This week’s Sober Story comes from Janette, a 56-year-old living in West Auckland.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Janette: I got sober 13 August 2007, I’ve just celebrated my 11th sober Christmas
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Janette: My drinking was getting worse but I did not want to stop. I thought I was having so much fun… (so wrong!) I would start to drink before I went out anywhere, half way through the night I was so drunk I missed out on the event anyway. I woke up every morning full of remorse and regret. I would seriously have given my right arm to rewind the clock and to do things differently – only to be drinking again the next day. My husband and children were ready to walk out on me and my reaction was, “Go! Let me drink in peace!” Looking back that is nothing but plain insanity. To choose the bottle and a death sentence over a family who loved me…. I shudder to think that may have been my path.
Mrs D: Crazy where the drink leads us…
Janette: Knowing what I do now, and looking back I can say; that you don’t know what you don’t know. I was in denial. I did not realize that I was very sick, I could not see how this disease was destroying me, my family and my loved ones.
I thought my life would be over if I couldn’t drink alcohol. I have a disease that wants to take me out, mentally, physically and spiritually. I was truly in the grips of a progressive disease; I was unable to stop drinking even if I wanted to. That I was beyond human aid and that I did, indeed, need an act of providence to get and stay sober.
Mrs D: Had you tried anything to quit before?
Janette: My first AA meeting was 10 years prior to getting sober. I managed a string of 30 day tags but could never get to 60 days without relapsing. I tried to do it by myself for the next 8 years. By myself, I mean, control my drinking. Sometimes I could, most times not. My husband would say to me “don’t you think your drinking is getting worse?” to which I would honestly reply, “No! I do not!” (denial). The last five or more years of my drinking it was pretty bad, however, due to black outs (drunk, but conscious, with no recollection the next day of what happened the night before, what I did, where I went.. whom I hurt, verbally abused…drove drunk with my children in the car… the sad list goes on) I was not aware of just how bad I had got and what I was doing to my family.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Janette: I woke up on the 13th August 2007 and knew I had to do something different, that I could not go on living like this. The war was over – I had lost – I had to stop fighting. I phoned my husband and said “I don’t care what you think of me today. No-one could hate me more than I hate myself right now. No-one could hit me harder with a stick than I am beating myself right now” I went to an AA meeting that day.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Janette: I was so angry!!!! Once I had realized that I was an alcoholic and the reality hit that I could never drink again, I thought my life was over. The most difficult thing for me was being comfortable in my own skin. Even out with close friends and family, I was so uncomfortable in myself. It would not matter whether or not people around me were drinking, I was craving alcohol because my brain would tell me that a drink would take away this uncomfortable, sometimes debilitating feeling. I often would go home early or not even go out in the early days of my sobriety. Looking back I do remember the growing feeling after I got through situations without picking up, and gaining more strength each time to do it again. I felt good in the morning when I woke up without the dread of thinking “Oh my God, what happened last night. I don’t remember anything but just know I am in big trouble”
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Janette: Those first few months were really hard. I had ‘drinking’ buddies who still came around but we had nothing to say to each other, so they stopped coming. Just as equally I stopped going to their place. And for a long while I grieved those relationships. My true friends remained in my life, and were always supportive of my efforts to stay sober. I really expected a ‘pat-on-the-back’ from my family, for being sober, but that wasn’t the case at first. When I was around 9 months sober, they did say they were proud of me. By that time I did not need them to be proud of me. I was proud of ME!! I learned that I had to get sober for me, I could not do it for anyone else, no matter how much I wanted to. Today my husband and family remain to be immensely proud of my achievements in staying sober.
Mrs D: That’s so great. Have you ever relapsed?
