This week's Sober Story comes from Helana, a 50-year-old living in Pauatahanui, Porirua.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Helana: Almost four and a half years. I last drank alcohol on the 14 January 2015.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months & years of your drinking before you gave up?
Helana: I was drinking most nights and had various attempts at moderating. I could never have just one glass (in fact I can’t remember ever doing that!). Diary entries show I was proud of myself for going one or two nights without alcohol. Wine was always front and centre and it was what I most looked forward to in the day. Pouring a glass of wine would be the first thing I did when walking in the door after work. It didn’t matter if I was sick, tired or had a big day the next day - I would still drink. So hard to believe now. Instead I very much enjoy my kombucha and herbal teas!
Mrs D: That sounds just like me. So what happened that things started to change?
Helana: I had taken up Crossfit as a way of deliberately putting myself out of my comfort zone while getting fit. I had never done anything particularly serious fitness wise so I went in fully aware that I was going to be challenged! This coincided with seeing Lotta on the Sunday programme. My husband had casually called me into the lounge saying I might be interested in watching the next item, which was Lotta. I stood there transfixed! Lotta’s story was my story, I felt relief and hope. It gave me a reference point to move forward from and I read Mrs D Is Going Without straight away. It gave me the tools to start thinking more seriously about making a change. I didn’t stop drinking straight away but the seeds were sown that I could do it. Over the next 6 months my resolve grew while I also began to feel more and more like a fraud – here I was seemingly taking charge of my fitness at Crossfit but was quietly wrecking myself drinking to excess most nights. Kind of taking away from all the hard work I was putting in! I knew that it would only change if I made the decision to take control.
Mrs D: I'm so pleased you were touched by my appearance on TV. what happened that you made the final decision to quit?
Helana: It was several last straws that led me to accept that I couldn’t control my drinking and needed to just stop the endless tiring cycle. I had started to pre-load on the way to social occasions, generally vodka or gin with a splash of tonic. On one occasion I had to be taken home early from a party and I didn't remember anything the next day. Not cool. Another was turning up to a 5.30am Crossfit class hung-over and not being capable of doing the class. And concealing the real reason why.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Helana: The early days were exciting and terrifying all at the same time. I remember feeling immensely proud of my little mission I was on. I didn’t make a big outward commitment that I was giving up forever, more like I was giving up for a while. It was the Friday nights that were most difficult. That release and reward after a busy week. Drinking on a Friday always felt totally legitimate and less guilt-ridden. I would worry that I would somehow forget I didn’t drink anymore and might find myself drinking accidentally. I think that was just me being hyper-aware of how ingrained it was and how serious I was about changing.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Helana: Many of my family (apart from my mum!) didn’t see that I had a problem but were very supportive once they knew how big a deal it was for me. Some family occasions were hard where alcohol had always been a big feature. Needing to keep reinforcing that I didn’t drink anymore was sometimes frustrating but at the same time increased my resolve too. My husband and sons have been incredibly supportive and proud the whole journey. Similarly the support from friends has been fantastic. They have reminded me many times how amazing my achievement has been.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Helana: No I haven’t.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Helana: It has been the last 18 months or so that I am comfortable in my sober skin and see that as just who I am now. I did replace alcohol with energy drinks when I was going out and until recently I drank way too much coffee. I think those were replacements to some degree. My mental wellbeing has increased immensely. I use practices such as reflection, mindfulness and getting into nature as an established part of my self-care routine.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Helana: At the start I was hyper-aware of not drinking and wondered if people noticed and what would I say. To start with I avoided going to things. The first hour was always the most awkward and hard. Now I will join in where it suits and am not really conscious of not drinking. I can vouch for the fact that dancing and enjoying concerts can all be done stone cold sober! Before I gave up drinking, we had holidays to Rarotonga and the US with drinking being such a key part. Experimenting with new cocktails was seen as being
necessary to having fun and letting loose. One of my big fears of giving up drinking was that I would never enjoy holidays in the same way! That hasn’t been the case – I now fully enjoy the experiences and memories.
Mrs D: There is nothing better than waking up hangover free on holiday! Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Helana: Just that I could actually do it. I never thought it would ever be possible and that life would be so boring without alcohol. I also discovered that I am a morning person. I have found that being completely free of alcohol means your body can more readily work to its own natural rhythm.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Helana: I now really feel things and feel more at ease in my own skin. I get immense pleasure and restoration from being in nature and just breathing. I don’t feel like I am on a roller coaster and constantly falling short in some way. A feeling of being more centred and grounded in the here and now is a wonderful thing!
Mrs D: So fabulous. Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Helana: The main benefits have been an internal sense of being happier in my own skin and living my life more consciously. This has benefits for my family and all those around me. I am more aware of the connection between physical and mental health. This is hugely important once we start to age and I wanted to head into middle age knowing that alcohol wasn’t dulling the messages my body is sending me. On a practical level I have a great job and have started a successful food truck business with my son. I don’t imagine I could ever have achieved this if I was still drinking. Although my life is busy and full I am more aware of needing to keep the balance and understand the power I have over my own life. I continue to be role model for others which I am really proud of.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Helana: No I wouldn’t. It was right for me.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips would you have for those starting on this journey?
Helana: Just that you have to be ready to make the change. My journey started with a gradual awareness that I needed to change. Because I did this over a period of time while educating myself and reading stories like Lotta’s, it meant that I had tools to use and felt prepared once I made the decision. The Living Sober site was fantastic in my early days of being sober – knowing you aren’t alone is really important.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Helana: Just know that you can do it. It can seem impossible but small steps will get you there.