‘I loved booze more than my fiancé – you won't believe what happened next’

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day 2017, Sarah Pearson, now 45, decided to book a week away. but this wasn’t a luxury spa break or a romantic getaway for two – it was a trip she hoped would change her life forever.

“My fiancé Martin and I had been happy together for five years, but my worsening drinking caused us serious problems and eventually ruined our relationship.

I’d had an unhealthy love of alcohol for most of my adult life. I was the one who’d drink the most, stay out the longest and wanted to do it all again the next day, however unwell I felt. Our wedding plans were falling apart. Simply put, I loved booze more than the man I was going to marry.

Sarah Pearson
Sarah Pearson says she had an "unhealthy love for alcohol" for "most" of her life -Credit:Sarah Pearson

Martin knew it too. I was drinking too much and although he had tried to support me to cut down, I just couldn’t. I loved him and wanted to be his wife but I started hiding alcohol, feeling like I wasn’t ready to give it up.

I hid white wine, and eventually spirits, in water bottles in my wardrobe, and even while Martin was in the house I’d sneak off for a few sips.

I was drinking up to two bottles of wine a night, but we both somehow believed that getting married might ‘fix’ me.

My drinking only escalated with the stress of wedding planning and my hen do was the final straw. I ended up really drunk in front of our families and friends. I was drinking vodka from a bottle in my bag and became unwell very quickly. People couldn’t understand as collectively we’d been drinking steadily but not excessively – so they searched my bag.

I think Martin accepted then that no matter what he said or did, it made no difference to me and I’d carry on drinking until I got the help I needed. He cancelled our wedding just two weeks before the big day and even though I was devastated, the shock of that wasn’t enough to stop me. I cried, carried on drinking and cried some more. A vicious circle.

I still can’t believe I put him through that. It must have taken real courage for him to realise that he just couldn’t live like that and had to cancel the wedding. By this time my friends had all disappeared and although alcohol was the cause of all my pain it was also how I tried to numb it. Eventually, I was sectioned for a month because of alcohol-induced psychosis, which gave me auditory hallucinations and feelings of grandeur.

Sarah Pearson
At one point, Sarah was drinking two bottles of wine a night -Credit:Sarah Pearson

Unbelievably, after I got out of hospital I carried on drinking for seven years, with my life disintegrating further around me. I was still managing to work in communications, so I had money coming in, but I prioritised buying alcohol over food and paying bills.

My parents did their best to keep me afloat but that caused tension, because as fast as they tried to bail me out, my drinking was getting worse. Going out to work every day and trying to keep on top of everything was exhausting.

Reaching rock bottom

By my late 30s, I was ill, bloated and depressed. My GP was always supportive and didn’t patronise me, but told me truthfully that my liver was really struggling. She referred me to Forward Leeds, a drug and alcohol service where my physical dependency on alcohol meant I started with a week-long residential detox, which was medically supervised.

So on 14 February 2017, full of fear, I packed a bag and checked into my detox. I had no idea what lay ahead, but I knew I couldn’t go on as I was. I hated myself, so starting my detox on Valentine’s Day was fitting – it was time to love myself again. I put myself in the hands of experts and let them guide me through those first few days and weeks.

Medication helped with the alcohol withdrawal, and I had group and one-to- one counselling. Within two days I felt the difference physically, as my appetite and sleep came back. Mentally it was an absolute roller coaster of emotions. I was mourning the loss of my best friend – alcohol – which was very complicated.

The aftercare was holistic, with yoga, guitar classes and walks at the sustained recovery centre. Putting the alcohol down is just the first step. at first, I thought,

Sarah Pearson
Sarah started her detox on Valentine's Day -Credit:Sarah Pearson

‘Is this always going to feel this bad?’ Then gradually an hour turned into a day, and days into weeks.

That constant counting of every minute, every hour eased up over time, especially when I met other people at different stages of recovery. They’d been where I was and had left alcohol behind permanently. I hoped at some point I could be where they were.

Another chance at life

The centre taught me how to live again and how to enjoy so many other things in life. I gave up work for a year and a support worker helped me apply for appropriate benefits. Short-term medication helped my cravings and urges, and I went to support groups based on CBT, mental-health workshops, gardening and creative writing. I never felt patronised or judged – except by myself.

My family were amazing even though our relationship had become really strained with my drinking – always checking in on me, getting me out of the house and being aware of how I was feeling if alcohol was around.

Since then, I’ve only been really tempted to drink once, after a very bad day. I stopped outside a pub and thought about going in. But as I stood there, I thought, ‘If I get a drink, how will I feel in an hour?’ That was enough to get me to walk away.

Sarah Pearson
Sarah says she was taught "how to live again" -Credit:Sarah Pearson

My recovery is built into my life and forgiveness from those I hurt played a big part in that, but I’d lost all contact with Martin. Then I bumped into him and although I was shaking with nerves I apologised wholeheartedly for everything. It was such a relief to hear that he’d moved on happily and I was so grateful when he said he forgave me.

I was able to get my career back on track and I love my job as a communications manager at Cancer Research UK. My new partner Dan knows all about my past relationship with alcohol and he’s really supportive of my recovery. Life’s so much better now. I’m free to choose how I live my life and that can mean pushing myself to do big things, like sky diving to raise money for Forward Leeds, as well as simpler things like walking, enjoying the outdoors and looking after myself.

My detox was the greatest gift I could have given myself, and every Valentine’s Day I get the gift of another year’s sobriety – which is much better than a bunch of roses or chocolates any day.”