The Outrun

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Authors: Amy Liptrot
lunchtime in case I decided the group therapyand handholding were just too much and ran off to the pub or coffee shop.
    Out of the group of ten who were there when I started, only one or two others and I were there ‘simply’ for alcohol; the rest were also addicted to cocaine, heroin, crack or other drugs. They included older Cockneys, who genuinely used rhyming slang, and Muslim rude boys who spoke in patois I didn’t understand (phrases like ‘raggle fraggle’). But people were often not as they seemed at first. I’d noticed a little plaster on someone’s inner ear and all week I’d thought it was some sort of ‘gang thing’, until they explained that it was from the previous week’s acupuncture session.
    We attended Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from nine thirty until four thirty. Apart from a weekly one-on-one counselling session, our days were spent as an intense group. The four daily sessions included group therapy, weekly updates of our ‘clean time’, talks on things like nutrition or blood-borne viruses, and workshops on topics like ‘relapse prevention’ and ‘self-esteem’.
    Wednesday was our day off, when we were expected to have doctors’ appointments, sort out benefits, see probation officers, and otherwise unpick the messes that addicts tend to create. As part of the programme, we had to attend three AA or NA meetings a week outside the centre.
    On my first afternoon we had a session with a brilliant nun who was in her seventies and had worked with addicts and in prisons for years. At one point she misplaced her red marker pen, even though it was right in front of her, and one of the ‘old timers’ (he’d been there about six weeks) whispered to me,‘She’s pissed.’ This is a well-worn joke in rehab but it made me giggle and giggle.
    We stood in a circle and held hands at least four times a day, reciting the ‘Serenity Prayer’, which, despite its strangeness at first and my distaste for religion, I soon began to enjoy. But I was shocked. I was often confused and upset about how I’d ended up there. I was a girl on a farm on an island and I’d woken up to find it was twelve years later and for some reason I was in a rehabilitation centre in London, or sitting in Salvation Army centres and church halls with groups of misfits, drinking tea from chipped mugs, listening to tales of people shitting the bed as we laughed our heads off.
    We had written work, based on AA’s 12 Steps, which we read out to the group. We went into detail about our pasts and I shared dark and shameful things I had never told anyone else – we all did and it created trust and a bond between us unlike anything I’d experienced before. Unlike drunken confidences and late-night conversations, I could remember these the next day.
    I worked hard, trying to answer honestly the questions the counsellors asked me and making an effort to listen to the others. I wanted to be the star pupil of rehab. The act of writing those lists of the unwanted effects of my drinking made it clear to me that I did have a problem and I was in the right place.
    The decision to choose abstinence seemed extreme to me but I had found, through painful experience, that my attempts to control and limit my drinking always failed. Once I started I was unable to stop. AA’s basic principle is not to take the ‘firstdrink’, after which the alcoholic is ‘powerless’, and to keep doing this ‘one day at a time’. The theory says I lived – and continue to live – with two things: the obsession and the craving. The obsession shows itself in the desire to drink, which pulses through me unexpectedly, like the tremors at the farm, an almost imperceptible rumbling that is always there, threatening, in the background. It will, I think, remain with me for the rest of my life. I need to stay vigilant and not have the first drink that triggers the craving – my inability to stop. If I let one trickle through, I’ll be flooded very

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