Emma Kinsella was a high flyer with a drinking problem. She had graduated from college with a business degree and got a highly sought after job in one of the big four accounting firms. On the surface everything was great.
She was passing her accountancy exams. She was getting good performance reviews. Life was busy and good. Inside though she was struggling.
A drinking culture
Emma started drinking in her 20’s. Fairly late by Irish standards. She had heavy drinking nights out in college, but always studied hard in between. In work, there were 12 hour working days with a post work drinking culture. Emma however preferred to go home to relax with a bottle of wine. She did not realise this was the start of a drinking problem.
She stopped drinking
Although sometimes she felt her drinking was a little high, she had no problem stopping when she got pregnant. She had a difficult labour and suffered from post-natal depression. But she could not put into words
“How I was feeling or how overwhelmed I was”
A major drinking problem
Drink helped Emma turn off her emotions. However it stopped working and she started to drink more and more. Her drinking problem became a major issue. She ended up in St Pat’s psychiatric hospital, Cluan Mhuire, then the Renewal addiction centre. Her partner left taking their son with him.
She was a nightmare patient
Emma describes herself as a “nightmare patient” She just kept drinking again and again. This makes me really angry because Emma had what is called a dual diagnosis. She had both a mental health and addiction issue. But health services see these as totally separate issues, so she kept being told they could not treat her mental health until her drinking problem was under control. As Inside Rehab says
“addiction is the only area of health care where we blame the patient when the treatment does not work”.
Emma was failed by the healthcare system
So I’m angry because Emma could have suffered a lot less. The healthcare treatments she received did not meet her needs. They also missed another major issue.
Emma‘s childhood experience
When Emma was just 3 years old, the sexual abuse started. It was a relative. Emma blamed herself and thought everybody knew. She carried a lot of guilt. She blocked out these emotions and never disclosed what had happened to all the different health care professionals she met.
Difficult childhood experiences
Difficult childhood experiences ( the experts call these Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE) are well known to be a cause of drinking problems. However our treatment systems do not look at this. They ask
“What’s wrong with you?”
“What happened you”?
They don’t create a safe space for people to tell their stories and take the first step in healing.
Until our treatment systems change, people like Emma will continue to suffer more than they need to. Treatment systems need to become “trauma responsive”, as the experts say.
Emma made a great recovery
Eventually Emma got the right type of help. Now she’s got her relationship with her son back. Her ex-partner trusts her again. Emma shows even the most severe drinking problems can be fixed with the right help.
Is your drinking problem caused by childhood trauma?
So if you’re having difficulty getting your drinking under control, consider whether your childhood experiences might be an issue for you. It does not have to be as horrific as Emma’s story. It could be something like childhood emotional neglect. We’ve written about this here. It’s very common in Ireland.
So as brave Emma’s wonderful story shows never give up hope. Change is always possible.
Like this post?
You can read Emma’s full story, written by Sheila Wayman here.
You can find out more about the role of childhood experiences in alcohol harm here.
You can find help on finding the right treatment here.