By Jenny Molloy
Addiction is in my blood; I feel it day in, day out. There’s not a week – it started as not an hour, then a day, now a week – that my recovery is not tested. Why wouldn’t it be? Aged 12, I found the then love of my life in mind-altering substances. My parents used the same coping strategy, my grandfathers too. Feelings, what feelings? Self-medicate and all will be fine. It’s too easy to justify continuing your addiction with tales of woe – self-pity is as much of a killer as the addiction itself.
There’s lots of debate around whether addiction is a genetic disease or not. Equally the debate centres around whether it is a disease at all or just a moral failure of the individual.
I don’t actually care what the medical or social model of addiction is, I just know I’m an addict.
An addict who, I’m proud to say, is seven years clean on 9th May.
I can honestly say that my perception of addiction was very much attached to the pictures in my mind of my parents, class A drug users and street drinkers. Addiction led you to prison, homelessness and the loss of your dignity and children, right? While this is the case for many, let’s not kid ourselves – addiction is far more cunning than that.
I believed I was a success
My children were fed, clean, protected and behaved well. I had moved up the food chain to a senior manager post. My home was clean and well furnished. So what if I believed I was an awful mum, a terrible woman who had these awful secrets, leading to painful thoughts and flashbacks? So what if I believed I was worthless? No one need know – alcohol made it all seem, well, rosier.
Of course, I steered away from the dodgy drinks; alcoholics don’t drink nice wine and champagne, do they? Deceit about how much I was drinking disguised itself in justification.
If alcohol was what I needed to shut up my head and heart, then alcohol it was.
I started to go missing on nights out. My husband would be desperately phoning round to try and locate me – but often the police would find me first. I put it down to drinking while tired, stressed or just too much that day. It was normal behaviour while drinking – I had witnessed my parents doing it since I could remember. Didn’t everyone go missing when they were drunk?
The day I accessed services, I wanted a plan on how to drink like a normal person, you know the person who has one drink. My brain doesn’t connect with that. I want to get that, but I don’t. I wanted to be able to hold the cup of tea the assessment worker gave me, but my damn hands wouldn’t work properly. Not because of the drink you see, never because of the drink. I must just be having a bad day. You need treatment, she says. I refer clients to the detox, I know the staff and bosses, I’m not going there! Shame overwhelmed me like a tsunami. I ran to the sink and puked. The third time that morning. Morning sickness was not because of the drink, no, I just had a tummy bug.
My HR director gave me 12 months’ paid leave, promised to keep my secret about why I was absent, and off to treatment I went.
I learned in treatment that I had not dealt with the trauma of my childhood. My idea of life and my identity was skewed. I believed that I already knew what a bad and thoroughly disgusting person I was, just that I hadn’t learned to accept that. I wanted to learn how to not feel a fraud at work, at home or at my children’s parents’ evenings. You know, like, I know I shouldn’t be here, I’m damaged goods, you just don’t know it because I’m really good at hiding it. Or at least to be able to welcome my fraudulent self to my life and embrace my fakery.
Instead, painfully, I learned that I was a good person, had received a seriously messed up childhood from equally seriously messed up parents, and, most importantly, I was now a strong woman who wanted a life free from her past. Relapse is always an option, unless you choose otherwise, and I wanted anything but addiction.
The final case I supervised before going into treatment was at a child protection conference with mum and stepdad pleading their innocence about the drugs raid on their house. I could smell the crack coming out of their pores, but still the professionals believed their protests that they were clean. “The hair strand test must have been from when I last used, you know about that time. We are clean, why don’t you believe us?”
My caseworker was trying to get them rehoused. The headmaster had got the children breakfast and after-school club for free. The social workers wanted to give them another chance because they could see that they were engaged (they turned up, didn’t they?).
When I returned after my treatment, the mum was in prison, the kids were staying with the paternal grandparents, and the stepdad had been clean for 60 days, was on a day programme, at serious danger of losing his leg through open abscesses. He had ceased all contact with his now ex-partner who was still actively using. I asked him – when was the last time you really used before that meeting? In the car around the corner, he said.
I will always keep in my back pocket that addiction deceives the best of us.
Jenny Molloy is a care leaver and author of ‘Hackney Child’ and ‘Neglected’