This week's Sober Story comes from Andy, a 69-year-old living in Tauranga.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Andy: It's 2 1/2 years since my last drink.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Andy: The last months/years of my drinking were much the same as the last 54 years but 4 things had changed. 1) My tolerance for alcohol had just got higher and higher as the years went by. 2) Within the last 5 years I developed type 2 diabetes and my drinking was causing hypo symptoms which can be dangerous when unchecked. 3) Although I was 'functioning', I was (in the last 3 or 4 years), starting to hide alcohol supplies for top up when needed. 4) Although I was able to stop for a couple of days and even did a dry July, I had a tendency to make up for lost time afterwards. Also my genuine attempts to give up were always thwarted by my addiction.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Andy: The final straw that led me to get sober was when a professional told me that if I had too much to drink and didn't recognize a hypo coming on, it could be fatal. My response to this was "Yeah I know that" When I walked out of that room I realized I was putting alcohol before my own life. Also with drug and alcohol counselling as mentioned I would give up a few days at a time but then I would, on a whim, decide to go to the supermarket to get something for dinner. Next minute (even though I swore I wouldn't) I'd be at the beer and wine section putting an assortment into the trolley.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Andy: In the early days the most difficult thing for me was actually admitting to myself that I had a problem. I had this idea that people addicted to alcohol were not likely to be functioning, i.e. holding down a job and appearing to be mostly normal at social functions. The next hardest thing when I gave up was that I had a headache off and on for about a month (had dull hangovers but never headaches). Another difficult thing was explaining to friends and family why I wasn't drinking. Because I had a high tolerance for alcohol, people did not generally notice how much I drank. What they didn't see was how much I would drink on my own. So part of my functioning strategy (quite brilliant really), was to down large quantities on social occasions and appear normal and I didn't drink and drive. If I did have to drive, I managed to keep it to 3 or 4 drinks while we were out, then have a few when we got home. This was how clever and at the same time devious my addiction was.
Mrs D: What tool or tools did you use to help you?
Andy: Several drug and alcohol counselling sessions sporadically several years apart. The general gist was developing methods of cutting down and taking days off. But I just couldn't make it work or didn't have the willpower to do it. Eventually I looked up the nearest AA meetings and went to one of those. I think hearing other people's stories that were different but also remarkably similar was helpful. Also the ability to be able to verbalize my own journey - this was at least as valuable as counselling.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Andy: The reaction from family and friends was mostly positive when I got sober. I suspect that would have something to do with my age. My wife has been very supportive. I think a much younger person might have a harder time with friends. I also continue to socialize as I always did but now I have a zero beer or wine in my hand. This is not recommended by AA, but it works for me and my socializing skills are much more inclusive because I'm not always thinking of my next drink. And I can drive home.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Andy: I have not experienced a relapse as yet but I do not rule it out because the statistics for going sober for more than 4 years are very poor. My strategy here is to accept that I might relapse but the worst thing I could do would be to beat myself up. The best thing I could do would be to climb back up on the horse and trot off to an AA meeting where there would be understanding. Sure there would be disappointment, but it seems to me that one personality trait that might boost addiction tendencies is low self-esteem (sometimes mistaken for arrogance).
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to calm down emotionally and physically?
Andy: The first month was the worst - headaches, poor sleep, dreams about drinking, feeling different to my drinking mates. After about 6 months the drinking dreams started to abate and I had my last one about 6 months ago. Physically the difference is not that noticeable because I had come to depend on alcohol for my physical continuum. Mentally the change is more noticeable. I have to deal with day to day problems without numbing them with alcohol. I have taken up another couple of habits which I think help me stay grounded. I swim in the ocean about every second day throughout winter and I try to meditate for 15 minutes each day. Certainly the meditation has given me an insight as to how the mind can trick one into thinking a certain way. Obviously the mind is a great tool for survival (think driving) but it can keep going like this even when we are in relax mode. The other thing that I have noticed mentally is that at times, it is if I am seeing nature for the first time and filled with wonder, almost like arriving from another planet. I did not experience that before. It has to be said though that there are times when a drink would be lovely but hey wonder how that would play out.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Andy: Getting used to socializing sober was not hard for me. I had something that resembled a beer or wine in my hand. I could articulate and listen better than before. I could laugh along with a drunken joke and people seemed to respect where I was coming from. Also I was nothing but honest about the situation when asked. I do not believe it would have been so easy if I was much younger. In fact I gave up for 2 weeks at the age of 22 and I remember that the only thing I could drink at the pub was sickly sweet fizzy drinks or water. Thankfully times have changed.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Andy: The most surprising thing I learnt about myself when I stopped drinking was that I didn't have to drink to survive/exist. The next surprising thing was how little I really knew about myself, how little I appreciated myself. I feel now that I can just be myself without worrying too much about what other people think of me.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Andy: I'm more accepting of life's ups and downs and more inclined to look at other ways to deal with them. I'm probably saving 5 or 6 grand by not buying alcohol although I do spend a bit on zeros but they last at least 4 times longer than alcohol did. I have more of a sense if humour and don't mind making a fool of myself. I'm more accepting of my own and other people's shortcomings and probably more willing to help if I can
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Andy: The main benefits that emerged from getting sober:
- Better headspace
- Saves money
- I can drive anywhere any time of the day or night
