This week's Sober Story comes from Aria, a 65-year-old woman living in the Bay of Plenty.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Aria: I have been in recovery for three years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Aria: I have spent much of my life trying to make sense of how alcohol has affected me. In my early years growing up, I watched my Irish father, binge drink then become angry and act in a way that as a child caused me to feel afraid. I remember feeling I had two fathers, a sober father and a drunk father. I never knew who would walk around the corner. This impacted on my level of trust towards men to this day. As a young married woman and mother suffering from depression, I started to learn about alcoholism. I attended Adult Children of Alcoholic meetings and a course on “The elephant in the room” (alcohol dependency). I began to drink normally, however over time the amount I was drinking increased. I was now planning my drinking, thinking about alcohol and using it to alleviate stress or reward myself. End of week drinks were Friday and then became Thursday night. I bought smaller glasses thinking that would limit my drinking. I purchased half strength wine, only to discover I drank more of it to get a kick. When we went out I could never drive, my husband had that task or we ordered a taxi.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Aria: I was joking with my sister about when I would become an alcoholic. She retorted “when?” I was angry with her, but I got to thinking and reflecting on what was going on with my drinking. It was, in reality no joke. I was feeling ashamed, covering the bottles in my shopping trolley. My husband told me when I drank I became combative. I always made sure there was wine available in the house. My sister had been caring for a friend with dementia caused by alcoholism. I did not want my grandchildren to deal with me in that state. I was the eldest in our family and have always been very responsible. I loved and cared deeply for my family and grandchildren. I was reaching retirement age and I was concerned my drinking would exacerbate.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Aria: Making the decision seemed to be the most difficult. Once I knew I wasn’t drinking that became my mission. I did not go grocery shopping for at least a month. I never walked down the liquor aisle. I had plenty of AF drinks. After work I spent time in the garden and went to bed very early as well as having an early dinner. I did not and still do not have white wine in the house.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Aria: My family was supportive, although I did not make a big deal out of it. We drank AF drinks at dinner my husband and son may have a beer, if he was visiting. My friends aren’t big drinkers and we often have AF drinks. I am now happy to talk about my experience with alcohol if the subject comes up.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Aria: My life was full of relapses although I did not know it at the time. I would talk myself into not drinking on Thursday or Sunday in order to reduce my consumption, then I would drink on those days. Friday and Saturday were definitely drinking days. During school holidays I drank everyday.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Aria: I think it was at least three months. During this time I treated sobriety as my main mission and put a great deal of effort into caring for my sobriety. I went to see a counsellor when I stopped drinking. I had experienced counselling previously with varying degrees of help. However this counsellor was very kind and I benefitted greatly from her care and compassion. I joined Living Sober and learnt from others who posted. I learnt with help from my counsellor that I had to give myself the same compassion and kindness I gave to the friends and family I loved. I attended a short mindfulness course which helped me to remain in the moment.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Aria: My first evening at a cafe was hard. I watched people around me having a glass of wine and felt sad I was missing out. I was able to get a very special mocktail and that helped. My first Christmas was easier than I thought it would be although I can remember feeling isolated at times. I made sure I had my own alcohol free drinks and good food. Attending my first wedding celebration was also a challenge which caused me to worry. However I ended up being seated beside a guest who had been in recovery for 7 years and he was great support. I am not a hugely spiritual person but some of the help I have had has come to me at just the time I needed support. I reflect on this with my new learning, the importance of feeling gratitude for the positive things I have experienced.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Aria: I learnt I was OK. It was OK to feel the feelings and that feelings don’t last forever.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Aria: Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
The cracks, part of my being human, which I had tried to fill unsuccessfully with alcohol were now more easily understood and accepted by me, I was ashamed less frequently. I was learning to accept my imperfections. I could see things more clearly without the drama that drinking alcohol caused. I made some decisions that reduced my stress. I feel more compassionate towards others and to myself. Difficulties still happen but I am coping better with the feelings they engender.
Mrs D: I love that, what a gorgeous poem. What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Aria: I am healthier. I exercise daily. I feel I function in a more adult way. I no longer feel I am missing out by not drinking alcohol. I have required joint surgery for arthritis. My body has healed well and I have coped with the emotional stress of surgery better than if I had been drinking.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Aria: A difficult question to answer. Perhaps I would be kinder to myself. I would judge myself less harshly.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Aria: I really benefitted from the support of others in this site, listening to You Tube (Kristen Neff), reading and gaining knowledge about alcohol and its effect on my body and brain. Having this nformation helped reduce my feelings of shame and blame both for myself and for others struggling with alcohol dependency.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Aria: Giving up drinking alcohol was not easy, however, I am glad I am no longer a prisoner to booze.