It’s been four months since Michelle Heaton left rehab after battling alcohol and cocaine addiction, and last week she gave a heartbreaking insight into the depths of her struggles in the days before she entered The Priory.
Posting a picture of her swollen face and bloodshot eyes on Instagram, Michelle told her followers she had been “ruined” and her “immune system was shutting down”. She contrasted the photo with a recent selfie, where she looks happy and healthy.
Speaking to Closer the morning after sharing the image, in which she says she was just “days away from death”, Michelle, 42, said it was a “very big decision” to show people the reality of what her life was like in the throes of her addictions.
She says, “I had sent my agent loads of pictures in the madness [just before she entered rehab]. I hadn’t looked through them because it was too painful. She sent me that one and we were both like, ‘Wow.’ I was so run down, I had sties on my eyes – that’s why they’re bloated, not because I was in a fight.
“Everything was bloated – my immune system was shocking. I was grey, I was itchy everywhere; the bloodshot eyes were because of no sleep. That was my reality at the time and was for a long time.
“I wasn’t with it at all – I had no concept of what was going on around me. I was functioning, but I wasn’t functioning properly. It was lockdown and the kids were home so I didn’t need to drive.
“I was drinking solidly four out of seven days a week. I was in a state of self-destruction and that lasted months. Posting the picture wasn’t meant as a shock tactic – I did it because I wanted to show how far I’ve come.”
Michelle has been married to personal trainer Hugh Hanley for 11 years and they share two children – Faith, nine, and AJ, seven. But her addictions stemmed from her struggles to cope following preventative surgery. She had a double mastectomy in 2013 and hysterectomy in 2015, after discovering she was carrying the BRCA2 cancer gene.
While Hugh has been a pillar of support for his wife through everything, telling his Instagram followers he was “proud” of her when she was in rehab, the former Liberty X singer admits she put Hugh “through hell” and even feared they were about to split.
“I was always a drinker,” she says. “He accepted that. He never, ever told me that he didn’t like me drinking before I got really bad. But I lost my way. I felt like, ‘I’m this old has-been and I’m going to prove I’m not by partying.’ I wanted Hugh to leave me because I knew I was killing him, and he wanted to leave me but he couldn’t. He made himself quite ill because he had nowhere to go. He would often retreat and go silent as he didn’t know the full extent of what was going on. He was experiencing lots of different emotions and feared he was losing his wife.
“He felt unloved. I wasn’t giving him any attention – or the kids. He said to me a few times earlier this year, ‘Do you have any idea what it’s like being married to an alcoholic?’ And us alcoholics blame others – I blamed him many times for my booze addiction. I said, ‘It’s your fault because you don’t let me drink.’ He did, but he didn’t want me to be drunk. We blame everybody else for the way we are until we get help and realise that we are the problem.”
Fortunately, the pair weathered the storm and last week they looked more loved-up than ever at the NTAs. Michelle says, “I’m so pleased we beat the odds and are stronger than ever.” While she felt anxious before the event – which she’d usually mask with drink – she decided to face her demons head on.
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“I’m definitely not as dull as I thought I would be sober, which is good,” she says. “A lot of us are scared to take away drugs or alcohol, because we don’t know what we’re going to find. In my head, I’m fun and people want to be around me, but it doesn’t work like that.
“That’s the warped mind of an addict – we believe we’re the party, but it comes down to a party for one and you’re alone. I was worried I was going to lose any excitement without alcohol. But I’m actually fun still.”
Michelle says that she will never be able to have just one drink, because it will spiral out of control again. And while she misses a glass of red wine, she is now healthier and more focused than ever.
She says, “I’m feeling great. It’s one day at a time – it’s not a cure. But I’m loving exercising again, walking the dog and eating properly. It’s put my mind in the right place and I feel alive again.”
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My advice if you are drinking too much
If alcohol is creating issues in your life, such as physical and mental health, or problems in your job etc, ring the AA helpline on 0800 917 7650.
It releases endorphins that can help you battle the urge to reach for the bottle. And while building up to doing some exercise might feel difficult, you never regret it – unlike drinking.
When I went into rehab, I was scared that my life was over, but it’s been the complete opposite. People understand that it’s a disease, not a choice, so reach out to them.
I use the Calm app, and I’ve learned to breathe deeply, to fill my lungs before I make a decision, and to be present in each moment.