Finding Nacoa and making the decision to fundraise in the way I did has been truly life-changing for me. I feel I am on this path now, I have no idea where it’s going but I’m staying on it
My Journey Part I –
My Dad is a recovering alcoholic; he’s been in recovery my entire life. When I hear of the horror that families face living with a parent that continues to drink, and in many cases such families have to stand by helplessly watching their loved one drink themselves to death; I am overwhelmed with gratitude that my Dad found AA and was able – for the most part – to stick to his program and survive this disease.
Growing up however, I felt anything but lucky or grateful for my Dad’s addiction/affliction. It’s painful to write this because – as anyone who has an alcoholic in their immediate family will know – it’s meant to be kept secret.
We live in ever evolving times of openness and empathy, and the conversation about mental health and addiction are becoming less taboo with the help of charities like NACOA. In the 1980s this just wasn’t the case. The help that was around to support families and help lift the stigma surrounding these very prevalent and serious issues was not so readily available or at least in pre-social media, etc times …I certainly didn’t know about it!
What was, and if I’m honest, still is difficult to deal with is people’s lack of understanding because if my Dad didn’t drink… ‘what was the problem then?!’ From an early age my defense mechanism was to make light of everything and I would joke… ‘that’s the problem; he just really wants one all the time, so he resents us for not letting him have one and is pretty much unbearable to be around. He should just have one and chill out!’
The truth is that although (aside from the – albeit very infrequent – truly traumatic blip) my Dad didn’t drink. But that doesn’t make him any less of an alcoholic! He has the disease. He has all of the personality traits – with bells on(!) and every 24 hours he fights a fresh battle with all of his might. In all of this (here comes the stereotypical COA guilt!) I never want to detract from how noble and truly commendable that daily battle is. Although at times his best efforts came up short, my Dad truly does try his best every.single.day. I don’t know anyone else that does… I certainly don’t; or at least I didn’t until I embarked on my own sober journey.
Growing up there was no alcohol in my house and getting drunk was literally the worst possible thing conceivable. Alcohol was the route of all evil and as I had potentially ‘bad genes’, I should ‘never touch a drop in my life’. Well we all know how that goes… all I will say is never give a kid something to kick against! To my knowledge at the time I was the only person in my year, at my school, IN THE WORLD that was dealing with this problem. To say I felt isolated and alone is a laughable understatement. In hindsight I realise I had pretty severe OCD, anxiety, depression, insomnia and one Dr suggested possibly PTSD from a very young age. I remember sitting in class aged 11 crossing all my fingers and then crossing them all together and then wrapping my tangled hands all in on each other chanting/praying under my breath that everything was going to be ok when I got home. My Dad would be there, he wouldn’t be angry and that we’d all be ok that night. I got in trouble for not paying attention in class… I just wasn’t in the room. I bit my finger nails down to nothing and my fingers would be red-raw and bleeding, right down to the knuckle at times. To this day I have to have acrylic nails to stop this seemingly involuntary lifetime habit.
There are so many stories I could share but the guilt just won’t let me. Suffice to say that Nacoa; which was founded in 1990 would’ve been an enormous and perhaps even life-changing help to seven year old me had I have known it existed.
So that defense mechanism of mine to make light and distract myself with fun came in handy! I threw myself into having as much fun as I possibly could, as often as I possibly could – all under that wonderful umbrella term hedonism. For the most part I managed to distract myself with all the fun, festivals, fiestas and frivolity it is physically possible to cram into about 2 decades. ‘Oh what fun we had!’ It’s hard to pin-point exactly when the disillusionment with hedonism started to creep in… but eventually it became impossible to ignore – believe me, I tried! I’d spent years and years and years constantly planning the next party, and either excited or exhausted. Any sad times I blamed on being hungover, etc. But eventually, now living in Ibiza, partying and even working in the clubs I began to feel trapped. I wasn’t so excited, just emotionally exhausted and the sadness and anger kept surfacing no matter what I did to try and escape it. I felt trapped in this role/ party persona I’d created and I couldn’t see a way out.
A friend on holiday was talking about some charity event he was working for and asked if I’d ever considered doing something similar, when I replied nonchalantly – the same old line I’d been saying for at least a decade – that I’d always wanted to get the message out to children that there is help out there for families of alcoholics and that they are not alone. Suddenly, the penny dropped! I got online and started searching for such charities and found NACOA – went straight to their website and what’s the first thing I see… ‘You are not alone’.
My Journey Part 2 – I embark upon a sponsored sober 6 months
So that was that! I realised I could pull my finger out and actually do the thing I’d been saying all these years and raise awareness for this cause and funds to help whilst at the same time finally breaking out of the lifestyle I felt I couldn’t escape. I embarked upon a sponsored sober 6 months.
