I’m Trinny, I’m an alcoholic and I’m an addict. When asked whether addiction is a disease, I didn’t have to think twice. Knowing that I have a disease is how I manage to have a healthy life today. All I can tell you about addiction is my experience. I grew up in a very normal home. Both my grandfather who was an alcoholic and an uncle who was alcoholic died of this illness. When I went to my first rehab I kept wondering: why I am an addict? They told me: ‘Don’t be concerned with why you have developed this disease. It’s in you, you have it, and you need to live healthily knowing you have it for life.’
Nobody starts taking whatever it is they’re addicted to because they hate it. I was a very unconfident teenager: I had chronic acne and had spent most of my life out of England. I came to London when I was 16, and lived with my older sister. She had lots of glamorous friends and I wanted so desperately to fit in. One evening I was presented with cocaine, and I wanted to be cool. So I took it, and I suddenly felt this confidence that I had lacked so much. And it was fun. I did it at weekends, and my friends did it too.
A few years later, my drug-taking began to be a problem. I still thought it was fun, but I had reached a stage where my family thought I had changed, and my personality had changed. So I told them the truth, and they were horrified. My father said, ‘Well, now you’ve told me, you can stop.’ But my brother said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be that simple.’ He was right.
I did think that maybe I should try to stop. For a few weeks I did, and then I started again. A few months later I overdosed and was taken to hospital. When I woke up, my mother drove me to a rehab. I was 21. I knew I had a problem, it controlled my life. When I came back to London I tried to go to 12-step meetings, but I felt very apart from it all. About three months later I was presented with some drugs, and I thought, ‘Why not?’
I’d always hated alcohol, but over the next five years I developed a drink problem. I drank a bottle of vodka a night, with cocaine and pills. And I started to get into trouble. Not the kind of trouble that ended in prison, but it ended up with me feeling lonely and isolated. Every night I’d tell myself, ‘This is my last time,’ and the next day I’d end up using again. Then one night when I was 26, three of my very closest friends and I said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll stop.’ I desperately wanted to — the first time in ten years of using that I’d had that feeling. I called up my psychiatrist and told him that I needed to get away.
I spent seven months in a primary care centre, six months in a halfway house, and then I started my life again. To me the symptom of addiction is a craving; a craving like you cannot begin to imagine unless you are an addict. A craving that will take you to places you never thought that you would be in. In early recovery I remember walking down the King’s Road and having a panic attack. This girl who was so confident and blasé when she was on drugs had a panic attack. I was so scared. I had been to a rehab, and they had unpeeled every layer of my character and I still didn’t know who I was. I went to a meeting every day — in fact I went to 90 meetings in 90 days, because I had to be with people who knew how I felt.
And then, finally, I began to find out who I was. I was 26, but because I had started using at 16, emotionally my brain had stopped growing. I began to build the foundation of my life today. Different from the fake, lying, thieving, cheating person I had been. I wasn’t a bad person becoming a good person. I believe I was a sick person, and I needed to get well. And the belief that I had a disease helped me to get through it. It has not been an easy journey.
I have this hole in myself. In the past I filled that hole with drugs, and now I have to fill it with a more spiritual path. My recovery has been difficult at times. But what kept me going was being able to go to meetings and talk with people who had been through addiction, who were in recovery and leading a life to the best of their ability.
I have people today who say to me, ‘You are quite successful, you have made something of your life, why do you still need to go?’ To me, it is like a diabetic with insulin. If that diabetic stops taking insulin, they will die, and I believe that if I don’t follow the 12-step programme I will regress, and that could eventually be the death of me.
This is based on a speech Trinny Woodall gave at the Spectator's addiction debate last week (the original is in the YouTube clip, above). It will appear in the new Spectator, out tomorrow.