Alcoholic Charlene begins detox
Mon, 10 Sep 2012 7:00p.m.
By Natasha Utting
By World Health Organisation standards there are 700,000 heavy drinkers in New Zealand. The National Addiction Centre says we have an alcohol crisis. An estimated 2.2 million deaths a year worldwide are linked to alcohol, and 3.6 percent of all cancers are attributable to drinking alcohol.
Charlene is an alcoholic. She has lost close relationships, her high flying career, the chance to have children and now faces losing her life to this disease. She invited us into her world to show New Zealand the ugly truth of extreme alcohol addiction.
“In the last year I’ve had five friends die from alcohol," she says. I don’t want to be the next one.”
Charlene's doctor says she will be.
“She's going to die from this soon if she doesn't beat it,” says Dr Tim Wilson.
This could be Charlene's last chance.
By 9am, Charlene has had a bottle-and-a-half of wine. She says she needs it “to even get up”.
She drinks three to four bottles of wine every 24 hours. She drinks through the night too, to prevent withdrawals.
She invited Campbell Live into her home to see the reality of living with alcoholism.
It is painful and embarrassing, but Charlene wants to tell her story as a warning to others.
Charlene was once a successful business woman, winning awards for her work for major airlines, but for years she hid a terrible secret. She was what's known as a "high functioning" alcoholic.
“It is something that’s almost expected of you: if you're in sales, you drink,” she says.
She also worked in the alcohol industry.
“It became my role to actually go out and drink every night because I had 60 brands of alcohol to promote.”
It was a bad career choice for a woman with a drinking problem.
“I thought I could handle it, but that was the beginning of the end.”
This is where she's ended up – living like a person under house arrest. Her prison is the drink she craves constantly, even during our interview.
“Do you know, I hate the stuff,” she says.
She's so used to hiding her drinking she also finishes a bottle off in secret in her bedroom.
“The whole reason I’m doing this is to show the reality of what actually goes on behind closed doors.”
Charlene's debilitating addiction has meant she hasn't worked for more than five years now. She says alcohol has cost her time with her family.
“My family, my mother, my brother, my niece and nephew who are five and three, it has cost me time that I could have had with them.”
We agree to get the contents of her recycling bin out in the open. There are 26 bottles and another one open in the house.
That is around eight days' worth.
When Charlene rang us at Campbell Live, she was desperate to stop drinking. She told us she planned to detox herself at home on her own, and invited us to film it.
“Charlene has already participated in almost all the treatment programmes, but nothing has really hit the spot,” Dr Wilson says.
Charlene has detoxed and relapsed time and time again. Still, she is determined to do it her way despite the risks.
She agrees to let her GP set up a plan to help her detox safely. Her next call is to her local liquor outlet to ask them not to serve her again.
“I don’t think that when you have this disease you have a choice," she says. "You have a choice about if you're going to continue. I choose to stop."
A nursing agency – Life Health Care – has agreed to help her stop.
They're sending a specialist drug and alcohol nurse to monitor Charlene 24 hours a day through detox. But until it begins, Charlene keeps drinking.
With a handycam she films her midnight run to the supermarket. Whatever is on special goes in the basket, and she captures staff restocking the shelves.
Is this 24 hour availability part of the problem? Charlene thinks so.
“I think our laws need to change and I don’t think it should be available by the bread and the milk.”
Forty-eight hours later Charlene is admitted to hospital. Once she's discharged it's off to the GP.
Her treatment was due to pain caused by inflammation of her oesophagus and stomach lining. Even an extra 24 hours of drinking has a downside – a recurrence of her pancreatitis.
In the six years he's been her GP, Dr Tim Wilson has seen just what drinking has done to her.
“It has damaged her pancreas gland her stomach lining, as well as caused psychological problems,” he says.
Alcoholism is a mental illness, and Dr Wilson says we underestimate the extent to which alcohol ruins lives.
“I unfortunately write out lots of death certificates where it's alcoholism that killed them,” he says.
But Charlene's determined he will not sign hers yet.
