Social Detox: On addiction, recovery and refusing to be compliant

Day One

I am writing this to you from Puna Whakataa, which is a Social Detox unit in Auckland, New Zealand, and what this means is that I have decided my addiction to alcohol has spiralled out of control and it was time to get some help.  Puna Whakataa acts as a respite from your life, your triggers, and your troubles. Going into respite gives you some time out to reflect and get clean and  begin practicing some self-care.

I’ve been told that you have to hit rock bottom before you make the decision to really, do something drastic about your addiction/s like go into Social Detox. But I don’t want to hit rock bottom. I’ve seen what rock bottom looks like for other people and the road back from the bottom seems like a hard and hellish climb. So, here I am writing this to you from Social Detox. I was admitted at 10.30am this morning: It was either this, or continue to fall deeper into the depths of despair and the bottom of a bottle.

I guess, you know that your drinking might have reached dangerous levels when you down two bottles of wine on a 50kg frame on an empty stomach, then wake up choking on your own puke while gasping for air at 2am in the morning. That happened to me about three weeks ago. I’m thankful I didn’t piss myself as well. Small mercies. And of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d woken up in my own vomit with the risk of choking but mostly that type of thing happened when I was younger, not at 31. And, I could use my youth to brush off such dangerous, deadly behaviour. But brushing off the hangovers, blackouts, and bruises from falls from when you are so wasted you can’t stand, is getting harder and harder as I get older.

Apart from the obvious fact that my drinking is harming me physically, it is now, for the first time ever, also harming and hurting my whanau and my partner. They’ve all had to endure me lashing out and getting verbally aggressive when I was wasted and feeling angry at the world. I am all for hurting and harming myself; self-care isn’t my strong suit and I’d consider my heavy drinking a form of self-harm as much as a method to numb. But when I start disappointing and hurting people I love, this is where I draw the line and hope to god I don’t begin to rub it out, and promise myself I’ll do what I can to avoid causing them pain.

They say we hurt those closest to us the most because we believe (or hope) they will never leave us. But I know people with addiction issues who have lost everything: friends, family, their kids, homes… lovers… their lives. My ex recently overdosed on homebake heroin, which is the big final frontier, the fullstop of addiction.

But, even, if you go looking for support it can be hard and challenging to access. Puna Whakataa, is the only facility of its kind for people with addiction issues in the entirety of Auckland. It opened four years ago out of a community effort by consumer workers (peer support workers) Connect, the Salvation Army and the DHB. It’s not exactly like our National government saw a desperate need and then acted.

We urgently need more public addiction and mental health units and community focused houses for respite like, yesterday. And the ones we do have, are dangerously underfunded by our government which results in long waiting lists and understaffing. It took me around two months to access support through Mahi Marama which is a peer support and advocacy counseling service for addiction.  Then a few weeks til I, underwent a CADS (Community Drug Alcohol Service) assessment to determine the best treatment, and then another three weeks until I was admitted to respite at Puna. In all respects this isn’t such a long wait time. I am lucky enough to have a mum who works in the public health system who could guide me to services such as Mahi Marama, which was my first foothold into accessing the care I needed. But I have spoken to other people in restspite who said it took six months plus, to work out how to access services and then finally, be admitted into care if necessary.

Many people don’t even attempt to look for help for drug or alcohol issues; there are concrete social reasons as to why. Ross Bell, Executive director of The NZ Drug Foundation states, “Often people don’t go looking for help or ask for support because of the stigma we create in our society around alcohol or drug dependency.”

I have, in other pieces I penned, touched publicly on my addiction issues and pushed to disrupt the lazy narratives that often surround low waged workers such as myself. But mostly these public admissions were out of absolute anger and a very real sense of desperation that I felt in response to politicians such ex-Prime Minister John Key, and our current Prime Minister Bill English, calling low waged workers like myself “drug addled”, “lazy” and my personal favorite “useless.” Thanks for that one Bill: I didn’t cry myself to sleep over your public bullying and stigmatizing, ‘cos it made me feel like utter shit to be called “useless” by the leader of this country, or anything.

