Addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. The disease is not in the bottle, the substance or pill, It centres in the mind, has a physical allergic component and a spiritual malady. The solution is not just to stop drinking or taking drugs, the disease is still there and this is what needs to be addressed. I felt I had personally done a lot of work and gained self awareness and valuable understanding on my alcoholism feeling internally that I would never drink again. Even in times of distress it was just no longer an option. Then one moment during deep emotional turmoil the desire struck and became overpowering even though I was doing the right things for my sobriety (mostly, and there probably lies the key). I knew the consequences and I knew it could not end well. I knew I would be breaking over 2.5 years of sobriety and in excess of 800 hundred or so days without putting alcohol to my lips. It didn’t matter what I knew at the moment I bought alcohol. The smell repulsed me but I drank, forcing the poison down. I drank against my will or want, my addiction or need was too powerful, I had no defence. Once I started, naturally the phenomenon of craving began and I could not stop. Here began a dark relapse that took me places I had never been before. The progressive nature of the illness meant I was just where I left off years before and I could drink just as much or more. I managed to pull myself up but in the 3 months since have experienced 3 more relapses. Two of only a couple of days but this last one of 6 days was not my usual isolated drinking and was a pretty wild experience in the capital city of Cambodia and I feel lucky to have escaped without harm. I won’t go into detail as I am writing an elaborate account of these past few months hopefully to be published in the right forum.
The morning I left Mui Ne Vietnam to start my journey home via supportive friends in the south of Cambodia I was eating my final breakfast at my guesthouse cafe. Sitting at a table just metres from me was a woman of about my age, head hung low, hair covering her face and unable to sit upright without sudden jolts sideways, just catching herself before she fell. A half drank beer in front of her and a lit cigarette burned almost to her fingers, the ash indicating it had barely been smoked. I wondered if she was in fact asleep until she suddenly stubbed out the cigarette and stood abruptly, returning to the cafe fridge and helping herself to another beer then plopping back down heavily at her table. I don’t think she had any awareness of myself or locals who passed by the cafe staring mainly in what looked like disgust at this heavily intoxicated woman at 6:30 in the morning. I didn’t look upon her with disgust or pity just love and understanding and a bolt of gratitude struck me that ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ I had seen this same woman inebriated on occasions before and it was fair to surmise she is an alcoholic such as myself. I wished there was something that I could do for her but of course there was not. She is walking her path as I am my own. I had now decided to continue my path in Australia where the support of family and friends is essential and the adventure of travel no longer appealing without a strong sobriety intact. Nothing is fun in the roundabout of relapse.
The woman was still there as I lugged my backpack and sport bag past the cafe to the bus waiting area. I sent a silent prayer her way that she may be shown the light of a better life and the courage to walk that way. I pray that prayer for myself often because I know its worth and truth.
I was travelling again at just 6 days sober myself after a small relapse in Mui Ne which was the crux of my decision that Australia was the best place for me and my recovery. They had been difficult days of sobriety so close to a relapse and I didn’t trust myself to stay overnight in either capital of Vietnam or Cambodia so I linked my buses as best I could. However my late arrival in Phnom Penh necessitated a stay. I had three buses to arrive at my destination of Otres/Sihanoukville in the south of Cambodia. The first 5 hours would deliver me to Ho Chi Mihn City and the relief and joy in my heart knowing I was on my way home was welcomed with warmth. After just a one hour break the next bus would take me 7 hours and across the border to Cambodia’s capital where I arrived at 9:30pm. I was happy and free of urges just after leaving Ho Chi Minh having witnessed the woman that morning and the gratitude that brought and knowing that my friends and family were waiting, happy to see me. Not long into this second leg I received a crushing blow from one who loves me but has an inability to show it. My joy totally deflated with a bang like a popped balloon. My default to think of a drink crept back in and suddenly I knew I wanted a night of drinking in Phnom Penh before I would arrive to my supportive friends. My final bus was at 8 in the morning. I prayed and prayed for the obsession to drink to be removed, I prayed for the bus to take longer to arrive at my destination until the obsession was lifted. I thought of my family, the babies, my friends and everything I hold so dear to me, but it had already set in and when the insanity has arrived I know it is inevitable. How can my thinking change so drastically. How can I be so powerless against my own will. I can be at a place of total conviction that I do not want to drink and just by one simple thoughtless incident I have a different mind. My addict takes over.
Sure enough off I went. I failed to catch my bus the next morning waking with a start at 10:30. I could have easily caught a number of buses that day but the cravings had set in and I wanted more time to drink. I missed a series of buses over the next few days, lost most of my possessions except my passport and computer and eventually was in hell where I could not drink anymore but I couldn’t not drink either. There is no place worse than this and only oblivion removes it. I managed to book an early bus that would collect me from my guesthouse and somehow got myself on this and arrived to my waiting friends 6 days late. Blessed to have arrived at all.
This crazy 6 days demonstrated to me once again the cunning, baffling and powerful nature of this disease. One day I sat with a grateful heart that I was not this sick woman beside me in a cafe, the next I was that woman, the setting not identical but the level of degradation, hopelessness and powerlessness just the same.