Today’s Sober Story comes from Lizi, a 61-year-old living in Takamatua, near Akaroa.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Lizi: I’ve been in recovery just over three years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Lizi: I was a southern comfort drinker for all of my adult life. 40 years of it. I absolutely loved drinking, it was like liquid honey going down my throat. I loved the taste and I loved the feeling. I loved the humour, the laughter, the music, the stories, the camaraderie. I loved drinking with friends out and about or sitting around at home. I was quite happy drinking by myself as well. The last few years I was sort of a moderator, bargaining with myself so I didn’t have to give it up altogether. I would buy a couple of litre bottles, and some diet coke. I’d pour it from the big bottle into a small 320 ml bottle and that would be my quota for the evening. Nearly every night. So that had me drinking about 2 litres of strong spirits every week. Plus more if I went out somewhere of course. And sometimes I’d be a brat and have a red wine or a Baileys or something afterwards, or a couple of glasses of champagne with a girlfriend before I even started on the Southerns. I felt like I was being an angel if I left a couple of nips in the bottom, which I did occasionally just to kid myself that I wasn’t all that bad! I’ve always had a kind of self-preservation or survival instinct, so I would do my best to give myself 2 nights off it every week. To give my body a rest. Sometimes I failed in this, but it wasn’t all that hard, as it was never two in a row, and at least one day a week I would have over done it enough the night before, that it was quite easy to just go to bed and watch a movie…feeling holier than thou for being so good to my body that day!
Mrs D: So what happened that led you to get sober?
Lizi: No big bad thing happened. I’d been very aware I had a problem for a long, long time. It was seeing Mrs D on the Sunday program in June 2014 that did me in. Tears rolled down my cheeks with the raw honesty of it all. I tried to hide them with my hair over my face till the ads came on, so my man wouldn’t see. I connected deeply. I knew in that moment that I would stop. That I could. I bought the book the next day, shelved it for a couple of weeks while I drank like a fish, then one Sunday night I started the book, read half of it, then made the decision that it would be my last night drinking.
Mrs D: Amazing. How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Lizi: In the early days I just felt weird. I felt strong inside and determined. But the actual not drinking made a huge impact. I was pretty lost. On weekends I went to movies quite often the first few months, in the daytime, often by myself. It was winter. Or I hired DVD’s (as you did back then). What was most difficult for me was not socialising, as I am a very social person. Telling people was difficult. It would be almost like a joke to imagine me not drinking. So it was kind of embarrassing telling my friends what I’m trying to do. I felt very vulnerable, sensitive, and kind of exposed, raw.
Mrs D: Sounds like it was a huge deal.
Lizi: I think I need to say that it was absolutely enormous. The fact that I had given up drinking, for good, consumed my every waking hour. My thoughts and feelings were all over the place. The hugeness of it was almost overwhelming. My whole life for months and months was all about this huge thing I was doing. I sat down around 5pm with a nice drink in a fancy glass, my usual glass, but with mint, ice and cucumber and lemon slices and raspberry and soda. I got some nice cheeses and olives and I sat down and relaxed. Just like normal after a big day. I felt ridiculous at first. After two weeks I was honestly looking forward to day’s end and sitting down with my drink and snacks. Proof to me that a habit can be broken. I went to bed pathetically early. I felt cosy and safe in bed. I didn’t go there to sleep. I had my phones, my tablet, my book, my big screen TV on the mantelpiece, and I’d alternate between them all. I spent a lot of time on Living Sober website, it was my lifeline in staying sober and navigating the tricky feelings that surround it. I also wrote my blog since the very first day sober and it was there in blogland that I became close friends with our @Gilbert. We were both around in the sobersphere on the day this website launched, and have very happily and gratefully been here ever since. I doubt very much that I would have pulled this sober gig off without the tremendous support and connection I have here.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Lizi: My family and friends were supportive of me, and some expressed pride in me, and all gave me respect. But they weren’t THERE! I found it to be a very lonely business, especially in the middle of winter when we mostly stay at home anyway. But friends didn’t really know what to do with me anymore, coz mine was a good house to call in at and have a few drinks and laughs, on the way home, or on the way out, or anytime really. I always loved my girlfriends dropping in and we had so many laughs, it was always warm and funny, but real and communicative as well. They left me mostly alone. That surprised and hurt me quite deeply. It has taken me years to come to terms with the changes in my friendships and how to feel about those changes. I’m okay now, it is me that changed, not them. And they are still my friends and we still love each other. Truth is, it still hurts. I just don’t fit the same into their worlds. I mainly just see them when there’s something big on now.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Lizi: No. I am too afraid to relapse. I am the type that will either have one day one, or one relapse.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Lizi: Emotionally it took me a good few months, maybe longer. I parted with my partner of 5 years at about 2 months sober. He wasn’t a big drinker and was a lovely man who treated me well, but this was so huge for me that I decided it would be easier for me to do it alone. He really didn’t get it, how big it was for me to be quitting something that I’d done for 40 years. He did not know how to support me and as a result he irritated me. I guess he did try, I know he was proud of me, and I guess I was impatient and impulsive. Never mind. It was like I could handle a relationship which wasn’t particularly communicative (on his part) when I was getting pissed and having fun, but it felt a bit more empty of any real magic when constantly sober. Even though I am still alone three years later, I am glad I let it go. I would rather be alone forever than to settle for less than I desire and require of a relationship. I feel I am in good company for now.
Mrs D: I know you’ve already touched on this but can you talk some more about how hard it was getting used to socialising sober?
