I was reared by loving parents on a dairy and chicken farm on a lake in rural Ireland. A very simple life for an easy going kid like myself, I met my husband at age 15 and fell head over heels. We married when I was 18 and he was 21, both families were happy about this as we have similar backgrounds. We moved into a lovely little house and although it needed a lot of work ,we got it to the stage where we could live in it and continue to work on it.
After our first child started pre-school I was asked to be on the rotation of mothers that helped the pre school leader one day a fortnight so the school could stay open, and I loved it. I was also on the parents committee the following year and was asked by the group leader if I would like to train as a group leader, I jumped at the chance. I didn’t worry that I did not complete my leaving cert or did not go to college. I was 21 and full of life, confidence and also had 3 children under the age of 3 while keeping my lovely curvy size 12 to 14 figure, life was great and I loved it.
My life would continue like this in a happy secure way for another 5 years. I had passed all my teaching exams and was working in the pre school and loving my job. Working with children is hard but so rewarding and I laughed every day, I was best known for my stories at story time as I was always making up funny ones. I’m sure I missed my calling to work on the Simpson’s!! ha ha! anyway my youngest child had started national school and we always said we would like a big family so I fell pregnant again but this pregnancy was different as I developed gestational diabetes and gained lots of weight.
We were putting in central heating in the house, the plumbers came, chased all the kitchen and hall floors and then left and didn’t come back for 3 months leaving me living in the front bed room with 3 small kids, pregnant and in a heat wave!! not good as you could imagine! By the time the baby came it was all done and I was happy again if not some what exhausted. I had a beautiful daughter 3 weeks early and after a scary start of cord prolapse (were the umbilical cord comes out before baby, blocking off the oxygen supply) I had a Caesarean section, I never had a C section before and found it very painful and a shock as I was given 2 minutes to adjust to the idea and with the weight gain from the diabetes I had gone from a healthy 11 stone (don’t forget I already had 3 kids!!) to 18 stone. After delivery this excess weight hindered my recovery and I was exhausted all the time, I could only breastfeed my baby for a couple of weeks and for a woman who took pride in her children, husband, job and home it was a blow to not be physically or mentally not able to do anything. I fell into a deep depression but didn’t find this out for another 11 and half years.
I couldn’t go for my daily walk and visit my friends as I was too sore. I quit my job saying I was too busy at home now with 4 children and stayed at home on a Saturday night as nothing fit me anymore except tracksuits. Instead I would get a pizza and a large bottle of coke and rent a video. My Friends called and asked my husband were I was but I always said I was tired and this was true, but I just felt happier staying at home with all my comfort food and movies. Two and a half years would pass this way and I felt there was nothing wrong with the life style but the longer I stayed this way, the bigger I got and the more depressed I became.
One day a neighbour (who I now know was an alcoholic) called to me after yet another row with her husband. I asked her in for a cup of tea and she asked if I had anything stronger, I told her I had a bottle of gin that was left over since the stations but that was one and a half years earlier and it must be gone off by now! She said she would give it a go but only if I had one with her. I had never drank gin before and I was sure I wouldn’t like it but had one with her. I had drank alcohol before this but only a few largers on a Saturday night that’s if we could get a sitter! That gin hit the spot! This gin was magic and just what I needed. Within 3 months that bottle would be gone as I tippled at it a couple of evening a week while cleaning up when I got the kids to bed.
My husband wasn’t happy about this as he grew up in an alcoholic home and could spot the signs a mile away. I on the other hand didn’t grow up around any alcoholics that I’m aware of so was very green when it came to alcohol and thought I was to old to be an alcoholic anyway (I was 28 years old!).
My husband had got a huge contract in Dublin that meant he would be working away for 5 months and I started a preschool job in a bigger school with more responsibility. I believed this would get me out of my “rut” that I was stuck in. I had no family in the area as they had moved to England and I also felt abandoned by my husband as he came home at weekends with washing and was exhausted. I became more depressed and drank every evening to lift my spirits, it gave me confidence as I was never in the mood to talk to anyone unless I had to as my job and children wore me out.
I thought about my drinking and thought I was doing it too much; I went to my first AA meeting and felt I had nothing in common with anyone there and decided I wasn’t an alcoholic. After that things got from bad to worse very fast and I had my first hospitalisation about 16 months after that gin with my friend. I was asked about my drinking in casualty but it was put down to stress. I was told to cut back on my alcohol consumption and sent home. At this point I was being watched by my husband and had to start hiding my alcohol. I was drinking about 7 bottles of wine a week, my husband confronted me about the smell of alcohol and the empty bottles he found so I upgraded to vodka to avoid the smell and get a quicker hit.
I was becoming more depressed and was dependent on alcohol at this stage. My first few hospitalisations were for alcohol poisoning and I was dried out on Librium on a medical ward and sent home after 3 to 5 days. My mental health was never questioned despite the fact that my husband was telling them he felt there was something else wrong with me beside my drinking problem. You would think that would be a great clue for them as were had been together since I was 15 years old but they never followed up on any treatment.
