This week's Sober Story comes from Rebecca, a 47-year-old living in Auckland.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Rebecca: 3 years and 3 months.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Rebecca: I was extremely ambivalent about my drinking. I realise now I struggled for years to admit to myself that it was an increasing problem for me. I would endlessly make deals with myself about my drinking, make all sorts of rules and then immediately break them. There was always a reason or an excuse to drink. I would drink a bottle of wine most nights during the week, and sometimes as much as two bottles in a sitting on the weekend if we had friends over. I struggled with depression and anxiety and guilt and self-loathing and horrible sleep. The year before I stopped I would regularly try to google women and alcohol, or alcohol problems, to find somewhere to belong or resources for people like me. I'd fill out online assessments and whatnot, they always pointed to my drinking being problematic, but I would ignore it and go on my merry, destructive way! I finally found Living Sober in 2015, but it was another year before I actually stopped drinking for good. The thing was I was a “normal” drinker – I met someone a few months ago who used to drink a bottle of vodka a day, and he asked me what my drinking used to be like. When I told him, he raised his eyebrows at me and said “Oh, an amateur.” Haha! I thought that was pretty funny, but the point is that people’s alcohol use falls on a continuum and mine was probably not at a place on the continuum where anyone would call me an alcoholic or diagnose me with an alcohol use disorder.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Rebecca: One of them (I had so many final straws you could build a haystack) was the day of a good friend’s little boy’s birthday party – I think he was turning two or three. I started drinking before I even went. So I was doing some gardening, drinking red wine at 10 o’clock in the morning. The grandparents of the child, who were holding the party, were kind of boozy, but I don’t think they expected me to stay all day, then throw up all over myself and their nice house, before being unceremoniously picked up by my husband and shocked little boys. I also threw up in the gutter on the way home. It was not a fun time, to say the least. My husband was pretty disgusted with me. I once posted a list of all the reasons I had stopped drinking. It didn’t make pretty reading but the flipside, as I recall, was all the great things I was finding about being alcohol free. (Actually it ended up as a guest post.)
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Rebecca: Just thinking about it ALL THE TIME – and getting home from work without stopping at the supermarket for wine! That was a really key achievement. I remember literally shouting to myself, out loud, inside the car - shouting 'at' the wine, saying "FUCK YOU! NO NO NO NO NO! NO WINE TODAY!" Just hanging on by my fingernails until I got to a certain roundabout where I could turn left for home, and away from the road to the shops where the booze was. If anyone had seen me I would have looked crazy.
Mrs D: Genius! What reaction did you get from family when you started getting sober?
Rebecca: I didn’t do a hell of a lot of talking about it. Because I wasn’t usually a messy drinker, no one thought I had a booze problem. My hubby knew I’d stopped drinking of course, and while I don’t think he thought I had a big problem with alcohol, he was still happy about me stopping. Not least because of the large amount of money we started saving immediately. He cut down his drinking very dramatically too. I absolutely had to have a booze free house when I first got alcohol free or I would have relapsed, and we pretty much still don’t have booze in the house. These days, if people come over for dinner he might get a couple of beers (or not), and people bring wine or whatever if they want to drink it, but other than that we don’t keep any alcohol in the house. Probably because I didn’t do a lot of talking about it, it took a while for some family members to really get the message that I don’t drink any more. My mum totally knew because we see her at least twice a week, and she saw my drinking exactly as it was, and I think was happy that I had stopped. My dad in particular though enjoys a glass of wine, and he just kept on offering it to me, literally year after year. I finally broke down after a couple of years and burst into tears, saying to him that he needed to understand that I don’t drink any more, that it had made me sick and unhappy, and please stop offering me wine. The poor man didn’t know if he was Arthur or Martha, and confessed he’d had no idea. He thought I’d stopped drinking for a while because I was training for a half marathon in that first year, and in the second year he just assumed I would be drinking again.
Mrs D: What about from friends? What did they say?
Rebecca: I’ve had some mixed reactions really. I remember one very good friend, my best girlfriend, who probably had always been a bit worried about my drinking – she had a massive reaction when I said I was going to Christchurch to meet some other alcohol free people. She couldn’t believe it, I think she thought my being alcohol free thing was all totally out of control – that I was making a great big mountain out of a very small molehill.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Rebecca: I had a lapse of a few weeks – we moved house in 2017 and the real estate agent gave us a bottle of champagne when we made the purchase. At the time I thought nothing of it, stuck it in the cupboard and left it there. But when we moved house a few months later I unconsciously (!) put it in the fridge, and that night ended up drinking it with a friend who had come round. I then pretty much decided to “moderate”, and proceeded to drink maybe 3 drinks, twice a week, for a couple of weeks. But there very soon came a Friday night where I sank a whole bottle of red by myself, and I woke up feeling like an utter sack of shit the next day. I rolled over, told my hubby I was going to stop drinking again, and that was that. Haven’t looked back.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Rebecca: It feels like quite a while. I mean, I think I starting noticing the benefits pretty quickly – massively improved sleep after a few weeks, a bit of weight loss. But I think it took longer, a few months maybe, to notice that I felt so much more patient, less irritable and reactive, so much happier generally - I think my memory improved too!
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Rebecca: I stayed home a lot. I remember having quite a concrete fear that I wouldn’t be interesting and fun if I wasn’t drinking. Then we had this night when we invited several people over for dinner. To my surprise I heard myself making small talk, cracking jokes, even introducing some interesting conversation points! And not a drop to drink! It sounds small but it was quite an important turning point. I had totally been giving alcohol all the credit for who I was socially in a group of adults, which is pretty crazy.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Rebecca: Well, conversely to the above, I’m also a lot quieter than I thought I was. I’m by no means an introvert as anyone on the site who has met me in real life will probably attest, but I am also not loud and crass and overly opinionated and rowdy – I can give alcohol the most of the credit for those ones! People at the last Christchurch gathering might have something to say about “crass” – I am quite fond of the ‘C’ word – I have reclaimed it as a feminist act
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Rebecca: The major thing has been my overall equilibrium – I am so much calmer, more centred, patient, considered, and happier. I sleep better. I have lost a shit load of weight (although that is also through addressing my eating behaviour). I am much happier with myself as a parent, because not only am I not modelling having a glass in my hand every night, I’m also not breathing boozy fumes all over my children when I tuck them into bed. I’m not wasting a shit tonne of money on booze. I’m doing better professionally than I ever have. I trust myself and I’m proud of myself.
Mrs D: Can you pinpoint any main benefits that have emerged for you from getting sober?
Rebecca: Saving money, role modelling that being alcohol free is an option for my kids, improved health and emotional wellbeing, and making sober friends (essential). Learning to express gratitude and literally feeling my brain reaping the benefits.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Rebecca: Yes - I would do it ten years earlier. But no regrets – it happened when it happened and all is good.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Rebecca: It feels impossible, and it isn’t. It feels massively painful, and it will get better. The benefits are subtle at first and transformational over time. If horrible things have happened in your life that you have been using booze to numb, I totally get it – and you will need to go through processing those horrible things in some shape or form. It is totally worth it. Most of all? You. can. do. it.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
I am just so grateful for the shift/s in the Western world that makes it a really viable option to be alcohol free (the Eastern world already knew). Because when I was young, it wasn’t presented as an option. Now we have people like you, Lotta, leading the way, modelling being alcohol free, breaking silence and talking right out loud about it - and lots of other people too, like Holly Whittaker at Hip Sobriety / The Tempest, Hello Sunday Morning, No Beers / Who Cares - all lamp-lighting the new sobriety.