Today I celebrate five years of sobriety. Yep, this day, in 2010, was the first full day I had without any alcohol and I haven’t had a drink since.
Since it is a pretty big milestone, I thought I would share what they call in AA my drinking story. By recognising and looking back on our drinking story we get to understand how we became alcoholics and the lessons we need to learn to remain sober. It also helps, if you are feeling you might be an alcoholic, to read others’ stories and to perhaps identify and know you are not alone.
It’s a long one, so you might want to grab a cup of tea!
I first became drunk when I was 14 years old. My friend and I were going to a house party (really common in the 1980s) and we decided that we wanted to get drunk. We took plastic drink bottles – the kind that came with lunch boxes – and filled them with a swig of every bottle of booze her dad had in his cabinet. We then drank these bottles of booze pretty much neat. It didn’t take long for the effects to take place. I don’t remember much about that party but I do remember not feeling like I didn’t fit in. Suddenly, I was the life and soul of the party and everything seemed to just flow. I didn’t care what people thought. I had courage to ask guys to dance. I seemed to find friends that I struggled so hard to make. I felt, quite literally, queen of the mountain.
I do remember my mom coming to collect us and us staggering to the car and me spinning a yarn of how tired we were which is why we had to be half carried to the car. My mom, bless her, clearly didn’t want to face the truth that her 14 year old daughter had got blind drunk and so she accepted my lie.
From then on, I got drunk a lot. I even took alcohol to school, as did most of my friends, though (as if this makes it okay), we would only drink after school before and after sport. At parties, it was a free for all.
It is pretty much at this time that my emotional maturity pretty much ended.
My dad was also an alcoholic at the time. Our family was dysfunctional, chaotic and a never ending moving platform. Instability reigned. Alcohol took away that pain, that uncertainty, that early feeling that I wasn’t good enough. It helped me cope with a family life that wasn’t coping with itself.
Two years after I began drinking, my dad stopped drinking (he has now been sober for 32 years). He began Alcoholics Anonymous and our lives radically changed. He moved us 600 kilometres away to a new life, a new start. It was the best thing he could have ever done for us, but at the time I was resentful. I was fast becoming really angry at the world.
I was onto my 6th school and I did not settle well. It was an all girls school and I really struggled to fit in. I had a boyfriend that I had left behind and I missed him terribly. The school was small and everyone seemed so well settled. I arrived in Year 11. Friendships had been formed and I was, as always, the outsider.
At parties, I would drink. None of my new friends at school really drank alcohol so I would hide it. A bit before the party, a controlled amount during the party and a lot afterwards. It gave me courage, strength to fit in.
My school work declined and I got a poor pass – far less than my academic potential suggested. I just made it into university.
At university alcohol freely flowed. Party after party ensued. Uni work never got done, but I got more and more drunk. I dropped out of university. A long history of incomplete tertiary courses would follow. I didn’t want to study, I wanted to party, to not feel, to be happy.
I married my long term boyfriend and we had Miss J. I had no education and this feeling of not achieving anything would remain with me, forever ingrained into my psyche. I would constantly feel like I had not realised my own potential. I would constantly be searching for my “thing”, that thing that would help me identify myself, know who I am. Because alcoholics lose themselves to alcohol, they no longer have any sense of identity other than that at the bottom of a bottle of booze. Drinking is easier, it numbs the pain. It certainly would turn me into a jolly person who appeared to love life.
I had my daughter and somehow I managed to curb my drinking. I did not drink at all whilst I was pregnant with her and for a while after her birth I would only drink a little bit at parties on the weekend. It seemed that my drinking problem had resolved itself. I could control it. HA!
My first husband died in scuba diving accident. I was 25 years old and my daughter was 16 months. My parents swooped in, invited me to come back home where they could help me grieve and look after Miss J. It was the opening I needed. At night, once Miss J was asleep, I would go out on my own to the local pub. My poor mother was mortified at this. She would say to me that it didn’t look good that a woman go out on her own and that I should be at home with them where they could take care of me. I couldn’t drink with them though. My dad was by now at least 10 years sober and whilst he was really good about us drinking in front of him, I didn’t want to. I wanted to soothe my pain good and proper.
And so off to the pub I would go. When I look back on those days I am amazed I did not get myself into any strife. I put myself into some ridiculously precarious positions and how I came out unscathed is a total mystery. All I can do is thank the universe for watching over me.
