Secret drinking - in the toilet

NZ Herald Story 29th October 2018.

Young man (23) agreed to get help for his alcohol problem after becoming abusive to others. His drinking problem started off innocently enough – a social drink at parties, a glass of wine to make him feel fun and extroverted. But it soon spiralled quickly downwards. “It got to the point where I was drinking in toilets at train stations; it wasn’t pretty,” says 23-year-old Colin Simpson (not his real name). “When my partner told me about something terrible I’d done to her when I was drunk, I knew things had to change, it was a real wake-up call.”

His story comes as Alcoholics Anonymous Awareness Week kicks off (it began yesterday and runs until Saturday) in which Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is encouraging young people who may be experiencing problems with drinking to seek help.

Happily Simpson has been sober for over a year, ultimately stopping drinking with the help of the “life-changing” support of AA. But it hasn’t been easy.
“I didn’t really start drinking problematically until after I left home, at 18,” he says. He wasn’t a “cool” kid at school, didn’t go to parties, get wasted or do the whole teenage “rite-of-passage” drinking stuff.

But away from home, in a bigger town, he discovered drinking made life more exciting, his personality bigger and brighter.

“I felt I was really living, I felt popular and uninhibited,” he says. “It was like I was living life more actively.”

Yet the desire for this buzz soon became the focus of his life: “I wanted that feeling all the time. That’s when the problem started.”

Alcoholism is an issue in Simpson’s family; it was one of the reasons he steered away from drinking for so long. But by mid-2014, alcohol had taken control of his life.

His problematic drinking really started after he auditioned for a theatre company. Before the first audition he had a few glasses of wine, and aced it. He got a call back to say he was in.

But life in the company was harder than he’d expected: “I didn’t really hit it off with people straight away. And so I started drinking before rehearsals.”
He began with a half bottle in the bathroom at the train station on the way to rehearsals, then a half became two-thirds. “I ended up drinking a whole bottle of wine before each rehearsal, three times a week, and I was also drinking socially.”

Simpson wasn’t a “messy” drunk. He was fun and people always commented on how well he handled his alcohol. But those close to him didn’t feel the same.
“It was my partners who really bore the brunt of it,” he says. “I could be emotionally abusive to them and not really even care. All I wanted was to keep that feeling.”

Even so, he knew there was a problem, and made attempts to stop. This resulted in a cycle of drinking, stopping and falling off the wagon again.
“I’d tell myself I’d have two weeks off, then start back with a couple of beers,” he says. “But I’d never last the two weeks and I’d always drink way more than I’d told myself I would, and the pattern would begin again.”

It took the dramatic disclosure from his (ex) girlfriend before he really started to focus on what was happening with his drinking.

Simpson had never seen abstinence as an option, but his current girlfriend, who was “very frank”, suggested he may want to try AA.

He decided to attend a meeting and he found the experience overwhelmingly positive: “I felt really comfortable the minute I sat down. I knew that I was with people who all had similar issues. I felt that I was in the right place.”

He found a sponsor (the person you call on when you feel tempted to have that one last drink) who was, coincidently, also involved with theatre. With his help, and the support of AA, Simpson has now been sober for over a year.

“I’ve had my fair share of drinking self-destructively and degrading myself, and hurting the people around me, and I was luckily in the right time and the right place to get sober,” he says. “I won’t say it’s been easy, but I have matured and learned so much through the process.”
The focus for Awareness Week this year is to ask young people ‘where is your drinking taking you?’. We want to help answer questions like ‘what will happen to me if I stop drinking?’ and ‘is this where you want your life to go – is there an alternative?'”