R3C0VRY.WRX is very definitely part of the #recoveryposse on Instagram and Twitter.
As such, I’m occasionally guilty of scrolling quickly through my feed randomly liking some posts and skimming past others. We all do it, right?
Rare are the accounts that you actively anticipate seeing, or reading the associated comments.
The account of Tessa Rothnie is one such account.
It was probably early summer that I first stumbled across Tessa’s feed: a beautiful collection of images, juxtaposed with song lyrics and quotations. Not your average feed. Far from it. I was intrigued…
I reached out to Tessa, and what follows is an article split into two halves.
In part one (this one!) Tessa tells us about her battle with addiction. A battle that has lasted for most of her adult life. In testimony to her strength and commitment, Tessa has recently graduated from University and qualified as an NHS nurse.
In the second part, we delve deeper into her photography and creativity.
“Lose Yourself In Lines Dissecting” is a deeply personal curation of Tessa’s personal photographs and selected quotations that together we have turned into a simple, impactful, downloadable photo-essay:
Tessa has also kindly provided the soundtrack to this piece. (You can see it down the side of every page)
None of this would have been possible had it not been for Tessa’s openness to getting involved, telling her story and answering endless questions from yours truly.
So, we both hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours. But more than that, I hope you see what a shining star Tessa truly is.
Tessa, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you to get us started…
I just qualified with a 1st Class Honours as a Mental Health Nurse. I studied Mental Health Nursing for the past 3 years at Leeds Uni. It hasn’t been plain sailing the past few years, but I did it! As a consequence of the intense nature of the degree, and my limited ability to socialise when tired/busy, I have mostly done fuck all else.
Before that (in the first year of my recovery) I spent one day a week re-sitting my GCSE Science, and volunteered for a charity helping the elderly one day a week. During the early stages of my recovery, courtesy of crappy mental health, doing any more than a few hours per week felt totally insurmountable. I really recommend taking things slowly, and not pushing yourself too hard. You are achieving so much in just staying clean and sober.
So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking/addiction story”… care to elaborate?
I struggled with my mental health from being 12 or 13; particularly OCD, anxiety and panic attacks. At 14, I found a liquid/substance self-medicating ‘cure’. From being 14 to 29 I was addicted to various drugs, but most chronically addicted to alcohol. I was in and out of ‘the rooms’, addiction services, rehabs, detoxes, mental health services, and A & E more frequently than I care to remember from being age 18.
What was your drinking/addiction like at the point you decided to quit?
The word ‘tormented’ immediately comes to mind.
Addiction dominated my existence. I barely felt I did exist really, more just held prisoner in my own personal hell. Any small amount of ‘pleasure’ or ‘self-medicating’ purpose (that was present in the earlier years) completely ceased to exist.
No matter what drug/drink I grasped at to ease pain, torment, debilitating anxiety, suicidality or despair – nothing worked anymore.
I was detoxed from alcohol in various settings somewhere between 10-20 times. I tried to commit suicide a number of times, increasingly so toward the end. Seizures and long periods of blackouts were frighteningly frequent at the end. I had alcohol induced psychosis a few times, where I would get taken to a place of safety by police (cosy cell), only to return to the same chaos the following day. I had been unemployed for a number of years, and had little to no contact with friends/family. I had nowhere to live, sofa surfed, lived in a hostel, and slept rough very briefly.
My social circle became only other active addicts. My relationships became toxic, and I experienced domestic violence and various traumas. I was physically very ill, and seeing a liver specialist. No matter the vast quantities I drank, between waking to being unconscious, it felt like I could never quite get enough alcohol in me to fight off the shaking, nightmares, sweats, and general intolerable withdrawal. It felt almost as though alcoholism were outrunning me, and I couldn’t drink/drug fast enough to keep it away anymore. I was mentally shattered, constantly crippled with anxiety, terrified of myself, terrified of drinking, terrified of not drinking. I had that feeling of impending doom every minute of the day.
I didn’t believe there was a life afterward. I didn’t think recovery was possible (for me), and if it was, I didn’t think I wanted it. I wanted to die. I didn’t believe I had any fight left in me.
…and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
I don’t believe in a final straw.
It was more that nothing worked anymore. It became impossible to do the one thing (drink/drug), that had previously felt impossible to live without.
An operation on my nose, nearly losing my life from seizures/liver failure from multiple paracetemol overdoses, having no ‘life’/‘peace’/ ‘joy’ to speak of, lost jobs, relationships, flats, friends, sanity and hope were all rock bottoms.
But no single ‘bad’ event stopped me.
