Learning to live without alcohol
In the second of a series on the Christchurch City Mission, reporter ANNA TURNER talks to John, an alcoholic on his last day in ‘social detox' at Thorpe House.
It was early morning when John woke up, covered in sweat, shaking and feeling like he was dying.
"I could have drawn the outline of my liver on my body," he said.
"I could feel it pulsing and failing, like I was dying."
That morning, John, a Christchurch writer in his 50s, decided to seek help for his drinking.
"It's hard to sit up and say you have a problem, but I knew I couldn't go through that feeling again."
Speaking from rehab, John recounts how he first became drunk after a cricket game when he was 11 years old.
"Alcohol wasn't an issue growing up. It's not like I came from a line of drinkers. My mum didn't drink or smoke, and my dad only drank socially.
"After the game, everyone would head to the clubhouse and the adults would have some beers and the kids would have lemonade. One time, my friend and I flogged off with some and went and got silly by the riverbank."
From then, John began drinking regularly until he was drinking every day. On his biggest session, he downed three bottles of wine and a litre of vodka.
Although it "sometimes got out of hand", John describes himself as a "plateau drinker".
"I don't binge drink; I drink to a certain level where you could function and feel good, then I maintain that. Occasionally, you would wake up and not know how you got there. I'd never get a hangover."
It was only three years ago that he realised his drinking was out of control.
"It was a work hard, play hard attitude. For a lot of years, you delude yourself that you're having a good time, and then you wake up one day and realise you're not."
The real "wake-up call" came when his marriage broke down.
"I was still working and functioning. It wasn't that I was violent or abusive, but it was the small things, like how I couldn't drive the kids to school because I was over the limit. My wife had to make a call and she made the right one."
After realising he needed help, John went through a medical detoxification and then spent time at Thorpe House in "social detox".
After his release, John managed to "stay dry" for several months before he relapsed.
"I've never had a problem stopping. It's staying stopped that's difficult," he said.
"It wasn't that I craved alcohol so much as that I thought I had it under control and could have one or two drinks. From there, it spiralled back out of control."
After waking up in bed feeling excruciatingly sick, John returned to Thorpe House. After a supervised medical detox, he stayed in Thorpe House for several weeks, preparing an action plan for going home.
"There are group meetings, but it's more the informal chats with people that are the best; the people understand what you're talking about," he said.
"It's also just the routine, getting into cooking and washing your own clothes. You learn to live without drinking."
The time at Thorpe House had been invaluable, John said.
"There's no agenda here. They don't shove the church down your throat, or try to get you to do anything. It all comes from within, but they provide the support here. It's an amazing organisation."
John knows he has a hard road ahead of him staying sober, but he is confident he is better prepared this time around.
"I think this time I'm more clued up about that and less cocky about leaving. I know I can't even have a single drink. I know I have to stop drinking. It has gotten the point where I have to stop drinking, or I will die."
Name has been changed.