Today’s Sober Story comes from Sharleen, a 58-year-old living in Whangateau – very close to Matakana.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Sharleen: 3 1/2 years. Sober date 1/1/2014.
Mrs D: A New Year’s resolution! 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: Wow indeed!
Sharleen: When I turned fifty my sister and I did a month in N.Y and Hawaii. I attended workshops around personal growth and loved the whole vibe. I decided I wanted to do more of this so I would need to get some financial freedom. I started training as a Life Coach and opened a business called Midlife Courage working with midlife women who after a life time of being all things to all people were needing to start putting themselves first and see what else they were capable of (sounds just like me at the time). Opening a business in my fifties has been a huge learning curb however I am now rockin’ it. I think as a midlife women you realise you have a lot of wisdom that you can use to try something adventurous.
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. I also am a Wellness Consultant for doTERRA oils and I find adding a drop of oil to my water is a treat. I carry bottles of wild orange, lemon, lime, ginger etc. 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. However I still feel I am only this year really ready to tackle the emotional side of things. I have spent a life time emotional eating and then drinking to keep my feelings hidden and buried. Last year I started to discover how I really wanted to feel and then this year is about learning how to feel again. 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: Oh yes indeed and I can relate about aiming for many joyful and ecstatic moments. I find one of the best ways for me to get them is to go to big music concerts! 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: When I read your latest book I related to it so much. The sugar thing is still a big one for me; I too started yoga this year and unlike you I loved it from the start. Mindfulness has been a process and I have got a lot of the books, podcasts etc you talked about and I am making progress. 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.” And like you, 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.