“Go on have the one it won’t hurt you.”

“God you are so boring.”

“Will I throw in a vodka into that diet coke when no one is looking?”

This is mild compared to some of the so called ‘banter’ that an addict has to put up with. The stigma that goes with being a recovering alcoholic in Ireland is humiliating and challenging.

I work in a toxic environment. Every Friday there is a trip to the pub, I avoid it like the plague but sometimes cannot. If a work colleague is leaving or it is a last day of a particular work cycle. There are a couple of comedians who dominate proceedings as the pints flow the conversation gets more and more tiresome, I don’t feel involved. In reality I’m excluded, a pint of blackcurrant and water keeps me out of the loop. I sit miserably on my own, unable to think of any conversation as I see everybody around me swilling Bulmers, Heineken, wine or any of the latest craft beers that have come on the market over the last few years. If I leave, it is seen as an insult to the person who is leaving work but all I want to do is curl up in a ball and go to bed. My depression has set in and I know it will be like this until at least Monday.

The bus home is a nightmare everywhere I look there are pubs, temptation is in my way. There are drunks on the bus the smell of alcohol is overpowering, I feel people are talking about me, another side effect of the depression and anxiety which is also part of my diagnosis. Eventually I get home, it is like being through a war, I love listening to music but all I want to do is to take my meds and sleep. Maybe tomorrow will be better, a film, a walk, anything to forget my Friday nightmare.

I am sure that there are thousands of addicts who suffer stigma every day of the week. I was diagnosed an alcoholic twelve years ago. I would be the first one to say that my personality has changed, I have become withdrawn, isolated and extremely tired. This coupled with depression and anxiety has affected my social life, my working life, I have lost out on promotion due to depression. I do have to take responsibility myself, I have not stayed in touch with a lot of the people who cared for me. I have turned down opportunities due to my illness.

However I have still managed to retain a circle of friends and family who have stood by me. These have been vital to deal with the stigma as they suggest going out for dinner or the cinema rather than pubs! They actually ask you how you are doing with your addiction. They are there to help. Also St Patrick’s University Hospital has been a life saver – the consultants, counsellors, day programmes, WRAP™, Wellness and Recovery and the marvellous aftercare makes you believe you are not alone. It integrates you with people who are in the same boat as yourself. Being an addict does not have to make you feel like being an inferior person. There is another life.

While my life is far from perfect, recovering from addiction and breaking that cycle has been very important for me. At times, my depression and anxiety are overwhelming and I struggle with the stigma of addiction. It can be challenging particularly in a society where socialising is almost always equated with alcohol. Still, I would never go back to the person I was twelve years ago.

Recovery is possible and there is a way out of addiction. For anyone who is struggling with addiction, take the first step and open the door to recovery.

Sean

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