This week’s Sober Story comes from Gail, a 51-year-old living in Westport on the West Coast of the South Island.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Gail: My sober date is 25 March 2014 and as of today I am a very grateful 1200 days sober.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about your drinking days?
Gail: I call my addiction days my lost decade plus some. I was so, so, so sick at the end of my drinking days and nights. One morning our neighbour rung to see if I was ok. My sister from Christchurch had rung her as she was alarmed about my wellbeing. My childrens’ father, who at this stage had full custody of both my children, had contacted my parents to see if I was OK as the children had been ringing me for 4 days and I hadn’t answered the phone. To this day I still don’t remember the phone even ringing. What followed was a very, very severe hangover and detox from this bender. I was bed ridden, vomiting uncontrollably, my throat burned even to drink water and then I would sleep and then awake to nightmares. My body was sweating and I had the most terrible painful body aches that my body had ever experienced, but true to form after 5 days and on the next WINZ payment date I started the next bender and the whole cycle of addiction started up again.
Mrs D: Oh my goodness. So what made things change?
Gail: Thankfully this time I had a little voice telling me GAIL NO MORE you are better than this, so as I got to the point of no return I telephone 111 Ambulance and asked for their help. 5 times I called the Ambulance that weekend and no they wouldn’t help me. All I wanted them to do was take me away from the house to a safe place and have someone help me detox because I knew without doubt this was going to be big and bad and if someone didn’t help me I would die. Still they said no. I will always be eternally grateful to an elder friend called Dora who answered my call of help and took me to the Doctor at the drop of a hat and that was the start of my recovery. A Doctor prescribed me home detox medication and my loving partner took 4 days off work to care for me while I was detoxing and recovering. I don’t remember any of the detoxing but it was the best thing I ever did as it was the start I needed to rebuild my life again.
Mrs D: Fantastic! How did it go after that?
Gail: Everything in my life seemed to calm down once my head was cleared after the home detox. Back in 2009 I completed the Bridge Programme in Christchurch and although I continued to slip and slide in my addiction I knew I still had the tools on board to use. In the early months I set myself goals and really focused on keeping my life simple which helped keeping my balance in life.
Mrs D: What did you find particularly hard?
Gail: One of the most difficult thing was when I took myself away from the drinking crowd I had associated with. The old saying “Find New Playmates In New Playgrounds” is a great saying but sadly I became a very disliked person in town amongst the drinking people. I was talked about behind my back, I received nasty texts and was abused verbally in the street. I had a safe place to live and that’s where I remained to keep away from any temptation or stress.
Mrs D: How did your friends and family react to you quitting?
Gail: My family are now very proud of me. I had been the worst Mother, Partner, Daughter, Sister and Auntie anyone could wish for and it will be an ongoing process to rebuild the trust and love I destroyed on my merry way while affected by my addiction. I love my Children, Partner, Parents, Sister and extended family to bits, more than I ever realised possible. I also have built a great network of people in our community who saw me at my worst and now at my best who are always congratulating me, checking in on me and basically supporting me.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Gail: No relapse and no intention to have one. I keep a very close check on my body and listen when it says rest. I know my triggers and stress levels well and any sign of my life balance becoming unbalanced I immediately act to try and correct it.
Mrs D: That sounds great.. something all of us should hopefully learn how to do in recovery. How is your life now?
Gail: My life is quiet and simple. My home is my castle and I never stray far from it in my spare time. I don’t go out socially very often, in fact I think in the whole 1200 days sober Ive been out socially 3 times. Why put the added pressure on my life that it would bring? My partner enjoys a few beers but that doesn’t upset me as he is old enough to know his limits and I cant control his life. We have a sign in our home which says “Alcohol is allowed in our house but Hangovers are not”. Visitors and my partner respect this.
Mrs D: What have you learned about yourself since you got sober?
Gail: Gosh I am always learning surprising things about myself. It feels great to be able to use the values and morals which my parents installed into me at a young age. They went out the window years ago. Faith, Hope, Determination, Inner Strength, happiness, smile, laugh, pride and love are just a few words that spring to mind. I have also found out that I have suffered my own Mental illness for most of my life which sounds sad and bad but I can embrace it as it answers a lot of unanswered questions of my past including compulsive behaviour and low self esteem which led onto convictions and unhealthy relationships and addiction.
Mrs D: How has your life changed?
Gail: Wow, wow, wow, its amazing, its positive and its mind blowing. In the early stages of sobriety I started an Alcohol and Drug Peer Support Group here in Westport as I knew, from my experience from when I came home from Rehab, it was needed (you can read more about Gail’s group here). From there I made good friends, networks and awesome connections. The group grew in size and we actually won Trustpower Community Awards in 2015 and 2016 which was a very proud achievement. Even this year, in the 6 short months already gone my life has taken a huge leap forward. I sat and passed my Drivers Licence which I had lost for an indefinite time from drink driving. I scored the most amazing job working for the NGO Emerge Aotearoa here in Westport as a Community Support Worker supporting people with Mental Health, Addictions and Disabilities. With that I get to drive a lovely modern car, great job support, and a lovely office space to work in with other local NGOs. I am so grateful to Emerge for giving me this chance in life and realising my potential. My Partner and I now live in a lovely warm, modern and peaceful house which we enjoy with our dog, 3 cats and 2 chooks. My beautiful daughter is about to embark on a very exciting adventure representing New Zealand at the UN Youth travelling to Perth and Vanuatu and my awesome son always brings a smile to my face with his love towards me and his wicked sense of humour. I am so proud of my two children. My own parents have been over twice this year visiting from the other side of the Southern Alps and I am in regular contact with my sister, niece and nephews and extended family. Life will always throw us curve balls and can get very busy at times but with being sober I get to look at the problems that arise in a calmer sense and manage them accordingly. Life is pretty good.
Mrs D: Sure sounds like it! Can you pinpoint any main benefits from being sober?
Gail: For me is life is worth living and its a lot more easier and happier without pouring alcohol down my throat. Its less stressful, its healthier, less damaging, rewarding and its fun.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently if you could go back in time?
Gail: I don’t know and can’t say if I would do anything differently. My recovery journey has been positive and so rewarding. I don’t think there’s anything I would change at this point. I’ve worked hard at my recovery and now I’m benefiting from the rewards.
Mrs D: Any advice for those just starting on their recovery journey?
Gail: A tip I would say to people is not all types of recovery programmes work for everyone. Its not a one size fits all scenario. Everyones recovery journey is different so mix your recovery support up if you need to. AA and NA may suit some but not everyone. There are many great support options available now so whether it is by social media, local church, AOD Clinics, or local support groups etc, any type of support that works is better than no support at all.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to add?
Gail: I still get flashbacks from the past which aren’t pretty. Instead of hiding them by alcohol I am learning to talk to my close knit support team. My partner is terrific in listening and helping me through this and he stops me from overthinking things. There is no way in hell I am going to miss another decade and more of my short life because of Alcohol Abuse. Life’s too enjoyable these days.