Lisa's 'insidious' disease had her staring down the barrel of a prison sentence

Tess Kelly
Updated March 14 2024 - 7:27am, first published March 13 2024 - 3:30pm
Lisa blew the highest blood alcohol reading the magistrate had ever seen. Picture by Gareth Gardner
Lisa blew the highest blood alcohol reading the magistrate had ever seen. Picture by Gareth Gardner

Lisa didn't suddenly wake up one day, down so much alcohol she was eight times over the legal limit, get behind the wheel, and drive down a busy regional street.

Lisa is an addict. She has battled an alcohol addiction for almost two decades. And she knows, if things don't change, it's either going to kill her or someone else.

Crossing the 'invisible line' to addiction

About 17-years-ago Lisa knew her relationship with alcohol was starting to change.

The now 57-year-old was married, living in a lovely home, and kicking goals in a career in media.

But a few glasses of wine after work turned into a few glasses plus a bottle, and her life became unmanageable.

"I thought 'alcohol will fix this, give me a drink and I can move mountains," Lisa told ACM.

"But of course, I couldn't even move a tuft of grass once I was under the influence."

'I was the slave and alcohol was my master'

Lisa's addiction got to a point where her body physically could not function unless there was alcohol in her blood.

Everything from physically being able to go to the bathroom, to walking the door, or cooking a meal wasn't an option unless Lisa had indulged.

"I had to have alcohol in my system in order to just try and have some semblance of a life," she said.

"That's how dependent I became on this drug."

Australians have had a significant increase in harm prescription opioids with three deaths occurring on average every day.

No matter if she was "mad, sad, glad, or bad" her addiction had convinced her there was always a reason to pick up a bottle.

"From my experience as an alcoholic, which I still am, it wants me dead," Lisa said.

"And it will not be happy until I'm dead."

Her addiction is what led Lisa to do the unthinkable, and had her staring down the barrel of a prison sentence.

'I've never seen a reading that high'

It was about 5pm on October 23, 2023, when Lisa got behind the wheel of her Mitsubishi Pajero.

She was driving along a busy Tamworth street in northern NSW while drinking pure vanilla extract.

The bottle had an alcohol volume of 35 per cent.

While driving to where she now assumes was to buy more alcohol, Lisa crashed into the back of another car, which was pushed into another car, and another.

Lisa, now 57, said she started noticing a problem with alcohol about 17 years ago. Picture by Gareth Gardner
Lisa, now 57, said she started noticing a problem with alcohol about 17 years ago. Picture by Gareth Gardner

Police attended the scene, and Lisa blew a blood alcohol reading of 0.403, more than eight times the legal limit.

She was charged with high-range drink driving and negligent driving.

"I've never seen a reading that high," magistrate Julie Soars told Tamworth Local Court when Lisa appeared for her sentencing on March 6, 2024.

"It's astronomical Your Honour," police prosecutor Sergeant Alix Thom told the court.

Lisa was flanked by support people when the court heard she had a previous mid-range and high-range drink driving offence on her record.

Her defence solicitor Peter Schmidt tendered a number of character references, medical documents, and rehabilitation applications to the court.

"This is the first time she's made such a comprehensive effort to sobriety," Mr Schmidt said.

Magistrate Soars sentenced Lisa to a 13 month community-based prison sentence, or an Intensive Corrections Order, to aid in her rehabilitation.

Lisa was disqualified from driving for nine months, and fined $400.

'I could have killed someone'

After the court sentencing, Lisa told ACM she "can't believe" she had gotten behind the wheel in the state she was in.

"What the hell makes me think I can get into a vehicle and go drive to a shop ... scott free," she said.

"I'm just so grateful nobody was injured."

Lisa said her addiction had reached a point where there was no longer a "choice" when it came to consuming alcohol.

"The disease of alcoholism is so insidious," she said.

Lisa told ACM the Tamworth Alcoholics Anonymous group has been a 'godsend' for her rehabilitation. Picture by Gareth Gardner
Lisa told ACM the Tamworth Alcoholics Anonymous group has been a 'godsend' for her rehabilitation. Picture by Gareth Gardner

"It kind of creeps up, but once it's got that foothold, it's just there."

Lisa said suffering from an alcohol addiction was not something she was trying to use as an "excuse".

"Once it gets you, you're hooked," she said.

"And it's constantly there."

Alcoholics Anonymous a 'godsend' for support

After almost two decades battling an alcohol addiction Lisa has been in-and-out of detox programs, an in-patient at rehabilitation centres, and on medication which made the taste of alcohol intolerable.

She's had stints of sobriety, but her addiction has always been in the background, doing "push-ups" and waiting for the moment to pull her back under.

Lisa said the fellowship and support system she has built through attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped her realise she's "not the only one going through this nightmare".

"An alcoholic can help another alcoholic," she said.

"I can walk into a meeting anywhere ... and I'm accepted."

Lisa attends AA meetings in Tamworth which are held three times a week.

The meetings are held at the Uniting Church, at 440 Goonoo Goonoo Road, on Monday and Friday at 7pm. And on a Wednesday, the meeting is held at midday at the Salvation Army building at 328 Goonoo Goonoo Road.

Lisa said at first even she was sceptical about attending a meeting, but she soon came to realise everyone at AA is there to support and help each other, however they can.

"Nobody is the boss, nobody is higher than anybody else," she said.

Participants exchange phone numbers, and regularly contact each other outside of meetings when things start to feel tough.

"I've withheld myself from meetings after a big bust, because I'm ashamed, but the door is always open," Lisa said.

"I know for myself AA is a godsend."

Lisa told ACM she doesn't know exactly where she's headed on her journey of rehabilitation.

But her "fervent wish" is to get better. For both herself, and her loved ones.

Anyone needing assistance with alcohol, or information about local meetings, can contact the Alcoholics Anonymous helpline on 1300 222 222

Tess Kelly

Tess Kelly

Journalist

Tess Kelly is a journalist at the Northern Daily Leader, reporting mostly on court, while keeping tabs on all the happenings of the region. Story tips can be sent to tess.kelly@austcommunitymedia.com.au