This week's Sober Story comes from Rebecca, a 40-year-old American currently living in Freiburg, Germany.
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Rebecca: Since March 24, 2013, so seven years and five months
Mrs D: Can you describe to us what your drinking habits were like?
Rebecca: My drinking was what some people call functional; it was never healthy. I would drink at least two glasses of wine every night and more on the weekend. During the last few months, I would invent different reasons/ways to drink that would hopefully not annoy my husband. (Bloody Mary’s on Sunday afternoons, book clubs, etc.) I would be very careful not to get too drunk, but I always wanted more. All I could think about was how I could get another drink. When my husband went out of town, I would hole up in the house and drink as much as I wanted – that was when I would let loose. Bottles of wine and bad TV. But I only really did that when he was gone and on acceptable drunk days – New Year’s Eve for instance.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Rebecca: I had an emotional rock bottom. I had been seeing a therapist for a few years and fighting depression. I knew that alcohol made it worse – I would even double my dose of St. John’s Wort if I had drank a lot the day before. Then I started having suicidal thoughts and my depression got worse. My therapist recommended starting anti-depressants, which I had tried before and had a really bad reaction. When I opened my mouth to protest, the words “Maybe I could just quit drinking instead” fell out. I was shocked. It was like someone else was speaking for me. So a few days after that, with some day drinking in between (had to get the last few drinks in!), I went to my first AA meeting and started this amazing sober journey.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Rebecca: The first month was intense. I was constantly thirsty and slept an insane amount. My depression lifted significantly but with it came the realization that some of the things I wanted to do probably weren’t going to fit this new lifestyle. For instance, I got invited to a Beltane burn, which is a pagan celebration in late spring that I would have loved to go to. However, the people I knew who celebrated did so by getting wasted and staying up really late. I knew it would’ve made me so irritated to go, so I skipped it. My anxiety also increased for a while, which made everything harder for me, but it mellowed out after awhile. But overall I was really happy and felt free in a way I don’t ever remember feeling.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Rebecca: Some of my friends were convinced I was pregnant, which was annoying, but it became pretty obvious that you really do need a reason to not drink. I couldn’t just not have a drink. People needed an explanation as to why. Other friends and my husband thought I was being a little extreme, that maybe the problem wasn’t that bad, but once they realized I was serious, they were happy for me that I found some peace. Interestingly, when I told my grandparents I quit drinking, they opened up to me about how my great-grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who died a violent death. I have read that families with this kind of history get sober and then don’t talk about it, which perpetuates the cycle. I am not sure I would have avoided drinking if I had known this before, but I do know sharing those stories helped us to grow closer and gave me another reason to skip booze.
Mrs D: Has relapse been part of your story?
Rebecca: This is an interesting question because I feel like I vowed to quit drinking about a thousand times after hitting the bottle too hard the night before. But when I started drinking later that night, did I consider it a relapse? I was slowly wearing down the power of my words and the trust and confidence I had in myself. I feel like every day I am sober is another building block of that trust coming back to me. I hope never to obliterate that trust again, but I am also very aware that I lived a life of near constant relapse before I officially tried to get sober. I am very careful to check in with myself and also to connect with people who help me stay sober.
Mrs D: Nicely put. Did it take long for things to start to calming down for you after you quit... emotionally & physically?
Rebecca: I would say physically things started to calm down within about six to nine months. My sugar cravings started to level off, my weight dropped a bit and I felt like I was at home in my own skin. It has been glorious. Emotionally, that is a harder question to answer. Like I said before, my depression lifted significantly within the first three months, but then my husband and I moved from California to Germany, which brought up all sorts of things for me, in terms of anxiety, culture shock and loneliness. I am also a survivor of child sexual abuse, physical abuse and sexual assault, so while I have seen a LOT of healing since I quit drinking, I think being sober allows me to process much more than I would have otherwise. I would say after about two years, I started to trust myself to manage my emotions and mental health.
