I will never forget the evening my little brother told me he didn't think that I loved either him or the rest of my family. He both broke my heart and saved my life on that evening.
We were sat outside on the wooden bench on the raised decking in the garden of our family house, with the garden hedges of the right side next door neighbours at our backs and with the lights from inside our house shining out through the glass doors on the left of us, and keeping just enough light on us for us to see each other. It was winter, the darkest of evenings and cold, but warm enough to sit without a coat for a few minutes. I was smoking a roll-up cigarette and he'd smoked one himself with me, although he was usually only a social smoker.
I hadn't seen him recently, or the rest of my family. I was apologising; I'd been out of touch and I'd been letting the family down, missing plans when I'd said I'd be there. I'd been very hard to get hold of and had been struggling to reply to their messages, despite knowing they worried when they didn't hear from me. I was trying to explain to him the way I tunnel into myself, burying myself deep inside, and shut the world out when I'm hurting. That the longer I don't reply to something the harder it gets to reply at all. I didn't know how to communicate the pain I was in without burdening him and so I didn't, I just apologised for not being there and for letting them down, for hurting them.
He listened to me, let me talk and try to communicate what I needed to. He then told me he accepted my apology, saying, "it's fine, I just don't think you love us," and stood up to go back inside without me. The little energy I had had drained from me instantaneously as his words sunk in. My mind, which had previously been racing and overflowing with thoughts, and my body, which had previously been shaking and shivering, both went completely still and silent, and I felt colder all of a sudden.
Every other thought and feeling disappeared and I felt hollow in my stomach, numb in my heart. I felt darkness enveloping my mind and drowning out the faltering light there that was barely even part of me anymore; it had been trying so hard to hang on a little longer for my circumstances to change, my wounds to heal so it could grow brighter again, but had been struggling and wavering and fading more each day. Now it seemed to be sputtering out completely, albeit still trying to fight.
I looked up at him silently, feeling my pain seep out of me through my eyes. His world was still spinning but mine was not all of a sudden. "What do you mean?" I asked him, "you must know that I love you guys?"
I didn't understand; I told each family member that I loved them all the time, and I loved them more than I could express. They must know that surely? His response was leading me to feel very confused, and I hoped and believed that he was just angry and trying to make a point. His eyes and demeanour, however, as he told me that he did not in fact believe I really loved him, nor my sister or parents, told me that he was telling the truth.
I didn't know what to say, or how to react. I sat there and forced myself to breathe and tried to find words. "Oh. I see. But I do?" I said quietly and pleadingly in the end, silently begging for him to understand that which he did not know.
His disbelief was evident as he said simply "Okay, I don't think there's any point talking about it." He paused for a second and looked at me, no other emotion detectable, and then turned and went back inside to the family shutting the door behind him. I sat there shocked and with my mind empty for a minute or so; I felt as though I couldn't move. I couldn't believe my baby brother didn't know how much I loved him. I didn't want to move or go back inside until I had processed what had just happened. I didn't know what to do. A little voice inside me asked me what the point was in being here if the people I loved didn't know I loved them, and I couldn't answer it. I didn't have an answer for it.
I needed to find an answer. If they didn't know I loved them how could I show them? What could I change? Two things stuck out very clearly, so clearly that I could not ignore them although I had previously so badly wanted to and so desperately tried to. The first was my relationship, and the second was my alcohol problem. Drinking had been a bit of a problem for a number of years now, coming up to ten to be exact, however I'd felt it was under control until about a year earlier. I'd admit freely that I liked a few drinks (loved a few drinks) on a nightly basis, but I had convinced myself I didn't have an alcohol problem, and that I just enjoyed it as opposed to needing it.
In the last year, however, I'd started to struggle with my mood significantly and this in turn had both increased the amount I was drinking, and decreased the amount of time I was spending awake, and sober, before deciding to start drinking. I had now, for the past 12 months, been drinking from the minute I woke up in the morning to when I ran out or passed out in the evening. I was drinking at least three bottles of wine daily, sometimes more.