IT WAS HELL! 🙂
Literally every single step of the way was like pulling teeth. Ever the rebel, I gave myself something to kick against so it became a self-imposed sentence. I thought about having a gin and tonic from about lunch time every single day for 6 months. Which ordinarily I would not have done! I was a complete emotional wreck and I walked around feeling like a grazed knee. This exposed open wound just seeping gore all over the place; what a mess! I wished away 6 months of my life waiting for this grand prize at the end… when I could have my life back; not really lost any weight anyway and I’m as emotional as ever, no point, YOLO, etc etc…
But despite being blinkered to the positives of sobriety I felt an enormous amount of pride in being able to raise £2700ish for NACOA and raise awareness for the cause. A lot of people reached out to me telling me their stories. People I actually knew growing up had been going through similar things after all. Every day I felt a huge sense of achievement; my self worth, my self esteem, my confidence and productivity grew and grew – I was just too fixated on the first time I’d be able to go out-out again to notice.
So the day came at last , I got my G & T and it was lush…I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
However, very quickly the novelty wore off. Possibly just a week in I remembered that drinking isn’t the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the same old thing I’ve been doing forever and was completely bored and disillusioned with. The very thing that has smited my life from birth and generations of my Dad’s family before me.
A young mind is so malleable; what’s indoctrinated into it is almost impossible to eradicate. For example, I never got confirmed as a catholic… I turned my back on the church in my early teens, but to this day I still say a Hail Mary faster than the speed of light under my breath whenever I hear a siren because ‘it means somebody’s in trouble’. It’s completely involuntary and I catch, stop and berate myself every single time! The point I’m making is that from a very young age I was taught that drinking was wrong; so fundamentally, deep down in the very back of my think-box I have taken on that belief system. In order to ‘survive’ as a ‘normal’ person ‘just like everybody else’ I’ve had to ignore that belief. But it’s there and I’ve always felt it. The shame, the guilt, the self-loathing, the worthlessness, the hopelessness… so I’d just drink more to keep all that bay! 😉
My Journey Part 3 – I become present in the room at last!
In black and white, I’ve been sober for almost 7 out of the 9 months of this year to date… and the 2 months I drank were the most difficult. Now throughout my life I’ve made a lot of
ill-advised, poor choices for skewiff priorities…but I’m not an idiot. This is really basic – alcohol is not my friend. Having seen and experienced both sides of this I’m in a position where I can see that drinking doesn’t serve me; the cons outweigh the pros for days. Enough. It’s a shame it’s taken me this long to figure it out but I’m there or rather HERE now. Present, in my body and in the room at last. After 2 months off the wagon the only thing I’d really gained was weight and my mental health had dramatically deteriorated. What was once the norm of extreme highs and extreme lows – post 6 months of (albeit emotional) clarity – is just no longer acceptable. It’s just not good enough.
Having inspired a close friend who’d been feeling trapped in her boozey ways for at least a decade to finally knock -it; we agreed to support each other on our sober quest living on possibly the least sober place on earth. With a lot of feedback from my latest vlog I realised many in our little island community were facing similar problems. We decided to create an informal Ibiza support group for like-minded islanders called Raise the Bar Ibiza. (Come Down with me was a close second choice!) I’m really enjoying this venture and the weekly podcasts we make after each session. I’m also able to appreciate the benefits of sobriety this time around. With no set date in mind and no rules to rebel against – If I really want a drink I’ll just have one and of course with that being the case… I rarely want one. I’ve had multiple sober nights out in Ibiza over the closing parties and a couple of not so sober nights out and both were fun. It’s good to know I can still live on this hedonistic island without being inebriated… it’s also good to know that I can dip my toe in occasionally without diving head first back into that way of life.
I’ve started a youtube channel cataloging this rollercoaster and my musings on being a COA and figuring out how to live on this hedonistic island without losing my head. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8r35_WqI8DYheUHarSV3ow.
I’m so so grateful that i found NACOA. It’s a shame I didn’t find them earlier, but I have now and it has genuinely been life-changing. I’m honoured to have been able to contribute to help fund the incredible work this completely donation based charity does. I really hope I can continue to be of use to them in the future.
They’ve helped me realise (along with Josh Connolly – Nacoa’s ambassador’s coaisathing.com) that being a COA – the child of an alcoholic is indeed a thing! I have all of those personality traits and struggles. But that’s alright; because I’m not alone; and I want to spread Nacoa’s message to all COAs… you are not alone.