This week's Sober Story comes from Sue, a 59-year-old Kiwi-Canadian living in Canada.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Sue: 7 and a half years, since 28 October 2012.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Sue: I tried to quit drinking so many times, and failed over and over. I was just reading a journal I wrote more than 20 years ago, and even then, in my early 30s I was worried about my drinking, constantly trying to slow it down, stop, and constantly falling back into daily drinking. Alcohol was just an ingrained part of my life, and I couldn't seem to get away from it. Also, I wasn't in any obvious trouble. I was never arrested, did anything criminal, lost a job or had a drunk driving charge or anything like that. I just drank more often than I wanted to, and always drank more than I intended to, and it bothered me. One thing that became obvious in my 50s was how much more alcohol I could 'handle' when I did drink. Over the years it had crept up and up. The other side of that is that I needed more drinks faster to get the buzz I was after. It was also really interesting how I had changed my attitude towards drinking over the years. I could justify drinking alone at home, drinking as soon as I got in the door from work, getting more per drink by using larger glasses, appearing to drink less by using smaller glasses, using a mug instead of a glass so it wasn't obvious how much I was drinking, drinking in the afternoon occasionally, having a couple of drinks at home before I went out, and a few more when I got home, drinking more on "special occasions". I was lying to myself about it all. Booze was the answer to all my ups and all my downs. It was my answer to everything. And deep down I seriously wanted to be free of the bullshit and just live without being a slave to booze. I just didn't know what to do about it. I seemed like a very normal drinker in my circle of family and friends. And I wasn't ready to admit I had a problem either. I just wanted to quietly fix things myself so nobody knew, and I kept screwing it up. I was really frustrated and lost because I would not openly admit I had a problem, and it never occurred to me to ask for help.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Sue: One Sunday afternoon I took some wine up to my neighbour's garden, and we sat in the sun and drank it. We finished my bottle, then she bought out another one, which I think we finished. Then I went home and opened another bottle to drink while I was cooking dinner and eating, thinking I'd just have one or two small glasses because I was pretty drunk already. I must have blacked out, because I can only remember waking up the next day, wondering what had happened. I automatically thought "shit, I must have got really drunk," and I went upstairs to check how much wine was left in the bottle. It had a tiny dribble in the bottom. I honestly couldn't remember drinking it. That scared me enough to think it was time to get serious about quitting. I decided to quit again that day... and I would have failed again, had I not gone online looking for some help. I found some sober blogs, including Mrs D is Going Without, and suddenly I felt surrounded by support and advice. Most importantly, as I read those blogs I could recognise myself in so many of the stories and comments -- I no longer felt alone. That was a huge thing for me.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Sue: The hardest thing for me was learning to live life in the raw, and not constantly reach for booze to numb me out. I was so not used to dealing with feelings; stress, boredom, creativity, anything in life really -- without either being numbed by booze, or having the possibility of getting numbed. It was all the habitual aspects of drinking -- the ritual of cracking open a cold bottle of pinot gris at the end of the work day, pouring a big glass and sitting in my favourite chair and just savouring the feeling of starting to let go. I really, really missed that. I had to learn new ways to relax and wind down. I had to learn new ways to cope with just being a human being! It's a big deal when you decide to do that without getting numb!
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Sue: I didn't really tell anyone for almost a year. My husband knew, of course, because I stopped drinking with him, but I think he thought it was just another of my attempts to cut back. Otherwise I just kept it to myself. It was because I thought I'd probably fail again, so I didn't want to make a big deal about it. Once I was confident I had quit for good, I started telling people. I think mostly they were skeptical! Except a couple of family members who are sober themselves--they were very supportive and wonderful.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Sue: Not this time. I have been completely alcohol free since 28 October 2012. But before then, back in 2009 I managed to quit for 9 months. I got really sick with a virus, and couldn't drink, so when I got better I thought it was a good time to give up--I'd already been through a detox while I was sick! But I got complacent, and when I was on holiday in Melbourne, I went to a bar and I decided to order a beer--I seriously thought it would be OK to just have a beer and leave it at that. Within a month I was back to drinking beer and a whole bottle of wine pretty much every day. I couldn't believe how fast that happened, how quickly I got hooked in again. It took another 18 months for me to quit again, for good this time. That relapse proved to me I cannot be a casual drinker. No random beers allowed!
