Setbacks Do Not Mean Failure – L’s Story

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When I was 19, I completed my first stint in rehab. Drugs were never really my thing, despite the fact that my best friend at the time regularly dabbled in drugs like speed and LSD. I never really wanted to get into ‘the hard stuff’, so I got my highs through alcohol. It was never really a high I was after, though; I simply wanted to escape into another world, to forget about a loss that is still too hard to talk about.

When I was 16, my parents passed away in a car accident. Before that, life had been as close to perfect as it gets. We were a loving family and my mind is filled with memories of holidays spent together, and above all, of laughter.

When my parents passed away, my older sister Mary and I were suddenly on our own. My aunt Trish came to live with us, though as hard as she tried, she couldn’t take the place of our parents. Worst of all, she couldn’t control us. We were at that age when teens usually begin to rebel, and the loss of our parents made us feel like our stability had been pulled out from under our feet.

My flirtation with alcohol began at the many parties I used to attend. I loved the feeling of not really being in my body and of sharing wild times with my friends. Soon, I was drinking at home in the afternoons. After a few months I began drinking at midday, bringing a flask to school and filling it with the vodka a friend used to steal from her dad (she was also a heavy drinker). My grades slipped, of course, and although I managed to graduate from high school, I got nowhere near the grades I needed to study the degree I had always thought I would: veterinary science. My mother had always dreamed that I would become a veterinarian; she was a great lover of animals and she used to take me to do voluntary work at a local dog and cat shelter. She said she hoped that one day, I would be able to save so many of these beautiful lives and to ease their suffering.

Mary realized that I had a problem when she entered my room one day and found over 10 empty bottles of alcohol. She put two and two together and understood that my alcohol use was the reason my grades were slipping and my teachers were complaining about my absence. She told me I would never be a veterinarian at the rate I was going and after a long night, in which we cried, laughed and shared our pain, I agreed to go to rehab. I completed many months at one of the top centers in the state and by the time I left, I learned new strategies to cope with my grief; counseling helped, and so did regular exercise and yoga.

It has been five years since I left rehab and I am now mid-way through my degree in veterinary science. I will not say that I have not had my slip-ups; I had two episodes that I like to call setbacks. One weekend, when I broke up with my first boyfriend, I had a few drinks when out partying with friends on a Saturday night. The second occasion was the fifth anniversary of my parents’ deaths. I like to think that I never ‘relapsed’, though, since I never went back to my old patterns of alcohol abuse, nor did I drink more than two or three drinks on each occasion.

The important thing to understand is that addiction is very difficult to overcome, but that letting yourself down on one or two occasions does not mean that you have failed.

I also learned that it is vital to use your setbacks to better understand the triggers for alcohol use, so you can deal with them in a better way next time. You don’t have to be perfect to have a fulfilling life; you simply have to keep trying; never ever give up on yourself, even when you fail.

Laura Barton

Laura Barton is a writer who specializes in mental health and wellbeing articles, she works with a number of charities and organizations to help promote their work and give better understanding of these conditions.