This week's Sober Story comes from Lexi, a 54-year-old living in Wellington.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Lexi: 6 1/2 years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about how things were at the end of your drinking days?
Lexi: I had been drinking pretty much incessantly for 25 years with barely remembering more than a handful of nights without booze. Most every night I was either drunk or fully comatosed upon going to bed. The memory loss was quite frightening each morning, coupled of course with MASSIVE remorse and self loathing. The memory loss was very scary though, so I had ways of 'finding clues' to know how bad I was the night before (though usually the extent of the hangover gave me a pretty good idea!). So each morning I used to look for the top I wore the night before to see if there were dinner stains on it - that at least would indicate if I had had dinner (as I had NO recollection). And I knew if I had eaten, the hangover would be on a less severe scale. The extent of the mess on my top would also indicate just how bad my drinking session had been. I also used to look for food scraps in the rubbish bin to give me a clue whether I had eaten or not. Having to do this sort of thing to ascertain how bad I had been, and was likely to feel for the next 8 or so hours, makes me shudder now. Most every morning I'd vow to cut back, but the opposite typically occured, in order to wipe the shame from my heart and mind. It was a never ending self-perpetrated sick cycle - mind games at their very worst, bought about by an incessant 'need' to numb myself.
Mrs D: What happened that made you finally quit?
Lexi: I was married to the most beautiful man who loved me no matter what. But he was very sick, and undergoing treatment. The treatment was such that he could come down with a rapid infection at any moment and would need to be rushed to hospital - it was a life or death thing. On January 1st 2014, I over indulged yet again. Part of me wasn't dealing with the reality of my husband's life coming to an end (not that, that was the driver to start drinking to excess, but it did exacerbate the EXTRA amount I was drinking at the time). So on the morning of January 2nd 2014 my husband broke down and instead of giving me a dressing down for yet another drunken night, he pleaded with me to get help. His greatest fear was that I was killing myself with the extent I was drinking. But because I didn't love myself that much, he 'played another card' which was the life changing one. He said that if he had come down with an infection over night, I would not have been able to take him to hospital - and nor would he have been able to take himself - as such he could have died. THAT was the turning point in knowing something had to change, drastically and quickly. After all, I loved him more than anything - certainly far more than myself, and it all just clicked at that point. I loved my husband so much I knew I could not be party to him losing his already delicate life, that was hanging by a thread.
Mrs D: Wow what a great inspiration. How was it for you early on?
Lexi: Incredibly, although changing a life time habit of such heavy drinking should be almost impossible without help, I somehow managed to just stop. No AA and no counselling. I don't think I realised at the time how much grit and determination I must have had to have done that. Therapy certainly became necessary down the track but in the moment I made my mind up - that was it for alcohol - that was it! I do remember though that first month being really tough - oh the cravings. On a lighter note, I was also a bit preplexed as to what 'normal people' did for all those hours of the day/night that I had spent getting off my trolley. I think if my husband hadn't been so sick we probably would have had endless bonking!
Mrs D: Classic! What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Lexi: Nobody knew I had a drinking problem - I hid it well and although some people probably strongly suspected 'something', I kept my drinking very private - always at home. I was however quite forthright with telling friends I had given up. I just didn't elaborate as to why I did. Funnily though, because giving up was so massive for me, I kind of thought friends would make a big deal of it. But they didn't and I'm sure that's the difference between people that have NO issues with alcohol, so therefore its not a big deal if someone stops, and for those of us that are alcoholics where it is life transforming, and quite all consuming for a very long time (a lifetime in fact) in all its ugliness and glory.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Lexi: No - though I have unscrewed the bottle cap off the vodka...but thank god I didn't proceed further.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Lexi: Emotionally its an ongoing journey and one I am keeping on top of thanks to a very good clinical psychologist who has dug VERY deep with me as to why this all started to begin with. It goes back to childhood (hello - there's a surprise!). Not having had any loving parental/family figures in my life, sexual abuse in my early teens, not being able to become a mother and finally a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (where something like 70% of people have addiction issues), a clear picture fell into place of why life went in the direction it did. I've been in therapy years now and have made real progress...I think slow and steady is the winning formula in my case. Physically, it was surprising how soon life without booze became a settled way of life. But the first month was certainly the hardest - and especially given the hell going on with my husband dying. Ironically had my husband not been so ill, I probably would have found it harder, but i just had so much to concentrate on in his final months, I was all consumed with him...as I say, ironic! It's now been 3 years and I can say life without booze is euphorically brilliant! And I have to remember that in those dark moments - coz we will all have dark moments....that's the nature of being alive really.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Lexi: Being in my 40s most friends were too mature to cause any 'peer pressure'....a few teased but no real dramas there. Part of me wanted to tell them I was so damed proud of myself for the battle I was conquering. Instead I just quietly used to say or remind them, hey I've given up drinking, and would go pour myself a virgin mojito and be content with that. Probably the hardest was when the mind would play tricks in trying to tell me, 'just one glass with your friends will be fine'....and it was easy to believe those mind tricks. But you just KNOW, well for me anyways, there is no such thing, as 'just one drink'...that is just how I roll. I guess I tend to be pretty black and white, so sober socialising is just the way it is and forever will be, and I needed to adapt to that sooner rather than later. And boy did I feel proud of myself those first few times out socialising and being able to drive myself home - that was a FIRST! I actually almost WANTED to get pulled over and breathalized by a cop - I still do, so when he says 'did you have a drink tonight madam', I can reply, 'no and haven't done so for 1030 nights actually'....That would be a fun thing to say eh!
