When this spontaneous photo shoot had the theme James Dean I didn’t think I’d actually write a post like this, but I think the pictures (featuring my grandfather’s biker jacket from the 1950s) go well with what I’m about to share. Although I’m not at all ashamed about anything regarding this anymore, it’s the hardest and most personal post I’ve written.
This is my survival story, this is how I got my life back. This is about alcoholism. Alcoholism has been a taboo to talk about, just as mental health, so I thought I’d toss a bit of both into this post. This is to show that not all alcoholics are those homeless people we see on the park benches. Nevertheless, ending up on the streets or not, alcoholism leads to death and here is my story of how I survived in a somewhat chronological order.
When I was a teenager and in my early 20s I partied and had fun, just like everyone else. There was no excessive use of alcohol and life went on in a fast and fun pace, just like it should in that age. Within a few years I was studying journalism and got a job at a glossy magazine which covered luxury products, but most of all the celebrities and night life of Stockholm. Nightclubs became my natural environment and being a VIP was nothing special. There was (and still is) free alcohol as much as you want every day of the week when you work at a place like that. Events, premiers, parties, trips. It was the best time of my life. A bad day in my life would be when I didn’t come home with more than two goodie bags.
I was young and careless. However, on behalf of work (and personal pleasure) I soon ended up drinking every night at different events. This went on for a year or two, but then came the consequences. I had my first alcohol related anxiety attack while having lunch with my boss at the time. I didn’t know what it was so I went to the doctor and she prescribed me a medicine I didn’t know what it was, but it made me feel like I was in heaven again. What she gave me for a year and a half without telling me anything about how addicitive it was, was Valium. Diazepam if you prefer. All of a sudden she said I’d become hooked and just stopped my medication right there and then. Later on I’ve learned it can be lethal to just cut it off cold turkey like that. To prevent anxiety attacks I had to get back to alcohol again and now I was consuming more than what was normal. I still didn’t consider myself to have a drinking problem though as my life was perfect. Picture perfect to be honest. I had loads of money, a beautiful apartment and quite honestly, I was quite hot too.
Still not thinking much about the consequenses of my drinking, as I thought I had none, I began working with PR for fashion, beauty and (oh the irony) alcohol. This job didn’t differ from my previous one in any other way than the fact that there was even more alcohol whenever I wanted. Everything was still free. However some friends started confronting me about my drinking, but I thought they were just being silly (and duh, so boring) and unfriended them more or less.
The years went by and some incidents led to me realizing I actually had a problem. Yet I didn’t want to stop. So in order to be able to drink as much as I wanted I quit my fancy PR job before anyone would notice I had a problem (of course my colleagues had noticed it long before) and that’s where it began going downhill. For two years I spent LOADS of money on partying every day and when I didn’t go out, I sat home drinking whiskey or whatever whether it was 8 am in the morning, 2 pm in the afternoon or midnight. I had lost control of my drinking big time.
As I didn’t have a job anymore, my money only lasted a while longer and I eventually had to sell my beautiful apartment. As it was in one of the more exclusive areas of Stockholm I made great profit on the sale and hey, life was good again. I moved in with a friend who had the same drinking pattern as I (in other words, was an alcholic) and as both me nor that person had a job and both had loads of money, the drinking began really heavily now.
I have seen pictures of myself from that time, but I was so bloated I can’t even recognize myself. This is when I realized I was going to die from my alcohol consumtion and for some weird reason it was a too shameful reason to die of, so I made up the fact that I had terminal cancer. Actually believing my own lie it somehow even made it more justifiable for me (and the few people surrounding me) to drink as I would die from “cancer” anyway. I began seeking help and went to detox after detox at the hospital, spending a week or so there, just to come out and within half an hour having swept a whole bottle of vodka again. Nothing seemed to help.
This is when my dad who lived in the south of Sweden had had enough. He literally came to get me and to make a long story short, put me in a hospital as soon as we got there. I stayed in the hospital for 21 days and had epileptic seizures several times damaging basically every body part I have, not to speak of delirium tremens which is also a condition that in worst case leads to death. When I got out of the hospital I was still in such a bad shape I could not even walk around my dad’s house without leaning myself towards him. It was pure hell.
