An employee at NHS Tameside and Glossop Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has just celebrated five years since her last alcoholic drink.
Megan Harrison, 56, is a practice liaison manager and hopes to inspire others by sharing her story in support of Alcohol Awareness Week.
She didn’t start or end her drinking years by being the person on the park bench, drinking from a brown paper bag. She studied, worked, married, had a family and functioned. Her whole life had been effected by alcohol issues. She was the child of an alcoholic and spent the majority of her adult life trying to control what she drank.
For many years, Megan led a double life, the professional pillar of the community on the surface, whilst suffering on a daily basis with the mental health issues that resulted from her addiction. Her drinking was progressive, the weekends became longer, the time in the day that seemed acceptable to drink became earlier.
Towards the end she drank every evening, as soon as she got home from work, and at weekends it began around 12 noon when ‘the sun was over the yard arm’. If she wasn’t drinking, she was thinking about drinking, counting down the time to when she could.
Megan first decided to stop drinking in 1998 and had many vain attempts from then until 13 November 2015, the longest period being 18 months. Alcohol made her very unwell mentally, contributing to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal ideation. The consequences of this continue to live with her to this day.
Megan said: “To put it into current context, I can’t imagine how I would have coped in this lockdown/home working situation, with no external factors creating a reason to stay sober and I see in my support work many suffering.
“I was fortunate not to have any physical consequences but I have many friends in recovery who suffered with liver problems, pancreatitis and malnutrition. Ultimately I’ve lost friends who have died from their addiction.
“I found it very difficult to seek out help and didn’t want anyone to know as I was ashamed.”
All the places she went to regarding her mental health, she never told them about her drinking. A combination of factors led her to the turning point.
She continued: “A staff member at the CCG who’s now left, found me in a poor state of mind, I blurted out what I had attempted to do the night before. Her response was amazing, she enabled me to go to Change Grow Live (GCL) My Recovery Tameside without having to go through the normal channels where I was frightened of being known and I received help.
“Around the same time, I had presented at A&E and the psychiatrist I saw randomly started to tell me about her past alcohol problem and the group that she goes to for support. I joined that group and following their programme turned my life around.”
Megan no longer has to hide. She no longer feels ashamed. She has a whole social life with sober friends and is free to do anything she wants, except take that first drink. She knows that the illness continues inside her and considers herself to be allergic to alcohol, that her body reacts differently than others when she drinks and it is there waiting for her should she relapse.
She has a defence against that first drink which keeps her strong.
Dr Ashwin Ramachandra, Co-Chair of NHS Tameside and Glossop CCG said: “Well done Megan. I’m so very proud of her for speaking out about her bad experience with alcohol. It takes a very brave person to admit when they have a serious drink problem and an even stronger person to seek help and stick to the measures needed to keep alcohol free.
“I hope Megan’s story inspires many others who are going through these difficult times and who are using alcohol as a means to cope. Drinking alcohol does not solve problems it will only makes things worse and at the same time affect your mental and physical wellbeing.”
For help and support with alcohol treatment and recovery in Tameside visit https://www.tameside.gov.uk/substanceproblems
For Glossop residents visit https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/
then search [alcohol and drugs support].