Mrs D: Wow sounds like you've been through some major personal growth. What about going out and being social, was that tricky for you?
Rebecca: It was weird to socialize sober at first, I will say that, but I found that most of my friends didn’t drink that much at all and didn’t care how much I drank, which made it a lot easier. There were a few times people got wasted around me, but I just left the situation and realized later no one really cared or was offended.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Rebecca: I am an introvert! Like, a big one! Ha! I had a bit of an inkling and would spend days alone but those were usually when I was really hungover and would just not want to deal with anything. Now I understand that I need time to myself and will take that time even when we vacation with other people or are staying at someone’s home. It is nice to recharge and feel restored. I had never had that before!
Mrs D: It's amazing how many people say they figure this out after they get sober ... that they need alone time to recharge . How else did your life change?
Rebecca: Hmmm, wow. That is an excellent question. Well after about two months, we decided to move to Europe, which had been a life goal up to that point. I maintain that I would’ve never been strong enough to make that move if I had been drinking. I also started to have so much more time. I finished projects I had started forever ago. I slept in and didn’t feel (as) guilty about it. The clarity and beauty of a morning without a hangover still slays me sometimes. My capacity for gratitude expanded incredibly. I started to see that parts of me I assumed were there because I drank didn’t go away when I stopped (for instance, anxiety) and I started to deal with my issues for real, not just a surface wipe. When I started blogging occasionally about not drinking, I met a ton of other people online who didn’t drink and blogged about it. My life has opened and broadened so dramatically, it is hard to see an area that hasn’t been touched by getting sober.
Mrs D: Fantastic! Are there any main benefits you can pinpoint from getting sober?
Rebecca: Confidence. Self-love. Trust in myself. I had no idea how lacking I was in these areas and how horrible and mean I was to myself while I was drinking. And I had absolutely zero clue that it was affecting not just me but everything I did and everyone around me. Not drinking has been absolutely life changing.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Rebecca: I always say if I could go back and live my life over, I wouldn’t do anything differently because the life I lived brought me to the point I am at. That being said, I think if I had more of a choice with a therapist (not so many English-speaking ones where I am), I would have chosen one who specialised in addiction or at least took my addiction seriously. There are a lot of people out there who still believe that unless you lost your job, your home and your family because of alcohol, you aren’t really addicted. And that can be frustrating. Talking about drinking with my therapist didn’t come up a lot because she had that opinion. My new therapist takes it much more seriously, thankfully.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for Living Sober members who are just starting on this journey?
Rebecca: Drink a LOT of water. Even when you think you have drank enough, drink more. If you are having a hard time, take a nap. Get your pajamas on and go to bed early ... like 6pm early. It is OK to take it super easy when you first quit because basically, your body and mind are regressing back to when you first started drinking. That is a lot of time travel and it is hard on a person’s mind and body. Figure out what your triggers are and avoid them. Making dinner was a big one for me so I made it before work in the morning. Do what you have to do to avoid stuff that makes your life harder. Give yourself permission to be nice to yourself. It has probably been a LONG time since you’ve done that. Find at least one person you can be completely honest with about your addiction and what you are dealing with. Ideally this is not your partner. Friends, therapists, pastors, whatever. Voice your feelings and emotions--they are going to come out whether you like it or not, so may as well have someone you trust to help. Oh, and carry snacks 🙂
Mrs D: GREAT list!! Love it. Anything else you'd like to share?
Rebecca: I am a big fan of the word lucid as opposed to sober. Using that word really helped me, especially at the beginning when sober felt boring or lame. Lucid is bright and light. Another big thing that still helps me is eliminating the words “never” and “Always” when talking about drinking, like “I will never drink again” ... that is a lot of pressure. Every year I revisit my decision to quit drinking and whether re-up for another year. I don’t see myself choosing to drink again, but making it an intentional choice has made me feel more engaged with my sobriety and less resentful in general. Of course, I know that isn’t for everyone, but it works for me so far. Also, if anyone is interested, they can follow me on Twitter.