Ellie, from Portsmouth, was a successful businesswoman in a high-flying job, who succumbed to alcoholism. After joining Alcoholics Anonymous, she credits the organisation with saving her life and here she talks to reporter Steve Deeks.
WORKING for an international company travelling the world, Ellie was a normal social drinker who enjoyed a few glasses of wine after a day at work just like many people do.
But somewhere along the line Ellie, in her 30s, became dependent on alcohol. One bottle of rosé after work soon became two before she found herself knocking back four bottles at her nadir.
She would drink alone at home – refusing to go out and meet friends – as her life became consumed by alcohol. Yet she continued to hold down her high level job, managed to keep paying her mortgage payments and, overall maintained the perception of a successful young woman.
The cracks soon started to show, though. Ellie was beginning to miss time off work – up to three or four days a week on occasions as her dependency to alcohol took a vice-like grip.
Desperate pleas from her parents and those close to her were ignored as she refused to accept she had a problem. Being an alcoholic is never on anyone’s bucket list, after all.
The word ‘alcoholic’ often conjures up outdated perceptions. It is a reality that people who have become dependent on alcohol are struggling with a real disease and not a moral failing.
Many drink to avoid anxiety without realising that drinking alcoholically can, in fact, cause more anxiety.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines an alcoholic as ‘someone with alcohol dependency’. While the perception of an alcoholic is someone who wakes up with vodka beside their bed who then starts ploughing their way through bottle after bottle is not necessarily a myth, it is becoming more widely accepted that this is hardly the norm of how an alcoholic manifests.
It can be a binge drinker, someone who drinks socially on regular basis or just someone who must have a drink no matter what the occasion. The reality is that if you rely on it as a crutch then you could be an alcoholic. Only an individual can say whether they are dependent and, therefore, an alcoholic.
Going to Alcoholics Anonymous helped Ellie realise you do not need to be drinking spirits at 7am in the morning to be an alcoholic. Taking her first brave step to go to a meeting saved her life.
‘I didn’t think I had a problem. I was buying a bottle of wine on the way home from work like many people do,’ she said. ‘But after a time I found myself buying more than one bottle a night before that turned into two bottles before suddenly I was drinking four bottles a night at my lowest point.
‘It’s a progressive illness and things started to happen quite quickly. I was not going to work as much, I became physically dependent on alcohol and could not function without it in my life. I was waking up with injuries and not knowing what had happened.
‘If I had carried on then I would have lost my life. My family thought I was on a path to destruction. My parents thought I would end up like Amy Winehouse and my sister thought I would crash my car and die.
‘I knew I had to do something and turned to AA. I had lost all my self-esteem and self-worth. I didn’t like myself and who I was. But after going to AA I realised it was an illness. They dispelled the myth of what an alcoholic is and that it does not discriminate against anyone.
‘I’ve met doctors, lawyers and business leaders at AA meetings. I can honestly say it has saved my life.’
AA works on the basis that you have to accept you have a problem with alcohol. People that attend meetings have to commit to abstinence. It is about taking each day as it comes, or each hour or minute for that matter, before hopefully it becomes a way of life.
In simplest form, the AA program sees recovered alcoholics pass along their stories of their own problem drinking, describing the sobriety they have found in AA and inviting newcomers to commit to what it describes as ‘the fellowship’.
The program consists of 12 steps which describes the experience of the founding members of the group in 1930s America. It is seen as a ‘spiritual’ program of awakening rather than religious that can be achieved by following the steps.
But there is a caveat. ‘You have to want to change your life and give up alcohol. I chose to give up drinking and now have a really good life. I don’t think about not drinking for the rest of my life. I only think about today or the next few hours,’ Ellie said.
‘My quality of life is now so much better. I still go clubbing or do other activities – but I do it sober now. I’m not lonely any more. I see more people and have a better time.
‘AA has saved my life. It’s not the only way to get sober but it was the best thing that worked for me.
‘Everyone at AA is a recovering alcoholic. It is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is open to anyone. You can phone or make contact online and there will be someone who will come with you to a meeting.
‘I say to people that think they might have a problem with alcohol to come along and try it for three months. It might save your life.’
With about 4,500 groups meeting weekly with a membership of more than 40,000 there is plenty of free help out there.
People looking for help in Portsmouth can contact email@example.com or phone the national free number on 0800 9177 650.