Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jane's story


Ένα κείμενο μου που δημοσιεύτηκε στο τελευταίο τεύχος του αγγλόφωνου περιοδικού Pulse - βασίζεται στην αληθινή ιστορία μιας νέας γυναίκας εθισμένης στο αλκοόλ.


The woman stepped back and looked at me with eyes wide open. She seemed angry and scared at the same time. “There is no way the University is going to promote a drunk!” she screamed. “Behave yourself or I am going to call security”. I realized I had been standing in front of her with my right foot on the door, blocking her way out of the office, gesturing uncontrollably. Moira was the head of department and the first person ever to call me ‘a drunk’ at my face. I was in shock! I had been working at the University of York for the last 6 years, teaching and publishing non-stop. I thought I deserved the promotion.

Moira was not the first person to note that I had a drinking problem but her attitude made me realize that the people responsible for my academic future, my peers, had me labeled as an alcoholic. I knew I used to get ‘assertive’ after a few drinks but that usually helped me to get my way with people, to gain respect, did it not? I also knew I was not dealing well with criticism, but I always though other people could not tell - or could they? I was definitely a heavy drinker but so were most of my friends, as well as my boyfriend. Were we all alcoholics, or just me?

I withdrew into myself and continued drinking in order to deal with my frustration and anger. A few months later my father asked me to get a sabbatical and visit home urgently. He said that my 54 year old mother was in hospital in need for an operation. I spend summer in Crete at my family home. I was a mess, starting my drinking early in the morning, interrupting my habit only during hospital visiting hours. The first day I met with the doctor in charge, he asked me and my father whether my mother was abusing alcohol. We both were quick enough to lie for her, to mask off the signs of her addiction as we used to do, since I remembered myself. “Oh, no” we said, “she does not have a drinking problem. She can go without drinking for days and she only drinks wine or beer, she avoids all high alcohol drinks!”

Pacing up and down the hospital corridors helped my mind take a trip back in time; things started becoming clearer to me. I recalled having my first drink when I
was just twelve during the Christmas family dinner. My mother who was by then a heavy drinker thought that it would be ok for me to have a glass of ‘innocent red wine’. My father agreed that red wine was good for health. I remember becoming dizzy but at the same time liking the feeling of being a grown up, the feeling of belonging. A few days later I tried alcohol again in the privacy of my room. By the time I was fourteen, I was secretly consuming at least a drink per day.

I kept drinking systematically through high school and university. I studied English at the University of Athens away from home, free to enjoy all the things I loved, including alcohol. I was an efficient student with excellent grades and at the same time popular with boys. People were telling me I was pretty and smart but I never felt happy enough about myself; I relied on alcohol to feel confident and sexy. My university teachers were happy with my academic performance but kept commenting that I was quite aggressive, unable to deal with criticism. I never paid serious attention to their comments, repeating to myself that they were just threatened by my brains.

I left Athens with a scholarship for postgraduate studies in London. Although I kept drinking heavily throughout my time at UCL, I managed to excel and to find a job teaching English at the University of York. I was 28, just beginning my academic career, and already an alcoholic for the past 14 years. A few months later I met with my partner, Daniel who run the local Thomas Cook. We moved in together and started enjoying our common life with trips in exotic destinations, lots of dinning out, and frequent visits to the pub. Daniel and his friends used to drink regularly and nobody ever mentioned that my drinking was out of the ordinary.

But now, thanks to my Head of Departement and my mother’s health problems, the truth was out. I was an alcoholic. Both physically and psychologically I was a mess. I hated my parents and my boyfriend and I kept blaming them for my situation, I felt that they wanted to destroy me, to keep me drinking for their own personal reasons. Only alcohol was my friend; and so I kept drinking.

I managed to talk to my cousin Dimitris. “I know he said, I’ ve known for years.” He suggested I should see a psychiatrist, which I found insulting. I finally decided to see a psychologist but things did not change overnight: It took me 8 months of personal therapy to quit drinking. Then I began group therapy, which goes on until today, three years later. Therapy helped me realize that my parents will never admit to my mother’s addiction, but I have accepted that I cannot help them - not if they do not want to be helped. I’ ve also understood that I was always attracted to people who were either suffering from some kind of addiction, like my ex boyfriend Daniel, or who were indifferent, emotionally detached, and could not easily tell or care if I was an alcoholic.

My current boyfriend, Mark, a university colleague, who knows the truth about my drinking problem, is really supportive. I am able to talk honestly to him about my anxieties and insecurities and for the past year we enjoy an intimate, loving relationship. This summer we are going to get engaged at my homeland. As I am approaching 38 my greatest desire is to start a family. I am really proud to have stayed sober all this time.

1 comment:

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Very interesting story well written!