This week’s Sober Story comes from Tauni, a 37-year-old living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Tauni: Almost ten years, since August 14, 2008.
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Tauni: I was hospitalized five times in ten months and twice in the psych ward for my drinking. Up until a year before I quit, I was a very successful functioning alcoholic, even taking home the top award for my company, which I accepted when I was drunk. Luckily, I had very few other major consequences. My bills were always paid, I had no jail time, and no DUI/DWI’s. But my health was declining rapidly. I had to drink throughout the day and night or else I went into terrible withdrawl. I was puffy, shaky, and completely dependent on alcohol. I once tried to dry out on my own and I shook violently in bed for five days and had to crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom. What a life.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Tauni: My friends broke into my apartment on my 30th birthday thinking I was dead, which I almost was. They got me on a plane to rehab the next morning, and that’s when my journey really began.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Tauni: I spent 10 days white-knuckling it until I could get into rehab and then was there for a month. After I got out, the most difficult part was filling up my time because I got sober right at the same time we hit an economic depression, so jobs were scarce. I was out of work for the first year I was sober, but luckily I had money to live on from my dad’s life insurance when he’d died the year before. I volunteered a lot, wrote a billion cover letters and applications, got into a regular exercise schedule, and became familiar with my new city (I had been living in Chicago, but stayed in Minneapolis after rehab). I don’t remember it being particularly difficult. My pink cloud seemed to last a long time.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Tauni: I hid my addiction from my family until the last few months. They were shocked to learn I was an alcoholic and frankly didn’t believe me when I told them. I think they thought I was being dramatic. But then when I started getting hospitalized they couldn’t deny it anymore. They were both totally confused and totally supportive, as normies often are.
Mrs D: Experts say relapse is often a part of recovery, was it a feature of yours?
Tauni: No, but I know it could always become part of my story if I don’t do the next right thing.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Tauni: They calmed down almost immediately because I had so much support from the AA community, which I embraced completely. The hardest part for me was making friends that I had things in common with outside of AA. That happened eventually, but I was often lonely before I found friends I connected with outside of recovery.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Tauni: You know, I didn’t find it difficult to socialize because I wasn’t embarrassed about being an alcoholic. What was hard for me was letting go of my old social life. I had to give up my old friends, my old neighborhood, and man, did I miss them. And I say with this complete honesty: I am certain there are several friends who miss Drinky Tauni. Because I was known among my friends for one thing: fun. And there’s no denying that Sober Tauni isn’t as up-for-anything (dancing! costumes!) as Drinky Tauni. It was difficult to let that go.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Tauni: I learned that I LOVE routine. Seriously, who knew? I always thought I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl, but now I think I was only that way because I was constantly having to plan my next drink. Don’t get me wrong; I still love an impromptu road trip, but man, do I love my morning workouts followed by a smoothie and coffee, and I get cranky if that’s disrupted.
Also – and this is a big one – the obsession stopped. I did not expect the obsession over alcohol to stop. I thought that it was going to be a tremendous burden I was going to have to carry around with me the rest of my life, and that AA would help me learn how to live with that burden. Imagine my euphoria when the obsession gradually left me. Hallelujah!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Tauni: In every way. When I was drinking, I was working a job I hate-hate-hated. All my friends were gay men, and lots of them. I lived in the heart of Chicago and I was single with a cat. I didn’t date because I thought I’d never find a man I could love. But I adored Broadway, show tunes, and the Golden Girls, so the gay community welcomed me with open arms so I decided to make gay bars my home.
Now, I’ve been married for three years to the most wonderful man I’ve ever known and not only do I love him, I adore him. I still have my cat, but I also have three more cats, two dogs, two fish tanks and two snakes. I still have lots of gay men friends, but also several girl friends in the mix. I’m rediscovering old loves (reading, writing, the piano). My brain has so much more room in it for love of learning now that it’s not focused on alcohol.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Tauni: Holy shit, I had so much TIME on my hands all of a sudden because the ticker tape of how-am-I-going-to-get-my-next-drink-how-am-I-going-to-get-my-next-drink in my head had SHUT UP and I was no longer obsessing over that next drink. I could run! I could get up early on a Saturday and go for a walk outside with other people! I could get sleepy at night just because it was time for bed! I could remember where my credit cards were in the morning! I didn’t have to drink mouthwash to get my hands to stop shaking! Everything was awesome.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Tauni: Just one thing. When I went into treatment, I went in with the attitude that I could no longer run my life and I was going to do anything they told me to do, even if I didn’t want to do it. And I did. But one of the things we were told to do was to live in a sober house after treatment. I thought that was a terrible idea for me (and so did my mom, actually), but I thought that that was just my ego telling me not to and I signed up to live in a sober house. I was supposed to live there for six months, but after a month I couldn’t take the toxic environment anymore and moved into an apartment of my own. Everyone said that was a bad idea, but I was getting to the point when I knew when I was lying to myself to justify my actions, and when I was being honest. And I knew I was being honest with myself when I said I didn’t belong in a sober house and I would do better on my own. And I did.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Tauni: Start hanging out with people who have what you want. And don’t try to do it the way you want to do it. Do it the way you’re supposed to do it.
Mrs D: Anything else you’d like to share?
Tauni: Yes, please.
I understand why normies find it difficult to see alcoholism as a disease, because there is a degree of choice in our decision to reach for that next drink. That element of choice is what makes it difficult to sympathize with us, because it’s not like my friend had a choice in whether she developed M.S., right? It appears to the outside world that all we have to do is stop, or at least stop at one drink.
Now, my husband has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I met him after he’d undergone treatment and he’s had a tremendously successful recovery on medication. In fact, it’s difficult for me to picture him in the throes of chaos that OCD brings. But until he was treated, his life was completely taken over by his disorder, much like my alcoholism.
My husband used to be consumed by his compulsions, which included such things like having to shower many times throughout the day, stay up all night because he had to check the oven fifty times to be sure it’s turned off, and go through hundreds of new socks because he had to wear them over his hands to open doors.
It’s easy for us to look at someone like my husband and say, “Wow. He’s sick,” even though there is also an element of choice in his disorder. After all, no one is forcing him to put a new sock on his hand to open a door, right? But no one is going to argue that he is not sick, and very few would argue that he just needs to buck up and sum up some willpower.
I once heard someone say that the secret to a great relationship isn’t just compatibility, but compatible dysfunction. And I found that with my husband. He’s not an alcoholic and I don’t have OCD, but we completely get each other’s dysfunction because they’re so similar.
I don’t think our obsessive alcoholic minds are talked about enough, both inside and outside AA rooms. It’s that obsession that really messed me up. I couldn’t stop thinking about alcohol and it drove me over the edge. It’s no exaggeration to say it affected every single decision I made throughout my day.
I often make the OCD/alcoholism comparison when talking to normies about my disease. I think it helps them make the connection that both my husband and I had crippling anxiety, but instead of showering for the tenth time that day, I would drink. The symptoms were the same (anxiety + obsession), but our way of self medicating manifested differently. And neither of us could stop on our own.
During our first few years together, my husband would sometimes accompany me to open AA meetings because he could identify with our obsessive minds and found the meetings helpful for himself. Isn’t that interesting?