This week's Sober Story comes from Patti, a 62-year-old from the US now living in Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Patti: This latest time - over six years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about your childhood growing up and the impact that had on your drinking?
Patti: I was raised in an extremely dysfunctional family. Both my parents were alcoholics. My father was an alcoholic, workaholic and adult child of an alcoholic. All un-treated of course. He was charming at times, Irish and told a great tale. My mother's alcoholism looked bad - she was a sloppy, sad drunk. She’d sit in our kitchen, drink bourbon and often cry listening to opera records. My dad drank high end booze at nice restaurants, a 'functioning alcoholic'. He drove a nice car and wore a suit. My mother stayed at home in her bathrobe. You get the picture. My mother died of alcoholism when I was only 16 years old.
Mrs D: That must have been tough.
Patti: This was in the early 1970’s in the San Francisco Bay Area, there were lots of drugs everywhere to help me numb the pain. I learned at an early age how to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol. I drank and used drugs throughout my teens and twenties. I blacked out right from the beginning, almost every time I drank. Somehow I got a degree, sometimes that still amazes me. When I was in my early twenties I was absolutely out of control - waking up in strange places; losing my car, forgetting where I had left it; waking up next to people I didn’t know... it was a time of intense shame and humiliation. Eventually I met my husband, and he didn’t drink much, so I curtailed my drinking and using while I was with him, and that probably helped to save my life. Just before my thirtieth birthday we started talking about starting a family, I knew that I did NOT want my children to have a mother like mine, so I went to my first AA meeting 2 days before my 30th. I found a woman’s meeting and I walked in and felt at home.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Patti: I was in the pink cloud of recovery for the first year, grateful and excited. By the 2nd year, when I started doing some intense counselling and looking at my family of origin, I went through some intense grief and anger, but also relief that it was finally coming out. There were about twenty women in the room, mostly my age, and mostly caring and empathetic. I was so lucky, at that first meeting, I found my tribe. A few years later we moved to New Zealand and when I went to my first AA meeting I was devastated! There were about five people there, mostly old men who were pedantic Big Book thumpers. I felt like I had lost my tribe. It didn’t take long before I quit going to meetings.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Patti: Yes. I had two babies and was focused on being a good mother with no alcohol on the scene. But as my sons got older and started school I fell in with other mums who often got together and drank wine while the kids played. These were the ‘cool mums’, ‘The Yummy Mummies’, drinking good wine on the deck after school. I had ventured away from recovery circles and had become very complacent in my recovery, and it wasn’t long before I had my first glass of wine after being sober for almost 13 years.
Mrs D: How did that go?
Patti: When I picked up again, I drank with a vengeance and it progressed quickly. Soon I was waking up feeling remorseful and promising myself I wouldn't drink so much, or that I'd give up booze for good…until the next time. I started hiding my drinking from my husband. With sheer luck, I didn’t get in any accidents nor hurt anyone in that time, except myself. I felt shame and had horrible hangovers every time I drank. My middle-aged body could not cope with alcohol like it did as a teen or in my twenties. I ended up drinking for the next 13 ½ years until 2014.
Mrs D: What led you to stop again?
Patti: In 2014, after drinking at a work gathering, my business partner said to me, "You really shouldn’t drink with workshop participants; it’s not a good look." And I knew that was true. I talked too much, got too loud, and made stupid jokes. I thought I was the life of the party, but no one else did. At the same time, I was writing my first book, a self-help book for women. I felt like a total hypocrite! I was advising others to ‘live their best lives’ and yet I was screwing my own life up. So I decided to give up alcohol again. This time I was not giving up alcohol for my husband or for my kids; I was doing it for me! That was in 2014, and I haven’t had a drink since.
Mrs D: Where have you found your support this time.
Patti: I was still in that same small town, and the meetings had the same old men with the same pedantic ways of doing meetings. If I had an emotion, any emotion, I was told “Just don’t pick up and go to meetings.” Sigh. So another woman in recovery and I decided to start our own meeting. We started it under the banner of NA – but opened the doors to anyone with any addiction. We focus on Emotional Sobriety, empathy and caring. I consider my sobriety now, a bit of a patchwork approach. I read voraciously and am in the process of writing my second book now – focusing on women and recovery - finding our own path on that journey.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Patti: I really liked my own company! That totally surprised me. I was afraid of being along with myself when I was drinking, thus drank alone at home quite often.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that have emerged for you since you last got sober?
Patti: My health improved: I started meditating daily, doing yoga, eating better, sleeping better, and ALL of my relationships improved – every single one!
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Patti: I wish I had started my own 12-step group earlier on, before I relapsed. It makes all the difference in the world to feel like you’ve found your tribe. However, with that said, my relapse taught me a lot – about humility, about empathy and I can totally be there for anyone else that has relapsed.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this
Patti: Jump in completely! Immerse yourself. If you don’t like a meeting, if you don’t feel at home – then go to another meeting or find someone you like and respect and ask them what meetings they like, or start one yourself, or go to a Zoom Meeting – there are hundreds of them from all over the world! Find good TED Talks, read good books on various topics related to sobriety and keep going – Don’t Give Up On Yourself! You are Worth It!
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?