Lizi: It was very hard for me but it was made easier by the advice you give in your first book Lotta. To consciously think about the event for what it is. Is it a birthday? A BBQ? A chance to dress up and feel good, see friends, listen to nice music, have good conversations, eat nice food. That helped immensely and I still do that to this day. I felt so weird the first time I went out though. My friend Helen took me to a party for a well-known Christchurch lawyer who was turning 80, so it felt pretty safe and was high on a hill in a nice home overlooking the sea. We stayed about 3 hours. That was quite long enough. I enjoyed the food and met some very interesting people and had some nice conversations but I felt enormously weird.. The next thing was a wedding, I lasted about three hours and then slipped away feeling like a miserable failure. I went to some nice jazzy afternoons on a friends’ front lawn and found them quite enjoyable and easy to cope with. Then there was a big party out in the country at a friend’s house,100 people, all catered, and some seventies bands playing with original members. It was there that I clicked into the groove. I’d taken my own nice glass, ice, lime, mint, lemon slices and soda, and I could see people looking at my lovely drink with envy, and I carried it with pride. I told Billy the host on the quiet, what I was up to, and he hugged me tight and said he was so proud of me, that what I was doing took real guts and we all should do it, and I got some tears at his kindness. It took me quite a while to realise many others really don’t drink all that much. That every outing is not all about drinking for them.
Mrs D: Ha ha I know! I thought everyone was always boozing merrily like I was. Nope.
Lizi: Some people really do go out to see friends, be social, enjoy conversations, music, eat food and go home feeling like they’ve had a good time. Who knew!!!
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Lizi: There have been many things I’ve learned about myself. Surprising things? Ummm….I’ve learned that I have kept myself perpetually busy all of my adult life, with businesses, family, friends, other people’s problems, and when not busy I’d want to be drinking. I have avoided myself. Even though I have been a seeker and searched the meaning of life since a young age, and read many books, had thousands of in depth discussions, studied and developed my intuition for a year, I have actually just coped well, got through, managed efficiently all my life. I have not ever slowed down enough, for long enough, to really know myself. I have learned that I am enough. That I am interesting and fun and good company just being myself. I have learned that I am patient, and that I have a lot to give. I have learned that solitude is a beautiful thing, and if it comes along in life it should be cherished, and enjoyed wisely because it is just one part of a life. I have learned that when it comes right down to it, there is only one person in this whole wide world that I can count on absolutely, always, and that person is me.
Mrs D: Can you summarise how your life has changed since you quit?
Lizi: The biggest way my life has changed is I have spent more time alone since being sober than the whole rest of my 61 years put together. This is not just because a few certain girlfriends don’t drop in much anymore. It is because of where I am at in my life. I ended a relationship. My daughter moved out of home. My son built me a house in the country by the sea which I’ve recently moved into. All these changes are just the natural course of events for my life, and choices I have made. And I am sure it is easier for me with only myself to please most of the time, than it is for so many of you who are managing husbands and families. I take my hat off and bow at your feet!
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Lizi: The biggest benefit of all and the one I am most proud of is that after 18 months my gorgeous rapper son, Rory, looked at my life and how happy and together I was, and he wanted it for himself. He has given up alcohol and smoking dope for 20 months now. He is 29. He is awesome. My daughter Georgia still has a few wines but she’s a normie and I’m not too worried. My son was pretty heavily into the weed, more so than the alcohol, but when he did drink he did it robustly!! Chip off the old block! I feel happy with myself and proud to have given it up. I have lost the daily feelings of guilt, nagging worry, sometimes shame, procrastination, and negativity. I am on point at all times, with a clear brain. I have always had good relationships with my children, but I absolutely love that they are proud of me, and never worry that I will embarrass them by saying some loud mouthed or sarcastic thing in front of their friends, or just by being pissed and stupid. I look forward to being a fun Granny who smells of lemons instead of booze and cigarettes. I gave up the ciggies nearly two years ago now so add in the booze and that’s at least $200 per week I’m saving, and that’s before going out anywhere. The gains are endless when you strive to be your best self. I have made some beautiful friends through the Living Sober website. The people on this site know more about my thoughts and feelings and struggles and triumphs than anyone in my day to day life. I suppose the loveliest thing is Contentment. It is such an elusive state for most of our lives. We are endlessly striving to be more, get more, have more, do more, give more. I think I have stopped. I think I am just very quietly being me now. For now.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Lizi: No, I don’t think I would. Because this is me and the way I have done it. I would not question or second guess that because it has worked. I did read at least 10 good sober type books in the beginning and that was very re-enforcing and I’m sure it helped me a lot. Oh yes come to think of it I guess I would not have embraced so enthusiastically the sudden love of sweet things. All manner of them! Never before have I been interested in desserts. Maybe on Christmas day only. Or chocolate. I would go a whole Easter without even eating any! Now I adore everything sweet, cakes and slices of any type, and desserts. Cream cakes were my thing in the early days OMG give me a brandy snap or a chocolate eclair. I have put on a good six kilos which I can’t seem to shake off, and although my eating habits are now under control, it has done damage. I have high blood sugar and very high cholesterol. I am trying to work on that.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for those who are just starting on this journey?
Lizi: My thoughts here are just to believe strongly in yourself. Your inner voice. The one that Knows. Courage…..grab it by the teeth and don’t let go. Get in touch with that deep part of you where determination, guts, and stamina reside. Acquaint yourself fully with these feelings and just hold on. It is a lot about trust and loyalty. Trust yourself. Be Loyal to yourself. Give yourself this Gift of sobriety and you will gain the trust and loyalty of all of those who love you, and those you are yet to meet. You have one life. Make it one to be proud of. Make it count.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Lizi: I’m sure if anyone has got to here they’ve read enough by now! But I will thank you for the opportunity to write my story because in doing so I have learned quite a lot about myself!