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After the crash: How I found sobriety and purpose

Opinion

Alcoholism and poor mental health were destroying Adelaide journalist Kurtis Eichler’s life. Here he writes about how he found the self-awareness and help to divert from his destructive trajectory.

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On August 30 last year, I took my last drink.

It was roughly about 9:30pm, on a Saturday night, along King William Road. It was cold, and the can of beer featured the iconic image of Carrie Fisher’s Leia in her all her bagel-haired glory.

That night, I went into a friend’s guest bedroom and pulled the blanket over my head. I couldn’t hack it any more. The taste had turned bad.

I had taken a lot from drinking, and it turned around and took a lot from me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, a home, relationships and stable mental health, which I took for granted in the months leading up to the “crash”.

By this time, I was homeless.

I’d already walked the streets of North Adelaide and Prospect for one night in some blissfully-unaware state, ignorant that this was rock bottom. Being homeless is quite scary because you cannot actually sleep, for fear of being robbed or assaulted.

The following Tuesday I was admitted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital after not even two days of sobriety. I believed there was no future without alcohol, and I was probably better off overdosing, and dying. For many alcoholics I talk to, this is a common feeling.

After a successful audition to get a bed in the short-stay mental health unit, I awoke in a bare room, clinical, with no phone, an empty wallet, and no feeling of what was to come.

You know when you make the statement you can’t contain yourself? That’s how I felt all the time.

The downfall to this point had been coming. Like Deliverance. I was paddling the canoe upstream, unaware of the drop that was coming. Would I survive? How would I come out after the drop?

At the worst point, I was drinking about two bottles of expensive wine (all my problems were high-end, after all), a few cocktails and half-a-dozen beers to end the night on, every second night. Every one of those nights ended in a blackout. This started towards the end of 2017 and continued until I had my last drink.

I’d stop remembering from about 8:30, but that was dependent on what time I started that day and whether I’d treated myself to the champagne with breakfast at Peel St.

On my way home, I would often wish I was dead. Thinking back, I probably didn’t wish this in a permanent way. Maybe some three to four-week escape from mortality where I could wake up sober and refreshed, ready to tackle all my growing problems.

In reality, alcohol never really worked for me. I’ve tried. I have really given it my best shot. But really and truly, it makes me stupid, sick and unconscious. So I was never really drunk; just senseless and inert.

The drinking was self-medicating because living with bipolar one is tough: a constant battle with emotions and moods, unaffected by the outside world, that can leave you depressed for weeks.

The mania kept me careening from one bad decision to another. Uncontrollable spending was the best one. Unimaginable amounts of money on alcohol, gifts and travel (tens of thousands on a trip to New York which included a bizarre 60 hours of sleeplessness).

The wild behaviour flowed over to loved ones. Every relationship I had was a white-water ride. The world of bipolar is a world of bad judgement calls.

A non-stop Saturday night.

You can’t stop. It’s painful, rough and raw. Your bones burn. You know when you make the statement you can’t contain yourself? That’s how I felt all the time. One mood is the meal, the next the bill.

I read a lot. More than ever. I always had trouble concentrating.

Back at what the nurses call “the Royal Adelaide Hotel”, you get woken up early to take your pills and eat some wet toast and a packaged breakfast. Coffee’s banned, but I went to Cibo. You don’t have to follow all the rules.

The nurses are not paid nearly enough to work in that space. They can’t even get free parking. But they never complain.

I met with a psychiatrist every day. Once I’d been released, I found somewhere to live. I also resumed work with a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist. The hospital psychiatrist’s advice on my departure out Gate Lounge North Terrace: don’t drink, it’s a false economy.

It’s been five months since my last drink, and gaining some acceptance over my condition. It’s not been easy. I think of drinking 1000 times a minute. But I just don’t buy into the thoughts. Like wearing shorts in winter, you can think about it but you don’t want to do it. I now drink Coke, about 12-a-day. They have to be ice-cold.

I’ll forever be trapped in a prison of fat, but every mood stabiliser is a weight gainer so I’m happy but I’m overweight.

I think a lot. I thought they told me years ago I was bipolar to make it easier for me to swallow when they also told me I was an alcoholic. “You can control yourself”, “you were just given everything as a child”: this is what I thought.

Using lithium and a raft of other medications, I can write this today. Almost a new person, with focus, goals and acceptance. Purpose.

I read a lot. More than ever. I always had trouble concentrating. Elton John wrote in his new biography that recovery for addicts was about “getting humble” and focusing on their journey towards healing. Kate Hepburn writes in her book, Me, that “stone cold sober I find myself absolutely fascinating”. Cool.

The book I have just finished reading provides the message that can help me go forward.

In Sheila Weller’s Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge, she urges people to follow Fisher’s lead: “Don’t bullshit, tell the truth no matter how painful and feel a love so big it should… have a capital and its own currency.”

I just think it’s uncanny that she was somehow there when I took that last drink.

Happily ever after? No such animal. Everything, ever after.

Kurtis Eichler is an Adelaide journalist.

If this article has raised concerns for you or someone you know, you can contact the following support services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Beyond Blue Support Service: 1300 22 4636, www.beyondblue.org.au

Mental Health Emergency (SA Health): 13 14 65

Alcoholics Anonymous 24-hour helpline: 08 8221 6999

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