Surely, Bill, as a kid you were taught that name calling those who are in much more vulnerable situations than you makes you a complete asshole. That said the bar is set low when it comes to the bullying behavior of our politicians.  John Key, spent months pulling the ponytail of a young low paid waitress, even, when she —  time and time again  — asked him to stop. The name calling of low waged workers and the objectifying of a young waitress by Key, who ignored her bodily autonomy, says so much about how our political leaders perceive us, as workers in service: as non-people, as other, as undeserving of dignity and kindness. And people wonder why some (not all) of us hit the bottle so damn hard.

Apart from a few public admissions about my drinking, mostly, I’ve hidden the extent of my drinking because I am embarrassed. Because I feel ashamed:

Mostly, I drink alone.

I’ve been a chronic closet drinker for many, many years now. Under my bed, often, resembles a graveyard of empty wine bottles; the labels are the gravestones and the bottles the bodies.

I’ll pour glasses of wine in my room and scull them before my mum gets home or walks in. I’m well versed at nursing drinks to hide the fact that I’m actually half cut. I’ll down a bottle of wine over five hours before my partner arrives home from work, as a way of relaxing into a relationship which I desperately do not want to lose. I’ve turned up to my low waged and shitty jobs drunk and comfortably numb because that seemed easier than facing, stone cold sober, rude customers and a boss who treats me as nothing more than a disposable unit of production and pays me poverty wages to work relentlessly hard.

I’ll carry wine bottles in my bag and find public toilets to scull back as much booze as possible before I need to spew because the liquid hits my stomach too fast and too hard. I’ll buy a bottle of wine at the supermarket but then, I can’t wait until I get home. So, I will find the back of a building, hide behind a dumpster, an alleyway, just fucking anywhere, and choke down wine until I have drowned the emotions I can’t deal with. As the saying goes: “It isn’t what we are drinking. It is how we are drinking.”

My closest drinking is a flawed coping strategy to numb the bubbling and boiling anxiety that is swelling in my stomach and a way to soothe the shame and rising negative self-talk that is reaching the point of overflow, in my head. And right now it is 8pm and I desperately want a drink. I want to cry. I want a hug. I want to know that I matter and I have the mana to get through all of this. I just want this to stop. I want to leave Social Detox and drink myself into white oblivion. But I also want my life back, as cliched as that sounds. I’ve also, for a while now, had a thought formulating in my head: Perhaps, just maybe, giving a shit about myself and practicing some self-care, and not attempting to drink myself to death (which really amounts to a very slow suicide) might well be a radical act of defiance.

I say this because I am pretty sure our current National government, just like consecutive governments before them, wants people like me either dead, or at least silent and compliant. When I say “people like me,” to be more specific, what I mean, is that I am a lowly wage earner who has been stuck in insecure work since the start of my working life thirteen years ago. I am also part of what WINZ case workers call the “revolving door,” because I keep having to come back and beg for measly hand outs whenever I get fired or I have my shifts cut.

I’m what National politicians and right wing pundits would call a “drain on society.” Especially right now because I am writing this from a publicly funded respite facility for people with addiction issues, and I am here at the tax payer’s expense. I am one of those low waged/unemployed “drug addled” and “useless” workers (- when I can find work -) that Bill English and many other politicians seem to hate so, very, very, much. I truly believe they would rather I was  dead; one less pov draining public coffers; one less ugly mouth for welfare. As activist and academic Sue Bradford, so brilliantly and blatantly states in relation to our mental health system,

“I can see that really nothing has changed, and if anything it may have got worse since the 1990s. I often end up thinking that the system is just relieved when people die, because it’s one less cost to their budget. It’s a brutal system.”

So, I figure getting clean and sober and learning to manage my anxiety and depression, and refusing to remain silent and compliant, is an act of not only self-care, but, yes, an act of defiance. If you have addiction issues (and thus, often, a dual diagnosis of mental health issues) you are worthy of aroha, compassion and care, and regardless of what politicians and wider society has to say. You  have a basic human right to community support that acts as a safe harbour, from your life. You are entitled to wrap-around services which support you into recovery and into a life where you get to thrive, not, just survive. And beginning to believe that, is an act of rebellion against the dominant narratives, and stigma attached to addiction.



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Thanks very much for your aroha and time.