This week’s Sober Story comes from Amy, a 46-year-old living in Durham, NC, USA.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Amy: I have been sober since December 7, 2012- right at five years.
Mrs D: Congratulationns! What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Amy: The last few years I was a blackout solo drinker. I had a huge tolerance for alcohol and would drink until I didn’t know what was happening. I also was the type of person that people were always shocked that I couldn’t remember things- they couldn’t tell I was drunk. My whole drinking life I definitely drank to numb, to escape, and to forget who I was. From my first drink I knew I was in trouble, but I was in too much pain to take care of myself, I didn’t know what taking care of myself even meant. I had my “standards”- no drinking during the day, no drinking and driving- yet somehow getting blackout drunk on the back porch was ok. After 4:30 or 5 PM became my new normal time to start drinking in the last year or so. I would have had a bottle of white by 8 PM, put the boys to bed and head out to the back porch to chain smoke and drink more. When I went to the store I would buy a bottle of white, a bottle of red, a 12 pack of beer, and a pack of cigarettes. I did that 2-5 times a week. I was always desperate to quit, I knew I needed to stop drinking but I didn’t know how.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Amy: I woke up drastically hungover around 7:30 AM the morning of December 7, 2012. I can still picture my two boys, ages 4 and 8, standing at my side of the bed, looking at me with a mixture of curiosity and confusion. I couldn’t get out of bed. The night before in grand buzzed fashion I’d promised French toast and spelling bee quizzing in the morning, and I couldn’t even get out of bed. They brought me a plate of French toast and left it on my bedside table. I’d passed out again and when I woke again around noon I saw it there.
Mrs D: That sounds rough.
Amy: I closed my eyes and I imagined myself in the future: I saw myself, grey doughy skin, teeth yellowed from years of smoking, unhealthy and overweight. I was living alone in a dingy apartment. There were full ashtrays and empty bottles everywhere. I was calling my children on the phone, there was no answer so I left a garbled message on their voicemail. I saw them together, getting notification that I’d left a message. They both rolled their eyes and looked annoyed. “It’s her, don’t answer, I don’t want to deal with her right now” one of them said. My heart broke. I saw so clearly the choices I had before me: continue to drink or quit forever. I could see exactly how my life was going to be if I chose drinking over myself.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Amy: Cooking dinner was hard, so was not being able to numb out when I was feeling anxious or down on myself. I missed the excitement of that first glass of wine hiding out in the backyard, the feeling of freedom and rebelliousness I got from lighting my first cigarette and chugging down my first glass of wine. I missed feeling sophisticated, feeling like I was being a grown up, like I deserved it. It felt like I was part of a club- all the moms who made it through one more day to their reward- drinking at the end of the day. It was hard to see the reality of that, the truth of what my drinking did to my mothering and my family.
Mrs D: What did you do to get through?
Amy: In the first days I drank fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and seltzer out of my favorite giant wine glass. I clutched the stem of that glass so tight while I made dinner! Then after dinner the boys and I would head right up to bed. We’d put on PJ’s and play game after game of Crazy 8’s or watch a nature show and then read stories. That lasted for a few months, then I felt safe staying downstairs. Then one day I realized I was drinking my grapefruit juice and seltzer out of a regular glass and I put all the wine glasses away.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Amy: My husband and family have been so supportive. I have been very open about my relationship with alcohol with my children since getting sober, and allowed myself to be really self focused at the beginning. Some friendships fell away, which felt sad but natural. My marriage has changed so much, it was built on me as a drinking person, and navigating me being sober was difficult for both my husband and I. Sharing wine and drinking together was our leisure time activity and my husband felt really frustrated that I couldn’t handle any alcohol being in the house. That was tough.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Amy: No. I had hernia surgery in April this year (2017) and I was taking pain meds and that was slippery. I used them a couple times to chill out and knew that was not what I needed to be doing. It felt so good to access that mindless relief again, which meant I told my therapist and a dear friend what I did because I knew they’d call bullshit and hold me accountable. They did! Which meant I quickly saw the reality and I was able to be honest with myself and get the pills out of the house.
Mrs D: Good on you! After you first quit how long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Amy: I realized about 2 years in that there is no finish line. Life will be calm, it will be crazy, it will feel comfortable and then awkward- always. The relief of knowing that I was never going to get to a place where everything was just zen and grand every moment or even most moments was HUGE. Letting myself understand that life is always changing, that I can be comfortable in times of change and uncertainty has been such a catalyst for growth for me. I thought for the first few years that because I was still anxious, sad, or having a hard time that I wasn’t doing it right. Once I allowed myself to be human I felt a LOT more capable.
Mrs D: I can relate. What about socialising, what was it like going out and not drinking?
Amy: Awkward! Still can be, and I know that it’s totally natural- now it seems so odd to me that we just expect ourselves to be totally comfortable and outgoing in social situations. Of course we feel a bit nervous- we are vulnerable and we don’t know what to expect. We went to a very boozy Christmas party in my first few weeks. I drank a lot of Pellegrino, hung out with all the kids, and we left at 7:30. I’m still amazed that I did that! Alcohol can equal an instant bonding experience- but one that is often flimsy. Going through the process of getting to know people as a sober person takes time, and it also lets you decide if you actually want to make time for each other. I have the deepest most satisfying friendships I’ve ever had now.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Amy: I am really protective of myself and of my body.
Mrs D: How did your life change after you quit?
Amy: I have become comfortable with the way I work. I allow myself to do things my way. I go to the things that speak to me, I allow myself to try over and over. I challenge myself. I have a friendly, loving relationship with my body. I have done a trauma based yoga teacher training, a life coach training, and started my own business. So many things are different! And I think they’ve always been here, I just couldn’t see them through the haze of my drinking. So I don’t know if I’d say my life changed as much as I’d say it opened.
Mrs D: Wow that’s all so great! Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Amy: I am alive. I am a vital being in my family and community. I live in integrity. I do what I say I will do. I am not afraid of who I am, and I’m not ashamed to be myself.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Amy: No. I can think of several things I wish wouldn’t have happened, but who would I be then?
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Amy: Get all the booze out of your house. It’s okay to be self focused. Get special things to drink- grapefruit and seltzer, teas, coffee, fizzy water, flavored waters, juices. Whatever seems good, replacing the booze with a different “treat” felt good to me, less like punishment. Reach out and connect. Know that you can do your recovery your way- there are as many ways to get sober and stay sober as there are people.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Amy: Getting sober has been the greatest thing I have ever done. It has been hard and wonderful and continues to delight and amaze me. Every year I think “Wow! I can’t believe how much my life has grown!” And every year it grows even more.
You can follow Amy on Instagram here.
Photo credit: Hill Honeck