact that I was nicknamed the mushroom queen and had C.I.D visit my parents pub and knew some decidedly shady people). He suggested a 12 step fellowship, of which I attended once, and picked up an orange keyring which apparently meant I was clean and sober for 30 days. What I had understood as clean and sober at this point was only smoking pot and drinking (But not to oblivion...which was very hard). Kept the keyring. That stupid mustard seed that had been planted in my head niggled at me most of the time.
Fast forward to Sunday 22nd September 1996: At this point God has graciously but rather bluntly appeared and kicked my spiritual butt, however the desire to totally give up mood altering substances has of yet, not appeared, and my discipleship journey is scant. I was about to do what is fondly known as, "A massive geographical." In the morning I was baptized by full immersion and said I was going to commit myself to the Lord, I prayed for wisdom and knowledge and gave up the old spiritual practices for a new way in Christ. Then I packed my bags and ran away to university, leaving my home, job, relationship and geographical area, to launch a new me into the world. On reflection, I actually believed my own deception that all of this would sort me out.
So I stand at my desk of my new halls of residence, door wide open, wondering if I'd made a huge mistake, bunch of keys chucked down. Then a very bouncy person appears to welcome me to campus called "A refresher". After a short introduction, she spots the orange keyring and says, "Oh you're in the fellowship". WTAF. Questions rush across my brain mostly consisting of a) Have you been sent to spy on me? b) How do I get out of this one? c) Why on earth did I ask God to sort me out I am not ready and you've sent someone! d) Why didn't I get rid of the stupid keyring? After a rather long pause I said "No" rather aggressively, to which she responded, "OK well if you change your mind here is my number."
Giving up alcohol and drugs is like letting go of an abusive relationship where you tell yourself regularly that they love you really. It will get better and change. I'll try and do it differently and the result will improve. It's not that bad. Eventually, you cannot escape the truth that it's hideous and ending it is the only solution, and you mustn't go back as it will always be the same.
Monday 19th May 1997: When you know, you know. And although the utter hideousness of accepting what the solution is, you still force yourself to turn up to a meeting where your feet are trying to run off but your heart is encouraging you to be brave. I literally begged a friend to take me in his rusty hatchback to the nearest meeting. He was a 3rd year performing arts student, and I remember so clearly him sitting there in a crop top, hot pants and knee high boots, trying not to touch anything, speak or breathe. I love that boy for doing for me what I could not do for myself. I can remember so clearly where I sat, who was there, the people who were new around and those with more experience, and there were only 2 women and I was one of them. So I came home with telephone numbers, a list of local meetings and a desire to go to any lengths to be well, happy and free of the grip of substance use. I was 26. I had done things spiritually and literally that would make your toes curl. I had been caught up in something I thought would help me to feel free, in control and untouchable by horrible people. I had been very naughty. But more than that I felt empty, full of guilt and shame and all I wanted was to feel happy and whole. This journey for me has never been about social acceptability or worldly success.
So I made the decision to step out in faith and begin a journey of spiritual and emotional change. I chose abstinence and a new way of living. When God rugby tackled me to my knees and revealed the truth, I could never have imagined how it would play out. So 20 years later (As of Monday 22nd May) I am still on the path less trodden, plodding along gently trying to get closer to God, still not using and drinking and trying to help out other people who are also a bit lost. I still know some of the amazing women who helped me and befriended me from that time. If you are reading this you know who you are and I am eternally grateful.
I am still me, but I have had my edges smoothed off, the rubbish has been chucked out and the better bits polished. And I am available. Available to serve God. Available to help you if I can. Available to listen. It's no longer about me and me alone. It's about God, and me walking alongside listening to instruction, realising that His way is actually much better than my way.
And it's not easy. If anything it's harder than I ever imagined, but the payoff is amazing. And I will not be giving it up any time soon because reflecting the truth of God in my recovery means that I am blessed with the presence of grace, love, acceptance and a deep knowing that I am no longer alone.