20 January 2012
It began with a few drinks at night to help her cope with anxiety, but over a 20 year period Natalie Mason fell into the grip of an alcohol addiction that almost killed her.
With the help of specialist services including Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, which put her in touch with Sheffield Alcohol Support Service (SASS - contact details below) which in turn saved her life, the 41-year-old has overcome her problems, regained her health, and is now looking forward to the birth of her first child. Here she tells her story:
“I have suffered with anxiety to varying degrees since I was 18 years old. Looking back, I can see I always used alcohol as a crutch. I always had a couple of glasses of wine before I went out at night, and simply could not get through a night out without having quite a lot to drink. Even at home, I would drink wine every night to ‘wind down’.
I suppose I should have seen the warning signs then.
My anxiety became unmanageable when I lost my father. I suffered a very bad panic attack at home one day, and instead of taking anti-anxiety medication, had a glass of wine to calm me down. This soon become routine, and it wasn’t long before I became addicted, drinking from morning till night.
My first detox was in October 2008 – I was taken to hospital and released after a week, being told by the consultant, “Your liver is fine, don’t drink again.”
I didn’t drink for a few months and felt absolutely fabulous. I didn’t crave it or miss alcohol, and thought I had my ‘problem’ under control.
Then, thinking, very naively, that I had overcome my problem with alcohol, I went out and had four large glasses of wine. The next day, I had the most awful hangover, and instead of taking painkillers, I went to the shop and bought a bottle of wine.
During 2009-2010, I went on a further four detox sessions, two at home and two in hospital. I was diagnosed with fatty liver – a sign that alcohol was causing my body serious harm - but this didn’t stop me from drinking.
My cravings and levels of anxiety were so bad that within a couple of weeks of each detox, I was drinking again. I was being sick every morning, shaking terribly until I’d had at least three to four drinks, I was disorientated, had no appetite, and my hair began to fall out.
At this point, my GP referred me to the Fitzwilliam Centre, run by SHSC, who in turn referred me to The Priory (owned and run by SASS) – which I can now see was the turning point in my recovery.
I was assessed at the Fitzwilliam Centre and it was agreed they could refer and fund me for a place at an inpatient rehabilitation service at Priory Road in Sheffield
However, before I could begin a further detox, before entering rehab, I hit another health crisis – my skin and the whites of my eyes had turned yellow, a sign that my liver was seriously damaged. I was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with Acute Alcoholic Hepatitis and my poor mother was told to “expect the worst.”
Luckily, the medication I was given worked and I came through the crisis. Months later I was discharged from hospital and as I had not been drinking, was able to go straight to the rehab service.
I no longer had alcohol as a crutch. Fear flooded my mind and I was terrified to go out but in time and with therapy I learnt to overcome my fears – and deal with a range of mental health issues including panic disorder, agoraphobia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression.
Since completing treatment 15 months ago, my life has been transformed.
I have gone from not being able to leave the house to going away for weekends, going to concerts, out for meals, to parties and having days out at the coast. Pretty much doing what any normal person takes for granted - without needing alcohol as ‘Dutch courage’.
I can now go anywhere I like. I have my own transport for the first time in years, I even go to see my GP on my own, and I haven’t done that for 22 years!
I am a different person. Yes, I do have the occasional day where I have a little anxiety, but I recognise it for what it is, I know it will pass, I know it will not kill me. It is now manageable, and no longer renders me disabled.
My life is now rich – I have the love, support and respect of my friends and family. I’ve gone back to work for my husband, and have my own business as I am an artist, and I also volunteer for SASS, who literally saved my life.
I am happy, I am at peace. Best of all, I am pregnant and am expecting my first baby in May 2012. I didn’t expect to ever be able to have a family because of the long list of issues I had. Life really doesn’t get much better than this!
Sheffield Alcohol Support Service (SASS) 646 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield, S7 2BB - Email: email@example.com – Telephone:0114 258 7553 - Sheffield Alcohol Support Service is a registered charity (No 1087215) and a Company Limited by Guarantee Registered in England and Wales (No 3870000).
Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust’s Open Access team who help people experiencing difficulties with alcohol can be contacted on 0845 345 1549.