BOOZE stole 20 years of her life. Now, 17 years since her last drink, Sarah Smith has written a book about life as an alcoholic. Mark Tallentire reports.

AT her lowest point, Sarah Smith – not her real name – was drinking four cans of Special Brew and a bottle of vodka a day.

She would steal alcohol and hide it around the house, became addicted to anti-depressants and suffered memory loss and the shakes.

The Northern Echo: COVER: My Name is Sarah I am an Alcoholic by Sarah Smith

“I was so dreadfully ill it felt like I was dying – I wanted to die,” she says. “It consumed me 24 hours a day. The only time I wasn’t think about it was when I was asleep – if I could sleep.

“Over the years it took over my life. I nearly killed myself through drink. When you see someone drinking, you’re watching them kill themselves.”

Born in Durham, Sarah moved south with her family as a young child. She married, had three children and set up home in Sheffield, training to become a teacher before switching focus and joining the civil service. On that level, her life seemed fine.

But behind the scenes her drinking was escalating. She had an abortion, her marriage broke down and eventually she moved back to Belmont to be near her parents and twin sister for support. She last touched alcohol 17 years ago.

“But I still want it,” she says. “It never goes. Christmas time I find really hard. Every time I want a drink I’ve got to think in a split second about how ill I was.

“If there’s a nice summer’s day, I still think about that first drink, that warms your body. Having a drink is like coming home – it’s part of you.

“It’s a very, very sad life – and it affects your whole life. It’s harder to come off than heroin.

“Anyone can become an alcoholic. They’re saying now it’s either hereditary or learned behaviour. Well, I didn’t learn it because mam and dad never drank much, so it must have been something in me, something built in.”

Now in her own words “healthy and content”, the 59-year-old has written about her experiences in the hope of helping people understand alcohol addiction.

“I’ve wanted to write the book for years. Then suddenly last year I decided to do it. I’ve written it for people to help them understand what it’s like to be addicted.”

The writing process was challenging – Sarah’s depression worsened as she relived difficult moments from her past. But she says she’s “OK” now the book is finished and she’s planning a follow-up about life without alcohol.

“I’ve just got to try to be content with the life I’ve got. It’s a very simple life. It’s a lifelong struggle and it never goes. But I’m happy doing my own thing.

“I’ve wasted 20 years of my life drinking and I’ll never get that back. But I’m lucky to be here. My family are an amazing support network. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. They valued my life when I didn’t.”

Sarah now puts her time into writing and illustrating children’s books, which she hopes to have published.

Some of her poems and a children’s story titled Bertie the Croc are included in My Name is Sarah I am an Alcoholic, which is published by Austin Macauley and available now in paperback priced £9.99, hardback priced £15.99 and on Kindle priced £3.00.