I'd gone to AA two and a half years earlier when I was 23, and attended for three months staying abstinent all the while, however I'd then caved at my work Christmas party that year, drunk through the hangover the next day and again the day after that and had never looked back until now. My liver, however had become swollen and doctors had advised me several times in the past year to stop drinking.
The relationship was not helping. If anything, the relationship was starting to drive me to drink more. He had anger issues, he did not work and he had become physically violent of late, and the increasing violence, our dwindling finances and the impact on my mental health from both were becoming too much to bear. I had been signed off work with depression a few months earlier after the weight of supporting us both on one wage (my own), my declining mental health and no concern or desire to change from him all became too much for me to function properly. My mental health had only declined further since, and he had also taken to locking me in the house when he went out so I couldn't leave or see anyone without him knowing.
We had been together on and off for eight years. Every time we had been apart I had got happier and happier and had started to achieve positive things; I could see that now, but only now. During the times we had been apart I'd missed him terribly, although over the years he had knocked my confidence, my finances, and my relationships repetitively and cheated on me over and over. I had no real friends left as they had all become frustrated with me going back to him, and the ones that hadn't given up on me he didn't like me speaking to, and would become angry if I did. I was completely isolated.
I knew that at a minimum he dragged me down emotionally and limited my life experiences; he liked to control me and I knew that I was out of my depth and couldn't fix or change the relationship for the better. I was scared for my life and I didn't know who I could tell. I was seriously worried that one day he would kill me, whether intentionally or accidentally; I had already been in hospital overnight three times that year due to injuries he had given me but I just didn't know how to leave him, permanently. I was terrified of any potential fallout.
I was scared of leaving him for multiple reasons; I didn't want to abandon him or make him feel I didn't care; I loved him so much and he didn't have much other support, but despite that I knew deep down and now more than ever that the relationship was not right. I also didn't want to move back to my family home and lose my independence, but if I was to leave him I'd have no other option, which had held me back previously.
I lit another cigarette and continued to think. I couldn't involve the police as his family were against police involvement, 'you sort your problems yourself' they said, and he'd threatened me previously with violence from his family should I ever involve him with the police. "Rehab" said a little voice in my head. "You need to go to rehab. You can tell him it's over after you've arrived there and then you need never see him again. And you'll be safe there." I felt a little flicker of light spark inside me, where it had been previously been sputtering out. I smoked and mulled it over. Rehab was an American term, did they even have facilities like that in the UK? If so would I have to pay? Would there be a waiting list? Was this actually an option?
Over the next week I did some research, and spoke to my parents about funding a rehab stay. They didn't seem to think I was serious, although I knew I was, and had the memory of the conversation with my baby brother pushing me forward every time I faltered. A month later on January 7th I went to a detox unit in Greater Manchester where I was to stay for a week, to be followed by three weeks of residential rehabilitation in Wales.
I don't really remember my last drink, although I know it was wine, but I remember my last hangover. I was sober when I arrived at the detox unit; I'd thought that they wouldn't take me if I was over the limit and had worried about losing the deposit we'd paid for the treatment so had limited my intake the night before and drunk nothing that morning, and subsequently had the shakes badly. My mum had driven me, the journey had been about an hour but my nerves had made it feel longer. When we arrived we took my bags out of the car boot and walked together up the gravel path to the main reception. It was a large white isolated building with big grounds, so big that you couldn't see all the way to the grounds' edges.
A nurse came out into the reception to meet me, took my bags from my mum and told my Mum she would have to go now. We said goodbye, quickly as the nurse stood watching with an air of impatience, and when I pulled back from the hug and turned away from my Mum she stepped towards the nurse, touched her arm and begged her to please look after me, 'she's a very poorly girl' she said, her voice breaking, and I saw her broken heart clearly in that moment for the first time. We left her there, and the next moment I was walking down a corridor with the nurse, double doors closing hard and fast behind me between my Mum, my drinking and I.
