This week’s Sober Story comes from Elizabeth, a 67-year-old living in Otorohanga.
My name is Elizabeth and I’m an alcoholic. Today I will not have a drink.
My experiences with the demon drink are these….
I did not drink alcohol at all until I was about 21 or 22, and by the time I was 29 I was on my way to an early death. I grew up in a religious household where there was no alcohol at all, so when I moved away from home, the whole world of drinking alcohol opened up. My really heavy drinking covered roughly a two year period. My drinking was done at home, and in secret. I drank spirits – whiskey in particular – in huge quantities. It was a large bottle per day towards the end. I was a crude drinker - no glass for me - straight from the bottle. I had bottles stashed all over the house - just in case! Sometimes I forgot where I had hidden them, only to be delighted when I accidentally came across them at a later time.
I became unwell mentally. Lying became second nature - I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I isolated myself to a large degree. If I had something special to do in the day I would delay my major drinking until the afternoon. In actual fact, my blood alcohol level was probably never zero. I shudder now to think about the times I drove my car with my two little boys on board with residual alcohol in my body.
As I got sicker, the medical profession began to wonder what was wrong with me. My husband – a doctor – was very concerned. He had no idea at all that alcohol was involved. Of course, I knew, but I was NOT letting on! So, I went along with all the medical tests. Before I visited any of the specialists or had blood tests, I would stop drinking. I played this game called “Con the Medical Profession” and it was a deadly serious game. I thought my life depended on keeping the doctors from knowing the real story. After rafts of medical tests, including a rather unpleasant liver biopsy. (I thought, my god—they’re getting close now!) it was decided I had some kind of neurological thing, because peripheral neuritis had made the use of my legs difficult. Because my tests had been so inconsistent, they were scratching their heads a little bit! Looking back now, I think some of the doctors had their suspicions and were awaiting their chance to prove themselves right. Their opportunity came when one day as I was hanging out the washing I collapsed at the clothesline.
My doctor came to see me, and took a blood sample, and that was the beginning of the end, or should I say the beginning of the beginning. The end of drinking and the beginning of learning how to live sober. And even then I was completely in denial. My doctor packed me off to see a physician, who – armed with the blood test evidence and my liver biopsy result – confronted me with my problem. “My dear, I think you are drinking far too much!” THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY!
I was sent to a psychiatrist, who recommended that I go to Hanmer Springs rehab for two months. “Two months!” I protested. “I have two little kids, how can I leave them for two months?” He pointed out to me that I had already left - climbed into the bottle. Well, I was relieved that finally I was going to be able to stop. Angry too at being trapped, worried about how I was going to cope without my crutch.. Worried that my husband would just leave. Worried about how to tell my beloved mother all about it, and my husband’s parents (such conservative people). Worried about how I was going to be able to face people in our very small town. People knew I was unwell, and I had had a fair degree of sympathy - but what was everyone going to think now that I was just another alkie, and my illness had been largely self-inflicted?
The first part of the process for me was to go home and throw out all my empty bottles. I had them hidden all over the house, they filled a rubbish sack or two. That first few weeks of drying out was not comfortable either socially or physically. As each day went by without a drink I began to feel better physically, but not mentally. I was still behaving like a drunk - dry drunk it’s called. My husband removed the car keys from me, literally grounding me. One day I found the spare set and took off for a drive with my two wee boys. My poor husband thought I’d gone off in search of a drink, and was beside himself when we got home. How that man didn’t just say he’d had enough I will never know. The power of love I guess. Another person who helped me greatly was the Presbyterian minister of the time – he was wonderful. He would come up and sit in my house during the mornings. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes not. Sometimes I would rant! Sometimes he would bring a book to read, possibly sensing it might be a no talking day. I am forever grateful to him. I’m an atheist, and this man is a true Christian. He must have dreaded coming sometimes, not knowing what kind of a mood I would be in. He is one of my special lifesavers.
The time came for me to go to Queen Mary hospital. My husband drove me down because he thought I may not get there by any other means. It was a LONG, LONG drive. I was still very anti-going, so the conversation during the trip wasn’t that great! My wonderful mother, grandmother and mother-in-law and father-in-law took over the minding of my two wee sons. They took everything in their stride for which I am eternally grateful. There was no judgement, just a huge willingness to help me get well. I think they were pleased it wasn’t a neurological disorder, just a psychiatric one! More easily fixed I guess they thought. My introduction to Hanmer when we finally got there was a greeting by a flamboyant, caftan wearing gay guy called Bruce. He came out to the car to help with bags etc and said “Welcome to Hanmer darling—come on in—-you’ll be happy here!” All I could think was “What the hell kind of place had I come to!!!” As it turned out, it was just the best kind of place.
The first few weeks I went along to everything because I had to, not because I wanted to and then my nurse-mentor-friend told me to get of my backside and start getting better … take the first step. Well, the first step was to admit I was an alcoholic. In my opinion that is the hardest step of all. So at the daily AA meeting about two nights later I stood up and said “Hi, my name’s Elizabeth, and I’m an alcoholic,” AND THAT WAS THE KEY TO MY FULL RECOVERY. I got a big clap, and from then on I participated to the fullest extent in my therapy sessions etc.
I cannot thank my husband enough for his support and loyalty and love through the thick and thin of these times. When I got home, newly sober and a little nervous, I had a wonderful little support group waiting. I’d do a round of people for coffee—trying not to become a nuisance or too needy. This helped me greatly, gradually becoming more comfortable with people I had deceived, being able to make amends for some of the rubbish I had put them through.
One thing a recovering alcoholic need to do is to keep their addiction in the front of their brain at all times, forever vigilant. Complacency leads to stinking thinking—-the thinking that tells you it might just be ok to have just another little drink.
If I had continued to drink I would have probably been dead by the age of 30, so everything since then has been a bonus for me and my family. I had two more sons (four altogether), I now have two degrees in Chinese, and three beautiful grandchildren.
This is my 37th year of being sober. I had one little foray back into it to prove to myself that drinking is really NOT for me, and I frightened the family. So now I am teetotal, sober, and making up for lost time.