One Woman’s Harrowing Story of Alcoholism

Beata Klimek is remarkable: a woman willing to tell her story with unflinching candor, name included.  A mother of two, comfortable sharing the serious details of her alcohol abuse, her recovery, and her life in the aftermath.  Read her story in the first of an important series on why women are driving a growth in alcohol consumption around the world.

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.”

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