Janette: I would have said yes if I had answered this question a few years ago. Today I know that I never relapsed during those early days when I couldn’t get more than 50 days sober.. What I was doing between drinks was, what is known as, ‘white-knuckling it’. I was not happy being sober, I wanted to drink. I was just holding on between drinks. I had not fully conceded to my inner most self that I was an alcoholic. (I still thought I could control my drinking.) Conceding is more than just acceptance it is to admit or agree that something is true after first denying or resisting it. So no, I haven’t relapsed since getting sober. However, I have had alcohol to my lips 5 times over the past 10 years. Sometimes I have picked up the wrong drink, other times I have wanted to drink it. The big book of Alcoholics Anonymous says; “if we are tempted by the bait we recoil from it as if we have touched a hot flame”, that was what happened to me. Crazy but true.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Janette: Fortunately for me I kept a journal of the early years of my recovery. Although I will never forget how I felt that morning I made a decision to change, it is interesting to read back on parts of my life that I do forget. I know I was extremely angry for the first year, as my sponsor and others (lovingly) remind me. However when I read my journals I had many days in early sobriety of feeling wonderful. The freedom of waking up in the morning without guilt, remorse and shame is priceless. Getting through the hard times when I felt like a drink would give me strength to carry on. The first Christmas at 3 months sober was not easy, but doing it one day at a time, one moment at a time, is the ONLY way I got through. Also fast forwarding the consequences of what would happen if I did pick up was also useful. As well as thinking.. “it’s not that I will never drink again, it’s just that I won’t drink today!!!” Eating well, eating sweet food and keeping hydrated through the summer months also helped. It is an ongoing journey. I continue to get a deeper sense of calm and serenity. As with the drinking getting worse, so too does recovery continue to get better. Enjoy the ride, you can’t be anywhere else than where you are right now. Rushing ahead and wanting to always be calmer, or happier or better than yesterday, just stops you from enjoying the moment. More is always revealed. Remember that today you didn’t drink, that alone is enough. Once I learned that lesson I realized it is about the journey not the destination.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Janette: I think that was the hardest thing for me. For such a long time I felt that it was always my decision to drink. I thought I can’t be an alcoholic because I don’t crave alcohol. (that was only because I drank every day, I didn’t give myself the chance to crave alcohol) so it was a BIG SURPRISE to me that when I did try and stop, I couldn’t!! Even bigger surprise was that I couldn’t talk to people when I was sober. Not even my closest friends, I just felt so uncomfortable. When I heard the saying years later.. “I knew I was an alcoholic by the way I felt sober” I fully understood what that meant. It’s an interesting question because I really did have to fake it till I made it. As I mentioned earlier, every time I got through a situation sober, it would give me a little more strength to do it again. I was 5 years sober at my daughters 21st and I had an absolute ball, I was dancing on the tables, being crazy (as if I didn’t have a care in the world) my daughter told me later that some of her friends said to her “You’re mum was wasted last night aye”, which she proudly replied, “no that’s just her, she loves to party but she doesn’t drink!” So I guess just fake it till you make it, some occasions are easier than others. But nothing, absolutely nothing, will be bad enough that a drink will fix it.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Janette: The first thing I learned was that all the people out there were not as drunk as I thought they were, and that I really did stick out like dogs bollocks. And that once I started I actually could not stop drinking even if I wanted to. I learned that I am obsessed with how I feel on the inside. I learned that people genuinely love me for me. With time I have learned not to judge my insides, by other people’s outsides. I learned that it is called ‘self-worth’ not ‘other-peoples worth’ and that I am good enough! I can do anything I want, go anywhere I want, any time of the day or night. I learned that you can’t see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others. I learned true forgiveness of self and others. I learned that there is life without alcohol, a life so much fuller, funnier and freer than I ever knew. That it isn’t all doom, gloom and ginger ale. I learned to trust in a higher power and to treat people how I want to be treated. Most of all I have found a true peace and happiness that I didn’t know existed, or that I even wanted this life. I have learnt so many awesome things – I have serenity today that blows my mind !!
Mrs D: Fantastic! How else has your life changed?
Janette: Where do I start? As I mentioned I did not know that I wanted a new freedom or a new happiness. I did not know I was withdrawing from life when I was drinking. I did not realize I was sitting in the same room with the same people, talking the same sh*#, and thinking I was having a great time… such a shallow existence. My life has done a complete 360 degree turn. I no longer run on nervous energy throughout the day. I no longer feel guilty around my children, or feel the need to people please and buy unnecessary ‘stuff’ – or do something I don’t really want to do, so I feel better. My world just opened up and I have become so busy that I don’t even know when I had the time to drink. I chucked in my job at 54 years old and enrolled in university. I have one more year before I graduate in my bachelor’s degree in addiction studies and become an alcohol and drug counsellor. My friends and family think I’m so bloody wonderful.. and I just laugh to myself… I’m not anymore wonderful than the next person, I’m just living the life I should have always been living. Getting sober was not easy, but it was so, so worth it.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Janette: I don’t know. I know that everything I have been through has made me who I am today. Having had that lived experience gives me an insight to now help others, free of judgment. I have a passion for recovery and want to freely give to others what was freely given to me. If I knew that life sober was like this I would have got sober sooner. But we don’t know what we don’t know. Had I got sober sooner I would have saved my husband and children from heartache – that, I would change if I could.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Janette: The reality is that you have got to want it. No-one could tell me that I had a problem. I had to decide that for myself. I spoke to many people about alcoholism, drinking, and controlled drinking, for many years. I asked a lady once “how did you stop drinking” 3 years before I stopped, and her answer was “I just got too sad” that is what happened to me….. you don’t have to let it happen to you! Recovery and a better life is waiting, waiting for you to take that first step. I guarantee you will never say the words “I wish I never got sober”. If you are trying to control your drinking there’s a good chance it’s already out of control. Remember it’s not that you will never drink again, just don’t drink today.
Mrs D: Any final words?
Janette: Please, please, please, get sober…. If nothing changes, nothing changes. There is a life out there beyond your comprehension. You just have to want it bad enough.
(This is a photo of me and my youngest daughter).