I am very stubborn. I’d love to say I had a moment of clarity, or one rock bottom, but I didn’t. If drugs or alcohol had continued to work for me, If I’m truly honest, I fear that I would still be using them. I felt controlled and obliterated by addiction, until a time came that I just couldn’t do it. It felt a bit like I’d been forced into stopping in a sense. Whether that be by my broken body, fractured mind or the universe, who knows.
I was too tired and lost to do anything but recover.
Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?
I absolutely consider myself in recovery! But not ‘recovered’, as I’m not sure that exists.
I view recovery as trying your best one day after another. I see it as trying to make your life, and the world, a better place – in any small way you can each day. If that means just taking a shower, or smiling at someone, fabulous. The small things we do in recovery add up to the big picture.
My biggest feeling about recovery is IT IS NON-LINEAR. It’s tiny steps, and sometimes we go backward. Going backward/relapse does not equate to failure. Recovery is also whatever you want it to be/whatever you make it. There is no rule book. There may be helpful guides, but there is no one route that is better than another, nor one way that can ensure success ultimately.
So, you stopped/changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?
I was lucky to have a best friend who supported me immensely, and saved my life literally and emotionally many times over. And he still does.
He believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself. As I mentioned I did rehab/detox many times, which helped, but was just scratching the surface. I was provided excellent help from mental health and addiction services in Leeds. I was on Antabuse on and off for years. I did AA/NA/ SMART, but don’t so much anymore. I took a lot of good mantras and ideas from the meetings, and the 12 steps, however I sometimes found the culture a little fatalistic and ‘all or nothing’. I certainly would never rule them out, and I still go sometimes, if I feel like it. They are undeniably a fantastic source of help for us addicted folks.
I got addicted to being busy, and not allowing myself time to think. I got addicted to running, and not allowing myself to rest. These are two things I fully do not recommend!! I am very much still a work in progress. And believe I always will be. I don’t view there being an ‘end goal’. I think recovery can be life long for many.
I meditate A LOT – perhaps one of the biggest tools in my recovery. I take medication for my mental health, and still see a Psychologist to try and break some of my newer maladaptive coping mechanisms.
I want to use these ‘wilderness years’ to help people, so that they were not wasted. That old cliché. For me, finding a purpose and a structure helped more than anything.
Tips huh? I’m of the belief that all of the things above helped. I may not have realised it at the time… But the first meeting as a 21-year-old in AA put thoughts and concepts into my mind that started a recovery process, even if I wouldn’t get sober for another 8 years.
My experience is that I tried anything and everything: from acupuncture to yoga, sitting in churches and getting down on my knees speaking to a ‘God’ I didn’t believe in, I read everything, I gazed at the sky praying for help. If things didn’t work the first time, I tried them again. I tried new things. Over and over, until something worked.
Not drinking alcohol can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?
I think that was the least of my worries, and hasn’t ever been an issue for me personally. A lot of my friends don’t drink/drug and are in recovery from one thing or another. I have never wanted to be ‘part of the crowd’. ‘The crowd’ bore me. So naturally if anyone ever suggests that using/drinking is a better way to live, I tell them where to go.
“Etiam si omnes, ego non” sums it up – “Even if all others, not I”.
Oh, and others around me?
Everyone was just purely fucking relived that I was staying clean and sober, because the chaos ended! Ha!
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
I acknowledged I was an addict and alcoholic at 21. I tried sometimes in my early twenties to quit, but I only really started to try properly at around 26. I relapsed on and off for around 3 years until it stuck at 29. Every couple of months you get (even if you relapse) hold meaning and success. They are the stepping stones to longer periods of abstinence. If you’re at that stage where you are getting short periods, but cannot maintain sobriety, simply congratulate yourself! You’re on the path, and you will get there. Do your best in each day, that’s all that’s required. Do not talk negatively to yourself for not achieving ‘enough’ quickly enough. This serves no purpose.
You’ve been sober/clean for a few years now. Are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking/using has afforded? What are they? (Feel free to elaborate as much as you want… really!!)
Just over 4 years!!
I have some peace and joy in my life now, no longer held hostage in an interminable chaotic storm.
It’s taken longer than I thought. It’s harder than I thought. And there’s still a long way to climb.
But it’s no where near as bad as the alternative.
Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?
It’s ok to make them. Just try again. And be kind to yourself. Simple as that.
About our author, Tessa:
Tessa Rothnie is a newly qualified NHS Mental Health Nurse, something she describes as being both exciting and terrifying in equal measures. She is trying to take life more slowly, and lives in Leeds, with her two cats.
You can follow Tessa on Instagram.