Today’s Sober Story comes from Alex, a 42-year-old living in Blenheim.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Alex: 1130 days (just over 3 years)
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Alex: Like most people’s stories there’s usually a ‘rock bottom’ and my RB happened the last weekend in June 2014. And like most RB’s it was an accumulation of many smaller (and not so smaller) events that contributed to my tipping point. I was your ‘typical’ drinker from an early age. School balls, university, new graduate working in Auckland, travelling overseas, socialising and just generally trying out my adult big girl’s pants! Alcohol was always there, forever present and never questioned and always assumed. 21st’s, baby showers, 30th’s, Weddings, Kids birthday parties, Guy Fawkes, Fathers Days, the list goes on really. Life and booze went hand in hand. My parents did it, my family did it, my friends did it, my husband did it and it was ‘normal’. I had no reason to doubt alcohol in my life at all – it was just there. When I was pregnant with both my children, I stopped drinking which was no problem but soon celebrated my new babies with more booze! I was never the ‘drunk girl’ at parties and celebrations but I drank to excess, I had hangovers and it affected me the day after. No worries – didn’t most people? I’m normal.
Mrs D: I’m exactly the same .. it was just like a normal, ordinary thing to do.. to drink all the time.
Alex: Even when I was suffering post-natal depression it was still normal, even when I started medication for depression it was normal, even when my husband was diagnosed with bowel cancer – normal, normal, normal. It wasn’t until after I turned 40 that I started to think that maybe, just maybe it might not be normal. My friend group had changed as I had moved to Marlborough and being in Marlborough it was all about the booze – I now lived in wine country! Yahoo, I was in heaven. Then my god-daughter, my friend and her daughter died in a horrific car accident. Grief overwhelmed me but you know what I still drank. Normal.
Mrs D: So what was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Alex: I have had some hard stuff happen to me and I was ok. Sure, I drank alcohol but it helped surely rather than hindered things? My final straw was a particularly large session of ‘day drinking’ with a group of mates and our kids. A boozy lunch that turned into dinner and all walking home with the kids in tow. It got pretty messy, probably just the usual carry on but for some reason my eyes were open and I kind of saw things in a new light. It was as though I was looking down and seeing what was going on for the very first time. It felt wrong and not cool, it felt excessive, dirty and embarrassing. I worried about what the kids thought, I questioned why and I started to think “this is not bloody normal”. It was the Sunday night that Mrs D spoke out for the first time about her journey on the Sunday program on TVNZ. It was Sunday the 22nd June 2014. I watched what she had to say and I related. I related HARD. I brought and read her book, ‘Mrs D is Going Without’’ the next day. This was me! I had the mind chatter, I had the constant bargaining, I had the dependence, the need, the same ability to function and booze. She was me and I was her. Someone just put in words how I feel. It was overwhelming and eye-opening and I knew what I had to do. Dry July was days away and that was my out. In fact, it rang so true that I decided to stop drinking BEFORE Dry July started. I even went to a dinner party and declared to all that I was doing Dry July but was going to start that day. What? Why? Why don’t you drink at least one last time before you stop? All comments from my friends attending the dinner party. It made me more resolved to commit to this sobriety. I didn’t know how long I was doing this, but I had never felt surer or committed to anything for such a long time. It was the start to my new normal.
Mrs D: That’s so fantastic! How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Alex: I kept a diary in the early days because I guess I needed to be accountable to someone. It’s interesting to go back and reflect and there was struggle. Breaking such an ingrained ‘normal’ habit is tough-stuff. I remember sending myself off to bed early as it was easier to cope with that than be in the same situations that went hand in hand with drinking. I avoided social situations and I holed-up. I concentrated and I was committed to this new me. I didn’t want to admit it just yet but I did feel like this was it – this was forever. I was going to do this longer than just Dry July. It was also about the time of the end of July that something huge happened. All that mind chatter around booze stopped. Welcome to my new normal.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Alex: Totally varied, some support, some incredulous that ‘fun Alex’ would disappear, some assured themselves that it’s only for July and some wished they could do it. It was when I started to go beyond Dry July that people started realising that I was serious about my new normal. I remember a good friend of mine saying to me “please make sure I’m there when you decide to drink again”. WHAT? What did that mean? That they couldn’t wait to get the drinking me back? Was I no fun? I had a lot of doubt about who I was and how people perceived me but the pull to being sober was always stronger.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Alex: No never. I don’t want to drink again. I have had the odd time when I’ve thought it would be nice to have a drink but it quickly disappears because I prefer ‘sober me’. Bigger picture and my normal.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Alex: It’s like having to retrain a life-long habit. It was initially hard and I started out by ignoring social settings but as my sober confidence grew so did my resolve as well as my ability to know that I’m just as fun without alcohol. Plus, I can drive home! Whenever I want! This was and is still quite an awesome by product of being sober. Not so great when you have a car full of drunk friends who think it’s particularly funny to tickle you or cover your eyes when you are driving but at least I know I’m getting them home safe and sound!
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Alex: I guess it showed me that I have resolve and I’m a strong person. I always knew that I had some internal ‘strongs’ but if I can do this, I can do anything!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Alex: Being a functioning alcoholic I was busy, successful in my professional life (interior designer), a mum of 2 daughters and married to a great guy (who beat cancer FYI). On the outside, it painted a pretty picture but underneath that layer there were cracks and I wanted to be a better version of myself. There was too much mind chatter and self-flagellation around drinking and couple that with a busy, high functioning life something had to give. That something was booze and I can’t believe it took me so long to realise. It was also seeing my daughters grow older and I wanted them to see that they could have a choice too. After my god-daughter died I started selling ‘Abi’s Dots’ to raise awareness around being happy as a teenager and to raise money for Make a Wish Foundation. Little dots of colour that sold in the thousands and put me and my social profile in front of thousands of girl teenagers – there’s some responsibility in all that too. I wanted to show these girls that there is a choice when it comes to alcohol.
Mrs D: That’s very cool. Can you pinpoint any other main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Alex: For an outsider, there’s probably not much to see but it’s my internal health that has benefited. My mind is free. I’m in a very creative industry and releasing the pressure of drinking allows me to increase my creativity and drive. My energies can flow further and I have more creative space to flourish. Just waking up without a hangover is the best. One thing I would say is being sober does not take away bad days or sadness or grief or even happiness and elation. What it does do is to allow you to feel 100% what you feel. You can’t hide from anything, you feel it warts n’ all. Good or bad, you feel it. Be prepared for that.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for those who are just starting on this journey?
Alex: One day at a time. Like any new adventure or practise. Just take it day by day. Commit to your reasons and be prepared. Identity areas, places and people that might hinder your journey and move forward one day at a time.