Today's Sober Story comes from Joanne, a 49-year-old living in Staffordshire, England.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Joanne: I quit booze 'for good' on 16th November 2013, so I have seven years of sobriety.
Mrs D: Congrats! What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Joanne: In a word... miserable! Looking back I was drinking too much for probably 10 years before I quit. I'd started drinking socially in my teens as did all my friends, I had many a great night out on the booze and although I had a few regrets I never got into trouble with it, so I saw it as normal social behaviour. Where I feel I crossed the line is when in my early 30s I would buy wine to drink at home with a meal. By the time I reached my late 30s I was regularly drinking in the house. Around that time I became single so the wine in the house continued ... only now I was drinking alone. It bothered my mind quite a few times that wine was probably becoming a far too regular habit but I convinced myself I was in control of it by abstaining from it for short periods. Also, isn't that what most most women of my age did? Social media by then was gathering pace an many of us were posting pictures having a great time with alcohol in our hands. The longest I did without booze was 3 months which convinced me (almost) that I couldn't possibly be addicted as I'd walked away from it just like that for what seemed at the time like a long period. Its quite hilarious now that when I look back I rewarded myself each week by buying a 'pricey' bottle of wine to store until the abstinence was done. The reality was I hadn't walked away from it as I knew that whatever time of abstinence I'd set for myself, I would "be going back to normal" at the end of it. I would count the sober days off proving my point that I was in control of it but soon after I took my first glass I'd be back in the same frequent drinking routine which meant most nights I would soothe the stress of the day with wine. In most conversations about having wine at home I described having a glass but in reality I was finishing the bottle. when that started happening most nights that's when I really knew that booze was controlling me. I'm embarrassed to say that I sometimes lied about the amount I was drinking and kept justifying my consumption based on the thought that surely most women drink at home and I was no different. The reality was I had become dependent on it to calm me and the more I worried about things (and worried about how much I was drinking), the more I drank. The last weeks before I quit I'd got to the point where I'd open the wine at home as soon as I got in from work before I'd even taken my coat off!
Mrs D: Yep, been there done that. What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Joanne: I'd thought about quitting booze after my 40th Birthday, this seemed a good mental milestone "life begins at...." and all that.... but it came and went and I was still boozing. In May 2013 and now aged 42 I went on my first cruise, of course I'd booked 'All Inclusive'. Holidays for me were always somewhere hot where I could have a poolside beer in the sun and this holiday was no different. I'd always conditioned myself not to drink before midday on holiday as only alcoholics drank at breakfast and after 12 was for 'normal' folk like me? Anyway I had a great time, however having got off the cruise after a week of indulgence I felt really dizzy, nauseous and couldn't walk far without a feeling that I was going to fall over. I totally blamed 'cruise legs' and was convinced that I would soon feel ok again once I'd been back on dry land. I didn't and the dizziness continued for weeks and weeks but I found that when I drank, the dizziness subsided so any excuse to carry on drinking I took it.
Mrs D: Yikes, that sounds scary.
Joanne: Having visited the doctor on a few occasions hoping for a simple 'pill cure', I had to start listening to what I didn't want to hear and that was that I had got severe anxiety which was causing the dizziness and hey .....what's one of the biggest contributors to anxiety?? Booze of course. My 'All Inclusive' cruise had been the straw that broke the camels back - it was a week long binge.
Mrs D: What did the doctor say?
Joanne: Upset and at my lowest a doctor suggested I go on anti-depression tablets and I recall him saying "don't worry you can drink on these ones" which I didn't comment on as I was not yet ready to admit how much I was drinking. The next few months were miserable, I promised myself I'd "Go Sober for October" and by 4th October I was drinking wine again feeling like a failure, feeling sick, and fed up with the dizziness. Things had to change. I started googling alcohol help and at that time if I could have been lifted up into the sky and out of my life and placed into detox without having to tell anyone I would have done it as I felt helpless and desparate. I discovered a book by Jason Vale called "Kick the drink..... Easily" and I read the reviews with scepticism. How could a book get me to Kick the Drink at all? Let alone easily!!! which is what the reviews claimed. I thought they must have been paid to write these because there was no way any book was going to get me to quit this wine habit, or so I thought. With the same uncanny pink and yellow cover I also discovered "Your Six Week Plan" by Sarah Turner & Lucy Rocca. I purchased both books and felt 'tooled up' but was still doubtful any books were going to get me to quit drinking.
Mrs D: The Jason Vale book was a game changer for me.
Joanne: I began reading it while I was on a week long break from work. Without any plan as to what was going to happen and when, I finished reading the book on the morning of Saturday 16th November 2013 and found myself announcing later that day to a group of friends (while drinking a bottle of beer of course) that I was done with alcohol and this beer would be the last time they ever would see me drinking. It just came out of my mouth and I thought "oh my word what have I said?" I got home (where my wine was reliably waiting as planned each evening) and stared at the bottle with what I can only describe as detachment. Jason Vale had made me see that alcohol had brainwashed me (and others) into believing I needed it when actually it was the primary cause of my misery. I drank the whole bottle of wine as I always did, climbed into bed in the usual fuzzy haze and thought "is quitting booze even possible for me?". The following day I reflected on what I had 'publicly declared' as if I had just thrown myself under a bus and thought IF I made it through the coming week sober it would be a miracle. Life without booze was going to be miserable but I guess now I'd said it I'd got to at least try.
