Sober Story: Marilyn

Marilyn sitting on garden chair

This week's Sober Story comes from Marilyn, a 66-year-old living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States.

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Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?

Marilyn: 7 Years!

Mrs D: Tell us about your drinking habits and what led you to give up for good...

Marilyn: My heaviest drinking began after my divorce, at the age of 49. I suppose the saying "there is no fool like an old fool" applies here. I was always a big drinker, but my watchful, English husband kept me in check (he would kiss me hello on my cheek and I could hear him breathing in to detect the smell of alcohol). Mitigating factors like my young children and owning an Art Gallery kept my alcoholism in check, but after the divorce I closed the gallery and my kids were becoming independent. I was left to my own, dubious devices and I was pretty much drunk for the next few years. There was a string of bad, enabling boyfriends and worse, I moved to a small island in The Bahamas. Do not get me wrong, the islands were gorgeous. But the lack of supervision, lack of rules and the abundance of partying and drinking created the perfect storm. It sent my over-drinking into over drive! By the time I quit drinking I had tried to quit and failed ten times. I had knocked out my front teeth twice (porcelain laminates), fallen off bar stools, wrecked cars and golf carts and generally made a fool of myself. I heard later that they called me "the crazy white woman on the hill". In the end, I spent all my time drinking or mopping up in the aftermath of drinking. My world became very narrow. When I think back on it now, it seems like it happened to another person...

Mrs D: Can you pinpoint any particular incident that really got you thinking you needed to get sober?

Marilyn: The Christmas before I quit drinking I was completely out of control. On Christmas Eve I passed out right after dinner, before we could open the special family gifts and my daughter was forced to perform all the long-standing family rituals on her own. She was unable to wake me. It still makes me sad to think about it, and it took another seven months to finally get sober, but that was when I knew it had to happen.

Mrs D: How hard was it when you quit?

Marilyn: It was pretty tough. I did it by white knuckling, without any professional help. I had no tools in my sobriety toolbox. But, I told myself I could do anything but drink alcohol. I allowed myself any indulgence with sugary treats, soda or high calorie foods (something that came back to bite me later on). I drugged myself with Sleepy Time tea at 5 in the afternoon and went to bed - shortening the days and lengthening the nights. The most difficult thing was how LONG the days seemed. Drinking had taken up so much of my time, I didn't know what to do with myself. I had no interests left. I remember when I felt like getting in the car and going to the liquor store I would say out loud, "NO!" For some reason that worked for me.

Mrs D: I love that, good technique. How did your family & friends react to new sober you?

Marilyn: 100% support. My friends and family really thought I was going to get killed, or worse kill someone else. My best friend suggested I start writing a blog, and I began writing a daily account of my sobriety journey called: "Waking Up the Ghost". It has a large, robust following now, and I have been able to help many people get and stay sober through my writing.

Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?

Marilyn: No.

Mrs D: Did it take a while for things to calm down for you - emotionally & physically - after you quit?

Marilyn: Honestly? Two years. I lived a half life for two,solid years. I gained weight, suffered a resurgence of a long dormant eating disorder and I was sober, but unhappy. At the text book "advanced recovery" point, almost to the day, I started feeling like myself again. Better than my old self. That's when things started to really fall into place. I got a great job as the Director of Marketing at Sanford House - a residential, outpatient and telehealth treatment center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My world began to get wider and fuller - I rekindled old friendships and reclaimed former interests and activities. I started hiking and exploring and eating right. I gave up sugar and took up reading for pleasure again. I began to dream again - literally and figuratively. I have taken the CCAR Recovery Coach training, and as an addiction professional I read and research everything I can get my hands on about new advances and successful methods of helping folks get and stay sober. It is my calling and my avocation. I wrote in my blog daily for 4 years, now it's sporadic, but I write for Sanford to keep my hand in. We have a cadre of talented contributors that write for us (including Mrs. D) and I think we provide some good information to women (and men) who are in the early stages of recovery and beyond. It is good work and great fun.

Mrs D: Your drinking was so outward and social - how hard was it getting used to being out and about without a glass of booze in your hand?

Marilyn: I have finally concluded that for me, arriving early and leaving early probably works best, especially if drinking will be involved. I just run out of patience at a party or a bar after a couple of hours. You can only drink so much gassy water and it is rare indeed to have the kind of non-alcoholic options, found on this website, available at most get-togethers.

Mrs D: Tell me about it! The joy of being offered a non-sugary mocktail never gets old. What about self-awareness? Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?

Marilyn: Yes! I never realized how much my social awkwardness was a driving force in my excessive drinking. I am MUCH more inhibited now that I am sober. I am clear-headed and whip smart, and it seems like I should want to stand up and shout (or dance on tables), but I am a lot quieter. My friends tell me I am funnier and certainly more interesting than when I was drunk, but I'm not sure I'm buying that. The good news is that I remember what I say and if I'm the life of a party now, it's for all the right reasons (not because I fell down the stairs or caused an "incident" with a good friend's husband...).

Mrs D: You're painting a picture of a life hugely turned around  ....

Marilyn: My life changed completely and overwhelmingly for the better. I went from being dried up and washed up, to being someone who has reinvented herself at an age when most people are settling. I look great, feel great and I have never been smarter. Everything gets better daily. I have a great job, I live in a lovely apartment, I am doing meaningful work in my chosen field and I am enjoying the world - more than I have for a long, long time. I am humbled. I am more properly cautious. I am grateful for this amazing resurrection.

