This week’s Sober Story comes from Elaine who is in her fifties and lives in the Hawke’s Bay.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Elaine: 14 years, one day at a time!
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Elaine: I’d always partied hard and drunk until I got drunk, really drunk. If you came to our house – look out, cos you’d have a big, bloody hard night. We’d always have drinking games and if I went to the pub, I’d bring everyone home with me and play music and get chaotically drunk. There were a few massive hangovers along the way but nothing really stopped me drinking. But after years of this, I was starting to get spooked by more and more blackouts and big gaps in my memory. I had times when I didn’t know where I had been or what had happened. They were scary. I knew I had lost control of my drinking. Still, I thought I had a relationship problem and a geographical problem and that all I needed was a fresh start. I moved cities and got into a new relationship. My drinking settled down for a while, I think because I was so in love with my new partner. Looking back though, I think I just replaced drinking with him: it was an addictive relationship.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Elaine: After a couple of years, the troubles began in my relationship and my drinking once again took off to an extreme: I burnt out my esophagus and ended up in hospital on my 40th birthday. I couldn’t really eat properly for days on end. The pain in my chest was so bad from the esophagus issues that I knew I should stop. I never told the doctors that I drank that much. Logically I knew I was sick and I knew I should stop but I wanted the drink more. You’d think that would be enough to stop, wouldn’t you, but as soon as I got out of hospital, I started drinking again even though my partner was angry with me. Every time I tried to stop, I knew I couldn’t keep it up – I just wanted to get drunk. I was obsessed with alcohol. My drinking progressed from hard core partying to getting up on a Saturday morning and wanting everyone to leave me alone so I could drink. Now, I understand that that is alcoholism. One day I went to a support group and realised from seeing all these happy, healthy people that there was a way to stop drinking. From there, I finally got sober and stayed that way with the support of a recovery group, and my doctor.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Elaine: I was a pretty tearful, fragile, skinny broken woman when I first got sober. I remember feeling so goddamn broken on the inside and my head would not shut up. I dragged myself around and put one foot in front of the other. It was a tough first year but it laid the foundation to intend never to pick up a drink again. I remembered those awful times and I didn’t want to go back there.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Elaine: People couldn’t quite believe it at the start, because I had stopped and started again so many times. But after a while, they saw I was sticking to it and were happy for me and happy for them.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Elaine: No. I never want to drink again, one day at a time.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Elaine: At least a year, probably more like two. On top of practising a rigorous recovery programme, I had to get help from my doctor for a while to get on top of wild anxiety, which was out of control for a time.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Elaine: I was lucky enough to be part of a community of sober people in recovery and so did a lot of socialising with them. I have stayed away from alcohol and big boozy situations, for the most part. In the early days if I was around a lot of drinking I’d always make a plan to escape early if I needed to. I always put my recovery first and this always looked after me.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Elaine: I am a lot of fun without alcohol and laugh all the time. When I was drinking I thought people who didn’t drink were boring and I wouldn’t have anything to do with them.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Elaine: Everything changed. My addictive and unhealthy relationship didn’t last. My worklife improved. I bought a house. I found new relationships and fostered a trust in myself that I’d never known before. I started to make my dreams come true – one of which was setting up a rehab for other alcoholics - Ocean Hills Detox & Rehabilitation.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Elaine: Being alive. Being healthy. Laughing. Freedom. Being able to make a real difference by helping other alcoholics get and stay sober through my work.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Elaine: I had to hit my own rock bottom in my own time, and wouldn’t really change anything. It all worked out for the best and has led me to living a fantastic life.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Elaine: Reach out. For many people, stopping drinking on their own is really difficult and you need help. There’s no shame in admitting you can’t do it alone: in fact, it’s one of the strongest things you’ll ever do for yourself.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Elaine: Never lose hope. No matter how far you’ve gone in your addiction, there is always a way back. I see people come back from the brink and rebuild their lives in recovery. I believe in miracles. I am one.