That will be three years ago in three weeks; it was January 7th 2019. I haven't drunk a drop of alcohol since, nor have I been involved again with my ex-partner. Since leaving rehab my relationships with my family are the strongest they have ever been, with no doubt in anyone's mind about just how much we love each other. Love is free-flowing again, the way I have always wanted it for all of us. I found a new job soon after leaving rehab and have progressed in the business quickly with two role changes in two years, now a Legal and Technical Officer from starting as a Compliance Assistant.
In my free time I now love making home made cosmetics and soaps, and painting, having sold a painting in late 2019 after having it displayed in a local art exhibition. I have also cut out caffeine and stopped taking any medication for my mental health, which are big achievements for me. I also eventually spoke to the police about the violence and control from my ex-partner, and have since managed to move forwards, and also to find significant amounts of joy.
The scariest part of healing for me is letting go of everything I know, or knew to be true. Stripping off the wallpaper first to see the walls and then breaking down that perfectly crafted house you have built around yourself to leave you exposed, vulnerable, naked. At some point though, when you've spent enough time delving into the pain you ran from for so long your fear starts to dissipate. You look at what you've overcome and realise that you can in fact do anything, and that it's just a matter of what you want to do.
You find a fierce strength, you find strength through anger, strength through sadness. All of a sudden one day, when you're feeling sorry for yourself, you realise that it is in fact you that is keeping yourself victim to past circumstances, that you must let go to be free. And so I did let go. I'm very lucky; I have a great therapist to guide me and to help me with anything I need to work through.
On harder days I try to tell myself, 'be patient with yourself; allow yourself time to change, don't expect it to happen instantly. You are not walking and talking when you leave the womb.. you have to learn; you had to learn everything you already know how to do. You are now simultaneously trying to unlearn, understand, unpick, learn and apply. That's a lot... so be patient with yourself. Try to enjoy the journey, the in-between, the liminal spaces in your life... every moment matters not just the best ones. Be proud of yourself, give yourself credit where credit is due, list everything you are achieving/doing/maintaining right now instead of focusing on what you're not, and again, be patient with yourself.'
After a time, it becomes no longer about not drinking, and more about maintaining your needs, mastering ways to calm yourself, listening to your soul and not suppressing it. Having the courage to change the patterns. After a while, the light which at first surprised you with it's new presence and brightness comes to find you in more ways then you ever imagined or knew it could. Darkness is the absence of light, and it becomes easier to see the light, just to notice it, day by day. After a while it starts to become more about what there is in the world that's new or unfamiliar to you which you could add to your life or your skills or learn or experience, and not as much about what you have been trying to hide from or avoid previously
After a time, it becomes about knowing what you want and need and sticking to that with no excuses, and you then discover desires and passions much greater and healthier than the one you sometimes have or had for alcohol. After not much time at all, you learn that the beauty lies in that which you do not see when you are drunk, and you find it near impossible to think that you could ever take that beauty away from yourself again.
These days mostly... I feel this feminine energy unfurling inside me... uncurling, stretching, awaking from a slumber. Still in the sleepy place, but conscious, more alive every day.
I feel this fire inside me, starting more and more to take hold of me. I have learnt that every life change comes from seeds; you must plant them, you must nurture them. You must tend to the soil before you plant them to make it habitable. The hardiest plants need not much care at all, they will take care of themselves once sprouted. But they will not grow unless you plant them.
So I will keep planting seeds and nurturing them for as long as I live. More than that though, I will continue to make sure every day that those I love know just how much I love them, without the words needing to be said. This has been the hardest and most rewarding journey I've ever embarked on. Finding my authenticity through sobriety, rebuilding my relationships (including mine with myself) and working through my pain/trauma has been beautiful; bittersweet at times and emotional definitely but completely worth it. It has been, and continues to be, completely liberating and I'll be eternally grateful for that conversation with my brother that sparked the change.
About the author
I love writing, reading, cooking, animals & herbalism. I'm very passionate about mental health, and helping people.
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