Charlene's detox begins now with expert help from addiction nurse Annette Chatterji from the Life Health Trust. She's moving in for the next five days to keep Charlene safe and manage her withdrawals.
Detoxing off alcohol is both unpleasant and dangerous. Charlene is expecting nasty hallucinations. She's been here before.
Charlene only stopped drinking moments ago, and at first she's reluctant to let Ms Chatterji into her bedroom where she keeps her alcohol.
Ms Chatterji is not prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. Charlene's terrified.
It is nothing the nurse hasn't seen before, and she gets back to the task at hand – looking for alcohol.
Charlene insists that there's only one empty bottle in the bedroom, but Ms Chatterji spots a full glass by the bed.
“No, we're not going to have this anymore. Chuck it out.”
It is her job to keep looking everywhere, even the oven.
“Even though she wants to detox, it's possible that she'd hide alcohol. They're going to lie, they're going to cheat, so it’s going to be hidden.”
Charlene insists she's not hiding any alcohol.
It's 10am and Charlene is already back in bed and needing to sleep. Day one is about alcohol leaving the system, and trying to get some food into Charlene, who barely eats while she's drinking. This is the proverbial calm before the storm.
“And then you know we're in the pit after that, for want of a better word,” says Ms Chatterji.
Eight hours into the detox and Charlene is feeling agitated, clammy and unwell. Emotions overwhelm her at times, so it is back to bed again.
“I'm feeling a hell of a lot of pain,” Charlene says.
Once she's settled the nurse preps dinner. Charlene's up moments later and asking for medication.
When Charlene wakes again in the night, there'll be no glass of wine by the bed to reassure her. That will be Ms Chatterji’s job.
Twenty-four hours into the detox and Charlene can't eat anything. She's very dehydrated after sweating a lot overnight.
Twenty-four hours without alcohol and the real Charlene is emerging from the fog. She admits that she's not just afraid of death – she's afraid of life too.
“You get to a point where you're used to being sick. It’s your comfort zone. There are times when I’m uncomfortable feeling good,” she says.
Alcoholics drink on emotion. Charlene is most prone to relapse when she feels happy.
As well as diazepam, she's on anti-depressants, pills for nausea and anti-psychotics.
By 10am Charlene needs to sleep again, but in the afternoon she's able to tackle light chores and can even enjoy a laugh. But she's still in bed most of the time.
She hasn't eaten anything, but at least day two is almost over.
Watch the video to see Charlene’s journey.
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15/10/2012 4:19:51 p.m.
Can you please get in contact with me? My email is email@example.com. You know what I want to thank you for.
16/09/2012 12:11:20 a.m.
Cynthia Gildea wrote:
What a joke that ewen MacDonald is my son set fires which involved 20 other kids at a valve of 180,000.00 he got 26,000.00 rep plus 6000.00 court cost on the last court hearing and 24 months in custory include home d but the only winner was the legal aid lawyer the justice system is an arse in nz.my son was on $13.50 per hour he now has three children and is still paying a hundred dollars a week the kids don't eat a good diet cause they are still paying for dads crime
15/09/2012 7:03:17 p.m.
good luck Charlene :-)
12/09/2012 4:20:01 p.m.
I have been sober almost 25 years, and when i saw the information being given to the still suffering alcoholic or to one new in recovery, I was livid! The message in New Zealand is "Learn to control your drinking". If an alcoholic could control his/her drinking, they would not be an alcoholic but a social drinker. Every alcoholic has tried to "control" their drinking in some way: drinking only on weekends, after 5am, never in the morning. These tactics may work for a short term, but since alcoholism is a progressive disease, these strategies will stop working. Alcoholics do not have the "stop switch". Once an alcoholic starts drinking, you never know if the amount will be one or 15 drinks. The only "control" that an alcoholic has is whether or not to take that first drink. Period. I've been in AA rooms for 25 years, and I have never seen anyone return and announce that they have learned to "control their drinking". This is harmful and erroneous information to be sending to a binge drinking culture. Alcoholism is a shame based disease, and I have yet to meet one who has not tried to "control" their drinking in some fashion. They were unsuccessful.And yet that is the message that is being delivered: "control your drinking". Alcoholics Anonymous is not frequently mentioned here; alchoholism counseling is. But it takes one to know one, and no one knows another alcoholic like someone who has already done the hard yards.
