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The Daily Mail have kindly allowed us to reproduce their article about PROMIS.

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I opened the envelope unprepared for what I would read. It was just one of the many lying on the mat when I came home from a week’s retreat. The heading told me it was from Promis, an addiction treatment and recovery centre in Kent.

Dear Mrs Oliver, Your daughter, Tess is addicted to alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, food, sex and love. These may not have been the exact words but it was the general gist, and although the letter continued for a whole page, it is this one line which remains with me. It was not normal practice for Promis to send out letters of this type, but apparently Tess wanted me to know the whole truth and had asked Promis to contact me.

I was aware that Tess had gradually been growing more dependent on alcohol to face life. I did not know about the drugs. I suspected she smoked the odd joint but she worked in theatre and television where such things were almost a given and I was not too concerned. As for the rest, it was all too much to take in, but all would become clear as I learned more about the disease.

Fifteen months earlier at the age of 27, Tess had given birth to a much-wanted first child, my first grandchild. During the pregnancy she tried but failed to control her drinking and drug habits, but it was after the birth that the addiction really took off. Unfortunately, far from making her feel complete as she had hoped the loneliness of being at home with a young baby, and fear of failing others perceived expectations of her as a mother, had brought matters to a head. Her addictive nature had been a time bomb waiting to explode and motherhood provided the spark.

While I was having a peaceful time on holiday, Tess had bottomed out. With and equally sick friend she had spent a night drinking volumes of vodka and snorting lines of cocaine, almost deliberately forcing herself into a place where self disgust would compel her to act.

The next morning, weeping, she called a friend who had offered to lend her money for treatment and Promis agreed to take her immediately. My son, who was spending a day in the country with business clients, dropped everything to drive her down.

Tess never suffered from hangovers, slurred her words, or staggered, and she certainly did not fit my naive image of an alcoholic, I now know that by the time she sought residential help she was drunk a lot of the time.

In the past she had seen two renowned addiction therapists but they had only managed to slow her inevitable decline, not prevent it. She also tried a couple of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but she said she could not cope with the God talk. Ironically the terrible life stories she heard there also convinced her that she did not have a problem because she was still managing a successful career. Neither, she persuaded herself, was she in danger of losing her home as had so many who were there. One woman recounted how she had crawled into her first meeting on her hands and knees. This was proof to Tess that in comparison, she did not qualify as an alcoholic. It was nearly two years before she went back.

There had been warning signs over the previous months. One Saturday, her live-in partner had rung in great distress to say that he could not take much more and that he might have to leave and take their baby with him. I could not blame him, and I told him so, but I knew it would be the death knell for Tess. I was convinced that if she lost her son, she would also lose her last scrap of self respect, and that might drive her on a steeper downward spiral. My heart ached as I envisaged her in the gutter. Anyone who has experience of an addict in denial will know the impotence of not being able to help. There is nothing you can do until they want to admit to the problem and decide to deal with it. I had discussed the option of rehab with her on several occasions and although she once agreed that it might be the way forward she then backtracked reassuring me that all was now under control. We are a particularly close family and as we have a very honest relationship I wanted to believe her. This was Lesson number one: addicts lie like hell, even to those nearest and dearest. It is part of the disease.

Promis works on the basis that the addictive personality will manifest elsewhere if the focus is only on the existing problem. This meant that by only confronting her drink and drug habits, Tess ran the risk of turning to sex, food, or any other area where she could get a ‘high’. This proved to be true during the programme when she crossed into forbidden territory by becoming sexually attracted to another patient. She also persuaded visitors to bring stores of chocolate until we realised it was not permitted. Potentially, she is addicted to the whole spectrum, hence the opening line of the letter. As there is no cure, the treatment needed to show Tess how to live a healthy life alongside her addictive personality and recognise when she is in danger of ‘using’ in any sphere.

Tess went into Promis for two weeks and stayed for two months. During this time her partner brought her son down on most weekends and with a nanny in situ, he coped admirably as a single parent.

I helped where I could around my own work commitments but it was difficult for me to manage from a distance. As an actress, Tess was in the lucky position of being able to withdraw from work temporarily without harming her career, although it meant she was not earning during that time. Promis family days involved role play, which taught me lesson number two: that being protective enabled the addict to continue with their habit. For her to get well she needed to face the consequences of her behaviour and I was advised to detach. Detachment, I learned, involved backing off, protecting oneself emotionally and not rescuing. It did not mean that you withdrew your love, but nevertheless it felt awkward and went against my strong nurturing instinct.

The Promis method was challenging on every level, but it was exactly what Tess needed. I doubt if anything less intensive would have worked. As a family we had tried the softly-softly approach and it had failed, whereas the majority of the staff at the centre were recovering addicts themselves and wise to the inherent manipulations, deceit and denial. They were simultaneously dispassionate and immensely caring. Tess was there of her own free will and could have discharged herself at any time, but she knew that this was her only chance if she wanted to lead a relatively stable life, and if she wanted to be the mother she aspired to be.

When Promis judged Tess to be ready and she felt sufficiently grounded, she returned home to restart her life. At this stage I put my detachment into action and told her that although I would never stop loving her, I would not be there for her if she took drugs or drank in the future. She would be on her own. It was hard but I meant it because I knew that the pain of seeing her like that again would destroy me. The programme had given her practical, emotional and psychological tools to live another way, so the choice was up to her. Since that time she has thanked me for being so direct and for setting boundaries which she respects.

When you drink heavily or take drugs you tend to mix with others who do likewise because it reinforces your belief that you are ok. This meant that to make a successful recovery Tess had to distance herself from most of her social circle. Because she had changed so dramatically her relationship came under great strain and she and her partner decided to part. Still friends, they share custody, although their son mostly lives with Tess and his welfare is her main priority. Gradually she is learning to make new friendships which feed and nurture her, and she has a loving and supportive man in her life. The stories are still coming out in dribs and drabs – things she found difficult to admit to herself. There were the shots at 6am when she got up to feed the baby, the regular top-ups through the day, the bottle of vodka discreetly tucked under a blanket at the bottom of the pushchair when she went to the park Drunk-driving with her child in the had car had become a daily feature of life, as had five large vodkas each night before going on stage.

Because the Promis recovery programme had a spiritual dimension, Tess was now able to reinterpret God or higher power of AA without relating it to a traditional dogma. This removed her resistance and she now attends AA meetings at least twice a week. She still smokes like a chimney and has occasional spending binges, but there are indulgences she allows herself. She argues that if she is abstemious in everything she might implode and rebel against sobriety, I can understand that.

Addicts often feel different from others from early childhood, always believing themselves to be an outsider, in her case as I suspect in many it was a self-imposed sense of isolation, but nonetheless real in her mind. A.A. has given Tess the sense of belonging that had eluded her. It has become central to her life and wellbeing; somewhere she can take her vulnerability and her fears and share them in the knowledge that they will be met with understanding and compassion.

The money Tess borrowed has been repaid in full, and the friend who lent it to her has since undergone the treatment. Tess has been sober for almost six years. Her struggles have made me love her even more and at times I am overawed by her courage and determination. She deserves great respect.

I am one of the lucky parents; Tess chose to save herself.




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