Today's Sober Story comes from Zoe, a 64-year-old living in Auckland.
Mrs D: How long have you been in recovery?
Zoe: 21 years
Mrs D: What can you tell us about the last months/years of your drinking before you gave up?
Zoe: I drank every day in a pub on K Road and looked down on all the people I drank with. For some reason I had a superiority complex although my self esteem was at an all time low. I was the first to arrive at opening time and had to be poured into a taxi in black out every night at around eight. My son who was 12 at the time often came up to get me because he was hungry, I would feed him take aways so I could get to stay on for just one more....
Mrs D: What was the final straw that led you to get sober?
Zoe: My son's father came to visit us and he was 9 months clean. He had been my "if I ever get as bad as him I'll give up" person ... and there he was bright eyed, funny, responsible, making sense, and straight. He had done a treatment in the South Island but had friends in the local Parnell Treatment centre and he convinced me to go for a "meeting" with the admitting person there. Something happened at that meeting - I surrendered and stopped putting up barriers. I gave in. Put my hands up and asked for help.
Mrs D: How was it for you in the early days? What was most difficult?
Zoe: In treatment it felt easy, I was cocooned in an environment where all I had to do was do what I was told. Eat 3 meals a day (I had stopped eating and got all my nourishment out of a Steinlager bottle), go for a very short walk in the morning, do writing to try and discover who I was, sit in groups, socialise with a small group of like minded people, do a few chores! It was when I left the support house and got my son back and we went back to living in our old house that things went pear shaped. I realised that I could not sit in my house 7 minutes away from the usual bars and where I scored my tinnies and stay straight. So my son and I moved to a caravan park out in Helensville - he had been attending Kaipara College and I thought best not to change his school again - so off we went. That was hard, it was difficult to attend 12 Step meetings as I had no car, I was isolated and lonely. I cross addicted to the pokie machines in the local pub, and my poor son could see no difference in my behaviour from when I was drinking in the pub. He still had to come and find me to get his dinner! That was my annus horriblus really. Worse than my last year of drinking. I had a solution but I was not living a clean life and certainly not following a 12 Step program. I did not relapse though and after the first year I got a proper house, a real job and a car and stopped gambling and things gradually started to improve.
Mrs D: What reaction did you get from family & friends when you started getting sober?
Zoe: When my father dropped me off at Detox he took me in his arms and sobbed. I was too self centered at the time to realise how much they worried about me. They had even contemplated getting CYFS involved to take my boy away to a safer environment. My mother died about 10 years ago and we had mended our broken bridges. My father is 91 and I spend a lot of time with him and he loves me and is proud of me. My son has grown up into a strapping, boat builder and surfer who leads a wonderful life overseas most of the time. He is also proud that I have managed to stay clean for all these years. He is a credit to himself!
Mrs D: Have you ever experienced a relapse?
Zoe: No! I was 43 at the time I came into recovery. When I think about why I haven't relapsed, I suppose I had had enough by the time I got here. I hear other people's stories of relapse and nothing has changed. I can have momentary visions of myself drinking "just the one" glass of champagne and looking all sophisticated and glamorous but I know I was never that kind of drinker. I have the disease of more....
Mrs D: How long did it take for things to start to calm down for you emotionally & physically?
Zoe: Physically I got well and put on weight within a couple of years. Mentally it's a work in progress. Emotionally I have needed counselling and all the help the 12 Steps can give me. Things have certainly calmed down but there is room for improvement.
Mrs D: How hard was it getting used to socialising sober?
Zoe: I have a few strategies, I go to a meeting before I go to a party or event, so I have the memory of my disease in the fore front of my brain. I generally only stay for about an hour and a half, or until the first drunk person starts to tell me how fabulous I am that I don't drink! We have a lot of events in recovery and I remember the first dance I went to in Treatment. I've always been a big dancer and I got up and danced and danced and had a lot of fun, not having to interupt the flow to get another drink...
Mrs D: Was there anything surprising that you learned about yourself when you stopped drinking?
Zoe: I really am a funny person. I thought I could only be funny drunk! I am very kind and loving and I make a great responsible member of society. I don't need to be a rebel. I don't need to tell lies to make myself sound interesting!
Mrs D: How did your life change?
Zoe: As above I didn't need to keep secrets from anyone. I could have a party and invite all the people I care about and not need to keep pockets of friends separate form others or my family. I am congruent.
Mrs D: What are the main benefits that emerged for you from getting sober?
Zoe: A career in an industry I love. A beautiful house to live in. My family back in my life and I take care of them now not the other way round.
Mrs D: Would you do anything differently given the chance to go through the process again?
Zoe: I sometimes wish I'd got here earlier but I am a product of everything that has happened in my life. My wisdom stems from my unique experience and that is valuable to others that I sponsor or befriend on the journey.
Mrs D: What advice or tips would you have for those who are just starting on this journey?
Zoe: Surender! Just do what you're told if you go into one of the wonderful Treatment Centres that are out there. Join a 12 Step Fellowship, people who have had similar experiences are your best advisors. In the beginning try and get to lots of meetings and get a Sponsor, someone you relate to who can guide you through the early days...
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to share?
Finding a form of Spirituality to believe in has helped me enormously. I know it can be off putting and it has nothing to do with religion ... just something greater than myself so I don't go back to my old self willed ways. And if I remember I only have to do it - stay sober - for this one day ... life is much more manageable.