Keep looking upwards.
Submitted by Lisa.
3 September 2014… I got up; I drank, a lot. I am miserable. I already had an appointment booked with my GP for late morning. I finished off the scotch bottle (yes, before breakfast – scratch that, it was breakfast). Something made me just want to get the hell out of the house and GO, so I left and found myself standing at my doctor’s reception at least an hour earlier than my appointment. Desperate for help. How had I let it get so bad?
My story starts in childhood, like a lot of people’s. An only child brought up by two narcissistic parents, my trauma was one of neglect and abandonment. This led to the development of my people-pleasing skills, my anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen next. This led to my over-thinking/”what-if” mindset. All learned behaviours I took with me into adulthood.
My father was in a popular local band that played at a lot of pubs and RSL clubs. I was brought along to many of these events so I was around alcohol a lot. I don’t recall a specific age when I had my first drink, it was just always there. I do remember drinking once I started working. I was pretty reserved so it was my way of fitting in. In those days it was common to go to the pub for lunch and come back to work with a couple of drinks (or 3) “under your belt”. I just wanted to fit in so I did the same.
I got into a pattern of drinking when I was happy, sad, celebrated, commiserated, depressed (depression was now creeping in as well); I drank for no reason at all, but always to excess. As well as depression, I also had developed anxiety which I thought alcohol helped (spoiler alert – it didn’t).
By this time I had met and married a wonderful man, my best friend. On top of work and getting married, my narcissistic parents still interfered in my life/our lives. This affected me a great deal and I eventually had to go “no contact” with them for my own mental health. This was a tough time. How did I cope? Alcohol. At the time, no one else I knew had parents like mine. I didn’t seek out counselling, I thought I could figure things out on my own – and all these years ago, there just wasn’t the therapists who specialised in this kind of childhood trauma and how the effects flowed into adulthood.
So life continued on. Happy marriage, no kids. I became the “functioning alcoholic” whose binge drinking led to stomach disorders, fuelling my anxiety into massive panic attacks, agoraphobia, constant migraines, depression in full swing (eventually going on antidepressants) – I was sick with something all the time. I still kept drinking.
It all came to a screeching halt 10 ½ years ago. By this time I was drinking a bottle of scotch a night (having already had a several glasses of wine). I was constantly vomiting. I can’t tell you how much I hated vomiting – and yet, I still kept drinking. One day, with yet another migraine, I had to leave work early promising to be in the next day. That didn’t happen. After a week or so at home constantly vomiting, I decided to go to the hospital. I was in for two weeks and one day. I had pneumonia, diabetes and had developed an enlarged heart. One doctor told me my potassium levels were so low, it was the level they usually saw in dead people. I didn’t really comprehend even then that I had been near death.
People talk about “rock bottom”. You’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? I had something like 3-4 months off work, recovering. Within a year, I had beaten diabetes. Initially I stopped drinking entirely but then the odd drink would creep in. Then the new lie I told myself appeared: I can moderate, can’t I?
I did do some counselling at this time with my GP/therapist. To be fair, I wasn’t entirely honest with him about my alcohol intake – I still believed I could fix me.
The year I turned 50 I started going to a personal trainer. I was also abusing food to cope and was massively overweight, at one time around 40 kilograms heavier than I should have been. I would see the PT after work, but then go home and drink – a lot.
And then, another “rock bottom”. I was made redundant from a job I loved -totally out of left field. I did find another job but all my abandonment issues reappeared. My drinking escalated. I would miss work and PT sessions regularly because I was home sick vomiting or passed out on the couch.
I tried to moderate many, many times. So many Day 1’s and then I would have a bad day or a panic attack, or a good day, a good PT session – I didn’t need much of an excuse. I had no “off switch”. I had many falls, many bruises. I once fell straight into the kitchen bench, splitting my head open. My husband had to rush me to the hospital to get stitched up. I had concussion and was off work for a week.
Exactly when was it all going to be enough to stop doing this to myself?
In the months leading up to September 2014, my husband was at a loss as to what to do or say. Our once happy home was now full of my depression, anxiety and self-destruction. How much fun was I to live with? By the time he got home I was either blacked out, belligerent or just emotional.
