“I don’t care what they say about running away from the problem. I am packing my bags and I’m leaving.” I said to my sister Cecelia before I checked my bags in at Heathrow. I can’t do this drink-up-throw-up stinking zombie routine anymore. I am running out of ideas and so, I am going to Singapore.
Never been there. Don’t know anything about it. But I’m going. I’ve been wanting to go since, maybe, forever, but never got the guts. Until now. I don’t know why now. But as with all things in my life, when I got the urge, I got the urge.
And so, eyes bloodshot, resolved not to drink anymore, I boarded the plane. Bad idea, bad, bad idea. I was hyperventilating when the flight attendant asked me if I wanted anything. I could have a tipple. I could have some wine. I could have sabotaged the journey before I even began. So I said, “just some tea please,” sweetly. My lips pursed tight.
I wanted to prove everybody wrong. Little Ms. Jenny Lush Extraordinaire could do it. She can stay sober.
I did get sober, and this is how I did it.
15 hours after taking off in Heathrow, I was in Changi. They always tell you how bad the first three days are in withdrawal, but nobody told me that:
Withdrawal + Jet Lag = Hell
Drink! Drink! Drink! Was all I could think. Johnny Walker take me home. Please.
My head hurts, my brain hurts, I feel like vomit. I am vomit. I am the vomit that resides on the floor of the airplane lavatory.
I wanted to die.
At least that was how I felt before I got into detox.
In Singapore, I asked the courteous Indian guy to drive me directly to Raffles Hospital. He took me there without a word. The best thing about this decision is nobody really knows me here. All I want to do is hide my head in a hole and forget about my past. I had tried it all before. Treatment, via rehab Bristol, an alcohol charity, mutual aid, you name it. I don’t want to talk about my future either. The further away I am from everything I know, the more unfamiliar the terrain, the better.
They’re very professional there, by the way. The staff treated me like gold. I was in medical detox for a week, then they let me out after a few more days. (Nah, it was voluntary.) I could have stayed, but for what? I had something else in mind. Nobody wants to be in a hospital, foreign country or not.
Confession. I lied when I said I don’t know anything about Singapore. I lied because I really came here to see orchids.
I am not good with people. I am brash, loud-mouthed, and foul-tempered. But I sure am good with orchids. These exotic things don’t need words, they don’t thrive with fake love. They just need genuine care and patience. Get the feed, temperature and potting medium right and they won’t fail you. They reward you with astounding, vibrantly coloured blooms.
Not like people. They fail you. Even if you gave them all the love, time and patience in the world.
Six months later in Bebington (where I live)
I’m at the café in Church Street to meet my friend Arnold. He’s from SMART Recovery too. I did get over my fear of talking to people about my situation. At least long enough to know why I did what I did running away to Singapore.
In hindsight, it wasn’t as bad an idea as I thought it was. After the detox, I took a week to roam around the city. I think what made me stay sober the whole time was the fact that nobody expected me to drink. I was not with a friend who’d look at me weird if she asked me, “Do you want a beer, Jenny?” And I’d said “No” to the tune of panic, worrying about what she would think. In short, I stopped drinking because I did not feel judged or expected to drink.
I was alone in a foreign country, exploring my private idea of Paradise. (Orchid Paradise). I was in-touch with the part of me that wanted desperately to be genuine. I guess I was looking for a way to re-set my brain, to re-set my life. My obsession with orchids then was a symbol of my quest for true meaning.
I lost myself to drinking because I was hiding something. I couldn’t answer the question, “Who are you, Jenny? Who are you really?”
At age 30-something I am still single and love-less, with no prospect whatsoever. I am also wondering if I’m lesbian.
Staying sober back home was difficult, honestly. I had to muster up enough strength to talk to people about rehab. My sister was there to support me, at least. What I feared the most was people whispering behind my back about being an alcoholic and all that. I also have a fear about AA and all their God-speak. My family kept pressing me to get with the ‘big book’, and how to get an aa sponsor.
It was a relief when I found there is an alternative to AA (SMART recovery), and they meet weekly, just a few minutes’ drive away from where I live.
Here’s what I drew when I was still starting out.
This drawing is my guide.
What drives me to drink is boredom, loneliness and sadness.
I have to face up to the fact that I am questioning my sexuality at this point in my life. I’ve always thought I was heterosexual. I never saw the connection between my being single (forever) and being attracted to other women. I’ve been surrounded with heterosexual people all my life, and I assumed I was one of them.
My therapist at the rehab centre is working with me on this issue. She cautions me, though, not to date yet, as this is my first year in recovery. I fully agree.
For the boredom problem, I found an easy solution. I joined an orchid society and got busy with my hobby. To date I have seven Phals (Phalaenopsis) and a couple of Dendros (Dendrobiums) in the garden. I found new orchid-crazy friends to chat with online and face-to-face.
I’m not sure what the future holds for me, but this is what I know. My name is Jenny and I am six months and three weeks sober. My plan is to make it sober for a year. Then I will progress from there.