Tina Young

Tina Young sits at the waterside, smiling at the camera.

I wanted to drink myself to death

by Tina Young

Before brain injury, Tina Young, 56, was an outgoing career woman who worked two jobs training staff at care homes across Portsmouth. After falling downstairs at home and hitting her head however, Tina was forced to quit her job and soon began drinking alcohol on a daily basis to cope with the lasting effects of a traumatic brain injury.

Now a peer support mentor at Headway Portsmouth and South East Hants, Tina's last alcoholic drink was in 2012 and, with the charity's help, she has turned her life around. Below, Tina shares a frank account of her difficult journey to recovery after brain injury...

'I would go to bed and pray that I wouldn't wake up'

"After brain injury, it wasn't long before I found myself on a downward spiral into depression and began drinking heavily every night, hoping it would kill me," said Tina openly. "I would go to bed and pray that I wouldn't wake up."

The accident happened one day in 2009. Tina had been stressed and worn out from a hard day's work when she slipped and fell down the stairs while at home.

"I hit my head in the fall and was left in a life-threatening coma," said Tina. "Following surgery at Southampton General Hospital, I was transferred to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham at the request of my daughter, Emma, who was told by doctors to say goodbye as I might not pull through.

"Thankfully, I survived the ordeal, but the blow to my head left me with the long-term effects of a serious brain injury that cost me my job. I spent the next nine months recovering in hospital before being allowed home."

When Tina was finally well enough to be discharged from hospital, she quickly discovered her life was going to be very different.

'Job was my life'

"I couldn't walk, I couldn't talk, I couldn't even see properly," said Tina. "I had poor memory, which is still all over the place even today, and I went back to being a baby again. Cooking and household tasks were out of the question.

"When I first returned home from hospital I felt that I'd accepted what had happened. But that was because, in my head, I would soon be going back to work. My job was my life and I was looking forward to getting back into it.

"Although I tried my hardest to get work at different care homes, I wasn't getting very far. Eventually, I visited a friend and offered to work on a voluntary basis, asking if he would re-train me.

"I tried to fill in an application form and, after four attempts, it still didn't make any sense to me. It was then that I was told I couldn't go back to work, which was devastating as I'd been in employment for all my adult life. It left me feeling lost, and I didn't want to live anymore.

"To me, returning to work meant being back to where I was before brain injury. I just couldn't cope with not going back to work and didn't accept it at all."

Drinking myself to death

Tina fell into a emotional slump. Each day, she would get up, clean the house and do her hair and make-up before spending hours drinking bottles of wine.

"Every day, I would do housework and put on my make-up before drinking – whomever found me dead, I wanted them to find me in a clean house, looking nice.

"The only thing that came into my head was to drink myself to death. I would drink until I was shattered and would go to bed and pray that I wouldn't wake up. I prayed every night."

For around 10 months, Tina carried on drinking on a daily basis and would even ask a friend to buy alcohol for her from the local shops.

'Something not quite right'

"My poor memory and other lasting effects of my brain injury were aggravated by drinking, which trapped me in an emotional cycle of negativity," said Tina.

"People around me eventually began to notice that something wasn't quite right. My daughter Emma in particular kept on and on at me. She would phone me at night time. To keep her quiet I told her I would stop drinking but, however hard I tried, I couldn't stop.

"Finally, my efforts paid off and my last drink was in 2012. Looking back, I can't believe I put my daughter through such an awful ordeal. But, at the time, I just didn't want to be here. 

"I met my partner Michael when I was still 'on the drink' and he has been an absolutely amazing support. He would help and look after me, and I began to realise that I didn't want to lose him."

With the help of Headway Portsmouth and South East Hants, Tina's children, Emma and Matthew, and best friend Sandra came together and began providing their loved one with the support she needed to rebuild her life after brain injury.

Alcohol abuse after brain injury not an uncommon story

"A turning point for me was realising that people do value me," said Tina. "I know that now. They are my back-up and they are always there for me no matter what happens."

Tina has since made incredible progress and is now a peer support mentor at the local Headway group, based at the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth.

She explained: "When I was discharged home, the hospital staff directed me towards Headway but I thought 'that's not me'. It was me, but I just couldn't see that at the time. I'd sit there in the sessions and wouldn't speak. It took a long time to realise I needed to accept help.

"Alcohol abuse after brain injury is not an uncommon story. I've met other people at Headway who turn to drink because they feel trapped and see no way through their difficult life challenges brain injury can bring.

"My experience of this issue helps me to talk to people in this position and, by opening up about what I've done and how I overcame drinking, hopefully more people faced with this challenge will find the strength to battle their own demons.

"I don't want to hide my personal experiences. I want to be honest with people and provide them with the support they need to help them on their own roads to recovery after brain injury. If I can help someone turn their life around, then it makes it all worthwhile."

Four years sober

Now four years sober, Tina continues to make strides in her rehabilitation, though the lasting effects of her brain injury can still be an uphill struggle.

"I repeat myself quite a lot, but I only notice that when people point it out to me," said Tina.

"Sometimes I can't remember people's names. I'm on anti-depressants to help manage my emotions after brain injury, but I still wake up in tears occasionally as I still hate not being able to work. This is an issue that is never going away, so I'm now learning to focus on what I have got in life and enjoy time with people I care about.

"Support from Headway, family, and friends is your best weapon when battling alcohol reliance after brain injury. Seek help from people who can empathise with your challenges and guide you through the most difficult stages of recovery."