This week’s Sober Story comes from Jennifer, a 36-year-old living in Auckland.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Jennifer: I have been in and out of recovery for the last 17 years. This time around I have been sober for 9 years. This is my longest period of sobriety to date! My previous best was about 3 years after attending rehab and attending AA meetings.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Jennifer: I started drinking at 14 years old. From the beginning my drinking was problematic and I cocktailed my drinks with various drugs. I always drank heavily and often blacked out, vomited and even urinated myself at times. When I was drunk I would say awful things to people for no reason or try and pick fights. The next morning I would have no recollection of what I had done the night before and would dread that feeling of waking up very hung over and dreading what had happened that I couldn’t remember. I had always promised myself I wouldn’t drink and drive but for the last few years of my drinking I drove every time I consumed alcohol, usually mixed with drugs which left me in an horrendous state. I am so lucky I didn’t kill someone or myself while driving drunk. My life became so chaotic and my behaviour was very antisocial, I ended up getting arrested many times due to my lifestyle.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Jennifer: I was facing prison and was in an abusive relationship, my daughter was about 4 months old. I would drink and express my breast milk or feed my baby formula if I had been drinking all day. At this stage I couldn’t stay sober, despite having a beautiful new baby. No matter how many times I promised myself I wouldn’t drink or use drugs I always did by the end of the day. I didn’t want to but couldn’t stop myself. After not dealing with anything in my life for so long I was supported by a worker from an alcohol and drug service to face up to the charges I had accumulated with the police. She waited with my baby while I was held in the cells at the back of the court. My baby started to cry as I had been locked up all day, she managed to have her brought into the cells so I could breast feed her. That was the lowest point in my life and I knew things had to change. I knew it was time to go back to AA and try to get some more help so that I could be the mother I wanted to desperately to be, otherwise I would lose my baby to CYFS.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Jennifer: The first days for me were very hard. I realised I couldn’t stay sober/clean while I remained in a relationship with the father of my child. He was a heavy drinker/drug user and I was unable to say “no” when he offered me anything. I knew I had to leave and move away. I moved into a support house with my baby and that’s when I found things a little easier. I didn’t count my sober days as I had to restart so many times, I lapsed a couple of times. Being anywhere where alcohol and drugs were present was a big no-no for me, I didn’t trust myself not to pick up the first drink. I think the hardest thing for me was learning to reach out and let new people into my life, I was so ashamed at what I had become and sometimes made a mistake of telling someone “normal” I was in early recovery, those people judged me and I felt like a bad mother.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Jennifer: My mother thought I was going to AA to meet men! She wanted me to go to rehab but there are very few places that will take mothers and children. I knew it was important for me to go back to 12 step meetings as this had worked well for me in the past. I invited my mum to AA but she didn’t want to come with me, she was very sceptical that I would change as I had caused so much damage to our relationship. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop and she blamed herself.
Mrs D: Experts say relapse is often a part of recovery, was it a feature of yours?
Jennifer: Definitely! I’ve had many relapses. At first it was a real struggle every time I relapsed, I would feel so guilty and ashamed and this would make me want to drink more. My last relapse was 3 years long, it was so awful but a great lesson for me. I know what I want to avoid and how I went wrong in the past. I know now that working a 12 step programme on a daily basis is important for me and that I must keep working my programme if I want to keep my sobriety. Unhealthy relationships have been a part of relapse for me too so I learnt that I needed to stay single for a couple of years to give myself the best chance of staying sober. I learned that relapse was a process that starts to happen long before I decide to pick up a drink. Usually for me it starts with me thinking about drinking and not telling anyone, then isolating myself from other people in recovery.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Jennifer: Physically a couple of weeks, mentally and emotionally about a year. I’m still a bit crazy! The 12 steps really helped me to resolve and look at a lot of my emotional problems and helped me to become more stable. Making friends with other women in recovery was really important too as they could relate to how I was feeling and let me know I wasn’t totally nuts.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Jennifer: I was difficult, I realised I couldn’t go to bars as I felt too uncomfortable. Now I go to restaurants but still avoid bars as I still feel uneasy about being around so much alcohol. When I spend time with my wider family one of them always tries to get me to drink with them. They don’t know I’m in recovery so I just refuse and make up an excuse about having to drive or not wanting to drink today, sometimes they are very persistent which annoys me. I spend 90% of my time socialising with others in recovery so it just feels natural now for there to be no alcohol around. It’s definitely become easier with time.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Jennifer: I had very little sense of who I really was or what I wanted in my life. I learned how resilient and capable I am as a woman. Learning to be spiritual was something I thought would never happen for me. Now I know there is something out there looking after me.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Jennifer: My life has completely changed over the last 8 years or so. I am more established in my life as a mother and a woman. I had never been able to hold down a job before and now I have been employed in various jobs for a number of years. My life has been really stable and quiet at times which I really enjoy. I am healthy and no longer feel the guilt, shame and fear that used to rule my life because of my drinking and lifestyle. Hope and freedom feature in my life today and for that I am grateful. I guess today I feel like I have so many choices, I didn’t feel like I had any choice when I was drinking. I have a criminal record now but that hasn’t held me back.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Jennifer: I was able to parent my daughter who I love dearly, she can’t remember her mother being an alcoholic addict. I’m a safe, stable, sober parent for her but her father is still drinking and using drugs. I can be her rock and she always blows me away with her insight and love even at such a young age. I have become a better daughter to my mother, she is getting older now and is able to rely on me as I’m sober. My mum is very proud of me now. I had problems with my liver which have come right now and I look and feel good. I have an awesome job now that I love thanks to my sobriety.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Jennifer: Probably not, even though things were so terrible I think I needed to go through that in order to find the life I have today. Hitting my rock bottom was an important motivator for me. After that I became willing to do the work I needed to do on myself earnestly.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Jennifer: Find some other people in recovery to talk to. I like AA but I understand 12 step meetings aren’t for everyone. Try lots of different avenues of support like AA, alcohol and drug counselling, community groups, online support. Talk to people who are supportive and tell on yourself! Let other people know how you are feeling and don’t spend too much time isolating. Be supportive to yourself too, spend time each day telling yourself that you are doing ok and not beating yourself up for making a mistake or having a slip.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Jennifer: I realised I am just another woman in recovery who has a story similar to many other women. All of us can recover, it doesn’t matter how bad we think we are. I think we should all hold hope for those still suffering as we once did.