12/09/2012 10:18:54 a.m.
Too bad she couldnt do it. But I know it takes alot of guts to do but if sumone really wants to kick the habit they can do it, but it got to start with you. You cant expect people to do it for you cos it doesnt work like that. Really i dont feel sorry for her, but she gonna be like a walking bomb if she continues on. I hope that if she does do detox again she gotta mean it and not lip read and think and do it.
11/09/2012 9:23:19 p.m.
hey i have had addiction to alcohol she said she tried aa but didnt like it try going to different meeting until you find a meeting you like aa has helped me to livestop drinking for three years i now with the help of fellow aa people i have a chance at life long sobreity
11/09/2012 8:33:32 p.m.
Im an alcohoic,coming up 5 years sober soon,hardest thing i ever did was give up my best friend the drink.I dug a big hole,lost my home,business,wife & friends,to the stage i wanted to take my own life. there is help if you want it & its free! If your an alcoholic like me you will not be able to control it, eg only on fridays or only a 6 pack,it just doesnt work.stopping is the easy part,staying stopped is where the work begins. yon need support,I tried AA,did i like,no,is it working,yes,do i stil go,yes, because im kirk & im a alcoholic & i must never forget it.Im ok about being an alcoholic today & not making those same mistakes over & over like i did when i was using. Surport is the key for alcoholics,you need surport from other alcoholics in AA who have been just where you are right at this moment.
11/09/2012 8:12:58 p.m.
Hey “Todd”, will power is not the answer; by definition an alcoholic is a person who has lost the ability to control their drinking, no amount of willpower will restore that. And to anyone reading this; let’s not jump to conclusions about what Charlene might or might not have done in the past in her attempts to recover from her disease.
For me there are 2 big questions –
1. What is Charlene going to do from here, and how is she going to be supported in that? Sadly the answer to that lies with Charlene, she must choose her pathway, and she will either do that by default and continue on as is; or she will accept help to change. Ironically when an alcoholic is at their weakest and most vulnerable and helpless they have to find the courage to change if they are to live and recover.
2. What is New Zealand as a nation going to do to recognise and counter the booze culture that is debilitating a significant proportion of our people and costing our society billions of dollars in health spending and lost opportunity for our economy? Already we see experts like Doug Sellman sidelined and largely ignored because they speak an uncomfortable and inconvenient truth.
Thank you to Campbell Live and TV3 for having the courage to tackle this story in a serious and unsensational way, just a simple story honestly told.
I have walked Charlene’s pathway, drunk like her and felt the feelings and pain she is currently experiencing. I have been sober now for eighteen years, one day at a time. I have the respect of my family and friends, am an active member of my community, I am employable and pay taxes. And I value and take care of myself. I will always be an alcoholic but I now have the opportunity to be a sober one. I am grateful for a health system that did not write me off 18 years ago, and the support of a caring community. And I am not unique, I know there are thousands of others in New Zealand like me, and many thousands more who could be.
11/09/2012 8:07:23 p.m.
please try harder u still have good times ahead 2 spend with those who are still in your life you went on tv 2 get help you have got that try harder dont make your very courageous public confession be wasteful u have the number1 chance to help lots of others in same situation by your courage please do it girl
11/09/2012 8:05:23 p.m.
Peter Rodenhurst wrote:
There is an answer Charlene, I was an alcoholic for thirty years, with all that that entails. February 1988, in desperation and last hope, I gave my life to Jesus and became a born again Christian. The minute I did this, I was instantly set free from the dominace of alcohol, no withdraws of any kind. I just knew, that I knew, that I knew it was all over. Since then, even though I have gone through many traumatic experiances, I have not had the thought, or desire, for an alcoholic drink. Charlene, give up, give it to Jesus, and He will do the business.If you feel I can help, please contact Cambell Live for my email address.
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