Mrs D: Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you?

Marilyn: My very favorite thing about sobriety is the morning. Waking up without the feeling of dread, remembering exactly what happened the night before, and no headache or nausea. My second favorite thing is telling the truth, the whole truth (and nothing but the truth). I love clarity of thought and (other than a lingering memory of the azure water in the islands) the lack of regret...

Mrs D: Would you change anything about how you got to this point?

Marilyn: Absolutely. I would go to rehab. 90 days of rehab. If I had been able to do that, I could have gotten to the root cause of my alcoholism faster and I could have short-cut some of the things I learned intuitively or late in the game of my sobriety. Other than that, it's been a crazy, wonderful ride. The journey (rocky as it has been) is the destination.

Mrs D: Any advice or tips for Living Sober members who are stuck in the tough early stages of sobriety?

Marilyn: Corny as it sometimes sounds, take it one day at a time. Breaking this enormous task into smaller sections allows you to celebrate the numerous milestones along the way. And you have to be ready and invested in your sobriety for it to work. This is your recovery - no one else's, so be your own advocate and do what works for YOU... If you are a member of Living Sober, it is a good start - community is all. Isolation is the biggest pitfall to sobriety.

Mrs D: Any last words?

Marilyn: Yup. If for no other reasons, get and stay sober for your looks and your pocketbook. My hair, eyes and nails are so much healthier now that I'm sober. And according to the $$$ counter on Living Sober NZ, I have saved many thousands in the last 7 years (now if only I had put it in the bank...). Also, that there is no downside to this sober life. even during challenging times.

18 Comments
  1. springer 1 week ago

    Thank you for your story. Day 3 of trying alcohol free again. 45 days last year and fell back into one more wine, one more wine. Love that you accomplished this at the same age as me. Gives me hope , change is possible!

  2. Antwan 2 months ago

    Looking good! & Smart as a whip too!

  3. GreenTeaFiend 2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your story Marilyn. I’m def going to adopt arrive early, leave early for social functions. I’m 41 days in and if I’m honest I’ve stayed away from most social situations. Know I cant do that forever. I joined this community (my 1st) about 10 mins ago. It feels great not to be alone in this.

  4. Kate1975 2 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story Marilyn. I just hit the two year mark yesterday and I feel like everything has properly clicked into place only very recently. It is such a major change from the months of grind at just staying sober and keeping my head above water. I too started walking and I lost 23kg. Like you I look physically better and younger. But the biggest changes have been on the inside and I feel like I have a resilient core for the first time in my life. I was that crazy woman too. Now I am that reliable, strong woman who friends come to for grounded support. It is very humbling when I look back at how far I’ve come.

  5. MalibuStacey 2 months ago

    Lovely interview, Marylin & Mrs D. xo

  6. Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

    Thank you! I forget sometimes to be properly grateful for my long-term recovery. But it did change (and save) my life. M

  7. johatnn 2 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story Marilyn. Main things I take from it, is that it took two years to really start feeling better. Speaking the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Arriving and leaving early to social events.
    Natural highs, way to go. BTW you look great!

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      Great synopsis of my recovery tools! And yes, another one of the benefits of sobriety is improved skin, hair, nails, energy level, and overall health. M

  8. newbeginning 2 months ago

    Great read! Thanks for sharing Marilyn – so many familiar tales and your story is so inspiring. Congratulations on seven years. x

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      Thank you. I forget sometimes to be properly grateful for my long term recovery. It’s good to look back and remember that sobriety saved my life. M

  9. Hammer123 2 months ago

    Congratulations on sticking out those first two years on your own. It is difficult to get sober but much more difficult without a supportive group. 90 day rehab does sound like a good recommendation!

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      Thanks! I have my down days, especially during the pandemic – physically distancing – but with the proper support system and for me, opportunities in nature hiking, I have muscled through.

  10. delgirl68 2 months ago

    Thank you for sharing. It’s lovely to see how much you appreciate your life now! I think some people play down their “gifts” but I love it that you are so grateful – because you OWN it. Taking full responsibility of your past actions (the drunk ones) and then putting in the work to bring yourself to where you now are – you are rocking it! Your job sounds fabulous, what a gift to be helping others. Can’t wait to check out your blog xx

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      Thanks! And we have a great online magazine I edit at Sanford. The thing I have learned is that, even during COVID and all the anxiety associated with it, there are NO downsides to sobriety! M

  11. TaoTeCm 2 months ago

    Thanks Marilyn. I can relate to the injury stuff and feeling dread the next morning. So happy you found your way out.

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      Me too. And not having to start each day with the whole “today I am going to do better – I won’t drink till 5 and just have one” thing. Because it was a ticket to failure every day. Now I know that even if I have something challenging to deal with I am capable, reliable and strong. <

  12. JR 2 months ago

    Beautiful story of forgiveness and resurrection – thank you for sharing. “My life was so narrow” is so spot on in the life of alcoholics. That is what I love about my life now. I have the energy and desire to do things! xoxoxo

    • Marilyn Spiller 2 months ago

      And to appreciate them! I am a big hiker, just got back from a restorative trip to the mountains, and I am so grateful for my amazing health (and balance) now that I am sober. M

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