I met my second husband and we partied like crazy. We were in love and within 6 months we were married. He got posted to a different town and so I moved away from my family. Weirdly our drinking seemed to take a backseat as we set up home, got used to our new life together. 18 months later we moved to the UK. And my drinking took off again. An off-licence was opposite the house, so getting a bottle of wine a night was nothing unusual.
I was what you would call a functioning alcoholic. Every night I would drink, get drunk. I would pride myself on not starting to drink until the children had been put to bed. This seemed to make it okay. I would go to bed drunk and would wake up hungover, but I always managed to drag myself out of bed, get the children ready and take them to school. This way, I could tell myself I didn’t have a drinking problem. I could handle it, I was in control.
Except I wasn’t.
There were tell tale signs – I would forget things they had to do, I would be too tired to do their homework with them, I would yell a lot. I couldn’t keep on top of the housework and would resent it if friends just dropped by.
I handed over more and more power to that elixer called alcohol, all the while telling myself I didn’t have a problem
We moved to Australia in 2006. By this time we had a son, Master J. We had no idea at the time he had autism. Going out became almost impossible because of his sensory issues and so I would tell myself that drinking at home was my down time, my me time, my gift for the difficult life the universe had handed me. I was totally isolated from my family who lived in the UK and South Africa. I felt alone, so very alone.
I was angry and in pain and I had no way of dealing with it. And so I drank even more.
I justified this drinking by having even more parties. I went from one bottle to two or three bottles of wine a night. On the weekends, I bypassed the bottles and drank casks. By this time I didn’t care for quality. It was the quantity that mattered.
My parental judgement became impaired. We gave Miss J far more freedom than we should have. We allowed her to drink “only a couple” of drinks at the age of 16. Of course, we suspected the two bacardi breezers we gave her would blow out to much more, but we lied to ourselves. How I cringe at that decision now.
I eventually became housebound at night because I would not drink and drive. I was a self righteous alcoholic, judging those who did drink and drive. I was a good person, I would tell myself, responsible even. I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink and drive. My husband and I would argue because I refused to drive and so he would be left sober whilst I had a whale of a time when we would go out. Alcohol had finally got its hooks into me and my life had become a slave to it.
Each weekend would come and go and Monday mornings would see me groan with regret. I started asking questions of how had I allowed my life to get like this. But that is the disease of alcoholism. It is insidious, progressive and before you know it, you are a slave to it and your life is in tatters.
The turning point came in 2010. I went to visit an acquaintance. We weren’t close and she was forthright. To be honest I was a bit intimidated by her. I mentioned how one of our friends had got drunk at our house, again, how he had made a fool of himself and how he just drank too much.
My friend stared at me.
“You do know you drink too much, right?”
I looked at her, in disbelief.
“Are you saying, do you think, I mean are you suggesting I am an alcoholic?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. You need help.”
I left shortly afterwards. I hated her in that moment, for her rudeness, for her ability to speak the truth.
As I lay in my husband’s arms, a wreck, sobbing, I knew I could no longer deny what I had known for years. I was an alcoholic. I told my husband I needed to go to AA.
The following day, Monday the 31st January 2010, I walked into my first AA meeting.
It was the scariest thing I have ever had to do. Far scarier than posting bald pictures of myself.
That was the day that I admitted I was powerless over alcohol, that I took back control over my life, that I started to grow up.
I found fellowship and friendship.
I won’t lie. It hasn’t been easy. Depression has become a big part of my sobriety journey. Because I have to learn to live with the pain of living. And life can be pretty darn painful sometimes.
There are days I miss alcohol. If I didn’t I would not be an alcoholic. Sometimes it acts like a mistress calling to me, with her promise of the numbness she brings. But I resist. One day at a time I resist.
And my life is so much richer for it. My relationships are so much better. My children can count on me. Through my example neither of them drink. I am growing as a person every day. I am maturing. I am finding my way in a world that once would chew me up and spit me out. I now have strength to face her wrath and to withstand her challenges. I am living life on life’s terms one day at a time.
Today I celebrate 5 years of sobriety. A proud moment in my life. A moment worth celebrating.
Thank you for reading my story. If you are in need of help with your drinking, please contact AA. Someone there will be able to help you. It is a hard but brave step and I promise you it is worth it. One day at a time, you can do this.
Next time I will talk about how I managed to stay sober for five years and the challenges I had to overcome.