This week's Sober Story comes from Alissa, a 46-year-old living in Thames.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Alissa: I have been sober for 28 years
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Alissa: I grew up in a family that was in active addiction and I was exposed to alcohol and other drugs at an early age. I started getting interested in drinking when I was in High School; I wanted to fit in, be taken away from what I was experiencing and feeling, I wanted to be numb. When I was 14 years old I completed the eight week, residential, ‘family course’ at Queen Mary Hospital in Hamner Springs. Although I was not there to deal with my drinking, I learnt enough to see the signs of active addiction in me four years later. From 16 years old I never consumed alcohol without throwing up and I never stopped drinking because I had enough. The only thing that stopped me, was running out of alcohol and/or unconsciousness. In my final year of drinking I became a burden. I was the girl who had to be looked after at parties, I made dangerous decisions and I was very lucky I had protective friends. The weird thing is, I drank as much as my friends and I could never understand why I was so ‘weak’. Eventually, I grew so weary I decided not to drink, ‘just for the weekend’.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Alissa: I was tired, it's that simple, I was just truly exhausted.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Alissa: I never intended on this being a long term thing so the early days were a no brainer. I said no drinking for the weekend and my friends supported me in that decision. Over that weekend different people commented on how much nicer it was being around me sober, so I decided to push it out to my birthday (two months away). Once it was my birthday I had a big birthday party and I completely forgot to drink. No one offered me alcohol, in fact I don't think many people drank at all looking back. Hmmmm… maybe they were saying something. Now, I am a people pleaser, so once I noticed people were way happier with me sober it made the decision to choose a coca-cola much easier. However, in the back of my mind I knew I was going on my big OE and I thought to myself, once I am out of the country I will definitely start drinking - properly this time.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Alissa: Not once did I have someone try to convince me to drink again. I had it easy. After a couple of months I could look back clearly and see that my two worst fears were realised; I had become like my mum (in active addiction) and I had disappointed/embarrassed/alienated my friends. My family were super supportive and as most of them were in recovery it was easy around them. My good friends stayed around, in fact, my friend that I went on the OE with ended up being my strongest supporter. To go back to my last answer, I was on the plane ready to take off to go to Sydney - Bali - London, the two year trip. The flight attendant asked us if we would like a drink, I said, ‘yes please, a vodka and lemonade’. I felt really excited. My friend turned to me and calmly said, ‘if you drink that I am leaving you in Sydney.’ I was flabbergasted. I didn't even really hang out with her when I drank, but she was not having it. So the people pleaser in me kicked in and I got a trusty ol’ coca-cola and that was us for the next two years.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Alissa: Nope, I was too scared to disappoint my family, as I said, almost all were in recovery. I also was suitably scared of what would happen to me if I did. When I had children I became even more solid in my sobriety because I was not going to risk my children for anything. That's not to say I haven't toyed with the idea many times, but I usually say it out loud, in front of people who are quick to say, ‘ummm,nah!’
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Alissa: Physically, I was fine. Emotionally, I travelled a hard road because I chose to not to follow a 12 step program. I have many excuses why but they are all pretty silly to be honest;
- I'm too young (I got clean at 18)
- I know everyone at the meetings, that's not very anonymous
- If I do bust it will be super hard to hide
- I don't believe in God and it's all over the 12 step literature
- I'm not as bad as ‘those guys’
- I would rather stay home and watch E.R
Basically, it was hard emotionally until I gained a sense of who I was. To be honest, and I don't want to put people off, it took about 16 years. I mean I had a lot of good times, it wasn't hard every day but I married too young and to an alcoholic. I had two children a year apart while living in another country with hardly any support and I just thought very little of myself. However, I believe a lot of what I felt was normal ‘growing up stuff’, it's just that my addictive personality is so intrinsically entwined with who I am that it is hard for me to untangle what is a result of life and what is a result of my addiction.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Alissa: It was actually quite easy for me. I am a dancer (not professionally, but I love to dance), once I figured I could dance longer and remember it when I was sober, that is what I did. I also gained an identity as being the fun sober one. People kind of respected it and I was able to join in the socialising without the drinking or the pressure to drink. Also, if you are dancing on the dance floor you're away from the bar, right?
Mrs D: Yes! Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Alissa: I learnt that when I want to, I can do anything, even the hard stuff. I learnt that I was resilient and I learnt that I was horrible to be around when drinking (even though I thought I was GREAT FUN).
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Alissa: I was so young getting sober that again, it is hard to seperate the life changes with growing up vs being sober. Instantly I felt physically better, no hangovers etc. I walked around knowing I was sober and I had a quite, deep inside, pride about it. So, when things got hard, and they did, I would always think, if I can stop drinking I can get through this.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Alissa: I have a wonderful life. My kids are grown and they are good people. I made true friendships. I carry some self esteem from continuing to be sober. I believe everything I have today is due to being sober, for real… my great job, husband, kids, friends and relationships with my family. I know I would not have any of that if I was drinking.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Alissa: Yes, I would go to 12 step meetings. What I lacked were like minded people in my life who I could be truly honest with how sucky life felt sometimes and who ‘got me’. I couldn't always be the girl having fun on the dance floor, sometimes I was the sad girl on the couch and I would have benefited from having people who saw that as more than being lazy.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Alissa: It may sound lame but seriously, take it a day at a time and there is no right way to do this. Oh and I think you're awesome for even giving it a go (that's for the people pleasers out there haha).