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Society woman explodes alcohol myths

On the outside she lived a youthful life of glamorous balls and high society but on the inside Liz Jamieson-Hastings had a terrible secret she was an alcoholic.

Now a respected alcohol counsellor who works in schools and prisons, Liz has written a book about her experiences, Still Standing: From debutante to detox to help people and explode some of the myths surrounding alcoholism.

“What I’m hoping is through the book that I’m really going to help people,” Liz told Sunday News.

“People have this image of an alcoholic. First of all, they don’t think it can be female or that they come from an educated background. There are these myths around what an alcoholic is.

“That’s one of the reasons for the book, to try to get rid of some of the myths that it doesn’t happen to certain people.”

Liz had her first taste of alcohol at the age of 16 and hated it. Her father decided she “should learn how to drink wine” but she didn’t see the appeal.

She next drank at 19, and still didn’t like it.

“It was gin and tonic and it was disgusting. I couldn’t think what people saw in it (drinking).”

But her troubles with alcohol started soon after, when she was working as a nanny in Spain and became fond of sangria a mix of red wine and lemonade.

“That’s when I started to find out what it could do for me. In the end, I threw out the lemonade and was only drinking the wine.

“I found out what it did for me but unbeknown to me I had the disease alcoholism.”

What it could do for her was get rid of her inhibitions, and make her feel confident and brave.

“I was using it as an answer. I was extremely shy, I felt inadequate, I didn’t know where I was going in life. It was a numbing process.

“The answer then became the problem.”

Liz soon ditched the wine for hard liquor and her drinking became a huge problem she was a hopeless alcoholic at age 21.

“My drink of choice was vodka, because I thought you couldn’t smell it, which is a total myth you can smell it on the breath, and if you drink enough, coming out of the pores.” She was soon drinking nearly every day hiding alcohol from her family in makeup bottles, hot-water bottles and carrying it round in her handbag.

In her book she writes about entire nights erased from her memory through drinking and waking up not knowing where she was, who she was with or what she had done. She felt like she was living a double life.

“I always call alcoholism the lonely disease. I thought I was the only person in the world like this,” Liz said.

“It was desperately lonely and very much a double way of life. It was really scary because I couldn’t remember what I did or who I was with.

“I was needing to drink in the end. It was total rock bottom. I didn’t want to drink all the time but I needed to keep that level of alcohol in me otherwise I was in risk of getting withdrawal the shakes, tremors.

“I needed it to keep me alive.” Liz’s family tried to help her, but what eventually got through to her was speaking to someone who knew what she was going through.

“What really helped me in the end was I met somebody who told me her story. She told me what had happened to her and for the first time in my life I saw she had been where I was.

“She was willing to help me. She said `I will support you but you need to do things’.”

Now in her 60s, Liz has been sober for nearly four decades, and has worked for 20 years as a counsellor and educator in alcohol and drug abuse programmes in New Zealand jails, and in America, including the US Navy.

But she says alcoholics are never cured and she still won’t touch a drop.

“I haven’t had a drink for 38 years. I’ll pour it for you, I’ll bathe in it, but don’t ask me to drink it because it will reactivate my disease. Physically, there’s an enzyme in me,” she says.

“It was very difficult for me in the early days. I was obsessed with it. It was so much a part of my life that if I wasn’t thinking about it I was drinking it or recovering from it.

“Normal drinkers don’t do that sort of thing. They don’t have to prove it to anybody.

“It’s the total obsession with alcohol and the devastation it causes everyone.”

Now Liz’s passion is helping other alcoholics. Her work in Kiwi prisons has confirmed her belief there’s a huge connection between booze and crime.

“The sad thing is they closed the treatment centres and built more jails. There are some people who should never ever have gone to jail they should have gone to treatment centres. There are others who should never be let out.” Liz said.

She wants to see the drinking age raised to 21, more taxes on alcohol and more education in schools.

“You can teach safe sex in the schools but if you haven’t got a drug and alcohol programme alongside (it’s pointless). These kids don’t practise safe sex at these parties.”

source: Sunday News

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