This week's Sober Story comes from Polly, a 42-year-old living in Cornwall, UK.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Polly: Since January 2018 so I have been alcohol-free for three years on the 1st of January, 2021. It turned out to be the longest dry January and the only resolution I have made and stuck to haha!
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Polly: It was like dancing with the devil; a love-hate relationship with red wine. I loved the feeling of escaping and opting out of life briefly; however, the internal torment it caused was crippling. Life was hectic and stressful. I felt it gave me an allowed respite, something for me, my treat, my self-care, a reward ….I am cringing right now as I knew no different, especially with the mummy wine culture on social media seemed to make it ok. I was party Polly the hostess with the most booze, a large chunk of my life revolved alcohol, drinking it, thinking about it and being full of shame due to it thus creating a toxic relationship with myself.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Polly: There was no rock bottom it was a slow, gradual growing dependency on it. The worrying thing is I thought it was normal as it is so ingrained into our culture. I had a horrendous childhood involving my Mother ending her life when I was eight. I experienced all forms of abuse, mostly from my alcoholic parents. I ended up in foster care (which actually was the best thing to of happened to me); however, I didn’t feel that at the time. I was carrying around a lot of baggage and alcohol enabled me to suppress my emotions so I could crack on and appear perfect. But I was sick and tired of running at 45%, my days were getting shorter as I was drinking earlier in the evening, and my consumption was increasing. I started my NLP practitioner training, and we had to do lots of work on ourselves and our peers. It became blinding obvious that my precious wine was holding me back mentally, physically and eating away at my soul. I thought it was making me happy! Once I could see what damaging impact alcohol was having in my life, I couldn’t un-see it. I wanted to be a better Mum, wife and version of myself I liked. However, the need for perfection and being enough was driving the alcohol consumption. I wanted to get out of my head due to the hurtful self-talk that was on repeat leading me to self-sabotage. I truly believed I was a waste of space. My self-confidence and self-esteem were at an all-time low. I was “sketchy” which was a mix of hangxiety, paranoia, poor mental health and extremely low moods.
Mrs D: That sounds really tough.
Polly: I was scared of where this was going. I vowed never to be a Mother like I'd had, however in terms of alcohol it was going in that direction. But, I knew that she was violent when she was drunk and I wasn't like that, so I thought that was ok. I also thought the fact I wasn’t drinking during the day or pouring vodka on my cornflakes made it ok. But once I added the YET bit in, it was a big wake up call.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Polly: It was hell; I am not going to lie. I knew I needed to do it; however, it was the most difficult thing (and the thing I am most proud of apart from my children and marriage) that I have done in my life so far. To not have my emotional crutch to numb out when life got overwhelming. To be with me, without the booze, sitting with the rawness and the imperfections I had learnt to hate so much. I was working out who I was without the mask of wine. Not being able to switch off the voice in my head telling me how awful, ugly, unloveable, useless and what a terrible mother I was, all of that was so difficult. I had a big empty black void inside of me that wine temporary filled. So I had to learn how to fill it with healthy coping mechanisms and self-love. And each day I was alcohol-free my internal dialogue slowly changed from being the inner bitch to the cheerleader celebrating each sober day.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Polly: My husband was pleased and also a little cautious as he had heard it all before. My children didn’t really notice at the time or mention it; however, as time has gone on, they don’t want me to drink alcohol again, which says a lot. My family are proud and can not quite believe it and often remark of my achievement being sober with admiration. My real friends were super supportive.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Polly: No, this time was different. I had previously done 'Stop October' but drank twice as much the following month as I had been “good”. I had attempted to moderate with little success implementing it over time. So I realised I am an all or nothing type.
I am a Taurus, and incredibly stubborn, so that helped. What also helped was learning more about alcohol - the more I knew, the more I felt I didn’t want to put it in my body or mess with my mind, and this fuelled me to continue and support others in their alcohol-free challenges.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Polly: The first year I focussed on learning how to deal with my emotions healthily, and how to sit with challenging emotions - something I can do now. Physically I had really done a number on my body. I set about nurturing my body with better nutrition and learnt all about my gut biome.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Polly: I faked it until I made it. I didn’t want to miss out so I planned like a ninja what I would say, what I would drink, I would often drive so I could have an escape route if required (everyone loves the driver). I love dancing so I would drag my tipsy friends out onto the dance floor. I often felt high on life and found drunk people amusing.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Polly: Yes, how resourceful and awesome I am and that I'm a perfectly imperfect human being. My relationship with myself has taken a massive u-turn. I also learned how calm and less dramatic life is being alcohol-free. And that I am a morning person….an actual lark! I am funnier, fun, certainly not boring and more creative than I ever realised. I used to have constant brain fog that I didn’t realise was related to alcohol until I stopped - now I can think so much clearer and calmer. I remember so much more and my brain is sharper. I have learnt to trust my instincts resulting in some life-changing decisions and say no. And I have learned that sober sex is the best!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Polly: It is constantly evolving, I know it is cheesy; however, from my experience sobriety is a gift that keeps giving as I am still meeting parts of myself I didn’t know existed. My relationship with my husband and children has massively improved as I am more present, patience and fun. I set up a business as I am so passionate about how my life has improved, so I now help others rock their alcohol-free life. I have more time, energy, focus and money. I sleep better. I eat better. I am a better dog and horse owner as I have the motivation and gusto to achieve my goals. And I stopped snoring! I cannot tell you how paranoid I was about it especially went I went away with the girls or camping. I tried so many gadgets, who would have thought ditching the vino would be the answer. But overall the shame I carried around started to shrink and ended up at the jobcentre as pride took its place and shone brightly.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Polly: Being the Mum I always wanted to be. Finding my purpose and being a lighthouse in peoples darkness, giving them hope. I have a real sense of who I am, what makes me tick, my likes, my dislikes and I can listen to my body something I was completely detached to previously. I have boundaries and self-respect. My confidence and self-esteem are at an all-time high as it is authentic and comes from within, not from a substance. I've learned how to give myself permission to rest, relax, to stop and recharge and to nurture myself. I have learned how to meditate, to create a buffer with my thoughts - all of which my children see - and my aim is that they can deal with life’s up and downs in a healthy, solution focused way.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Polly: Good question! I did what I needed to do to achieve my sobriety. In hindsight some of my decisions were made to keep me busy and avoiding my emotions; however, I feel now it was part of the process. It is a cycle I often repeat; however, I catch it much quicker now. I would have documented how things were in the first year as time goes on as I can’t remember it as clearly. I would have not worried so much what others thought and allowed myself to fully trust that what I was doing was right for me. I got a dog tag engraved when I hit 1000 days and I think it would have been nice to have a few more done for the earlier milestones. I would have kept photos of me looking worse for wear or drunk, rather than immediately deleting them due to the shame, as it would be good content now or at least a reminder.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Polly: Firstly be so proud of yourself for starting, sobriety is a gift that keeps giving. It is a journey learning to enjoy it all it offers rather than fixating on the destination. Break down your alcohol-free day targets to short term ones, check-in and then set it for a bit further this builds up confidence. I went from 28 days to 90 days, and it has now built up to three years. Celebrate every day that you are alcohol-free as this helps to rewire the brain and body memory, making new changes easier alongside connecting with your why’s and extra benefits every day. Immerse yourself in alcohol-free communities, read quit literature and listen to sober podcasts as you need to re-educate yourself and unlearn all you thought you knew about the booze.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Polly: I loved your books and think you are amazing in the work you to support others. You inspire me, and it has been a real honour doing this interview thank you, Lotta, or Mrs D xx