This week’s Sober Story comes from Sinead, a 50-year-old mother of two living in Auckland. She’s originally from Ireland but has been living in NZ since 1988.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Sinead: I have been sober for over 5 years
Mrs D: Tell us about your relationship with alcohol…
Sinead: I think I always knew I drank more than I should. More than most of my friends. My parents were very sociable.. I was brought up around alcohol. My dad worked in a social club – going to the pub to catch up with family and friends was what you did in Ireland. I was a very high functioning wife and mother. I went to university as an adult and got a degree, while still having a full time job and bringing up two children, how could I have a drinking problem and still carry out all these responsibilities? At this stage, I was only drinking mainly at the weekends and usually with my husband. We never had any problems drinking a couple of bottles of wine together on a Friday and Saturday night. This went on for a few years without any drama.
Mrs D: What happened in the last two to three years of your drinking before you gave up?
Sinead: Things went downhill very fast. I was using any excuse at work to hold meetings in the pub at lunch time, often stayed for drinks after work and then drove home. Once home if I ran out of wine I had no issues getting in the car and going to get more. I often drove with my daughter in the car after I had been drinking. My job was only part time, I finished at 3.00pm and would stop on the way home from work to pick up wine. I often argued with myself in the car, “today I will not stop at the bottle shop”, but I always did. I would be drinking by 4.00pm. I was lying to my husband and my children about how much I was drinking. I loved it when my husband had to go away for work as then I could drink what I wanted and he would not nag at me.
Mrs D: Was your husband aware of your drinking? What did he say to you?
Sinead: My husband told me many times over the years that I drank too much and that I embarrassed him when we were out. I blew him off, thinking it was his issue not mine. I blamed a lot on him, and could not understand why he was constantly at me to stop drinking. I was stupid enough to think I was only hurting myself. I lied, and lied, and lied. I would promise to drive if we went out so that he could have a drink, then once we were out I would sneak wine when he was not looking then he would drive. I would start arguments as I got paranoid about people looking at me. As the months progressed I found if I went out with friends I was the one who wanted to stay out and keep drinking, while they were happy to go home to their families. Me, I needed more drink.
Mrs D: Tell us about your trip back to Ireland…
Sinead: I had to go back to Ireland in 2009 as my mammy had taken ill and my daddy said it was really bad. I flew home and sat by her bed in the hospital for 2 weeks and watched my mammy die from alcohol poisoning. It was the worst thing I have ever seen. She weighed 45kilo’s and the doctor told me that she was drinking all day everyday due to loneliness. Did I see the truth then? No I did not. I kept drinking and then used my mammy’s death for the reason to keep drinking.
Mrs D: How did things go when you returned home to NZ?
Sinead: Things got worse. I became belligerent & verbally abusive to my husband when I drank. He kept putting up with it. Why, I do not know. If the shoe had been on the other foot I would have left him long ago. I kept drinking and it just got worse. I refused to admit I had a problem. I was not going to some AA group and telling people I was a drunk.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Sinead: The final straw for me came on September 23rd 2011. The Rugby World Cup was on in Auckland and my friend and I were going to town to see a show at the viaduct and be amongst the crowd. I had a wine or two while I was getting ready, drove to town picked up my friend and off we went. I remember the first 2 pubs in the viaduct that we went to, I don’t remember anything else after that. The next thing I remember was coming to on the Saturday morning. I went downstairs in my home and I knew something had happened. My thirteen year old would not even look at me. My husband had arranged for her to go to a friend’s house and she left without even saying goodbye. I thought to myself “here we go, what have I done now?” My husband told me I had come home at 10.30pm and I could not walk or talk I was that drunk. I had frightened my daughter’s friends who were over for a sleep over. I did not remember any of this. My husband told me to sort myself out as he was going to our beach house for the weekend and I needed to think long and hard about my drinking.
Mrs D: What did you do?