I started to go to AA and I enjoyed the meetings and the program and stayed sober for 5 months, this continued on and off for years 3, months sober, 2 months 6 months etc… While continuing to be brought to hospital for various alcohol related conditions some of these were because I took tablets as suicide attempts. Again I wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist but was referred to an addiction counsellor who I found lovely but it wasn’t long before I was drinking again.
I went into a treatment centre and stayed there for 2 and a half months feeling confident that this is what I needed. I was a smart girl and could follow direction, but this was not to be the answer at this time although I got a good look at what my addiction was about and that I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t get sober. I decided that if I was pregnant it would stop me drinking but that didn’t happen either, although I didn’t drink as often the binges were just as bad and I was put in hospital 5 or 6 times throughout my pregnancy. I was never asked about my mental health and spent the whole pregnancy in fear for my baby having foetal alcohol syndrome. I was hung over the night he was born and he was taken off me for 12 hours as he was “groggy” no one passed any comment about this to me and I left hospital with my baby with no questions asked.
The exhaustion and depression became so bad at this stage I just didn’t care anymore. I hardly ever washed, my roots had grown long, my house and children were such a mess that only for my husband they would have been taken off us. He worked a full time job, ran the farm, home and took care of the children while I just drank on and off. I was going into AA on and off and then went to another treatment centre. This one was more expensive so I was sure it would work. When I got there I had to admit I had an eating disorder or I wouldn’t be allowed to do the program, I actually thought this was true as I was carrying a lot of weight at this time and I was told because I was a food addict this was why I couldn’t get sober. Thank God I finely got an answer to what was happening to me, so I did the program, it was tough and very shame based. My one to one counsellor told me I was “fat unattractive and ugly” and I was made talk about all the “bad” stuff I done while under the influence of alcohol. I didn’t complain or protest against this verbal abuse as I felt this was the thing that was going to make me better again. I stayed sober for about 7 months and did a year of aftercare but was told not to make any decisions for 2 years and I found this hard as I was at home just being depressed even though I still didn’t know it, and when the drinking started again it came thick and fast and very aggressively.
I was drowning in despair and hopelessness and the end came when I finely decided I had had enough and it was cruel and heartless of me to keep a place on this earth when a good person could have my space. I had tried to drink myself to death over 4 days but the vomiting stopped the amount of alcohol that would be enough to kill me getting into my blood-stream so at about 8 o’clock one evening in early April 2007 I hung myself off the back of the bedroom door, I used my husbands tie and just let my legs go loose. I can remember thinking how happy my children’s lives were going to be from now on as they would never have to worry about me anymore, they would never have the fear getting of the school bus wondering “is she drunk” or I would never embarrass them again or put their lives at risk anymore. I also remember thinking my husband could marry a real woman who could help him and comfort him and laugh with him instead of humiliating him and making him crazy and this made me happy.
I was crying but only because I never thought in a million years this would be how it ended for me. I had hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled because I was a hopeless drunk. The only time my weight was any use to me though was at this time because the handle I hung the tie off broke and I woke up on the bedroom floor to my small son holding a banana for me to eat.
I was brought to hospital that night and put again on the medical ward, but at this stage my daughter who was in leaving cert at the time made a fuss and insisted that I be seen by the mental health department which happened due to the seriousness of the suicide attempt. I never went to the psychiatric ward due to my neck injury and the need to detox me, but was seen in outpatients by a psychiatrist in a day centre with psychiatric nurses that were wonderful. I was put on medication and it was explained to me that I had postnatal depression that was never treated, and I used alcohol to self medicate myself. I was also told I was far from ugly selfish and stupid and told to be kind to myself instead of beating myself with the emotional stick. I also attended Aware meetings and AA meeting once a week. While using the day centre I learned that I must make choices about my own life, that I would get help with this but I didn’t have to do x, y or z in order to enjoy life, we are all different and have different needs, no two people have the same recovery so we can’t copy each other but we can guide each other. All my years of trying to fight the booze and it wasn’t really the problem at all it was my mental health!!
I worked as a facilitator in my local Aware group and ran my local AA meeting. I have started to do a lot of research and study around dual diagnosis. I also find that I am sending people from Aware to AA and people from AA to Aware and noticing a massive recovery in them. The ideal situation would be that all people who have been admitted to hospital more than twice with alcohol or drug related issues get a full psychiatric evaluation over a week or so in hospital and that all treatment centres have dual diagnosis training and staff available. But to anyone who can identify with me or what happened to me- never give up there is help and our eyes are in the front of our head so we can look forward and not back.
Fay has now gone public with her real name Valerie. She is now active in alcohol treatment services and featured on a RTE documentary which you can see here