Today's Sober Story comes from Sharleen, a 62-year-old living in Whangateau - very close to Matakana.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Sharleen: Nearly nine years.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about your life up to that point?
Sharleen: My life was fairly happy, I was going through a midlife reinvention and was training as a Life Coach. Two of my daughters were happily living together in Australia and I still had 2 teenager girls at home. I was pretty relaxed with my parenting with the two at home as I had the proof that I was doing a good job. I must say I was a bit over parenting as I had been doing it for a long time. Finding myself pregnant at forty certainly wasn’t on my life plan. I have always been in the helping/health field however I gave up all paid work when I became pregnant with number four. I felt I had nothing left to give and I needed to concentrate on parenting. These 10 years were quite cool in one way as I started exploring what being an artist meant for me. I rediscovered the lost passion of crocheting and became known as the crochet queen and took classes. I even got a costume accepted in W.O.W.
Mrs D: So why was alcohol a problem and why did you decide to quit?
Sharleen: Deciding to give up drinking was a process I had been thinking of for a while. I had tried in the past but never got past the six week mark, but now I felt I had learnt a few skills from coaching that would help me to succeed. I had been having sleep issues for a couple of years and I thought if I stopped alcohol this would help. I also wasn’t enjoying drinking as much because I have the sort of personality that if I had 1 wine chances are I would have 10 wines. I also felt I was lacking connection with people which is something I began to crave as a midlife woman. I think up until then life was crazy with parenting four girls and I wasn’t thinking too much about what I needed. However, the biggest motivation was I had contracted Hep.C from my nursing days and I had a bit of a wakeup call in that I started hearing about people dying in their early sixties from Liver cancer and I presumed they would all have had Hep.C. So all together there was a lot of motivation for becoming sober.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Sharleen: I knew myself enough to know I always start strong on the 1st or on Mondays and over time I slacken off. I thought "let’s try and see how I go" knowing I could recognise the signs that I was slacking off. I think the thing that helped me the most was making the intention every morning as soon as I woke up that for today I wouldn’t drink. If people asked me how long I was doing it for, I would reply “I don’t know, all I know is I am not drinking today.” Every night as I went off to sleep I acknowledged myself for not drinking that day. This cycle went on for a long time. It is hard to remember how I managed but the two things that stay in my mind were I knew that if I had one drink all would be over so I needed to resist that one drink. I needed to keep saying “No”.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Sharleen: The reaction I got from friend was one of "oh yeah, she has done this before, it won’t last." They could have been right because all I knew is I wasn’t going to drink that day. What I found interesting is it was my ‘supportive’ girlfriends that found it the hardest to adapt. They would fill a glass of wine and give it to me. I was rapt after about a year when I went to a social function and the hostesses had brought some mineral water especially for me. Finally they were getting it! Even now I get girlfriends going, “C’mon it’s your birthday why don’t you have a bubbly!” This probably is partly my fault because I do say to them I still haven’t lost the urge to want a bubbly when I have something to celebrate.
Mrs D: So how do you cope with socialising?
Sharleen: I remember not knowing what I could drink when I went out socially and after my first party I came home completely sugared out on juices and fizz. I started experimenting and quickly decided sparkling mineral water was my drink. Also - because as a midlife women I was also exploring ways to bring pleasure into my life - I started asking for my water to be served with a wine glass with ice and lemon. This way I felt like I wasn’t missing out and also other people didn’t realise I wasn’t drinking alcohol and I didn’t need to explain myself. If I have my fancy glass with water and the trimmings I feel fine and a lot of people don’t even notice. If anything I have learnt that once people have a few drinks they talk a lot of nonsense and this only cements my conviction to stay sober.
Mrs D: Have you ever relapsed?
Sharleen: I have never experienced a relapse but as I said I still have this idea that I could be this person who could have a bubbles once in a blue moon. However - and thankfully - I know myself well enough to know if I touch that one drink I will start falling down a slippery slope.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to settle down for you physically and emotionally?
Sharleen: It took a good couple of years before everything settled down physically and emotionally. Because I shut out the ‘negative’ feelings, I also shut out the ‘positive’ feelings. My intent is to try and stay expansive, meaning open and connected so I can feel, rather than contracted which I believe keeps me cut off from my feelings. This is a work in progress!
Mrs D: I can relate. Anything surprising you learned about yourself after you stopped drinking?
Sharleen: The surprising thing I learnt about myself is how cut off from my feelings I have been for a very long time. I am so thrilled that I gave birth to my four girls at home with no intervention because I have those memories of what feeling ecstatic was like. My aim now is to have many ecstatic or joyful moments in my life. I now feel so much happier and feel like the default of being fearful is very rare. I am realising I am very empathetic and I think this is why I started to eat emotionally as a child and then turned to alcohol because I ‘felt’ too much. This is a recent discovery. Honestly giving up drinking and learning how to ‘live’ again has been quite a journey as you well know.
Mrs D: If you could go back in time is there anything you'd do differently?
Sharleen: There isn’t anything I would do differently. I didn’t join A.A mainly because I live in a small community and I am well known (there goes the shame button again), however I have two friends who went to A.A and found it very useful. I always thought a) I wasn’t an alcoholic and b) I was managing OK giving up and staying sober. If I knew A.A was more about learning to LIVE again without alcohol I might have joined.
Mrs D: Any advice or tips for people who are just at the beginning of their sober journey?
Sharleen: The tips I found the most helpful was coming up with a preferred drink and having it served in a pleasurable fashion so I felt like I wasn’t missing out. Having a clear intent to not drink for one day and then keeping on making that intent. Lastly working on myself and looking for ways to grow as a person. Knowing my life values has certainly kept me focused and on track. Any goals, decision etc I make have to be in alignment with me values otherwise I say NO!
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to add?
Sharleen: I love having some Mantras, they help a lot. A couple of my favourites for now are “Get used to feeling comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.” “Imperfect action, in other words 80% action is better than 100% perfection.” I continue to add to my tool box and gratitude is a biggie. I am very grateful my family have been very supportive and becoming a Life Coach and being in the arena where I can be coached myself when I need it has definitely been a blessing.