This week’s Sober Story comes from Elizabeth, a 67-year-old living in Otorohanga.
My name is Elizabeth and I’m an alcoholic. Today I will not have a drink.
My experiences with the demon drink are these….
I did not drink alcohol at all until I was about 21 or 22, and by the time I was 29 I was on my way to an early death. I grew up in a religious household where there was no alcohol at all, so when I moved away from home, the whole world of drinking alcohol opened up. My really heavy drinking covered roughly a two year period. My drinking was done at home, and in secret. I drank spirits – whiskey in particular – in huge quantities. It was a large bottle per day towards the end. I was a crude drinker – no glass for me – straight from the bottle. I had bottles stashed all over the house – just in case! Sometimes I forgot where I had hidden them, only to be delighted when I accidentally came across them at a later time.
I became unwell mentally. Lying became second nature – I couldn’t tell anyone what I was doing. I isolated myself to a large degree. If I had something special to do in the day I would delay my major drinking until the afternoon. In actual fact, my blood alcohol level was probably never zero. I shudder now to think about the times I drove my car with my two little boys on board with residual alcohol in my body.
As I got sicker, the medical profession began to wonder what was wrong with me. My husband – a doctor – was very concerned. He had no idea at all that alcohol was involved. Of course, I knew, but I was NOT letting on! So, I went along with all the medical tests. Before I visited any of the specialists or had blood tests, I would stop drinking. I played this game called “Con the Medical Profession” and it was a deadly serious game. I thought my life depended on keeping the doctors from knowing the real story. After rafts of medical tests, including a rather unpleasant liver biopsy. (I thought, my god—they’re getting close now!) it was decided I had some kind of neurological thing, because peripheral neuritis had made the use of my legs difficult. Because my tests had been so inconsistent, they were scratching their heads a little bit! Looking back now, I think some of the doctors had their suspicions and were awaiting their chance to prove themselves right. Their opportunity came when one day as I was hanging out the washing I collapsed at the clothesline.
My doctor came to see me, and took a blood sample, and that was the beginning of the end, or should I say the beginning of the beginning. The end of drinking and the beginning of learning how to live sober. And even then I was completely in denial. My doctor packed me off to see a physician, who – armed with the blood test evidence and my liver biopsy result – confronted me with my problem. “My dear, I think you are drinking far too much!” THE UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY!
I was sent to a psychiatrist, who recommended that I go to Hanmer Springs rehab for two months. “Two months!” I protested. “I have two little kids, how can I leave them for two months?” He pointed out to me that I had already left – climbed into the bottle. Well, I was relieved that finally I was going to be able to stop. Angry too at being trapped, worried about how I was going to cope without my crutch.. Worried that my husband would just leave. Worried about how to tell my beloved mother all about it, and my husband’s parents (such conservative people). Worried about how I was going to be able to face people in our very small town. People knew I was unwell, and I had had a fair degree of sympathy – but what was everyone going to think now that I was just another alkie, and my illness had been largely self-inflicted?
The first part of the process for me was to go home and throw out all my empty bottles. I had them hidden all over the house, they filled a rubbish sack or two. That first few weeks of drying out was not comfortable either socially or physically. As each day went by without a drink I began to feel better physically, but not mentally. I was still behaving like a drunk – dry drunk it’s called. My husband removed the car keys from me, literally grounding me. One day I found the spare set and took off for a drive with my two wee boys. My poor husband thought I’d gone off in search of a drink, and was beside himself when we got home. How that man didn’t just say he’d had enough I will never know. The power of love I guess. Another person who helped me greatly was the Presbyterian minister of the time – he was wonderful. He would come up and sit in my house during the mornings. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes not. Sometimes I would rant! Sometimes he would bring a book to read, possibly sensing it might be a no talking day. I am forever grateful to him. I’m an atheist, and this man is a true Christian. He must have dreaded coming sometimes, not knowing what kind of a mood I would be in. He is one of my special lifesavers.
The time came for me to go to Queen Mary hospital. My husband drove me down because he thought I may not get there by any other means. It was a LONG, LONG drive. I was still very anti-going, so the conversation during the trip wasn’t that great! My wonderful mother, grandmother and mother-in-law and father-in-law took over the minding of my two wee sons. They took everything in their stride for which I am eternally grateful. There was no judgement, just a huge willingness to help me get well. I think they were pleased it wasn’t a neurological disorder, just a psychiatric one! More easily fixed I guess they thought. My introduction to Hanmer when we finally got there was a greeting by a flamboyant, caftan wearing gay guy called Bruce. He came out to the car to help with bags etc and said “Welcome to Hanmer darling—come on in—-you’ll be happy here!” All I could think was “What the hell kind of place had I come to!!!” As it turned out, it was just the best kind of place.