Mrs D: Wow what a story. How was it for you once you actually stopped? What was most difficult?
Joanne: In one way it was like switching off a huge switch or pulling a plug as my mind was made up. I knew I could not go on drinking as I was pretty clear I didn't want the control it had over me. That said I still had to take each day as it came, so I followed The "Six Week Plan" book by Lucy Rocca and recorded the days as the days passed. I remember thinking "I've just got to get my head down and keep going". I discovered sober blogs (Mrs D you are my inspiration!) where this opened up a parallel world I didn't know existed. There were women out there who were of a similar age to me who had quit the booze and claimed to actually be enjoying it!! I couldn't see me ever enjoying sobriety but I kept on reading. I lost count of the times I said in my head... #thereisnofuckingwayiamactuallygoingtodrink!!! This play on Mrs D's phrase reminded me that I wasn't the only one that booze called out to and as Mrs D was ahead of me in sobriety I just kept going following this inspiring and trusted lead. I set myself a target of 3 months (of course because I'd done this a few times), then 6 months, then a year, and then the unimaginable 1000 days. The first 6 months were a real tough test and of course the anxiety came at me like a rail train with no booze to calm it! However by the time I started to reach my first sober anniversary I thought of the misery booze had given me and often thought "why on earth would I want to go back to that stuff!" Boozing isn't just the drinking hours lost in a haze, it's the stopping at the shop to buy it, feeling like a wino when you are paying for it when others are buying bread and milk!, throwing the empties in the already busy recycling bin and dreading the noise, spending untold hours feeling ropey after saying and doing things that you regret, and then repeating it all again.... So I reminded myself of all of this every time I felt a pang of loss for the lovely wine I was so missing and said to myself "watch the whole movie not just the love scene!". This kept me notching up the sober days.
Mrs D: I love that 'watch the whole movie not just the love scene!' What a great line! How did your friends and family react to you getting sober?
Joanne: My circle of friends were really cool about it, they just accepted it because they saw just how determined I was, even though in the early days I would say I'd quit in a determined voice to keep convincing myself that this was for good. They let me talk about it, listened and praised me as I notched up the days. My parents were really proud of me too and still are which kept me going, after all I need to be fully present for them as they get older and could not do that while under the influence. There have been however some interesting comments from others such as; "why don't you just have a drink on holiday?", "why don't you just give up for a month to prove you can do it?", "Why don't you just have a baileys in your coffee?"! WTF!! "You can't have been that bad if you still went to work", "it's a shame you can't have a drink" (no it frickin ain't!!!) - and the list goes on.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Joanne: Never, and never will. As time passes the positives I have gained far outweigh the negatives that booze brings. It sounds corny but it's like life has restarted for me and my mind is awakened as I'm much more present in it for both me and those around me. It's hard to believe that life without booze can be enjoyed when you are trapped in it but believe me the blogs are right that life after booze is blessed.
Mrs D: Sure is. How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Joanne: I was sleeping like a log after about a week or two and started to lose weight soon after so shifted 30 excess pounds (13kg) I didn't need within the first 6 months. Emotions were up and down for probably the first 18 months but I still improve every day. I have to remind myself that all this emotional shite was always there it's just that I didn't deal with it when boozing I just muted it. So I see it that every thought I have to process makes me stronger for the next time.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Joanne: I felt like one of those window mannequins for probably 12 months!! The reality is that it's all in your head as no-one notices if you are boozing or not, as the soda water and lime slice in your glass looks like your mates G&T. You will get past this and now I sometimes take the chance to ask for a cup of tea at the bar, in most places to my surprise they don't bat an eyelid and just do it for you. I recall my very first New Year's Eve out sober and a 30-something woman slurring her words while sloshing her wine asked me if I was an alcoholic because I wasn't drinking. I can't blame her really, I'd have thought the same only months before. Its crazy how alcohol is the only drug that you get a hard time when you quit using it!
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Joanne: Yes, I realised I can be strong when I put my mind to it, I realised that I am not weak and hopeless. I am much calmer, much kinder to those around me and becoming the person I always was underneath the angst and misery of booze. Now I have achieved this I feel I can do anything I want. If I could help just one person believe that they can and will remove the booze that's making them sad then I'd be very happy.
Mrs D: How else did your life change?
Joanne: I'm still in the same job and same house so to the outside world little has changed but what's different is me inside. Being in control and fully present in my own life and knowing I can be present at all times for other people is liberating. In those early days I thought that anyone who said they enjoyed sobriety were different to me because I never would. That rigid mindset has changed. Believe what you read, life after booze is better than you can ever imagine.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Joanne: I would have quit much sooner!
Mrs D: Any advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Joanne: No matter how much misery booze has caused you or others you CAN quit...... and wait for it..... actually enjoy life better without booze. Once you decide to quit for good rather than "cut down" the inner battle of control that destroys you is over. Read everything you can that strikes a chord with you and pass by the stuff that doesn't. You may not be ready to admit your drinking problem to the world or even to your nearest and dearest, but honestly admit it to yourself, write it down and hide it if you need to as this will always be a reminder of your reality. I don't accept I have used will power, instead I have worked on changing my mindset which we all have the power to change, we just don't always know it.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Joanne: Giving up booze is the kindest and most rewarding thing I have ever done for myself. If you are reading this and are still drinking you are here for a reason....... so what are you waiting for?