I watched this ‘movie’, or more accurately documentary about the life of Amy Winehouse a few days ago. Of course we all know the tragic outcome of Amy’s addictions, but the film shocked, saddened me in several ways I didn’t expect.

I completely accept that we are being shown a version of Amy’s story, that others will have different perspectives and that the “truth” of Amy’s life is different depending on your place in the story. But …

  • She was SO young. And vulnerable.
  • Neither of her parents were really engaged with her as a person. Her mother seems shadowy, her father blind to the reality of her addictions, interested (and I’m sorry if this seems brutal) only in her fame, pleasing her public and making more money.
  • She had really good friends, from childhood, who tried extremely hard to help her
  • No one in her management / publicity team seemed able to protect her from herself. The shambolic appearances on stage when she was too smashed to even stand up were painful, embarrassing and simply should have been stopped. Cancelling a gig, at short notice, is bad… This?  this was carnage.
  • She could sing. My god she could sing. What a voice, what a talent.

Amy Winehouse started off as an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent, the early videos and stills of her life seem very “normal”; she has great friends, she plays music, she’s a bit wacky, but she’s ok. And it all fell apart as she became increasingly famous, and was introduced to drugs.

I know my recovery is from alcohol addiction. I’ve never taken drugs, but if you are as famous and wealthy as Amy, the usual barriers to drug taking don’t apply. And Amy was vulnerable, insecure, in love with a man who then left her (and she herself said “I’ve fallen in love with a man I would die for”) she had eating disorders and couldn’t step outside the door of her flat without being mobbed.. It’s not that surprising she found something to “take the edge off ” … And then of course it spiralled. The man she loved introduced her to hard drugs and she couldn’t stop … Amy was shy, she described her anxiety before performing,

Amy Winehouse was found dead in her home in Camden Town, north London, 5 years ago last Saturday. She was 27. Amy died of acute alcohol poisoning . Alone.

I’ve vomited in my sleep before. Unconscious from alcohol poisoning – there is no other word for it really . By great good fortune I was sleeping on my side, not my back, or I might not be here today either.

I felt so sad watching that film. Amy wanted attention and love, she needed someone to love her unconditionally and stand firm with her. Watching her get thinner and thinner, more shambolic and reading the increasingly cruel, critical and personal insults in the press – I can’t help feeling that I would have coped no better than Amy and that her death was inevitable… What a terrible waste.

I don’t know why she didn’t go to a proper rehab, maybe it had something to do with the awful stigma that still exists in relation to addiction and the fear (at least amongst her management and family) that if /when it was discovered her career would be damaged. So they left her, alone and struggling till she died 😟 I don’t know if there are lesson to be learned here, on a wider scale, I expect there are. For me, I will remember to reach out and offer a supportive hand to my fellow addicts, maybe if Amy had had access to the sober support I do, she could have kicked her demons .

Avoiding relapse

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The possibility of relapse is something that really scares me. I know the stats; at best only 30% of people who decide to quit drinking will make it to 12 months still sober. And of those only about 35 % will remain sober at 5 years. The message is clear: stopping drinking is the easy part – its maintaining sobriety which is hard.

This scares me for several reasons.

  • First because I have relapsed before. After eight months. And it took me 22 months to get sober again. I’m scared that if I relapse again I will never get the strength to do this again.
  • Second because I have put everything I have into this attempt. I’ve taken it really seriously; adapted my behavior, immersed myself in a sober culture – what if I relapse despite all the efforts I have made?
  • Third, I think I will lose faith in myself if I relapse – almost as though all my worst fears about myself would be confirmed – and I just wont be able to convince myself I’m worth this much effort again.
  • Fourth – I just cant go back to living like that… because something BAD will happen

Now I do know that relapse is NOT a random act, that I would actually have to take an alcoholic drink to my lips and swallow it, and I and only I have control over this act. Its also pretty clear to me that I do not want to relapse, so why on earth am I worried?

I think its because I am aware how easily the little voice, the ‘wine witch’ creeps into your head, convincing you that just one won’t hurt, just tonight, on this special occasion, in this special place, It would be ok to have a drink. I’ve convinced myself of this SO many times in the past that I am concerned that my resolve will slip when I am least expecting it

I do also know that one small slip does not necessarily mean all is lost, but I am afraid that for me, with my rather all or nothing perfectionism, it would trigger a ‘fuck it’ attitude and a consequent lengthy binge… (see point 1 above)

so what can I do about this?.. prevention being better than cure…

I’ve been doing a bit of research. The predictive factors that make a person more likely to be successful in quitting alcohol include being a woman, being over the age of 40 and having a spouse. That’s me then ! Its is also true that medical practitioners tend to do well once they commit to sobriety. The Royal College of psychiatrists  paper about substance addiction in doctors, states that figures from North America suggest that 80–90% of doctors in treatment do well over 1–5 years. That’s significantly better than the general population…

What have I done to guard myself against relapse ?

  • Asked for support – from my partner, from a small online doctors community I am part of, from my BFF.
  • Built / am building a sober network – that’s here, a long running thread for dry people on a website and Soberista’s.
  • largely removed alcohol from the house. Occasionally my partner will bring in a couple of cans, but he then drinks them so there is no alcohol lying around..
  • Pay attention to my diet. Not doing brilliantly here, but I am aware of it.
  • Learn about my craving triggers and how to manage them, I have a mental list of ‘things to do if I’m craving a drink’ It includes; walk the dog, call someone, take a shower, go to bed,
  • Look after my physical health: I have taken up yoga and Pilates
  • Try hard to get enough sleep –  I prioritise this.
  • Writing this blog – as a recovery journal to help me refresh my memories about how bad things were and how far ahead I’ve come.
  • Plan Plan Plan. Think ahead. When I need to do something which involves drinking I plan as much of the evening / event as I can including how I can escape if necessary
  • make sure I have sober treats – small (and some large! ) rewards for myself on a regular basis.
  • Prioritise my sobriety – if I really think I cant face an event without alcohol I just don’t go.
  • Take care of my appearance. I think this boosts my self esteem and a woman who feels self confident is less likley to damage herself
  • I’m trying to work on communication, particularly with my partner – because when all is well between us, I feel stronger.
  • Read books about sobriety. I find them supportive and useful

Any other ideas anyone else employs ?