- I see life differently, not necessarily better or worse but with more awe, more wonder.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Andy: Interesting question. My answer is....probably not. I mean it would have been good to do it all say 30 years earlier and if anyone has a problem I would definitely recommend getting onto it sooner than later. But I have become quite realistic. I did enjoy it at the time although I paid a price for that. I think I'm just grateful to be where I am and I don't take anything for granted. I could drink again but I think if I recognize that, then I less likely to.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Andy: 1. Don't be too hard on yourself 2. This is a process/practice. Keep at it. If you fail momentarily, get back to your practice. 3. A few people are able to do it by themselves but not many. Get help - counselling, AA, or any other group with a common goal 4. Stop searching for highs and happiness all the time. Just accept a certain amount of contentment for a while. Life can be s#@* but once that is accepted contentment is more likely. 5. Watch your mind. It has its function but you need to be aware that it is only a function. It's not actually you. Also the modern world is set up to make you want things with the idea this will make you happier. Very temporary. There are commentators and influencers and then there’s the daily news. But just remember you are part of nature. Get amongst it, walking, surfing, gardening, bird watching or just simply being. Meditation is helpful for this or just be aware of yourself breathing 6. Finally find out who you really are and strive to be that person. In doing this you may have to develop the ability to let things go. Stop judging people. Just get on with your life. Do not expect any rewards for doing the right thing. Just do it selflessly because you want to leave the world a better place. Despite the war in Ukraine, climate change, Corona virus, ram raids etc, it's still a good world and just getting depressed about it ain't going to help. Live the best life you can under the circumstances. Live in the present.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Andy: Be honest. I have noticed that almost everyone I know or meet seem to at some stage try and make out how good their lives are and the lives of their families. You find out much later that they have cancer or an addiction or someone they know committed suicide. Whilst being positive can be useful at times, it is not when you are going through a crisis. You don't need to say it in a "poor me" way or a negative way. But you do need to say it. As the saying goes ' grief is too high to get over, too low to get under and too wide to get round. You just have to go through it' All this posturing about having everything sussed is just nonsense and very damaging. I believe it's encouraged by social media and advertising. We would all be happier and better off without it. Be honest. Bathe in it then get on with either letting it go or living peacefully with it.
Love the interview Andy, heaps of brilliant insights here for living a happy life, what to embrace and what to avoid!
Nature, such a wonderful thing.
An inspiring story, thanks so much!
Thank you Andy, I feel so grateful for being able to read your story and it helps so much.
Love the wonder at nature consequence, so cool. Appreciate the comments about be content with content rather than expecting highs and your comment about people always presenting their best side. Thank you and good luck to you.
Thank you Andy for sharing. There’s some really useful information in here. I found it interesting about the 4 year sober statistic as it resonated with me. I was 4 years sober and decided one evening while out celebrating our wedding anniversary dinner to order a cocktail. I was going along ok for a couple of weeks while we vacationed in Italy and Ireland but that soon changed when we got home. BAM it was a bottle of red sometimes a bottle and a half a night. This has gone on like this for 4 years, quitting on and off but not more than a couple of months. I think it’s harder to get back to sobriety after a relapse (my opinion only). I am very newly sober again. We have to be very careful what the mind tells us, don’t we?
Thank you Andy for this. There is a lot of great substance in your responses to Mrs D. The last answer is really powerful to me. For a long time I felt so lonely and wrong for having difficulties and that fuelled anxiety and glug glug. As I have become more honest with myself others have been more honest with me and I realise we all struggLe, hurt and suffer. This realisation and letting go of the illusion of perfection has helped my sobriety journey. Thank you for articulating these inchoate thoughts of mine in a way that helps so much. Peace and light to you.
Really enjoyed your honesty and your take on sobriety, you seem a very “chill” type person. Thanks so much for opening up
Hi Andy, thanks for telling us about your experiences with alcohol and life in general. I,m interested in the connection between addiction and low self-esteem/arrogance. How these two traits can manifest and ourselves and those close to us. Your comments are helpful I,m sure, because like you, it has taken me until my 60,s to feel/realise, that I really am better off without drinking alcohol. I,ve also gone about it in a similar way, talking to a trained person, checking out AA and making use of zeros to enable me to have something on hand when out with people who are drinking. I do notice that I plan the evening,s liquids quite methodically, and one advantage is that a bottle of zero wine on the table is often left untouched by anyone else!! Actually, I,m more than happy to share, but when the subject came up recently, one drinking friend commented “don,t go there with her”. Maybe not so friendly.
As always, I think about those close to me now and how they mostly continue to drink and spend time recovering from those excesses. Even if they have developed tolerance. I remember when a bottle of wine at night was just a daily normality, but still, the seediness was telling me something. After a couple of (not consecutive) years alcohol free, I now want to connect more with non drinking people as I know there are some in my community who chose not to for various reasons. It,s quite sad to think that making this change alienates us, as surely if people care, they want us to be happy; not deliriously, just calmly and energetically. It doesn,t always seem that way.
I don,t have a lot of regrets about past partying, or solo drinking either, because, as you say, it might be nice to think everything is as positive as we speak of it, but most of us have been through some shitty stuff, loss of loved ones, health challenges etc. So being grateful for the beauty when it is in front of us, even during an unusually wet summer in the north of n.z. so far, is all part of the bigger picture.
So, thanks for your writing, it gave me some affirmative recognition of where I am in all this, even if the behaviour of some of those around me, is hard to understand and probably connected to their own use. Wish you lots of time in natural beauty. Nina
Hi Mrs D. Thanks for letting me share. Hope it may be useful for someone and if anyone has any questions I’m happy to answer them. Hope your own alcohol abstinence is going smoothly.