This week’s Sober Story comes from Cookie, a 62-year-old living in the Upper North Island.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Cookie: 13 years and 10months (I’ve stopped counting the days now – yay!)
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Cookie: I felt sick all the time. I lived for 5pm so that I could start drinking (I was never someone who drank in the day) and I hated myself for what my drinking was doing to my husband and children who were teenagers at the time. I would drink from about 5pm until I passed out. Not good. I also thought I was functioning well but now I wonder how I ever held down a full-on professional job. After my daughter had her baby, she spoke to me one day and said “Mom, at the rate you’re drinking, you’re not going to see ……. grow up!!” That stopped me in my tracks. It was the most important catalyst in stopping me drinking. I had reached rock bottom. I think I had to do that in order to stop saying to myself, “I’ll be fine.”
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Cookie: As above, but also the final straw was when my heart started to play up; I couldn’t walk more than a few yards because I was so out of breath. We were on holiday in Noosa and to this day, I cannot think of that place without going straight back in my mind to how sick I felt. I had major palpitations and damaged my heart irreparably. I have been on cardiac pills since then which slow me up quite a bit. And not only that, I just felt toxic to my soul! And the really, really final straw was when I saw what looked like giant rats scurry across my bedroom ceiling – they were the DTs! I was also majorly depressed but didn’t realize it. I’ve since found out that alcohol is in fact a depressant; it didn’t feel like it when I was enjoying drinking.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Cookie: All I can remember about the really early days was just a huge sense of relief that I didn’t have to feel so sick any more. I had stopped feeling toxic. I also started to sleep well, much better than I had in years. I used to pass out every night, waking up at 3am with my heart pounding and drenched in sweat and couldn’t get back to sleep. The most difficult part came later on when I started to feel better and thought I could drink again but then I realized I couldn’t. That’s when I really struggled – I would say this happened in the first six to eight months or so. In the early days, I went to a psychiatrist who prescribed an antidepressant. I think that helped a lot.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Cookie: My family was, and still is, hugely supportive. They wanted me to stop drinking. My husband, a medical professional, pretty much gave up drinking as well, to support me. With friends, I didn’t make a huge statement. Some of my friends seemed a bit taken aback when I refused a drink but they have got used to it. I haven’t ever come out “of the closet” and said that I’m an alcoholic though. I have always just said I stopped because of my heart which is true. I don’t think I need to say I’m an alcoholic to anyone but myself, but I am fully aware that I am, and always will be, a recovering alcoholic.
Mrs D: Experts say relapse is often a part of recovery, was it a feature of yours?
Cookie: No. So far, I have refused to let myself relapse because I know I wouldn’t be able to stop again. I’ve had to put my big girl panties on from time to time to stop relapsing.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Cookie: I think it took me about 5 years to not feel that urge to drink on occasion.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Cookie: That was hard because some friends didn’t seem to understand that I simply couldn’t drink. One of the main things for me in getting and staying sober is to not feel deprived. And sometimes, that doesn’t work, e.g., at my son’s wedding reception. That was hard – not to toast their marriage in champagne, but I got through it.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Cookie: I am one mother of a strong person.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Cookie: It changed for the better health-wise, but sometimes I feel a bit dull and “out of it” when socializing. Not the life and soul of the party which I was used to.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Cookie: The main benefit is not feeling sick, not having heart palpitations, sleeping (much) better and generally not having to organize my day around boozing. Also the most important thing was and still is, gaining the respect of my family. We do talk about it and I am very open with them.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Cookie: I did it on my own but I think a lot of people should go to AA. I have heard they are a major support group and I did feel lonely at times. I think having a medically trained and very insightful husband made a huge difference.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Cookie: The most important thing is to take one day at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself by saying” I’m going to be sober for a week.” You also have to put other things in place so that you don’t feel deprived. I am a connoisseur of sparkling water for instance. Yay!
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
• My father was a very bad alcoholic and I should have known better.
• My daughter had the potential to become an alcoholic in her youth but has been sober for at least 5 years now. She said, “If you can do it, so can I.”
• My sister was an extremely recalcitrant alcoholic and she killed herself after drinking a lot of whiskey (her drink of choice) and falling backwards down a flight of stairs.
It’s not worth it.