Here, Jodi, 42, tells the story in her own words.
L￼ooking at the empty cans, I cracked open the last one. I’d gulped my way through a six-pack of warm beer. I don’t even like the taste, I thought. But it was the only way
to drown out the voice in my head urging me to drink. It was like a constant noise I couldn’t ignore.
Only 18, I was already on the road to addiction. As a kid, I’d got top grades and excelled at music and sport. My parents, Heather and Paul, now both 68, were proud but never pressured me. Still, sometimes I would feel panicky. My toys need to be tidy, I thought, arranging my bedroom perfectly. If I didn’t, I felt anxious. Away at camp aged 13, I tried my first cigarette. As soon as I got my first taste, I wanted more. When, at 15, I heard petrol could give you a buzz, one day I found myself sniffing the fumes. Breathing them in, my brain felt quiet at last. Then, I discovered alcohol. Those beers were only my second ever taste, but I knew I was on a slippery slope. ‘I don’t think I should touch alcohol,’ I confessed to Mum. ‘I don’t think I could stop.’
Realising I had an addictive personality, I avoided drink and threw myself into my job as a youth worker. But, aged 23, I got chronic fatigue and had a breakdown. Even lifting my arms to wash my hair was exhausting. When my 24th birthday rolled around, I needed cheering up. ‘Are you having a drink for your birthday?’ my sister Sarah, 40, asked innocently. Why not? I thought. As the wine went down, I started to feel like I had a bit more energy. Going back to my place, my housemates were drinking too and as I drank more, I felt better. Just one more, the voice in my head urged. From then on, I drank to perk myself up. But I needed more and more for that same buzz. I downed a couple of boxes of wine a week, the taste making me shudder. Am I an addict? I wondered, as weight piled on.
Eventually, I went into rehab. ‘Only one in 20 people beat their addiction,’ a therapist told me. Counting 19 patients in my group, I felt utter despair. Going home, I relapsed and slipped into a downward spiral. At my lowest, I was sleeping rough and had brushes with the law. It was agony for Mum and Dad who tried to help me. ‘We love you,’ they told me. ‘We can beat this.’ As much as I wanted to stop, the compulsion to drink was too strong. I tried more rehab, AA and other therapies but nothing worked. By 2012, I needed a new hip because of my drinking. The booze in my blood had stopped nutrients reaching my bones, causing them to crumble. Horrified, I fought to change. Gritting my teeth, I gave up drinking and started studying counselling. I even lost 50 kilos. I can’t disappoint them, I thought, seeing the hope on my parents’ faces. But I felt like a ticking time bomb – sooner or later the urge would win.
Sure enough, after 14 months, I snapped and started drinking again. Before long, I was getting through a bottle of spirits a day. Living in a unit on my parents’ property, I bought booze instead of food. I’ve lost the battle, I thought, expecting to die. Then, in October 2016, Mum knocked on the door with a video to show me. It was about a radical treatment being trialled in New Zealand by a Belgian neurosurgeon, Professor Dirk de Ridder. In Belgium, he’d rid an alcoholic of addiction using brain surgery, and the University of Otago wanted to test it here. ‘What do you think?’ Mum asked, hope in her eyes. ‘It wouldn’t hurt to find out,’ I said.
Emailing Professor de Ridder, I was thrilled when he replied immediately to explain the procedure. He believed some cravings and addictions were caused by a physical problem with the brain. So they’d open my skull and plant an electrical device inside. A wire would run down my neck into a box in my chest that sent out an electrical charge. ‘Let’s do it,’ I said, daunted but desperate. After being tested to make sure my brain would respond correctly, in March 2017, I went under the knife for the three-hour procedure. Waking up, my head had been shaved and a line of thick staples held my scalp together.
When the implant was switched on 17 days later, I knew something had changed. Thankfully, it was painless, but it was trial and error to find the right setting. For a while, I even drank more than before. But when the setting was right, I suddenly didn’t crave a drop. ‘I can take or leave a drink,’ I beamed to my thrilled family. Mum and Dad looked so relieved to have their daughter back.
Scans show my brain is now almost the same as a brain that isn’t predisposed to addiction. Now, I plan to return to my studies and I’ve even started recording my own music.I’ve got my life back, and I can’t wait to start living.
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