This week's Sober Story comes from Michelle, a 44-year-old living in Auckland.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Michelle: 8 years
Mrs D: What was it like for you before you gave up?
Michelle: I never had a drinking problem and never understood people who did. Until I was 26 I thought people who drank at home were sad alcoholics. But then my mum got cancer and passed away. She was in her early 50's. I couldn't come to terms with it. So I drank and kept drinking for the next 10 years. I'd stop drinking temporarily with my pregnancies but as soon as baby was sleeping through I'd be dying for a drink. I loved wine. I used it as my escape from boredom as a stay-at-home mum without realising that was the reason I was bored. If I wasn't drinking I'd be able to do things that required brain power, but wine dumbed me down. Anything was an excuse for a drink - from hours on end of Dora the Explorer, not enough sleep, bad day, good day, it really didn't matter.
Mrs D: I hear you. After I had babies was when my drinking really bedded in. What happened for you that you finally quit?
Michelle: A few things really. We'd been on a family tropical holiday and I used the holiday as an excuse to drink heavily (luckily my partner was there to help look after our 3 year old and 1 year old!). I realised that each morning I'd not remember what I had eaten the night before. I had never experienced memory blackouts before. When we came back I started drinking more during the day. To my shame and my deepest regret, I drove to kindergarten to pick up my older child with my toddler in the car over the limit several times. I had recurring 4am nightmares of being arrested for drink driving and the repercussions that would have in my life. I had never driven drunk in the past. I was out of control. I hated it. So I quit.
Mrs D: Good on you! How did did you find it at first, not drinking? What did you find most difficult?
Michelle: The hardest thing was getting past the idea that I could have a good time without wine. And coming to terms with the fact I could never drink again.
Mrs D: What about your friends and family? What reaction did you get from them?
Michelle: Everyone told me I was overreacting. Nobody thought I had a problem. I hadn't told anyone how badly I was drinking so they didn't understand why I was taking such a drastic step. I got a lot of "go on, one won't hurt", or "just this once" comments.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Michelle: No I'm way too stubborn! If I was having a hard time with it I'd just think about how I'd feel afterwards. Or I'd go to an online forum and read back on my posts, or read the posts of people at day 3 or 4. I've never considered myself an alcoholic. I just chose the wrong tool to deal with my issues for 10 years and now I know better.
Mrs D: Nice way of looking at it. How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Michelle: Probably more than a year for sober to feel normal and natural.
Mrs D: What about socialising and going out. Did you find it hard to get used to being out and not drinking?
Michelle: So hard for me! I'm a terrible introvert. And I've always hated drunks. Honestly it took me over 3 years to get used to it.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself after you quit booze?
Michelle: I went through some huge self-realisations when I stopped drinking. I was having suicidal thoughts during the last few months of drinking and I thought stopping would help. It didn't. I went to the doctor and got some antidepressants and a referral to a psychologist. It was really helpful. I wouldn't have been able to open myself up to that if I'd kept drinking.
Mrs D: Oh that's great. How else did your life change?
Michelle: I got into gardening and cross-stitch. I learned how to knit and crochet. I exercised more. I took a night course. I didn't have to prepare so much the night before for the kids - lunch boxes and clothes for the day were much quicker to organise in the morning if I wasn't hungover. My sleep normalised. I dropped weight. I spent my wine money on massages and new clothes.
Mrs D: Wow cool! Can you pinpoint the main benefits that have emerged for you since you got sober?
Michelle: A much closer relationship with my partner and kids, and really just living my life more honestly.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Michelle: No, I wouldn't change a thing.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for Living Sober members who are just starting on this journey?
Michelle: Take life 10 minutes at a time. Take a few deep breaths and go for a walk if the cravings get bad. Have at least one trustworthy friend you can be brutally honest with.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Michelle: A few years ago we went on a holiday to Italy & France. These were my favourite wine areas. Before we left I had a bit of anxiety around how I'd handle the long flights without drinking, and whether I'd feel I was missing out by not drinking. When my partner ordered glasses of red wine I would've killed for in my drinking years, I would have a micro-sip. To my great relief and disgust they all tasted like vinegar to me. It was nice to go back to my Diet Coke!