I lay in bed shaking as cold sweat dripped down my face. My body ached and I was vomiting.
How have things got this bad? I thought, gazing up at the ceiling of my parents’ spare room.
I thought about my four daughters at home with their dad. I couldn’t let them see me like this.
But I wasn’t sick. I was an addict...
After getting a taste for booze aged just 12, I used to steal gin from bottles at home and top them up with water.
My parents weren’t big drinkers, so they never noticed.
Looking back, I think I used alcohol as a way of escaping my fears.
Aged 16, I tipped the scales at 120 kilos.
My self-esteem was low and I had few friends.
But if I brought some drink into the playground, people wanted to hang out with me.
By the time I went to university, I was a full-blown alcoholic. I partied hard and soon dropped out to spend my days drinking.
One day, when I was 21, I woke up with the worst hangover of my life.
My head pounded and I felt sick to my stomach.
I’ve really overdone it this time, I thought. I need a break.
As I lay in bed, I thought back to an innocent comment a friend had made a few weeks before.
‘You’re sober!’ she’d laughed. ‘I haven’t seen you sober in ages!’
I realised it was time to change my ways.
‘I’m going to stop drinking for a bit,’ I told my partner Willie, now 57.
Then, just one month later, in June 2002, I found out I was expecting our daughter Maya.
There was no way I was going to risk hurting my bub, so I was forced to stay off the booze. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Since then, I’ve been sober.
In recovery, I graduated from uni and got a job I loved.
In 2006, Willie and I were delighted when I found out I was expecting twins.
When Sienna and Mercedes, now nine, were born, I really had my hands full.
But I was worried my feelings for them were different to how I’d felt about Maya.
As I cared for my two beautiful babies, that rush of love seemed to be missing.
I felt numb, as if the babies weren’t really mine.
When they were seven months old, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression and anxiety.
I made some steps towards recovery, but then I found out I was pregnant again.
After Chiara was born in 2008, I started seeing a psychiatrist but I was also having problems sleeping.
As a busy mum-of-four, I needed to get a good night’s rest. So I asked for help.
‘We can give you some sleeping pills,’ the doctor said. ‘Take half a pill and see if it helps.’
Thankfully it did. But as time went on, I started to need more pills to nod off.
I also took painkillers containing codeine to help me sleep.
Eventually I was taking up to 12 pills a day.
If I didn’t, I felt awful.
My weight was also creeping up.
One evening I ran out of sleeping pills and I was so distraught at facing the night without them that I had my prescription brought to my house.
At the time I believed I was being a good mum, and doing well in my full-time job.
But the reality was different.
My work was suffering and I wasn’t giving my girls the attention they deserved.
Then, in March 2011, I caught a 24-hour bug. I was forced to have a day off the pills, and the next day I felt sick and faint at my desk.
I’m suffering withdrawal, I realised suddenly. I’m an addict.
Asking my mum Sheila for a lift home, she was horrified at the state I was in.
I was scared too. Enough was enough.
‘I don’t want the girls to see me like this,’ I told her. ‘Can I come to your place?’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘We’ll support you.’
I was determined to go cold turkey.
‘I’m never taking another pill,’ I vowed. ‘If I can kick the booze, I can kick this.’
Coping with the withdrawal symptoms was horrendous.
I suffered night sweats and sickness. But after a week, I felt able to go home.
‘I’ve missed you,’ I cried, pulling my girls into a hug.
I joined therapy groups and faced my insomnia without the pills. But I struggled to stick to a healthy lifestyle.
Exhausted, I would often collapse onto the lounge at the end of the day and tuck into junk food or a block of chocolate.
I was clean of drugs, but now I started to pile on the kilos.
After I gave birth to my fifth daughter, Rosalia, now three, my weight gain continued.
At my heaviest, I was a whopping 173 kilos.
My turning point came when I was hospitalised with an infection in January last year. I had to act.
I knew from beating my addictions that I had to be committed to losing weight.
So I started walking at least 10,000 steps a day and began following a healthy eating plan.
The weight began to fall off.
‘You look great,’ my girls said, and Willie loved my new-found confidence too.
As I got fitter, I started to run. Getting up at 5.30am and pulling on my trainers was tough, but I was determined.
In 18 months I’ve shed an amazing 82.5 kilos. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed! I’ve even completed three half marathons.
After everything I’ve been through, I feel better than ever. My friends say I’m an inspiration, but the truth is that if I can do it anyone can.
You can read Emma’s blog at www.fivedegreesofchaos.com
Originally published in that’s life! Issue 21 – May 26, 2016