Mrs D: SUCH a buzz to get breathalysed now days! Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Lexi: I was...I mean, am, a person that's actually ok - go figure! I also recognise alcoholism doesn't 'just happen'....there is so often a life time of crap to unearth to really get to the whys and wherefores. I also learnt I am fully worthy of respect and dignity from others and myself. Neither being something I used to believe I deserved. And , that's rather cool!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Lexi: JOY< JOY< JOY!! Although its been 6 1/2 years I am still finding out who I am...compared with the person that had no identity other than being someone that was dependent on alcohol. There is a real person worthy of real love within everyone, including we alcoholics. Man, especially we alcoholics as we've had a battle to get to where we are. Go us, I say!
Mrs D: Go us!
Lexi: On a practical note, these are just some of the things I love now; a much healthier bank account (3+ bottles of vodka a week really adds up!) which makes buying treats from time to time all the more special; no more anxiety over whether there is enough booze in the house to get me 'drunk enough' each night; no more sneaky/sly drinking to cover up how much I need to get the appropriate numbness; no more stories at the bottle store of saying the vast supplies being bought were for parties or work dos (when it was all going down my throat!); eating 3 meals a day and enjoying each of them is fabulous. Being able to drive home myself from anywhere at any time is YAH!; but probably most of all, is having self respect again - conversations are so much more real, relationships are deeper, and I'm experiencing clarity for the first time ever - there's no price you can put on that.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Lexi: I would say that the most profound and life changing benefit from getting sober would be getting the professional help, that led to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (known as BPD). BPD characterises itself with an extreme fear of abandonment and rejection and intense relationship difficulties - debilitatingingly so, and I can tell you it's a nightmare to live inside one's own mind with this disorder, even as a high functioning achiever. Living with these insecurities, based on very real abandonment experiences, coupled with the past trauma was the reason I needed to numb myself. I don't think I would have kept recovery going (or at the very least it would have been a damed sight harder), had I not got the diagnosis and professional therapy. I still live in extreme fear of rejection and associated mood swings, but given the right tools now and with continued weekly counselling (I have had years of therapy - yup it is a long road) drinking is not something I now need to entertain to numb these anxieties. My liver is back to normal - by the grace of god I reckon and its not that I'm religious! I lost weight, my skin likes it (as much as it can for an old gal in her 40s!). I have so much energy it is ridiculous. But most of all I have pride in myself as I'm not hiding behind any crutch (unless you call a tad too much chocolate a crutch!)
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Lexi: I'd love to say I would have made the decision to stop years and years earlier. But the fact is, it is what it is and it was what it was. If I could go back, I would have sought counselling at the time rather than nealy a year on. It shouldn't be a journey struggled through on your own.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Lexi: Just start.....start anywhere as long as you start. Probably firstly, find someone you can trust implicitly, whether it be a best friend, spiritual mentor, counsellor, your doctor...just whoever you can be certain has your back, and don't worry if that can't be a friend....just someone. And then do the hard yards because when you do, life changes in ways you could never imagine. If a magic wand could be waved giving me the choice of being sober for life or winning a million bucks - I'd take being sober, EVERY time. Thank god I didn't need the magic wand anyway eh.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Lexi: If I can give up after 25years of being comatozed nightly, with a pretty sad and pitiful childhood that it all stemmed from, then you can do it too. Nobody's story is so big it can't be done. Just take that first step. And if it ever feels too overwhelming at the prospect of a life without alcohol, then just take the very moment you are living in right there and then and deal with that, rather than some massive big picture of all it encompasses. Last bit of advice - do it...it is so worth it! I know my husband who is now in heaven is proud of me, just as I am of me. You can do it too!