The first few weeks I went along to everything because I had to, not because I wanted to and then my nurse-mentor-friend told me to get of my backside and start getting better … take the first step. Well, the first step was to admit I was an alcoholic. In my opinion that is the hardest step of all. So at the daily AA meeting about two nights later I stood up and said “Hi, my name’s Elizabeth, and I’m an alcoholic,” AND THAT WAS THE KEY TO MY FULL RECOVERY. I got a big clap, and from then on I participated to the fullest extent in my therapy sessions etc.
I cannot thank my husband enough for his support and loyalty and love through the thick and thin of these times. When I got home, newly sober and a little nervous, I had a wonderful little support group waiting. I’d do a round of people for coffee—trying not to become a nuisance or too needy. This helped me greatly, gradually becoming more comfortable with people I had deceived, being able to make amends for some of the rubbish I had put them through.
One thing a recovering alcoholic need to do is to keep their addiction in the front of their brain at all times, forever vigilant. Complacency leads to stinking thinking—-the thinking that tells you it might just be ok to have just another little drink.
If I had continued to drink I would have probably been dead by the age of 30, so everything since then has been a bonus for me and my family. I had two more sons (four altogether), I now have two degrees in Chinese, and three beautiful grandchildren.
This is my 37th year of being sober. I had one little foray back into it to prove to myself that drinking is really NOT for me, and I frightened the family. So now I am teetotal, sober, and making up for lost time.
What an amazing this story touched and encouraged me.
So glad this has helped you. Keep up the good work. You WILL win!!
Thanks for sharing your story.
Like you no matter how far from my last drink I may be I’m still the same distance from the next – an arms length. So I have to remain forever vigilant, there are no days off in recovery it has to be my first thought always
Vigilance is what keeps us on the right track. I’ve had people say to me..surely you can stop thinking like that by now—no I can’t. It’s what keeps me focussed, and allows me to enjoy my sober life.
I am so happy that your husband and family supported you.Yours is a remarkable brave story.Your personal growth and achievements are inspirational.Who knows what we might be able to do now!.How lucky we are to have this site and people like you who share experiences that are life changing.Thank you very much.
thank you for taking the time to write about your journey I took a great deal from it, I read Mrs D every morning its part of my day . reading others peoples stuff reminds me I am not alone 472 days and working hard .
you have inspired me
It helps to know that you are not alone in your struggle. Go well.
That’s a great story Elizabeth. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m only 415 days, so I still very much have my training wheels on. You comment about keeping the addiction in the forefront of my brain resonated with me. I think this blog is a part of how
Also, it’s much easier to deal with a problem one day at a time, rather than thinking OMG I’ve got to do this for years and years. One day at a time is manageable.
Bugger, I hit post before I was finished.
This blog is a part of how I manage to do that. My friends all drink (normies) and I don’t want to be constantly talking about my ‘sober journey’ with them. I love their support but absolutely don’t want this to be our main topic of conversation. This blog is where I get to work through things and keep my focus. Thanks for sharing your story.
You are truly amazing Elizabeth, when you told me aways back of your addiction and that you didnt drink alcohol, I didnt realize to what extent this had been for you. I commend you for pulling yourself out of the depths and becoming the woman you are. Am really pleased that we chose to be Scrabble opponents and that our challenges have lasted this long. Give yourself a big pat on the back for maintaining for so long xxx
Thanks for those kind words Chris. I enjoy the Scrabble too!!
“One thing a recovering alcoholic need to do is to keep their addiction in the front of their brain at all times, forever vigilant. Complacency leads to stinking thinking—-the thinking that tells you it might just be ok to have just another little drink.”
This is something I will copy and keep with me…. great advice. What a great accomplishment on 37 years! Gives us all great hope and something to look forward to and strive for! thanks for sharing your story.
So pleased that you found something in my story to help you.
Amazing story. Thank you for being so candid. 37 years is remarkable and a credit to the strong woman you never believed you were.
You’re inspiration and I thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your comment. I hope you’re going well.
thankyou for your story. I feel a bit tearful as it was so very honest and you have climbed a big mountain! well done and thankyou for sharing.
Thanks for your comments. The mountain has flattened out a bit now.
Wow, thanks for sharing!! I am still struggling, but I feel at least I only drink 2/7 days. Working on 7/7. Very very hard work. Any “secrets” from Rehab? I can’t go but always wondered if they say anything that helps make this struggle stop in your head
@Sfran I am 297 days sober and the only thing that made the voice go away was to stop drinking 7 days a week. It takes time but the voice will go away. You can do it!!!
One of the main messages I can recommend is to take a day at a time—-or half a day at a time, then on to the next day or half day, and you’ll be amazed at how those alcohol free times mount up. Before you know it your attitude will become sober. Get rid of those 2/7 days, and you will be amazed at how much better you will begin to feel, both physically and mentally.
My pleasure, I hope it helps.
Huge journey for you Elizabeth. I hugely appreciate you taking the time and having the courage to tell us about your recovery. I will remember your advice to ‘keep this in the front of my brain’.
Sobriety requires vigilance!!