Sinead: I rang my best friend who I have known since I arrived in NZ. I told her I needed her, 20 minutes later we were sitting drinking tea and I said I needed help with my drinking. We talked for hours, I shocked her when I told her how bad things had got and how well I had hid it from people outside our home. We looked up the AA website and I found a meeting that night that was not far from my home. I decided I had to give this a go if I wanted to save my marriage and my family. This was the scariest thing I ever had to do in my life. I believed that alcoholics were the old men under the bridge in the overcoat with the wine in the brown paper bag. How wrong was I?
Mrs D: What was the meeting like?
Sinead: I arrived with a few minutes to spare, I could not get out of my car, the fear was too great. I could not stop crying to the point I could not breathe. A kindly old gentlemen knocked on my window and asked me if I was looking for AA. I try to reply but just cried more. My friend arrived behind me and I managed to get out of the car and go into the meeting. It was very different to what I had expected. It was a small meeting with only 6 women and 1 man. They were lovely to me and I do not remember a lot that was said, the woman all gave me their phone numbers and told me I could ring them anytime 24 hours a day. They told me about a meeting the next day to go to. I got up on Sunday and went to that meeting. A lovely man there gave me a book to take home to read. Again I just sat there. I continued doing this for about six weeks, I went to meetings, I read all the literature I could get, I did what was suggested and I did not drink. I have not had a drink since that first meeting.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Sinead: I am not going to lie this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I could not imagine never having a drink again. My life was over. What would I do on my birthday? At Christmas? New Year’s Eve? It was just too much to take in. A lady who I met after about 5 weeks told me not to think that way, just to think “I will not have a drink today”. It started working, then I had been sober for six weeks. This was huge for me as I had never been sober in my life.
Mrs D: What changed for you after getting sober?
Sinead: I started noticing small things at first. The physical changes were beginning to show. I was losing weight, my skin and eyes looked brighter. The emotional changes were different, fear, anxiety, shame, regrets, embarrassment to name a few. Usually drink dulled all these emotions, now I had to deal with these emotions. I did not know how. Emotionally I had stopped growing, I had to learn how to deal with life again sober. I got very friendly with a wonderful lady, she became my sponsor and she also became the best friend I have ever had. In order to move forward I had to tell her everything about my life, the good, the bad and the really ugly. She listened and she did not judge. She took me through the steps of AA. I had some big decisions to make also. Did I want to be around alcohol? Could I have it in my home and not want to drink it? I decided to take it on a step by step basis. My husband still drank, so I had to get used to being around alcohol. This was my issue not his.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Sinead: The first few occasions when I was around alcohol was very difficult. I had to learn how to have fun without alcohol, this was a new concept for me. One thing I did decide was I would always take my own car. When I wanted to leave I left. I found it (and still find it) difficult to be around people that are drunk. I have no desire for a drink now which is a blessing, but being near it does not affect me anymore either.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Sinead: Some of the things I found surprising about being sober was that my social circle changed. My drinking pals all had to go. When I told my family and friends that I was now a recovering alcoholic they were mostly very supportive but not all of them. The stigma associated with alcohol is still very much alive. One or two of my friends asked if I was now watching what they drank which I found an odd question. I fall asleep easier. I no longer have the committee in my head arguing back and forth with me. I am learning to apologise, to forgive and to let go of old resentments as these are very damaging to an alcoholic brain.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Sinead: I love waking up in the morning as opposed to coming to after a session. I feel very secure in my relationship with my husband now. I have the respect of my children back and that in itself is priceless. My life is fulfilling and not boring and dull as I anticipated without alcohol. I am dependable where previously I would say I would be somewhere and not show up because I was too busy drinking myself into oblivion. The benefits to me are honesty, integrity and I actually care about my family and friends now … whereas when I was drinking I used people to either drink with or to get something from them.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Sinead: The biggest thing I would say to people starting on this journey is to only think about today, if you need to break that down to hours then do it. Even minutes if necessary. I would do whatever it takes to have the life I have today. It is beyond my imagination, we are creating miracles and you can too. Alcohol is a very scary addiction, this is mainly due to the fact that your mind will try to convince you are well and that you can now have a drink. I never drank again thank god but relapsing is very common and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Bravery and courage come from admitting you have a problem in the first place.