A pathway to a healthier you

Alcohol takes away the pain until it doesn’t

By Terry, Victorian RN 

Just before COVID broke out, my world started to tumble down. I’d worked in nursing for more than 30 years in the acute hospital and the community setting. I really liked helping other people. I didn’t know why it became increasingly hard to do the work. As a nurse you feel you should keep going and are ashamed to think you might need help yourself. Fear of recrimination and expulsion from your profession is very real. 

Drinking to cope with life and work stress 

I’d been married for almost as long as I’d been nursing. Alcohol was an increasingly big part of my and my spouse’s lives. As my children became teens, my wife and I grew apart and I felt isolation in my family. I used alcohol to deal with the stress. For me it was to numb and blot out feelings of despair, which just made it worse, but it also stopped my growth and any good feelings. Alcohol takes away the pain until it doesn’t and then it takes away the joy as well. 

Then I felt isolation at work and alcohol became a way to hide from all of that. I was in the process of being managed out of my job of 17 years in community care, related to alcohol and mental health. I experienced workplace bullying by my manager and suffered a breakdown. 

I got to the stage where I was taking a lot of leave from work. I was using long service leave to deal with burnout. I did some resilience workshops but I kept on drinking. I thought: ‘maybe it is the alcohol that is the problem’. I’d go a couple of days without alcohol and then I’d start drinking again. 

The problem was that I couldn’t see any solution. I couldn’t see a way out. I thought I’m failing at everything. People would be better off if I wasn’t here. Feelings of failing my family were ever present. I realised I was failing them anyway, and perhaps dying was the other option. I didn’t want that.  

Accessing non-judgmental, confidential peer support 

I accessed Nurses and Midwives Health Program Victoria (NMHPV) pretty much out of desperation.  

The NMHPV was a safe place to explore my issues without the constraints of time and sessions. Through some non-judgemental support and exploring of options (with NMPHV) I finally went to AA and stopped drinking.  

I came to realise that alcohol was a way of trying to hide from poor conflict resolution – at home and in the workplace. Alcohol was fixing the problem until it didn’t work anymore. It was killing me. It was killing my relationships with those I loved and I wasn’t able to grow. You cannot go through new patterns or do new ways of thinking when you’re still drinking. You need to stop drinking in order to make space to start to be healthy – in mind, body and spirit.  

I was lucky to have the NMHPV to help me work through things differently to get my health better. I learnt that it’s ok to be human and its ok that’s how I’d (used alcohol and) coped at the time - but how do I care for me next? In a supportive, non-judgemental way the program helped me get there.  

I’ve been with NMHPV since 2020 for case-managed ongoing support. I attend an online recovery-based peer support group. Having a safe place and routine with other people focused on recovery has been immeasurable in maintaining my sobriety.  

In sobriety I’ve become ready to look at my issues; family reliance on alcohol, conflict leading to broken spousal relationship and trust, toxic communication patterns that halted learning and growth. And how to move forward. My health problems are still there, I still have stress but I’m not drinking and I’m working. I’ve learnt to be kind to myself and continue to work on things.   

My message to other nurses is to reach out if you need help. This is a service for us – nurses and midwives. We often don’t want to say ‘I feel stressed’ until we’re broken. We work in a job where we are responsible for the care of people and to do that well, we have to do it for ourselves. 

Living a life of hope

I don’t think I would have fared very well without the support and guidance of the program. It’s not over and I’m not there yet but it’s opened up opportunities for the future that are positive.  

I’m receiving support and being held accountable for my continued efforts, and recently reconnecting with my kids in a much healthier manner. I’ve started work at a new employer and am a joy to be around. I’m participating in creative new hobbies and have made a new network of friends instead of isolating and repelling people. I now have a life I feel privileged to live, and the realistic hope for a useful future.