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Sue: I think it took about a year for me to start feeling even and settled in my mind and body, and about two years to feel normal and happy about being sober. I was unbelievably tired for the first several months. I was working from home, and I spent two or three hours a day just crashed out on the couch -- I couldn't stay awake. I'm sure my body was just desperate for some time out to repair and restore after all the abuse. Rather than resisting, I just gave in to the urge to sleep, and eventually I got my energy back and felt good.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Sue: Hard. I don't like socialising at the best of times, so doing it sober was a big adjustment. The cool thing is that now I realise being sober makes socialising easier for me. I am much more aware of myself and other people, and I feel much more comfortable in my own skin without the chemical enhancements, so I enjoy myself and other people more. Also, I just go home or go to bed when things get too much for me. I feel in control of my exit, and that's empowering.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Sue: I am constantly learning surprising things about myself! Perhaps the most important is that I'm a really sensitive person, very intuitive, and I have a wise side to me that I can now access and really enjoy. Before I always squashed that stuff down because I didn't trust it. Now I just enjoy being sensitive, intuitive, and wise. I feel good about those things, not embarrassed.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Sue: Let me count the ways. There were so many great changes. Maybe the biggest thing was that I no longer had this massive black cloud of self-loathing over me -- the boozer remorse that weighed on me constantly. I absolutely love waking up in the morning and slowly becoming aware of my body, my feelings, my thoughts ... and they are now never negative or loathing. I always feel really happy to wake up and know I'm sober. Same when I go to bed. I love lying down and drifting off to sleep feeling like I've stayed true to my sober self and kept my body chemistry nice and clean. I really, really love that feeling of being clean and alive, as opposed to feeling numb and disconnected. Another big change was getting all that time back--the time I spent drinking and being incapacitated because of it. I love that now I can do whatever I feel like any time of the day or night and not have to factor in boozing and its consequences. I'm productive, I make things, I go out to classes, I am engaged in many more enjoyable things, because boozing took up a huge amount of time and space in my life, which is now available for better things.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Sue: Getting my self esteem back is probably the biggest one. I'm happy to be me, not constantly trying to escape being me. I also think my relationships are better. I'm more present, I'm not sloppy and loose with what I say, I am kinder and more understanding. I'm also way, way less pissed off than I used to be. There seem to be far fewer assholes in my world these days!
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Sue: I would have asked for help much much earlier. Getting connected to people on the same journey was critical for me. Without that I have not doubt I'd still be struggling with daily boozing.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Sue: Three things:
1) Get connected to whatever sober community suits you (online, AA, personal connections, whatever), stay connected, and commit to being honest in that community so you can get to know yourself and get relevant help.
2) Find something you enjoy doing (preferably something engrossing) that you can do in the time you usually drink. An engrossing distraction is very valuable. Ideally something that requires your whole brain and both hands!
3) Understand that you and only you are responsible for the decision to pick up a drink or not. It's just a decision. It might be unbelievably hard, but it's also incredibly simple.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Sue: I'd just like to say that I'm incredibly grateful to be sober. Being sober is the best thing I've ever done for myself, and my life is so much better now than it ever was when I was drinking. At the start I could not imagine ever being happy about not drinking. The prospect of being sober was terrifying and I was sure I would be eternally miserable without booze. But that's not how it turned out. I am very very happy and very very grateful.
@suek is a long-time member of Living Sober and has written many guest posts for us such as; Sober Sponges, Pressure, When Sober Gets Old, Life after sober, Up up into the giant sky, and It's never too late to grow up. She has also made some great yoga videos for us which are here.