This week’s Sober Story comes from Gen, a 44-year-old living in Waikato.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Gen: I finished with drinking on the 17th July, 2014
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Gen: I was in a constant cycle of either drinking, planning my drinking or being very hungover. To this day I can’t believe what I functioned on with awful hangovers. Alcoholics sure have huge determination!
Mrs D: I feel the same way! Can’t believe what I managed to achieve while also necking a lot of wine.
Gen: I believed that alcohol enabled me to get through each day, it gave me the energy I needed to cook dinner each day after work etc. I felt like no one around me understood exactly how hard my situation was, so I constantly justified my drinking. I drove straight to the bottle store after work, making my way around the different stores in town so the same store didn’t see me each day. Years earlier I would’ve had beer or wine, but for the last few years it had to be spirits. I was hiding empties all over the place so my recycling bin didn’t look so bad, and it was an attempt to hide how much I was consuming. Some days I’d have 2 drinks of spirits before I started work at 8:00am. My kids only ever knew a stinky booze goodnight kiss. Apart from one close friend and my then husband, nobody knew how bad things were. I was hiding so much. My life felt completely out of control, but when I drank it felt like time slowed down, and I got some luxury escape ‘me’ time. I was desperate to escape all the time and had started driving after drinking, which I deeply regret to this day. I got to the point I wished I’d get caught so I’d have my licence taken off me and someone would help me. I never did.
Mrs D: Did you talk to anyone?
Gen: I told my doctor alcohol was a problem. I told my chiropractor, therapist, sister in law – it was like I looked too normal to have a problem. I thought someone might point me in the right direction for help, but no one did. I even phoned an alcohol addiction place and made an appointment. Full of fear I gave them all my details in the hope of getting help. The day came, their receptionist phoned and said the councillor was sick and had to cancel. Another appointment was never offered. Although that sunk me a bit, in a way I’m glad that happened because I realised I could not rely on anyone else to do this for me.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Gen: My 18 year old son had a presentation thing on one evening that was an important thing for me to get to. I lied and said I’d gotten held up at work and couldn’t make it. But really I’d had a drink, thinking I’d just have a couple on my way home after work but of course I couldn’t stop. I drank and drank then snuck into bed before he got home. The next morning I had never felt so disgusted in myself and how I had let someone so precious down. I sat down and sobbed and wrote a statement that this was it. I didn’t know how I was going to stop, but I knew I could do one day booze free here and there, so I just would have to do lots of one days. I still have that in my diary, dried tear sploshes and all.
Mrs D: I did the exact same thing on the morning I decided to quit. How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Gen: I knew that every strong well made garment is made of thousands of wee stitches. Not big stitches. So in my head, to re-stitch my fallen apart self, I would have to just do lots of little ‘stitches’ for me. I viewed every positive thing I did as a stitch. I had to learn to live all over again. When I ate something healthy, a stitch, talked with my kids fully present, a stitch, moisturise my feet, stitch, pick a flower, stitch …and so on. I made sure I had a cooler bag in my car wherever I went which had crackers, cheese, canned chicken, chocolate, fruit and ginger beer in it. For so many years I’d started drinking straight after work, so now I pulled over not far from work and made snacks I could eat while I drove. I did this for quite some time in the early days. I knew I couldn’t let my tummy get too empty, otherwise the want to drink would increase. I didn’t go down the alcohol aisle and I actually didn’t even let myself look at booze. Cooking was a huge chore, and dinners for the family took a dive. Also for the first 6 weeks my sleep was awful. I just trusted those on here that said to hang in there, that it would get better. I also made an agreement with myself that if I was going to have a drink that first I would jump onto Living Sober and say what I wanted to do.
Mrs D: And did that happen?
Gen: A few times I came close, but without fail each time I got instant invaluable love and support from folk in the community here at Living Sober. They saved my life. I am eternally grateful for this. I honestly believe that without being part of this tribe, I would have caved. Everyone understood, I’d share things I wouldn’t tell my friends, and 24/7 there is support.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Gen: No one knew about my private hell so only my husband and one close friend knew and they supported me.
Mrs D: So no relapses for you?
Gen: Before my last drink I actually believe there was 1000’s of relapses. I was constantly promising myself that the night before was the last. I felt like one giant blob of relapse and failure.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Gen: I think physically about 6 weeks. I put on weight for the first 3 months, which went over time as life settled. Emotionally maybe 2 years before I felt like I could slow my mind down a bit and trust myself.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Gen: I had never been a big social drinker, because I was scared of how messy I’d get.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Gen: I learned I could achieve the things that had sat deep inside me that I dreamed of, but because of failing to quit drinking so many times, I had lost faith and confidence in myself. I still think of my life in terms of stitches, and everything I accomplish is still a valuable stitch that holds me together.
Mrs D: I love that stitch analogy. How else did your life change?
Gen: My drinking buddy walked out and our marriage of 22 years ended very early into sobriety. The issues that drinking had put a blanket over all came out with a hiss and a roar. But I knew as long as I didn’t mess up my body and mind with alcohol, that things would be ok. And they are, because I can trust myself now. And I notice nature now. I see and appreciate shiny grass swaying in the breeze, dew on a spiders web, colours in a single petal. My brain was in a constant rush when I was drinking, and thinking about drinking, but now I take moments to soak in beauty around me. It feels untainted and childishly exciting. I’ve planned and taken proper holidays and used up every minute of them wisely. I made an heirloom baby quilt, very detailed, I felt proud of being able to do all these new things without losing time to drinking or being hungover.
Mrs D: Awesome. Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Gen: Confidence in myself, belief in my ability to do the things I set out to do. I bought my house, am doing renovations, can work into the evenings after work and then sleep well. I have a grand daughter that I will never have a wasted moment with, never a moment stolen by booze. Also it became clear what were actual issues I needed to work on within myself, and what were simply alcohol induced anxieties etc. I still suffer depression and have anxiety, but nowhere near as bad as when I was drinking. It’s manageable now. Also, and very importantly, just recently, the son I mentioned earlier, now 21, popped home one Sunday afternoon and I was sitting at the kitchen table. He sat down beside me and I sobbed as I recalled that last night of drinking. I told him the truth and he said to me, “I remember that night”. I told him how sorry I was that I had let him down, how much I loved him and appreciated how loyal and kind he had always been to me. I said to him I promise I will never let you down again. He wrapped his arms around me and we cried together and he told me he loved me, that he didn’t want me to beat myself up over the past, etc. It was a very healing moment for us, and I am in no doubt that had I still been drinking, an apology would have carried very little, if any, weight.
Mrs D: Wow what a powerful moment. I love that. Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Gen: I wish so much that my children had more of their childhood without me drinking. I just know I wasn’t truly present for them for so many evenings of their young lives. Those years are gone and all I can do now is my very best from here.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Gen: Don’t lose another day. Especially if you are a parent. Sure you’re getting by, making do. But your parenting will be 100 times better if you stop drinking. I see so clearly the benefits to my youngest son from just having a fully present mother around every evening, every weekend etc. And get support from those on here that want to help you. Don’t worry about forever, worry about today and do whatever you need to do to stay sober today. Then repeat it tomorrow.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Gen: Fully trust that those who have gone before us with long term sobriety are proof that it can be done. Don’t think, “oh it’s different for me, I’ve got this type of personality and this very difficult situation” – others have proven it can be done. We are all worth much more than personality numbing liquid in a bottle. And the biggest thank you to everyone on here that cheered me on and have been with me along this road. I love you all.