21 June 2019

My Darkest Day in Addiction; My Lightest Days in Recovery – Summer Solstice

It’s the summer solstice, officially the longest day of the year. With sunrise at 4.43am and sunset at 9:21 pm, there are 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight to enjoy. To mark the start of astronomical summer, Karen writes about her darkest day in addiction and her lightest days in recovery.

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My Darkest Day in Addiction

a photo of a drug addict being examined by a doctor
Looking back, the worst day in my addiction wasn’t ending up in the hospital. It wasn’t one of many arguments with family, nor was it falling out with friends. Those things were awful, of course, but they became normal in my addiction.

My darkest day in addiction was something that should have been so simple – taking a bus to get home.

It was a Monday morning. I hadn’t slept for two days. I’d been drinking and using cocaine in a friend’s flat. I had a small amount of coke left, which I thought would see me through the journey home.

Travelling back to my place should have taken an hour, not even that. It ended up taking most of the day. As soon as I left my friend’s place, the withdrawal got worse. I was nauseous, shaking, hot then cold. The paranoia was overwhelming, as I passed people in the street. I thought that taking more cocaine would help me, but it did absolutely nothing for me.

It was a hellish marathon. I was too unwell to get a bus or a taxi. So I walked, being sick along the way. A couple stopped to ask if I was okay. Did I need a doctor? No. Could they call a friend to come and get me? No, I said, I’m fine. I felt so ashamed to be in that state. I couldn’t look them in the eye, let alone accept their help.

Hours later, I cried as I opened my front door. For a second or two, it felt like a relief to be home but almost immediately, there was the loneliness, the desperation for sleep. I had nothing to knock me out, but I couldn’t face going out again for alcohol or pills. I just had to wait out the withdrawal.

That’s the truth about addiction for me. It made everything so difficult and painful and stressful – even the most ordinary things.

My Lightest Days in Recovery

The day I went into rehab

In the last few days of my addiction, I hadn’t turned up at work again. I had to explain myself once again to my boss. For the first time, I told her the truth – I couldn’t stop drinking and taking drugs. I felt so exposed, admitting what was really going on. But that’s when everything changed for the better.

A few days later, I arrived at a residential addiction rehab. I was so nervous, but it was also incredibly comforting to walk through the door. I felt physically exhausted, mentally shattered, but the unbearable pressure of addiction lifted as soon as I got there. Since that day, with a lot of help and support, I haven’t had a drink or used drugs.

Giving a speech at my best friend’s wedding

In recovery, it’s been so healing to be trusted again by family and friends.

At the end of my addiction, I worked for the same company as my best friend. She saw the worst of me then – how difficult I was to be around, how unreliable I’d become.

you-can-do-it-motivational-image
In my third year of recovery, my friend got engaged to her boyfriend. She asked me to make a speech on her wedding day. I’m not great at public speaking, but of course, I said yes.

On her big day, I spoke about her passion for football, her creativity and generosity, what a good friend she had been to me and others and, of course, how lucky her husband was to have her. In the wedding photos, I’ve got such a big smile on my face – it felt great to show up sober and take part in her celebration.

Visiting the Taj Mahal in India

In my addiction, I have no lasting memories of holidays. I would go to Spain or Greece for a summer break, but I didn’t take pictures or find out much about the places I visited. Holidays were just about drinking to escape reality. I didn’t make the effort to plan and save for great trips. It was always last minute bookings, without much care or thought.

In my fifth year of recovery, I travelled to India. It was a dream to explore such a vibrant country. I took loads of photos and kept a diary while I was there. I have so many brilliant memories of great conversations along the way with Indians and fellow travellers. I’ve stayed in touch with many of them to this day.

Visiting the Taj Mahal was an extraordinary day. I learned all about the world-famous monument to love, created by Shah Jahan for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It’s even more beautiful in real life than I’d imagined. The grounds of the Taj complex are almost perfectly symmetrical. There are gorgeous reflections in water pools. The most magical thing is the way the Taj Mahal changes colour throughout the day and night – from orange at sunrise, to sparkling white in the midday sun, to pink at sunset and a black silhouette at night.

The birth of my daughter

I almost missed out on having kids because of my addiction. I drank and used throughout my teens and twenties. When I went to rehab, aged 30, I had just moved out of my boyfriend’s place. I spent the first half of my thirties single, dating a few guys here and there, but nothing serious. I really thought I’d missed my chance to have a family.

But then I met a lovely guy at a mutual friend’s party. We hit it off straight away, and he asked me out. He was an easy company, no drama – it was nice to feel so relaxed with him. Within a year, we moved in together. A couple of years later, we decided to try for a baby. It wasn’t plain sailing – it took several years to get pregnant – so when we conceived, we were both delighted.

a-happy-healthy-family-with-a-child
I am beyond grateful to have become a mum in my recovery. The love I feel for my daughter is like nothing else – fierce and unconditional and deeply rewarding. Labour and childbirth was the most incredible experience – 37 hours in labour, physical pain beyond anything I’ve ever known, but the most exquisite ending.

My daughter was handed to me at sunrise on a midsummer morning. I held her as my partner cut the cord. I’m not a religious person, but that day was, indeed, a spiritual experience! Our girl had landed from the stars. We took turns to hold our baby, to sleep, to cry with joy. If I could live one day of my life again, it would be that most miraculous day.

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