This week's Sober Story comes from Ricky, a 54-year-old living in Raumati Beach on the Kapiti Coast.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Ricky: My life of sobriety began approximately 7 1/2 years ago.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Ricky: My drinking had never been at a level that anyone outside of myself would have deemed as being dangerous. I would drink regularly, not to excess, but would always reach a point every time I drank where I was past being "warm & fuzzy". I was always over the edge but I think I hid it quite well. I really found it hard to moderate my drinking after I had taken my first. From there on it was always a case of finishing what was in the house at the time and trying to hide how nervous I felt when there was no booze left. This lifestyle was normal up until the last 6 months before I gave up. My drinking quickly became more of an issue for me and I was binge drinking really badly. In the last couple of weeks before I stopped I made a real fool of myself on more than one occasion.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Ricky: We were experiencing some really bad money issues coming up to Christmas and this coincided with a work function that I attended. Drinking started early as it was a day event and ended at a pub in Wellington. Endless free wine, beer etc was the order of the day and by around 7pm I was well gone. I remember carrying on until around 11.00pm before having to walk myself to the train station. I know that I was very depressed about work, money and the alcohol only exacerbated the situation. I remember wandering through traffic almost trying to get hit and then arriving at the dockside of Wellington and standing close to the edge by the water contemplating taking the last plunge. Happily something stopped me and I made my way back home. I woke up the next morning, in the spare room and came into our bedroom, apologised to my wife and basically said that that was my last drink.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Ricky: I stopped on December 6th and so it was a time leading up to Christmas..plenty of opportunity to lapse but to be honest I got through more easily than I had anticipated. I told my family quite early on and they were very supportive which meant I could relax into it. Going out with friends and socialising in general was definitely the toughest part as I was convinced that I would be the most boring person on the planet without the booze! It turned out to be the other way round as drunk people tended to be more boring than me!
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Ricky: I got a really good reaction which was massive for my recovery. My wife was amazing and I think she was the main reason I kept going. She supported me right away, stopped drinking herself in the initial stages, helped me remove all the booze in the house and had my back. Friends and family were surprised as I had been a very eager drinker but when they saw I was serious they didn't give me any hassles at all.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Ricky: No. Once I had beaten Christmas I knew that I was done with drinking forever.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Ricky: I would say that after the first month I got pretty settled. I think that I was fortunate in that my withdrawals were not as bad as I had thought they would be. In fact, giving up smoking 10 years earlier had been a lot harder. I did, however, experience quite a feeling of "loss" on quite a few occasions. I was almost in mourning for the loss of alcohol when I would tell myself that I was never going to drink again. I imagine that having been a drinker for so long my mind felt that a major part of me had been taken away!
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Ricky: It was tough but I just had to make a few sacrifices in order to do the best for myself. In the early days I didn't go out very much at all in order to get past the first few weeks and get into a state where I was comfortable. The hardest part was the lack of options for non drinkers at pubs or gatherings. Going to a work function or any party and being offered orange juice, lemon, lime & bitters or lemonade was, frankly, insulting but just a regular occurance. I think that it was then that the idea for out new ecommerce store, Clear Head Drinks, was born. I was adamant that there should be far more choice for those who wanted to partake in the ritual of drinking but simply didn't want the alcohol content. Clear Head Drinks will enable those wanting adult beverages (Beer, wine & spirits) without the alcohol to have a one stop shop where they can find all the NA drinks available in New Zealand as well as a whole variety of new products that we are bringing in.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Ricky: I learned that I really was a very productive person at heart! Alcohol basically put a brake on achieving anything as soon as I had one beer. By not drinking I have achieved so much that I could only have dreamed about. I play golf most Sunday mornings at 7.20am - not a happening thing when I was drinking!!!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Ricky: I started to get more things done. We were able to look at our money issues and work out real plans as to how to get them fixed. I got more done at work and started to earn more money. I started to get fitter and be a healthier person all round. Overall, my life just started to get better as the weeks went on because I wasn't thinking about alcohol all the time and looking forward, all day, to getting into my first drink.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Ricky: My relationship with my wife and children has certainly improved. Just having more clarity all the time has meant that I am more "present" and engaged than I ever was and now that I have 4 grandchildren to interact with. I am so pleased the booze has gone. They run me ragged as it is right now...if I was drinking it would be a lot worse! With the help of my wife we have also been able to set up "Clear Head Drinks" which, of course, would not have come about if I was still drinking.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Ricky: No...the way I did it has worked and I am sober and so no, wouldn't change a thing.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Ricky: The only advice I would give is that you have to want to give up drinking. When you give up it's for life and so you have to be sure that you are ready and that you are committed. There was a real feeling of loss when I stopped and I would say that this would be the same for most people. Knowing that these feelings will go away is so important...you can do this and don't let yourself tell you you can't!
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Ricky: My life is infinitely more times better than it was. I have clarity, health and a purpose that was missing when I spent most of my free time under the influence. I thank my wife and everyone who helped me everyday, because I am now living a quality life that wasn't there before.