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Damian’s Story

Stepping Stones to Recovery

In the big picture we are all on a journey that starts when you are born and ends when we leave this world. Within this journey are a series of journeys – relationship journeys, personal journeys, spiritual journeys and many others.

My name is Damian* and as a client of Dug ARM I’d like to share my journey with you.

Let me start with some positive news, I have worked tirelessly on steps towards my recovery and I recently celebrated 20 years of marriage with my family intact and on a healing path. I work part-time as a carer and am happy to contribute to my community with compassionate care for our more vulnerable community members – in some ways I feel like I am paying kindness forward to others where kindness has been shown to me, getting me where I am today. I’m truly humbled by my life experience.

During this time when we are in and out of lockdowns, I do think of those as they move through their recovery. The loss of social interaction and isolation can be triggering and I’m mindful this can have an impact on many of Drug ARM’s clients.

Underlying every step in my recovery has been my mental health journey. Mental health has often brought me challenges and as far as I can remember has been with me most of my life.
About 20 years ago I realised I needed help and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression with medication to suit. I lived for 20 years trying to manage the diagnosis by further self-medicating and drowning my worries in alcohol.

I’ve always been a deep thinker – what I should have done, said, thought and my brain rarely quiets.
In a cycle of self-compounding devastation, I would drink to gain relief for a while, black out, hurt the people I loved most, try and make it right, beat myself up, lose confidence, not take care of myself, drink some more to mask the pain and repeat the cycle. I found that eventually substance dependency became my self-care strategy because in that state there is short-lived relief.
At times this approach almost killed me. I’ve had medications, hospitalisation, psychiatrist visits, psychologist visits, case workers and even friends trying to assist. Despite all this, alcohol dependency set in around 12 years ago. It may not make sense to others but I found myself giving up to some degree and self-medicating by drowning in a 750 ml bottle of spirits every night.

I guess rock bottom is relative and different for everyone. For me, I was deeply affected when my wife left for the first time and I attempted suicide. She had enough and packed up our children to find herself a safer environment. I can never blame her and I take full responsibility now, I can see she just wanted me to stop drinking.

I had previously worked with an alcohol rehabilitation service and the program had left me worse than when I had started. I felt condemned and unworthy. But I knew I couldn’t give up and I decided to engage Drug ARM. Truth be told, I wasn’t confident that I would find any help but my family brought me the motivation to try. I was surprised to find someone who wanted to listen to me, without judgment or condemnation. Even when I was wrong, blaming my wife, kids, work and everything else for my problems, I was heard.

I was gently guided towards seeing that it was my responsibility to change. I was led to explore many different aspects of my dependency and was helped to develop strategies and challenged to change my thinking. Even when I felt like I was making no progress or going backwards, I felt encouraged.

Eventually I got to a point where I was in control.

My wife and I reconciled. I wasn’t drinking every night and when I did, it was kept to my limit. Until over time, it all fell apart again….I have come to understand that Australian culture for many is to have a drink at the pub or at a BBQ and so it was for me. I’m having to redefine this for myself now and each day I continue to work on what failure is and what it means to manage dependency.

I realise now it’s a process to transform one’s life and a series of thoughts that lead to actions. So, I re-engaged with Drug ARM even though I felt ashamed and guilty, and I was listened to once more. I was reminded of the many good habits I had begun to let slide over time and that a stepped approach to transforming my life should be expected, so while I had stumbled, it wasn’t the end of the world and I could defeat this again. For a period of time I was able to be completely sober. I drank on a few occasions when things got a little difficult, but I still felt in control.
Life brought challenges and once again I wasn’t in control, the battle rages on. This time I knew where to go to get back up quickly and I re-engaged Drug ARM.

This time I was reminded of the place I was several years ago when I first began working with Drug ARM. How proud I should be because of how far I had come. I’m certainly not sure that I feel proud – I do feel humbled though. Humbled that my loved ones and the team at Drug ARM stick by me through it all. They show me kindness and empathy and I will always be thankful.

Last year I received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and was prescribed the appropriate medication. It was amazing to me how this enabled me to get my mental health under control and it’s as though the alcohol dependency just fell away. At this point in time I am really feeling like my mental health is manageable for the first time in forever.

Thank you to the team at Drug ARM and their supporters. Your support  has changed my life! Your generosity is so valuable to those of us who rely on the case workers who become a lifeline to recovery.

After multiple treatment programs with Drug ARM I’m finding it has become easier to curb my drinking, easier to get back into good habits and easier to take responsibility. I seem to fight against dependency most days – some days I lose ground – other days I gain the ground back. And sometimes I even advance. But I now understand it will not be soon over.

Drug ARM has been, and continues to be a key part of my journey – a very important part. I know it is a safe place for me to talk, to learn, to cry, to laugh, to be accountable and to get better.
My journey looks very different to many others in recovery and the connection between mental health and alcohol is intricately connected for me. I’m so grateful to my wife, our family, a few good friends and Drug ARM who support me without judgement and stigma.

I’m at a point now where I’ve realised my dependency has had everything to do with me, my perceptions, understandings and how I view life. I understand I need to care for myself, know and love myself, identify my triggers early and develop my own strategies to deal with hurt.

I have had to work this out and it all takes time. There are bends in the road, you hit speed bumps and potholes, make u-turns and constantly need to check your blind spots.

Thank you for reading my story with its twists and turns. As supporters of Drug ARM please know I am a changed life because of your generosity.

Damian, Drug ARM Client

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