This week's Sober Story comes from Dawn, a 61-year-old living in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Dawn: For nearly 33 years.
Mrs D: Whoop! What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Dawn: I was lost. I was a mother to two beautiful girls, but drugs and marriage to an abusive drug addict was killing my soul. I’d been trying to “quit” drinking and drugging for years. I went through a harm reduction phase for many years – and turned from a daily user to a binger. I would get a few days clean and sober here and there but nothing stuck. All I wanted was to be a good mom – I loved my daughters more than life itself. I just couldn’t stop. The cycle of trying, failing, loathing myself, trying again and failing – it was soul sucking.
Mrs D: I know the feeling. What happened that it finally stuck?
Dawn: One day when my oldest daughter was 6 years old and I was having a particularly hard day due to a hangover following a huge binge – she looked me in the eye and told me that I made her sick. That was my bottom. I finally became willing to do what I knew needed to be done and I went to treatment.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Dawn: The most difficult part was having to change everything in my life! It was so overwhelming. I made decision to leave my marriage as my then-husband had no interest in dealing with his addictions or with his violent tendencies. I had to leave – and I did. I also had to move and go back to work – really had to put on my big-girl panties. It was a lot. But I did it.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Dawn: My parents were very supportive. My dad actually said to me “you’ve always had balls – you can do this.” Which was kind of weird and kind of sweet all at the same time. My healthy friends were happy for me, my addicted friends felt sorry for me that I couldn’t use.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Dawn: I stayed completely clean and sober for a few months after treatment and then started smoking pot – that went on until May 1989 and then I got clean again. In 2000, I took pills left behind after my mom passed away so I count my continuous “clean time” as being nearly 17 years. But I still believe I’ve been in recovery since 1989 – when I stopped smoking pot.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Dawn: Most of the calmness came on the outside – the chaos subsided within a few months. Physically I think it took about a year before I really stopped shaking. Emotionally – I’d say that I got to an emotionally healthy place after about 10 years. Is that too long?
Mrs D: No - I can relate. How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Dawn: Easy – I stopped hanging out with people who drank or did drugs.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Dawn: The most astonishing thing that I learned was that I am an introvert – because I draw energy from being alone. It explains a lot – because I always thought I was an extrovert so always “put myself out there” but really all along it was zapping my energy – making me anxious and crave substances. I also learned that I am a smart, responsible and even over-achieving woman. I’m proud of myself and love myself. That has been the most surprising and amazing learning of all.
Mrs D: How did your life change when you quit?
Dawn: In every way – but as above – I stopped living in chaos. I went to work, then back to school. I became that good mom that I so desired to be. I repaired relationships with family members. I fell in love with a man who treats me like gold (that was a huge change for me). I found hope – and I began to practice gratitude. My life is still changing – all of the time. I’m game for it though.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Dawn: Self respect and self love – hands down. I haven’t loathed myself for nearly 28 years. I don’t do things that make me ashamed of myself. I’m not perfect – and I’m really glad about that – but I’m pretty darned good. Being okay with me – that is the main gift of recovery.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Dawn: I probably wouldn’t take those pills for those few days in 2000 after my mother died. It was really dumb and a very risky move. But other than that – I’m kind of okay with how things have played out.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Dawn: Ask for help. There are a great many ways to recover – don’t listen to anybody who says there is only one way. Find somebody who can help you explore and discover what is going to work for you. And just know that the things that you did in your addiction…are just the things you did. They aren’t who you are. Who you is someone who is worthy of living an happier and healthier life. Ask for help. It bears repeating.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Dawn: We’re all recovering from something – we can recover all different ways – and we’re stronger together. Some of the most amazing people I have ever met are in recovery. You will find the same to be true. Give recovery a chance.
Dawn and her daughter Taryn run She Recovers - a huge and powerful community of women focussed on healing and connection.