It’s 11 a.m. on a radiant morning in the Studio Café, a picture-perfect moment in the signature room of Toronto’s Four Season’s Hotel. Bright wedges of sunlight illuminate dozens of polished glass tables. The room is virtually empty. By noon, the café — perched high above Yorkville — will be full. But for now, there is just a handful of twosomes: Belinda Stronach deep in conversation with a gray-haired gentleman, a well-known film producer huddled with an actress in a corner. People who mean business.
My guest is no exception. “You want to know about my drinking? I lost my friends, my children, my mind. I did not want to be.”
But for her clear-eyed beauty and a stunning turquoise necklace, Beata Klimek is an undistinguished presence. To me, however, this 46-year-old is remarkable: a woman willing to tell her story with unflinching candour, name included. A mother of two, comfortable sharing the details of her serious alcohol abuse, her recovery, and her life in the aftermath.
This is rare. Her drinking is not: when it comes to consuming at a risky level, Klimek is far from alone. Hers is the elegant, clear-eyed face of a growing problem.
Born in Poland, Klimek studied psychology for three years before coming to Canada in 1987. Within eight months, she and her first husband had a baby boy. When their son was seven months, the relationship failed, and Klimek found herself on her own, a single mother working two jobs and taking English classes. Eventually, she met a widower with a young daughter, a doctor. “I wasn’t attracted at first,” she says, “but he grew on me. I got pregnant with my daughter, but I wasn’t ready for it. That’s when 10 years of hell began.”
At 37, she began to drink heavily. “It started as a glass of red wine just to relax,” says Klimek. “I was a doctor’s wife and I was more lonely than I’ve ever been. We had club memberships and everything we could have wanted, but I was very unhappy.”
Still, she was unprepared when her husband left her for his secretary. When their 10-year marriage fell apart, she fell apart as well. Now, there were bills she could not pay. She returned to Poland to say goodbye to two family members — her father who had cancer and her grandmother, with whom she had lived for five years as a young child. Both died within six months of one another. She returned to Canada “broken.” Says Klimek: “I had the shakes in the morning. Instead of coffee, I’d have a shot of vodka. I was still fooling some people, but not the family. I was a complete mess. My daughter was 11, and decided to move in with her father. I had a nervous breakdown — I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety — and my way of dealing with it was to drink. It was a medicine for me — to knock myself out. I wanted to disappear, not feel, not think. I tried to drink myself to death.”