A RECOVERING alcoholic who came very close to death after downing a litre of gin a day for five years has urged other women who are suffering in silence to seek help before it is too late.
Caroline Gallagher (55), who lives in the townland of Gortaclare, had been drinking in secret in her own home but eventually the prolonged abuse began to have a devastating impact, both mentally and physically.
Various traumas in her life, including memories of childhood sexual abuse, the death of her beloved father and the breakdown of her marriage, contributed to a downward spiral that saw her push away those closest to her and lock herself away from the world.
She conceded that she nearly lost everything – and came very close to dying.
With her body on the verge of total shutdown late last year, her daughter made a desperate plea to her to seek help.
And she did, by checking into Sister Consilio’s in Newry on January 7 this year. She ended up staying for four months.
Now, five months’ sober, Caroline credits the “divine intervention” of the famed drying-out clinic with saving her life.
At the beginning of the long road to recovery, the Tyrone woman said she wanted to tell her story to raise awareness of others like her who are deep in the throes of addiction and need help.
Caroline, who grew up near Gortin Glens, but lived and worked in England for most of her adult life, said she was never really a big drinker until her father, James, died around 13 years ago.
The two had been very close.
She took his death “very, very hard” and started to drink red wine by the bottle.
“Every night a bottle of red wine, which was a big thing for me,” she said.
Her father’s death led to her having a nervous breakdown. After her marriage subsequently broke down, she moved home.
For a while on her return to Tyrone she stopped drinking.
Having secured a job working with Riding for the Disabled (RDA), she later set up her own riding school at three locations – in Tattyreagh, Seskinore and Gortaclare.
As time went on, she began taking a few glasses of red wine at the weekends. But then, a bad relationship followed by a serious injury to her spine and back prompted her to lose control of her drinking once again.
“I was going out the back door with a washing basket in my hand and there was ice on the ground and I slipped. I was going around on crutches for quite some time,” she said.
The constant pain that she was in amplified the insomnia she had suffered from throughout her life.
“My sleeping pattern got worse. Because I suffer from night terrors as a result of a sexually abusive childhood, I would do anything just to get through the night,” she said.
Caroline alleges that she was abused by a neighbour whenever she was a child, but never spoke about it.
“I suffered in silence,” she said.
Eventually, she ended up drinking a litre of gin a day for five years.
“Having so much pain as well, it numbed everything. I became a serious drinker and it just got worse. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing.
“I closed down the riding school and I was living as a hermit. I couldn’t even shower, brush my teeth, wash my face – all that was out the window.”
One of her biggest regrets is hiding her alcoholism from only daughter, Kyria, with whom she had a close bond.
“I nearly lost my daughter, my family. I already had lost my self-respect,” Caroline admitted.
After years of heavy drinking, she was perilously close to death.
“My kidneys had already started packing up, my bowel was in such a bad place that I was throwing up maybe five or 10 times a day. I was so dehydrated my body was closing down,” she said.
After Kyria got down on her knees and pleaded with her to get help, Caroline ended up checking into Sister Consilio’s for four months – leading to a complete turnaround in her life.
She said, “Without that help, I’d be dead. I sincerely believe I’d be dead.”
Claiming that she feels she has been given a second chance at life, Caroline now wants to raise awareness of women “suffering in silence”.
“There is help available. But you have to accept and surrender. Your hands are up, you can’t do this anymore,” she said.
But, most importantly of all, her relationship with her daughter has been repaired.
“I nearly lost my daughter when, in actual fact, she was the one person who saved my life. She and her husband have been so strong and supportive through all of this.
“It’s good to have the relationship back with her that I used to have,” she added.