This week's Sober Story comes from Kirst, a 46-year-old from Dunedin.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Kirst: My sober date is New Years Day 2016 (3 ½ years). I gave up on that day not because I had a particularly hard New Years Eve the night before but because that was the day the switch flipped in my head.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Kirst: Before I gave up, I proudly labelled myself a high functioning alcoholic. I was a middle management public servant in a technically skilled role with a big salary. I very rarely missed a day of work although some days I went through a whole packet of peppermints to stave off the nausea, and was pleased I was never breath tested on my way to work in the morning. I was drinking a bottle of chardy every night. Two bottles if I was on the phone to my Mum or had a good day, bad day, was the weekend, public holiday, someone’s birthday… you know the drill. I thought about drinking constantly. I drank to black out at least a couple of times a week and generally lost my weekend days to hangovers. I was making some really bad men choices, and my relationship with my grown kids was suffering. My world was growing smaller by the day. One particularly bad night, I went out for a quiet drink in town with some of the managers from work and don’t remember anything after the third or fourth wine. I woke up and my face was bloodied and swollen and my glasses were destroyed. To this day I have no idea if I got a hiding or fell over, and I don’t know how I got home. No-one at work ever mentioned anything so it’s still a complete mystery to this day. I still feel sick when I remember the look on my son’s face when he saw me the next morning. After that I stay at home or went to friends houses to drink, but it still took me another 6 months to get sober!! I still shake my head in disbelief that it took that much longer!!
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Kirst: I had a close knit group of friends who were all big drinkers as well. I had a drunken argument with one of them one night. Slowly the group began to tighten ranks until I was eventually excluded and that was the catalyst for me to take a good hard look at myself and decide to make the change. I had been thinking about it for a long while but it always seemed impossible. Then a friend of mine who I partied with in my 20’s got sober and I thought to myself, “bloody hell if she can do it, so can I!”. It gave me the motivation and self-belief. I think it is important for us all to realise that we are role models for someone, somewhere, even if we aren’t aware of it.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Kirst: I think the absolute loneliness and isolation was the hardest thing. I had never felt so alone in my life. Dealing with my emotions (which is very uncomfortable for an Aquarian at the best of times) and realising I wasn’t as “tough as nails” as I thought. I had to unpick myself entirely and start again. I had been drinking since I was 13 so alcohol featured in virtually every life choice I had ever made. All of the thoughts, ideas and beliefs I held about myself went out the window and I had to learn who I actually was and what I really believed in. It was hard work and still on-going. I bought your book on day three and found the Living Sober website at that time, but didn’t find the Members Feed until much later. So before I would head out to a bbq or if I had a had a rough day I would read and re-read the sober stories. The Members Feed was a revelation to me when I found it and I immediately felt less alone.
