Today's Sober Story comes from Jennifer, a 67-year-old living in the Horowhenua.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober?
Jennifer: I have been in recovery from my alcoholism for 24 years now.
Mrs D: Congratulations! What can you tell us about your drinking history?
Jennifer: My battle with alcohol started at a young age. I think I experienced my first "drunk" episode at about aged 15. I can remember hiding a trouser suit I was wearing at the time in the wardrobe as it had vomit all over it. My father was a violent alcoholic but I didn't know that this could be passed down at this point in my life. My experience with alcohol was further exacerbated when at aged 19 I became pregnant and had to give my child up for adoption. This was a huge trigger and my life was never the same again until years later when I was reunited with my child. Throughout my 20's and 30's the drinking became more and more excessive. I was married and divorced twice and alcohol was a large contributing factor in both of these relationships.
Mrs D: How were things at the end of your drinking days?
Jennifer: In the few years immediately prior to my journey to sobriety I worked for a company and began to steal money from them to feed my drug and alcohol addiction. This became yet another reason to drink but by then I was drinking to black out every other night. I was either hung over or hyped because I was looking forward to that nights drinking. I eventually manoeuvred myself into a situation when I would be caught and, of course, the whole thing came crashing down. This was my wake up call.
Mrs D: Was that when you quit?
Jennifer: No. Throughout the dealings with police, lawyers and courts I continued to drink. During this time I began a new relationship with a man who was a few years younger than me who proved to be my saving grace. We moved from the city to the country and so began my journey back to sobriety. I attended drug and alcohol counselling in this country town and was amazed to find the most astonishing people involved in this work. The woman who counselled me was someone that I could relate to and that, along with the love and support of my new partner, helped me to slowly see my way past the fog.
Mrs D: How did you find it early on?
Jennifer: In the early days it was extremely difficult. I lived most of my life in abject fear and was terrified to be left alone outdoors and would panic if this happened. I began to sneak bottles of wine and would stash them in various places to consume when I was alone. I was caught doing this and finally after much soul searching realised that if I was to beat this thing that controlled my life I needed to find a new way of dealing with my emotions, guilt being my main driver. This all occurred over a period of a couple of years and I am, to this day, gob smacked that my partner stayed with me throughout this period.
Mrs D: How did your friends and family react to you getting sober?
Jennifer: I left behind in the city a group of women who were my circle of friends. Our socialising always revolved around alcohol so when we moved to the country I left them all behind. I knew that if I didn't do this I would never be able to recover. My family, who had stood by me throughout the whole legal process, were silently cheering me on while I battled with this disease. I am eternally grateful to my mother and step father for their love and support at this time of my life.
Mrs D: You said you realised you needed to find new ways to deal with emotions.. how did this go?
Jennifer: My emotions were all over the place at this time. I had no confidence, was depressed continuously and really had no idea of who I was at all. I think in many ways I had a mental break down and for a long time I really just existed in this state of doing everything I needed to do to survive but feeling nothing. I would not socialise during this time and the only people I really saw were the odd friend and a few members of my family. After about three years there came a time when I decided I needed to rebuild myself and began a voyage of discovery around who I was and what I wanted out of life. I continued counselling during this time and began to deal with issues I had hidden all my life. I was sexually abused as a seven year old, the violence in the house growing up, my extremely negative self image and all the myriad of issues that go with having an addictive personality.
Mrs D: How did things change after that?
Jennifer: Very slowly my life began to change. I started to look forward and actually began to enjoy things, especially any time spent outdoors. I found myself connecting with the me that I had a vague recollection of from my childhood. I have fully explored that person now and although there will always be things about myself that I am not that keen on the majority of myself I have learned to live with and enjoy. It is a huge process to do this and I would occasionally stray from the process but never for long and never with alcohol. I found that once I had made up my mind that not drinking alcohol was MY CHOICE I have never gone back. Don't get me wrong, there are times when I would kill for a glass of red wine and a cigarette (have given those up too) but I know that I will never go there.
Mrs D: I love that "not drinking alcohol was my choice", so simple yet so powerful.
Jennifer: During this time I had a fall from a ladder and have developed a chronic pain condition which is pretty much with me until I die. Even this has not tempted me to return to alcohol. I know now that if I go back there I will sign my own death warrant. My child and I are now in constant contact and I have a grandchild. Both of these things give me a lot to live for. Sadly my partner who was by my side throughout this journey could not cope with my pain condition and we parted a few years ago. So I am woman who learned to know who she was in her 40's and I am happy to have a future just the way I am.
Mrs D: That's so great. Have you any advice for people struggling along in the early stages of recovery?
Jennifer: If you are a woman on this profound journey the only thing I can think of to say to you is be grateful for who you are and those who love you. These are the ones who will get you through it. Accept all the help you can get, be true to yourself and most important of all you have to remember at the end of the day it is your choice to drink or not. Just make the right choice. The harder the thing is the more the rewards at the end.