This guest post comes from Amy, a sober hero who lost her home in the terrible floods caused by Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023.
Before the storm
We built our house. It really was a dream home, or as dreamy as we could afford it that time in our lives. It was the location that sold us the house, it was a fabulous, fabulous home for our young growing family. The only risk that showed on the building consent plan was liquefaction if there was an earthquake. We knew that the area had been flooded in the past but everywhere around the area had been flooded, it’s a floodplain. But the flooding had always come from the groundwater rising, not from the river bursting its banks.
I’m six years sober now. I rarely have cravings, and if I ever do, I never follow through enough to feel sad about it. If someone has a glass of red wine I might be like, “Damn, that smells good”. It’s a beautiful smell. But I would never follow that through enough to be like, “I want one”. It’s not for me.
My sober birthday is the 18th of February. I love my sober birthday, it's a day for me. I don't want anyone else to make a fuss. It's just a really proud day and I always try and do something nice for me. Even if it's just a coffee, something. But this year I didn’t get that, as Cyclone Gabrielle happened just four days prior on February 14. Not a very happy Valentine's Day.
All the forecasts and warnings beforehand were very dramatic, but they showed the cyclone just hitting our area on the outer edges. I thought, “well, this is just going to be really windy, but not a storm”. When school was cancelled for the day I was like, “god dammit, the school just cancels every five seconds!” You know, since Covid. My friends and I were texting each other “god dammit, we can't go to work tomorrow!” I think I asked my husband to make sure the trampoline was tied down before we went to bed, that’s it.
We woke up and I opened the curtain, I could see that our property was already flooded badly. I texted our neighbour who lives nearby but lower than us and they were already putting all their furniture up high. I said “send your kids up and they can camp out at ours.” At no point were we thinking about the river.
I saw on Facebook that the local bridge had collapsed. And that was when I first realised how bad it was, because we used this bridge four or five, six times a day to get the kids to and from school and to get into town. And then someone put a post on Facebook saying that the river's stop banks were about to go. We still didn't think the river would break but the water was now high enough to lap at the door, so we went around for about five minutes just chucking stuff up high thinking that we'd get maybe an inch of water into the house.
I've got a photo of my hubby with my daughter on her back, wading through the driveway to get up to our other neighbours who lived on a hill behind us. I had the dog under my arm and was in my nightie. By this point the power had gone and communications were really bad. We woke our neighbours up and said, “can we just come and hang out here until this stops?” Because I was still in my nightie I said "I’ll just go down and get some clothes and let the chickens out." They hadn't been let out of the hutch. As I was going down the road, another neighbour who lives way up on the hill came flying down on his quad bike and he cried “you need to get back up on that hill, I've just seen the river coming across the valley.” Later that day, I saw a video of it. Do you remember those videos of the Indonesian tsunami where there was just a huge surge of of water full of deck chairs just pushing everything out of it’s way? That’s what this was like. A huge surge of water coming across the valley, full of apple bins and tree trunks, just roaring towards our house. And then it basically hit our house. Within 10 minutes our house was full of water up to its roof. We lost all of our furniture and the house is toast. We stood on the neighbor's hill watching it happen. I wasn't sad. I wasn't scared. I remember just thinking, we have just got now the most amount of work to do regarding admin. A very pragmatic kind of response. It was, I'm going to be spending the next year of my life dealing with insurance companies. It was just the very real gutting feeling of knowing that our lives were completely just handbraked.
As the day went on, I started thinking “I am going to have a shot of whiskey tonight. I am having a shot of whiskey.” I hate whiskey! I'd never, ever drunk it. I was just like, “fuck everything, I am doing it.” And no one would ever have said “that's a stupid idea.” We were all so in shock. But as the day progressed, I started feeling the effects of all the adrenaline and was really nauseous and very shaky. I was feeling so grotty that it was the last thing I wanted. Also, I've always been pretty good since since I got sober to be able to think forward three or four steps and realise that if I have a shot of whiskey tonight, I'm gonna feel really shit about myself tomorrow. And this is already bad enough. As soon as the sun went down, we all just fell into bed because there was no power, no lights. A couple of people had a beer or two, but it was certainly nothing heavy because we were all on edge, very on edge. Nobody was getting into the booze.
After the storm
I don't think I cried for the first couple of days, like really sobbed. That came later. Immediately after we were so busy rescuing stuff, whatever we could get out of the houses. We didn't know how long we would be trapped. We were trying to make toilets work, trying to get water, trying to get stuff for babies, just all of that stuff. We were so busy. On the third day, a helicopter came and took us all out. I thought to myself, “I'm gonna get to mums and we're going to have a glass of champagne.” All I could imagine was this cold glass of champagne. And I was like, “God, that'd be so nice.” I think that thought lasted for about a minute, because for starters, mum wouldn't let me. But also, when we finally got to my parents we were so wrecked we basically just fell asleep. I haven’t had a craving since. I haven’t had another thought of “if I get through this, then I'll reward myself with an alcoholic drink.”
I will be honest though, my brain was so insanely busy and the adrenaline so huge that I wasn’t sleeping. I got really busy with a support programme to help others impacted by the cyclone, and also trying to sort our own finances, and I was wired and exhausted and living with so many strong emotions. I had a huge meltdown one day and cried for four hours and mum gave me a benzodiazepine which was instantly incredible at giving me a pause. Of course, me being me I started taking half a pill every night and that probably went on for longer than it needed to. But it got me through. I could sleep. I could support my kids and do my job supporting others really well. But it did become a habit, so I have since stopped those. I’ve still got some in my drawer but I’m not taking them which is a pretty good feeling. They’re there if I need them for a medical reason like a panic attack. The doctor is aware that he has prescribed them to me and I have an addiction background, so they're keeping a close eye on that, and I'm being honest with them.
A lot of people have sort of looked at me and gone, “are you alright? You’ve gone through a lot”. I think they’re kind of thinking, “Is she faking it”? A lot of people are really cross, a lot of people really angry and sad. And while I am those things, I have learned from recovery and being in AA to let go. If you can't do anything about it, leave it. If you have no control over that, walk away. It doesn't do any you good to get angry. Let it go. There is absolutely no good that comes out of feeling sorry for yourself and getting cross at others. There's nothing useful about any of that.
It was also a really good feeling to go straight out of being rescued to helping others. Because then you get the joy of, you know, relieving someone else's pain and being able to be a useful person. That’s another thing I have got out of my recovery and being in AA - the joy of being in the helper role, where you are able to strengthen other people's sobriety.
I think sobriety has shaped my personality to where I’ve become very less self-centered and more pragmatic. Like, just get on with it, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get up and do it. I couldn’t imagine leaning on booze now to get me through. This is hard enough. Why would I make it harder? I know that if I picked up a drink I would sleep worse, I would make poor decisions, and I would feel disgusting. I already felt disgusting, booze does not make me feel better. It's not going to help in any way. Not even a little bit.