Mrs D: That's exactly what we're here for! So people don't feel alone. What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Kirst: My grown kids were relieved and happy. They were very supportive. One unforeseen side effect is that my boy and his GF were very big pot smokers and about six months after I gave up the booze, they decided to give up the pot too and haven’t touched it for three years now. I am very proud of them! My daughter hardly drinks now either. So the roll-on effects for my wee family have been profound. My Mum and Dad (divorced) are both big drinkers and have their own problems with alcohol. My Mum is very supportive of me giving up but my Dad struggled with it a bit as we used to drink together but he is all good now. My mum did buy a pub about 6 months into my sober journey – she jokingly said she had to wait until I was sober to buy it as they couldn’t have afforded it if I was still drinking lol. I love the fact that we can laugh and joke about it and nothing is hidden or taboo, although I was certainly much more sensitive in the early days. These days I don’t think twice about telling people that I don’t drink. I don’t see my drinking friends anymore but do have a fabulous group of normie women to hang around with. I think my drinking used to scare them off in the past so once I gave up they welcomed me into their group with open arms. My (now) best friend has been so supportive the whole way through and virtually gave up when I did.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Kirst: No, I have never relapsed. About two years before I gave up, I did go 90 days alcohol free, just to see if I could do it. I found that very hard because then I was counting down until I could drink again. Now I only count up.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Kirst: Probably a good 12 months mentally. I did a lot of internal work on myself, checked in with myself often, lots of rebuilding and self-care. Physically, I was immediately better. I exercised to beat the cravings and quickly dropped 7kg in weight (wish I had kept that up lol). Even the dog lost 5kg from all the walking we did!. I have Lupus and a heart condition and my last proper Lupus flare was 6 weeks before I stopped drinking. I have had the odd Lupus niggle and have had a couple of trips to ED for heart monitoring in the last 3 and half years, but nothing compared to how constantly sick I was when I was drinking. I shudder when I think about the self-inflicted stress I put my poor body under.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Kirst: I relied on non-alcoholic wine heavily in the first six months. I found that when I took it to a bbq, firstly no-one would pressure me to drink and secondly the other guests wouldn’t feel awkward about drinking. The funniest thing I noticed (and still do) is that when you say you don‘t drink, people immediately start telling you how much they have cut down (generally right before they polish off two bottles of wine lol). In the beginning I tried to reassure them that the only persons’ drinking I judge is mine but now I realise that their justifications and explanations arise from their relationship with alcohol and I just switch off when they start banging on about it. Alcohol free wine also helped me realise that I could socialise easily without getting drunk and made me shift my perspective. The technique I picked up from Living Sober about focussing on the “who and why” I was socialising is a tool I still use to get the best out of a night. I now find alcohol free wine gives me a huge headache so haven’t touched it for ages. Prior to giving up, the professional organisation I am part of was planning its annual conference and I naturally took the role of social convenor as all good, high-functioning alcoholics do. However, three months before the conference I got sober and so, at around my 90-day sober mark, I hosted 150 people for a whisky tasting and a pub crawl… talk about a baptism of fire for sober socialising lol! I went home both nights so proud of myself and wondered how I would have been able to do it if I was drinking; managing that many drunk people was like herding cats!!
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Kirst: That I actually socialise much better without drinking, I have way more fun and I’m far more engaged. But I think the thing that surprised me the most is that I am a lot softer now (in my home life at least, at work I am still a bulldog), but it’s like all my hard edges have been sloughed off and I really like that.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Kirst: My life is beyond amazing now. I completed my part time study and graduated with a Master’s degree with Distinction at one year sober. To celebrate I shouted myself a solo trip to the UK and Europe for two months. I ticked off nearly everything on my bucket list and came back with a whole new bucket list! When I came back home, I resigned from my job of ten years and started working for myself. I love the flexibility and two years on it is going from strength to strength! My kids are doing amazingly well and my health is the best it has ever been. I have met the most amazing man who I have been seeing for a year now and we are so in tune it is frightening. He hardly drinks and only knows Sober Kirst and seems quite happy with her lol. We are off to SE Asia for all of August and are talking about building a house together within the next year or two. And just because I had to retain some of my rebellious streak, I got tattoos to mark day 3, day 90, 1 year, 2 years and 3 years sober.
Mrs D: Ha ha I love that! Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you since you got sober?
Kirst: Health, happiness, peace, calm, contentment, wealth, travel and love. I truly feel that I am living my best life right now.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Kirst: I would like to say I would do it earlier but I don’t know if the journey would have been the same and I try not to dwell on “what ifs”.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Kirst: Ride out the cravings, (distract, distract, distract) but sometimes “white knuckling” it is the only way through. But know it is only temporary and your best life awaits you on the other side.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Kirst: Just that the Living Sober community are the most amazing supportive caring group of people I have ever had the luck to meet. Their wisdom and grace is astounding and has been a key factor in me getting sober. It helps to know we are not alone in this and that there are those who have gone before us to light the path and we can do the same for those behind us. Every time we give back to the community, I think we learn a little more about ourselves.