This week’s sober story comes from Quinton, a 39-year-old self employed contractor/project manager currently living in Wellington.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Quinton: I was in recovery for about 3 years from the age of 21 when I entered Queen Mary hospitals Taha Maori recovery programme in Hanmer Springs in 1996. I turn 40 this year in October. I consider myself recovered now and I drink very occasionally for enjoyment but have not been drunk since I embarked on the journey of recovery 19 years ago.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Quinton: Well, I was a binge drinker. I only ever drunk to get wasted and to have fun although the aftermath was almost always never fun at all. I got drunk for the first time when I was 12 years old. I grew up around a lot of social drinking. It was normal to see my parents drunk – aunts, uncles, neighbours and friends. So when I decided I was old enough to drink I completely threw myself into a drinking culture. I was the classic Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic. I was loveable when I was sober and an absolute nightmare when I was drunk. I could be very nasty when I was drunk and was not usually a “happy drunk”.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Quinton: The final straw was attempting to commit suicide after I had embarassed myself one too many times during a drunken binge drinking session at another family members home. I committed a home invasion at a neighbours home. I did not hurt anyone but I did frighten them and the incident very much embarassed my family. Luckily my attempt to commit suicide was a failure and it was then that I decided that I needed to address my hidden demons.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Quinton: The most difficult thing for me in the beginining was actually being honest with myself and with those around me. I had decided I needed to not drink ever again until I sorted myself out so that part was the easiest to be honest … but being honest, speaking up or saying NO was really really difficult.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Quinton: Family were mostly supportive. Some family members were unsure why I went to rehab believing themselves that I did not have a problem and friends would make a joke out of it thinking it was a bit of an over reaction.
Mrs D: Experts say relapse is often a part of recovery, was it a feature of yours?
Quinton: I found the issue of relapse quite a difficult one. In rehab if you relapsed you were discharged from the programme with the rationale that you are not ready and taking up a space for someone else to have an opportunity to clean up. This conflicted with the recovery model that said relapse can be a likely part of your recovery journey yet the guilt that came with that was too immense for me and I felt like I was forever going to be a slave to alcohol and drugs. So I decided that if I fell “off the wagon” I would dust myself off and simply do my best to get back “on the wagon” again which is what I did although it was almost 4 years into my initial recovery before I felt tested.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Quinton: This took a while. I would say a good 2 years. Once I started understanding the tools and strategies that I had learned in therapy at rehab it became much easier.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Quinton: I avoided these types of situations for about a year and simply eased my way back into socialising with drinkers and party-goers etc. I never felt tempted to use during that early period. People often never noticed that I wasnt even drinking.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Quinton: I learned so much! I learned that I was a good person and very likeable. That was a huge revelation to me! I always thought I was awkward, unlikeable and a mostly bad person. I also learned that I was quite bright. This was a huge epiphany having been told throughout school that I would not amount to much. I also learned that I could love myself.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Quinton: Life changed a lot. My circle of friends changed dramatically. My approach to problem solving was more proactive rather than burying my head in the sand. I slowly learned how to say NO and started to prioritise myself before putting others needs before my own. I also became quite judgemental initially. I was quite angry/annoyed at some family members and really wanted them to consider therapy and rehab and tried to “show them the light” of recovery. I inadvertently alienated myself from those family members and some friends. I quickly learned that the journey was about me… nobody else!
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Quinton: Self worth! I had already attempted suicide twice and had frequent suicidal thoughts. I now felt worthy enough to be on the earth and to exist without blame or judgement of myself! I was my own worst critic and learned that this was counter productive to my existence if I wanted to live a happier life.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Quinton: Not really. It was all very difficult but the learnnings that came out of the whole process were/are invaluable and I feel like a much better person for it. It was not easy at all but it made me stronger emotionally and psychologically and I will forever be greatful for that.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
1. Do not be afraid to be honest with yourself! This is harder than it sounds.
2. Know that this is YOUR journey and you do not need anyone elses approval or validation for being you and for wanting to improve or change your circumstances.
3. Learn to love yourself! Sounds cliche but it is pivotal in anyones journey toward recovery and wellness.
4. Learn to not be so hard on yourself. We can be our own worst enemy sometimes.
5. Accept the things you cannot change and have the courage to change the things you can.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Quinton: Although I am not completely abstinent from alcohol today and very occasionally indulge in a glass of wine or beer, alcohol no longer rules my life. I rule my life. Spiritual awareness has been a key contributor to my journey of recovery. I am more open to possibilities and have clarity of mind. I am still learning everyday. I still make mistakes but I deal with the consequences differently. Staying positive and continuing to move forward with my life can still be a challenge at times but I have the tools and strategies now to deal with this as best I can. All the best with your journey. Go well and be safe. You deserve to be free ☺