So I found myself on 3 September 2014, at my doctor’s office, begging for help. He immediately told me to stay home from work for a month while we did intensive and regular counselling sessions.
I count 4 September as my “soberversary” because it had been 24 hours since I’d had my last drink. During this first day I decided that was it. I was done with alcohol. It had robbed me of too many years. I finally chose me and my health.
What happened then? Did I change overnight? Did I learn moderation? Sorry, no. I had to work at staying sober as hard as I had getting drunk.
I had to learn new skills and new behaviours. It was a bit like learning to walk again. I had to learn a whole new skill set to manage life but also had to work on myself; my sense of self-worth.
I am now more than six years alcohol free. I don’t consider it as “recovery”, rather as discovery. I have learned so much about myself. I don’t label myself as an alcoholic because that word puts me right back to where I was 6+ years ago and I am not that person any more.
I changed my daily routine. I got busy living life. I didn’t include alcohol in my decision-making.
I put myself first. I took my personal training sessions, overall exercise routine and diet seriously. This became a non-negotiable. I would basically have to “lose a limb” not to turn up to an appointment with my trainer. I was no longer on any medications for diabetes/gut health or anxiety/depression. I only take a small dose of something for a heart arrhythmia.
I learned a lot about mindfulness: focusing on today, not looking back at yesterday and what could have been. I stopped play the “what if” game.
What else did I learn? Acceptance. This is a biggie. Acceptance is a b*tch. Acceptance means let that sh*t go. It means accepting that you may never get the apology you should have received.
Was life suddenly perfect? Was I happy all the time? No, not at all. I still had to cope with life, e.g. a wedding at a winery, a 60th birthday party, funerals for beloved family members.
My new job was protecting that sobriety. I learned that putting myself first was ok. Everybody else did it. Did that make them wrong? Not at all. I had the right to do that for myself.
Which brings me to the point of “cheer squad” or “your community”.
I have lost some friendships along the way because that “friendship” was all about the drinking –it didn’t exist without alcohol. Always a bit of a loner, I didn’t socialise a lot but when I did, I didn’t want to waste my time with people I had nothing in common with. With others, while I respected their decision to drink, I felt let down by those who didn’t respect my decision not to.
Thank goodness I’m no longer “livin’ in the 70s” because a lot of these new friends are on the internet in sober communities.
I am now “retired” but keep busy writing. I am a Certified Gray Area Drinking Coach. I spend a lot of my time talking about alcohol but not missing it. I am constantly online with my community of like-minded friends.
2020 continues on with sucky times. I’ve had life events happen that I could not have predicted and, yes, drinking did briefly cross my mind. BUT, I knew it would not change a damn thing. Instead, I reached out for support. It wasn’t that anyone had to “fix” anything – I still had to get up and make hard decisions, but I was reminded I wasn’t alone.
This year has brought me a new level of inner strength I didn’t know I had. I am very grateful that I am still alcohol free. It has been a gift. Life may have sucked at times but there has been much to be grateful for. If I had gone back to drinking, I would never have lifted up my head to see the joy, to be mindful. Alcohol gives you nothing – it only takes away.
If you haven’t already guessed, my story is not based in a rural setting. I usually drank at home, isolated because, despite my drinking I never really did fit in. It doesn’t matter where your four walls are when you feel alone and out of place.
I leave you with the things that I have learned:
Connection! I cannot emphasise enough the importance of connection, reaching out, just venting your issues is a lifesaver.
Understand some things are above your pay grade - it’s ok to ask for support.
Accept the things you cannot change, embrace and rejoice in the things you can.
Have your set of non-negotiables to maintain your sobriety. Do not deviate from these. No putting yourself last.
Give yourself the apology you will never hear.
Your community may change around you but you will be ok.
Get busy living life. Do what you can to live as your healthiest, happiest and most joyful self. You deserve it.
You can follow Lisa's journey on instagram - her tag is https://www.instagram.com/keep_looking_upwards/
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DISCLAIMER: This is Lisa's personal take on sobriety. SITC does not advocate for a 'one size fits all' and we encourage you to investigate and pursue what feels right for you. None of our information, blogs, or shares are intended as a substitute for professional advice or help.