Today’s Sober Story comes from Stacey, a 53-year-old living in the Northwestern section of Connecticut, USA.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Stacey: This August will be THIRTEEN years free of alcohol- woo hoo!! Crazy that it has been well over a decade since I last tasted alcohol. So grateful.
Mrs D: Fantastic. What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Stacey: Ugh, I can tell you that they were awful. The last year especially. I knew within my soul that I had a problem, that I could no longer control my drinking. I had, for years, drunk too much and too often but had kept it together enough that others didn’t notice. But I had known for quite a while that my relationship with alcohol was abnormal. I was a stay-at-home mom of four young children and I felt totally lost. I was amorphous… nothing to define me but my family. And my anxiety was so high. I drank to calm down and then would rebound once the alcohol wore off and then would start the cycle all over again. My husband finally said something, that he was concerned with my drinking. And everything escalated from there. I felt constantly under watch so I would hide the amount I drank. It was awful. It was a very fast spiral down into losing who I was and what I believed in. I couldn’t look in the mirror. I was ashamed.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Stacey: Well, my husband had had it. He was so stressed and worried about me and if the kids were safe with me (my youngest was 1 1/2 at the time) our home life was awful. He brought my mother into it and some other family and friends for an intervention. To talk to me about stopping. I was so angry and embarrassed. I knew I had to stop but hated that everyone was on my case. I thought I could stop on my own. I was wrong. My husband finally gave me the ultimatum (kindly) that either I stopped drinking or got out. He couldn’t take it any more. He always said I was so strong and he knew I could do it but I had to want it- or believe I could anyway. I was so scared. I think (at first anyway) that I did it for my family. They deserved better. Because at the time I had lost all respect and love for myself.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Stacey: I ended up agreeing to go to rehab in August 2007- I resisted this SO much!! But they convinced me I needed the time to focus on getting better. I went for 3 weeks. The early days there were great! I still felt a great deal of sadness, guilt and shame but at the same time I was FREE of the cycle and it was wonderful. My fuzzy brain began to clear (I wasn’t actually a daily drinker by the end because of the constant scrutiny but my mind was still so hooked) and I could see a glimmer of hope. Life was wonderful without alcohol. Coming home was hard and easy at the same time- hard because I had to put new habits in place of my old ones. And most of my drinking at the end was done in my house in the evening. So I needed to fill that time positively from the start so I didn’t go back to those habits. The easy part was the support I had at home- my husband was great. All the alcohol was out of the house which was such a relief. It was my safe place. And since it had been enough time the compulsion had lifted- I never had what others call a craving. Mine was more of a compulsion, if that makes sense. Going out was hard too because I could become resentful of the ‘normal’ drinkers around me. Left out- which was something I always felt as a kid.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Stacey: Everyone that loved me was super supportive. My husband was ecstatic as were both our families. My closest friends knew I was struggling so they were proud of me. My other friends were a little surprised- I was good at keeping my struggles secret.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Stacey: I am so thankful to say I have never experienced a relapse. I give people so much credit who are able to be honest with themselves and those around them to start over.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Stacey: Physically right away. Luckily I was exercising throughout so I wasn’t in terrible shape- pickled I’m sure but still going strong! But it took a while for that shroud to disintegrate around my brain and allow me to peek out and see how isolated I had become and how my life was a tiny little circle of hell with alcohol the magnetised centre. I cried a lot. But I was so grateful that I still had my family that loved and needed me. I was lucky. But I would say a good six months before I felt fully in charge of my thoughts and emotions again.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Stacey: I will say it fluctuated. I would stress about a particular event and then that event would be a piece of cake! As long as I had my escape route and my favourite drink of choice I usually had a great time. And then out of the blue I’d have an evening out and feel resentful for not being ‘able’ to have a glass of wine. I really liked wine. My trick in these instances was to play the reel forward- yeah that first glass of wine would feel fantastic but as soon as that switch was thrown the compulsion would set in- to drink more and more. And I’d remember myself at the end, drunk and messy and miserable. That would help me to grab my seltzer- and be happy about it.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Stacey: That I could socialise just fine without alcohol. That my anxiety was made SO much worse by the alcohol- it wasn’t the cure I thought it was (sorry all you Mommy’s Little Helper lovers 😉 ). That I was so much more present with my children without the wine. I used to think that when I was calmer I was more fun or easier going with them- nope! I really kind of liked myself after. I’m pretty funny sober!
