This week's Sober Story comes from Victoria (a.k.a Drunk Mummy Sober Mummy), a 44-year-old living in Noosa, Australia.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Victoria: Just over 3 years (1115 days!)
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Victoria: My only passion in life, since childhood, was drinking. When I say drinking, I don’t mean sipping on a glass of wine as I nibble on a cracker and talk about house prices. I’m talking; passing out in farmers’ fields in a vodka coma, rolling around in bushes with handsome one-night stands, and celebrating the rising of the sun with another round of shots. I’m a heavy binge drinker extraordinaire. I’ve been the life and soul of every party on both sides of the globe. Dancing until I fell over and slurring until I was plopped in a taxi with a sick bag after arguing with some burly bouncers. For 26 years my drinking was clever. I surrounded myself with like-minded people - therefore it slid off the radar. My destructive drinking habit managed to hide, It got absorbed by the crowd and diluted into the next jug of Sangria.
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Victoria: A baby crying in the room beyond my hangover. I had my first child at 34. I imagined I would be one of those rockstar mums that’d kids wore ACDC T’shirts and carried skateboards, I thought I’d still be able to party at the weekends and parent during the week and for a while I tried. I went out with friends, starting with good intentions and promises of moderation only to end my evening with my head in a toilet. But I so badly need relief. I was finding the transition from party girl to motherhood, hard. Emotions were bubbling up inside me and the only way I knew how to deal with them was to drink. I wanted to be the person I was before the baby - the party girl with no off switch and back-stage passes. But with each dusty hangover something within me began to change. I had to lie in bed listening to my husband caring for our newborn baby. I had to hear my day with my family happening without me. One morning I got up and something sinister had infiltrated my hangover - anxiety. The guilt and shame of not being the mum I wanted to be caused panic attacks and led me to address my drinking for the first time. Questions that I could not avoid kept popping into my head,
Why do I keep doing this to myself?
How can I stop this toxic relationship with booze?
I knew then I couldn’t solve this problem myself and plodded out into the lounge and told my husband that I wanted to stop this downward spiral and seek professional help.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days?
Victoria: It was awkward so I kept my decision not to drink a secret for nearly a year. I didn’t want people to judge me and I was still getting to know myself without alcohol in my system.
Mrs D: What was most difficult?
Victoria: I found socialising so different, every time I went out I felt like a bright light was shining in my face revealing every damaged part of me. My patience with others that were drinking was non-existent, therefore I found it hard to be natural. But, even thought going out with friends at first was hard, I knew the more I did it the more I would learn to enjoy it, So, I kept on feeling the awkward and doing it anyway!
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Victoria: They all thought I was boring at first but when they witnessed me still being exactly the same fun and confident person they were surprised and intrigued. People never said what I was doing was wrong all they did was give me big pats on the back and say well done.
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Victoria: No, My drinking had got to a point where I hated it. When I stopped it felt like a huge ball of stress had been lifted from my chest. I would never go back because now I see the bigger picture. I know alcohol and I are a toxic combination.
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Victoria: It took about 6 months before my mind and body felt healthy. I had no idea that when I quit drinking there is a whole other journey that awaited me. I thought I’d just stop, have a few awkward conversations with friends and that would be that. But, to my surprise there is so much more. The day I quit was the day I began on interesting expedition into who I am. I began to like myself more with each rising sun and my preoccupation of what others thought of me; diminished. I must express, sobriety isn’t all rainbows and walking through fields picking daisies, it can be tough. Its confronting and awkward. Learning to socialise again takes time, and people, especially heavy drinkers, often feel uncomfortable and judged when I’m near, but with each trip to the pub and with each bad robot dance I feel a sense of accomplishment. I drive home (hoping the police with stop me and breathalyse me) feeling like I’m truly achieving something huge. So, it’s hard but it’s so worth it.
Mrs D: Are you now used to socialising sober?
Victoria: Yes. I look forward to being out, remembering conversations, and going home early. I am present to witness my joy rather than numb out in these situations. I find being my authentic self much more rewarding than being drunk.
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Victoria: I learned that people like me for me, not for being last man standing on a grubby dance floor. They like me because I’m a good and loyal friend. I learnt to like myself and respect my body. I had been putting myself a risk often and now I am in charge.
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Victoria: My life is now free from anxiety and I am present to bear witness to my success and my failures. Not drinking doesn’t make me a perfect mum but it does make me a happier one.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Victoria: My children will have a chance to make wiser decisions about alcohol than I did. I was a little misguided by thinking drinking is what made me fit in, what made me funny and accepted by my peers and I was wrong. My children, (I hope) have the opportunity to enjoy a life without the pressure to drink. I hope my choice to break a family cycle of binge drinking will have repercussions that will trickle down from one generation to the next. You might have to check in on that one in 10 years when my kids are older, then I can tell you if its worked!
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Victoria: I would have reached out earlier. The reason I didn’t seek help for so long was because I didn’t feel like a typical alcoholic. I wasn’t homeless, hadn't lost everything, I wasn’t passed out in a gutter with a bottle of Jack Daniels (too often)! I had a fear of labelling myself because I didn’t want to be judged. That meant because of preconceived idea of what an alcoholic is…. I suffered in silence. I took far too long to reach out because I thought my story wasn’t severe enough or traumatic enough. I got stuck, in a Pinot Gris purgatory, carrying on bad habits and being a shit mum when really… I should have got help. Now, 3 years in, I realise that there is no typical Alcoholic, in fact there is a vast spectrum to alcoholism on which I did sit, somewhere. I think a lot of women, especially mums, get stuck. We carry on because we think we have to, we numb out our stressful lives with a few glasses of wine and think nothing of it. Alcohol is so ingrained in society that we forget about its harmful side effects. Not ever finding out who we are without it. We just carry on pouring it down and because everyone around us is doing the same thing. Well, all I will say is this: There is something else.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Victoria: When the fleeting thought of a cold glass of chardonnay passes through my brain, I sit with the feeling. I call it ‘Playing the tape forward’ I sit and remember that one wasn’t enough and two was too many. I was an all or nothing drinker, one that could not stop drinking once I started. So there were never any controlled glasses of wine at sunset, that was not how I drank. So, I feel the craving, remember the type of drinker I am, let it pass through my body, and then I put the kettle on.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Victoria: Being sober doesn’t make me a perfect person or a perfect mum, I still shout like a rabid howler monkey and pack pies instead of paleo pepitas into their lunch boxes, but I am happier. Present and available. I'm no longer hiding with a hangover and I still love going out. (I just go home early with a box of Lindt balls!) But, by far the most wonderful part of this zig zaggy journey is that I’m me. Not a drunk girl abandoning herself in a blackout. Just me. Imperfect sober me.