Gradually it got better however and I was ready to move back to Stockholm (in my opinion). I got a job at Drottningholm Castle and was looking forward to a fresh start. I was at that job for exactly one day as I as soon as the day was over, began drinking again. Alcohol is incredibly addictive and if you have no tools to fight it (nor the will), you’ll just end up where you were. That’s what happened this time too. I drank myself into hospital condition, spent some time at detox after detox. To make things worse, at this time I also got more devastating news. When I sold my appartment I had put every single thing I owned into a storage facility. I got the news that the facility had burned down and hence I didn’t own a single thing or item anymore. I had lost my job, I had lost my apartment, I had lost my friends, I had lost the trust of my family and now I even lost everything I owned.
I decided it was time for detox at the hospital again and this time I had some faith. I moved down to a small university town in Sweden called Lund where I first successfully did well studying political science, but it didn’t take long until I was back having 4 bottles of wine and a bottle of vodka (every day) as my best friends again. Detox, detox, detox. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been through it.
By this time I hadn’t worked for 5 years. Miraculously I got a job (my current day job) and that made me stay somewhat sober. I met a guy who was the love of my life and I was his. As we had a long distance relationship it worked out in the beginning as we only met during weekends and holidays and in the beginning I could control my drinking, but as our relationship went on I could not hide my problem from him anymore. I do want to stress he was the love of my life, but my addicition led to me losing him. What’s worse, I don’t remember how, where or when we even broke up. That’s almost two years ago now, but there are times when my heart still hurts a bit and my eyes tear up from all the wonderful memories I have of him. I do owe him my life though. Hadn’t he broken up with me, I would not have stopped drinking. Like I told above, I had by this time already lost everything several times, but I had always been able to rebuild material things. It wasn’t until I lost something I couldn’t get back I needed to make a choice and I chose to live.
I went to my employer and asked him for help and together with him and my family I was sent to a rehabilition center with treatment for addicts. I spent five weeks there and continued in so called open rehab for a couple more months. That time was the most valuable time I’ve had. It really didn’t go through my addiction as much as why there was an addiction. I got to know myself more during those months than I had during my whole life so far.
From there began a struggle to get back to life. Thankfully my employer has been really understanding and supportive all along the way and gradually I got back to working full time again. Where were my parents during all this you might wonder. They have been there all the time, suffering a pain unimaginable to someone who doesn’t have a child themself. The thing is, you cannot help an addict, if the addict does not want to be helped and all they could do was to try to help me the times I actually did want to quit, without succeeding. It wasn’t until I got treatment I finally made it and now I’ve been sober for 17 months. I really don’t count the months as I value every day instead.
And to be quite honest, I value my life in a entirely different way nowadays. I don’t take anything for granted. Let’s face it, I was a spoiled brat who had no concept about the value of money, but having started from scratch and working my way up and having to buy everything from kitchen utensils to bed linen to furniture in general I actually know what things cost. Although being a long post, this left out most of the details that include both humiliation, near death experiences, things I thought I’d never do and what not. I remember them well and even though I don’t think about them all the time, they serve as good reminders of what might happen if I don’t stay sober.
Now I can finally say I’m in a good place in life. I have been sober for 17 months, but being sober doesn’t being boring. I attend parties and stay out till 4 am at times (although I really don’t find the wee hours of the morning that fun either anymore) and have more fun than I’ve ever had before. Besides, this time around I can be proud of my achievements as they are ALL based on my own achievements. I won’t list all the things I’ve achieved during the past 17 months, but it’s more than most people would even finish in a lifetime. This is not bragging, this is just saying there’s nothing that can stop me right now. All I need to do is stay sober. And for you thinking “I can’t hang out with him cause he’s sober and it might set him off if I drink” forget that. I don’t mind at all when people around me drink, actually I prefer when people do as I’m an extremely social person and after a glass or two others somewhat level with me.
I’m looking forward to a 2017 that will change my life entirely. I will return to fashion and PR but with all the insights I have from my experiences of all the years in the gutter. I might not have literally been homeless such as in living on the streets, but I have lost it all. I’ve built up my life and am building it even further and higher than ever before as we speak.
I am so thankful, grateful and happy, just to be alive. But I’m not only alive. I’m living my life to the fullest! As I’m posting this I’m at London Fashion Week and I have no intention to miss out on all the parties, quite the contrary. Besides I might be a bit more fresh than some who were out there drinking until 4 am the day before 🙂
If you really did read through all of this, thank you! If there is anyone out there who needs to talk or just vent something, send me an email and I’ll be more than happy to talk about what not. Obviously 8 years of addiction cannot be fit into a short post like this.
Photographer: Björn Stenmark