Mrs D: Amazing how we slowly grow to love the sober versions of ourselves. How else did your life change?
Stacey: Oh my gosh it changed so much for the better! I felt empowered by my choice to not drink alcohol- alcohol is not an option was my motto from the start. But I thought I would feel powerLESS because I couldn’t do something. I ended up feeling just the opposite. By not doing that ONE thing, I can do EVERYTHING else I want to in life. That’s a pretty good trade off! I found my fear was unfounded. It is such a relief to commit to things now without ever having to think about alcohol or how it would curtail my drinking. I passed up things because it would interfere with my drinking when I wasn’t sober. How sad 🙁
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Stacey: My health. I didn’t experience any major health issues but I was sluggish and bloated and generally fuzzy. The alertness and clarity that I regained was amazing. I joined my kids’ parent/teacher organisations and volunteered my ass off- it felt great to be able to be the person that people could count on again. There will never be a day or night that I couldn’t help someone (my kids, etc ) or be somewhere because I already had been drinking. I am so present for my husband and children (and myself). I know my presence makes a difference in their lives- we talk about everything. Their lives wouldn’t be what they are today if I didn’t stop drinking- I am eternally grateful I made the decision for us all. My relationships are still intact- I did not do any irreparable damage but thankfully I was able to mend them all. My ability to communicate increased once the dark secret life was gone!
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Stacey: This is a really hard question. I would want to say, “I’d do it sooner!” but it is what it is. I wished I reached out to someone earlier when my internal voice was screaming at me that I had a problem, and maybe tried AA years before. At least the year prior to the summer I quit. I was so afraid, of what? I don’t even know. My life without? I was so stuck in the muck of denial that my brain was fooling myself into thinking I could handle it. It’s scary. Maybe if I had tried earlier I wouldn’t have gotten to the place of self loathing I reached. It was bad. But then I wouldn’t have gone to rehab, where I experienced things that were really powerful. It was where I felt connected to others who felt like I did, and I needed that to not feel so alone and to do what I needed to do to save my own life.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Stacey: I would tell others just starting that they are truly NOT ALONE. It is amazing now that there are so many online communities and groups (open and secret like Facebook) that there is someone out there willing to listen 24/7. It’s incredible the community we have in sobriety. And reach out and go to meetings, especially in the beginning. To see people going through what you are is empowering – you do it together. It’s our human nature to be a pack and that pack makes each part stronger. Until you are strong enough to hold yourself up. And even then the support of others is always buoying. And whatever you find that helps you not drink alcohol, do that!! I started out in AA but I do not go anymore. Nothing against it- it has saved millions of lives. But it may not be for everyone, it’s pretty rigid. But some people need that. However if you find another way- online groups, yoga, SMART recovery, moderation management – that’s okay too. It’s all good in my opinion as long as you are achieving your goals to abstain.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Stacey: Like I said above, I am amazed at the amount of social support we have nowadays that there are so many opportunities for connection. I love this. I wish we could keep speaking out to help break down the mountain of shame that is still built up around this subject of addiction. I feel there is still so much work to do to overcome the stigma of addiction. Our language must change. We should not have to feel we are shameful because of the way this poison affects our system. I do think it is getting better, little by little, but there is so much more work to be done in this area. I wish I could find something to engage in that could help in this area – it would be nice for my kids to see me crusade this topic. But overall I just feel grateful for what I have in my life. It would be such a different (and not so lovely!) picture had I not given it up when I did.