This week's Sober Story comes from Peter, a 49-year-old living in the UK.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Peter: I have been in recovery for 19 years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Peter: There is so much to tell, so much so that I wrote a book about it; The Twelve Step Warrior. But let me try and summarise. The last few months of my addiction were a constant cycle of madness. I was caught in a constant battle of not wanting to drink and being seduced by it. Daily I would tell myself that today was the day I would finally get sober. Sometimes I went two or three days without drinking but that’s when I would think, "well I have had three days without alcohol so maybe I’m not an alcoholic." That is when I would go out and try and drink ‘normally’. It was then I would rediscover that I can’t drink normally, I’m not like others, I drink to get drunk. I don’t drink for pleasure, I drink to hide the pain and then I drink to hide my shame. I was at that point. I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it.
Mrs D: I know that cycle of madness so well. What happened that finally led to you getting sober?
Peter: I did a geographical. I thought that my problems stemmed from my surroundings, so maybe if I moved away from my problems I could restart and live a so-called normal life. So I went to Greece. I missed home and I drank more until one day I decided to kill myself. But as I walked out into the open sea, bottle in hand I heard the voices of my children and I felt their pain. I felt a pain I had felt all my life as the son of an alcoholic. I knew that pain well and I didn’t want my children to have to live like that. I knew that pain was so powerful that my selfish act of ending my own life could and probably would ruin their young lives, and one day turn them into what I had become - a hopeless, homeless alcoholic who was tortured by depression and ghosts of the past.
Mrs D: Thank goodness you had that moment of clarity & entered rehab. Was it difficult for you after that?
Peter: The day I entered rehab wasn’t difficult at all. Sure, I was full of fear but I finally felt that I was where I needed to be and I felt like the weight of the world had finally been lifted off my shoulders. The most difficult thing for me was leaving my children behind and my mother. Everything else was secondary, even the drink. I wanted to get sober more than anything in the world.
Mrs D: How did your family & friends react to your decision to get sober?
Peter: I didn’t tell many people at all and I didn’t inform my family until I was actually in the rehab. The reaction of my family was one of surprise and shock. Not that I was there but rather that I'd finally done something about it. A few of them asked me why I was there and even suggested that I didn’t need to be as they thought I was just a normal drinker but they didn’t know the full extent of my problems. As you know as actively drinking alcoholics we become very good at hiding our problems ... or so we think.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Peter: No I have never relapsed - thank God - and for that I thank my program and support system. There have been times when I have thought about it but when I was given the chance of recovery I grasped it tight and held on for dear life. I did what I was told to do, I embraced the program and I got honest with myself and with others. I knew that this was my one chance of finally finding some light in the dark that I had been living in all these years. So I took it.
Mrs D: Many Living Sober members find it can take quite a while for things to really start feeling better emotionally & physically - was that your experience?
Peter: Physically I got well pretty quick. Whilst in rehab I saw the doctor immediately and had the necessary tests. And was told I had been very lucky. I was well under weight and undernourished but I tackled that head on. I ate well, little at first but I found that with eating regularly my appetite grew. Mentally I used to think I gained clarity quite quickly, compared to where I was, but looking back I now see that really I was like a new born child having to learn what life was all about.
Mrs D: That's a good way of putting it.. like a new born child. What about going out and socialising? How hard was that?
Peter: After leaving rehab I returned to the town I had always lived in (big mistake). I tried hanging around with the same people and even doing the same things minus the drink but it didn’t work. I felt like the odd one out for being sober and I knew I had to find new friends and new social circles. So instead of trying to retread old ground I started frequenting new places. The martial arts dojo became my second home. I went to the gym, I swam and started going on long walks and soon enough I found people that liked doing those things too. I had found a new tribe where not drinking was the norm.
Mrs D: We often refer to our community at Living Sober as a tribe! Such a great way to describe the friends and contacts you make in recovery. Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Peter: Yes I found out that all the dreaming I used to do about becoming a writer, getting an education, getting fit, making films and having a sense of self worth where really achievable. I realised that actually I could turn these dreams into reality. So I did.
Mrs D: Fantastic. So your life really changed?
Peter: My life changed dramatically. I ate well, I slept well, I had a sense of peace. For the first time since my childhood I felt happy. I went to university and got an education, I made new friends, and I lived my whole life differently. I no longer feared the loneliness that had ran through my veins since I was a young boy. I took chances, I tried new things, I gave myself goals and worked on those dreams.
Mrs D: So many good things. Can you summarise what the main benefits are for you from getting sober?
Peter: The feelings of self worth, the ability to live a wholesome meaningful life that now had a purpose.
Mrs D: If you could go back in time would you change anything about your recovery process?
Peter: Yes I would have not gone back to my home town. I would have understood that no matter where I settled the people who really meant something to me - and I to them - would have still been in my life not matter where I was based.
Mrs D: Do you have any advice or tips for Living Sober members who are just starting on this journey?
Peter: Be fearless, take a chance, and understand you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Listen to what those who know tell you and do it. The people who are there to help you have been where you are and only want you to experience what they have now. They want you to be happy, wholesome and have that sense of self worth. Go to meetings if that's what you want to do; surround yourself with those that have recovered. Don’t worry about what others think. Don’t worry about losing people. The ones that really love you will stick by you and the ones that you don’t need will simply fall away. Don’t think; 'what if I can’t do it', think; 'what if I can?' Don’t think; 'what if it all goes wrong?' Think; 'what if it all goes right! What if I actually kick this habit and my life becomes so amazing that I wake up everyday wanting to live it to its fullest.' Don’t think it’s impossible, it is possible and you can do it! Remember this; You’re not getting sober to be miserable you are getting sober to be happy and free from the chains of drink and depression.
Mrs D: Wonderful! Anything else you'd like to share?
Peter: Be brave my friend and go beyond your fears there’s a whole new world of happiness, love and forefilment waiting for you and it lies just beyond that fear. It wont be easy but it will be worth it beyond anything you can imagine. Throw down the chains of sadness and feel what it’s like to walk free with your head held high and love in your heart. You are worthy.