This week’s Sober Story comes from Jane, a 49-year-old living in Toronto, Canada.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Jane: I’ve been sober for 3 years, 5 months – last drink was May 8, 2015.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the end of your drinking days?
Jane: It was getting dire. I could always take days, and in the last years, weeks off from drinking. But when I did drink, it was almost always a binge. I think my intent was to disappear myself, or to reach some plateau where I’d feel great and recapture some of the fun I used to have in my 20s. I felt really trapped – every social situation required drinking, which often led to months-long recriminations for what I had said. I also started getting terrible 5-day hangovers. At my stressful teaching job, I would sometimes get the idea of buying a bottle of wine after work, and that would help me get through the day. It often felt like I had marching orders from my brain, that I had no choice but to go to the liquor store to buy the bottle of wine.
Mrs D: I can so relate to that ‘marching orders from my brain’ feeling you describe.
Jane: What helped was moving to Mexico with my new husband. I didn’t feel social pressure, and I was finally with someone who truly cared about my well-being. I switched wine for soda, slowly getting used to saying ‘no’ to myself. One pivotal moment was when I inadvertently, unknowingly had a marijuana edible. I was at a coffee shop and all of a sudden I felt really ill, just a wave of paralysis, knocking out my intelligence and composure. It felt like I had 8 shots of vodka in a row, and I remember thinking “I hate being wasted.” I started to see the lies of alcohol. And I had the time to see that every conflict + every problem I had could be linked to alcohol. But even with all of that, I didn’t entirely stop. I still thought I could master moderation after I came home, and started having accidents from heavy consumption.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Jane: I was back in Toronto for a year without my husband. I often socialized with drinking buddies of the past. One evening about five years ago, I had about 10 drinks – seems so crazy and disgusting now – and I was with someone who definitely did not have my back. I walked out of the pub, no recollection of this, and fell down, hitting my head. I woke up in the hospital, very hungover, got the MRI, blessedly I was okay – though I do think it tinkered with my cognitive functions and balance. I had always said to myself that if I ever ended up in a hospital, I would stop. It would be my rock bottom. But I didn’t. Over the next year, I would continue to drink out of habit, loneliness, deep-seated pain, and addiction. The following year I thought I had moderation mastered. But I was out with a friend who kept pouring wine in my glass and I kept drinking it. I came home, fell on my balcony, looked really bashed up for a few days. My husband cried and said he was really scared for me. I made it through Christmas, began counting days, drank three more times, all without incident, and knew that I was done with it all after a friend’s big party in May 2015.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days?
Jane: I feel like the true early days were the ones in Mexico when I was contemplating and figuring out a life without alcohol. It felt a bit weird to have a Diet Dr. Pepper when everyone was drinking. But I wasn’t around my old triggers and I felt I didn’t have to put on a show for the people we were socializing with – I allowed myself to feel awkward and self-conscious, knowing I’d feel great the next day. In 2015, I had a lot of sober time under my belt, but I still felt a sense of loss and bewilderment, as well as elation and liberation. Some times, it felt like a long trudge in a desert, I wasn’t sure what the point was, but I had to trust that it got better. Staying with feeling uncomfortable, raw, exposed, self-conscious was the hardest part. But it always passes, and the ability to be comfortable in my skin without intoxicants is so powerful and great.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from friends and family when you started getting sober?
Jane: It’s interesting, getting sober is such a friend/supporter sorter. Most people were proud and supportive. It has transformed my relationship with my father; he is very proud of me. Some people, who I realize now were not my real friends (just drinking buddies) were resentful of my sobriety, and those get togethers don’t happen anymore. My husband didn’t totally get how I couldn’t just have 1 or 2 initially, but now he’s very supportive and proud. I inspired my hard-drinking beloved brother to stop drinking.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Jane: Not since May 2015. I drank 3x in 2015, no dire consequences for any, all quite fun, but I felt really done with drinking then. But I feel like I had so many relapses. I would make promises with myself, and I just could not get past about 4 or 5 days of sobriety.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Jane: Physically, because I tapered off for so long, it was relatively painless. Emotionally, a very long time. Everything becomes a lot more clear, and I saw how I accepted a lot of bad behaviour from others, because I felt I deserved it, because I was a pathetic drinker and a very flawed person from some terrible conditioning and abuse growing up. I’ve always been interested in healing myself from the ravages of my childhood and early adulthood, but terrible hangovers, self-recriminations, intense regret made long-lasting healing impossible.
Mrs D: What about socialising sober.. how have you dealt with that?
Jane: It can be difficult to be at a wedding or party sober, but it really is just for the first half-hour. And then the self-consciousness recedes. I have the same amount of fun with old friends, probably more as the end of the night is not marked by helping me home, watching me slur, witness me in black-out state. I do socialize less on average, but I’m quite content to be at home with books and my dog.
Mrs D: Same! Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Jane: I found that I have a pretty even temperament. I always thought of myself as highly emotional, quick to cry, moody. But no, in sobriety, I find I’m pretty balanced and I tend to be pretty optimistic. I also found that I became way more conscientious of how I spent my money, cutting down in lots of small ways, to be able to go on great trips. Perhaps it’s age, but I find myself far less concerned with what people think of me.
Mrs D: How has your life changed?
Jane: In so many ways. I feel like I walk around with a sense of joy and gratitude most of the time. I have a great marriage, I continue to make peace with my past, I write more, I meditate 3 to 4 times a week which is an incredible tool to calm the mind. I get a sense that I am creating my life rather than being tossed around, feeling trapped by my addiction. I feel liberated and relieved that I am not toxifying my body regularly; it feels like I have lost a lot of psychic baggage and I feel lighter. Honestly, I could write for the whole day about how much better my life is!
Mrs D: Any main benefits that you can pinpoint?
Jane: I have transformed all relationships including one that I have with myself, healthy body, peace of mind, joy, sense of great possibilities for my life.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Jane: Hmmm, I could have saved myself a lot of pain if I had given up earlier, but I think I was so dependent on alcohol, that I needed to see clearly that it would strip everything I cared for, including my life, if I kept drinking. My process was a combination of: 2 years away from my usual triggers, getting a dog, having a supportive partner, being absolutely convinced that every problem was attributable to alcohol and fearfully aware that things would progressively worse for me if I kept going, sober sites such as this amazing one and how I found it – through Belle’s blog, audios, daily emails and her help with keeping me accountable, and just being patient that it would all get easier and better, which it definitely did. Also counting days really helped me and continues to! Returning to day 1 is not negotiable for me. I feel like I needed to go through everything that I did to get to this point.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Jane: I would want to reassure anyone who is thinking about it that it the most positive, worthwhile change you can make, and getting sober is difficult but endlessly interesting, unexpected benefits unfold month after month. In the earliest days, making space between yourself and your usual social drinking crowd is essential. Meet friends for lunch, make sobriety your absolute top priority, read a lot of sober blogs, rewire your brain with sober audios, be really patient with the process and kind to yourself, and say ‘no’ to events where you feel it’s too hard to stay sober. Going to bed early is a great tool. Learning to meditate is very helpful. Sobriety gives you the rebellious, life-affirming, kickass life you always wanted.
Mrs D: Fantastic. Anything else you’d like to share?
Jane: Total gratitude and respect for everyone who has helped me on this path: authors, Buddhist teachers, sober bloggers, friends, people on this site. Thank-you to all of you. xo