On being sober

To note:  I ummed and ahhed as to whether to share my story.  Some advised against it.  But is life not about sharing and learning from others.  Where would we be if we did not have our fellow human beings to guide us through this thing called life?  Especially in times of trouble.


Today marks one year (that's 12 months / 52 weeks / 365 days / 525600 minutes) of not having a drink.  Wow.  I will be honest - if you had asked me if I would stop drinking 13 months ago I would have laughed, brushed you off and had another swig or two of beer.  But I had to.

I remember having my first drink, it was at a New Years Party when I was 14 years old.  Writing this now, I realise how young I was, but it was normal.  I didn't drink much in High School, I was super involved in sports which I loved so much and that kept me busy.  When I hit 17, all my friends were turning 18 and we were finishing school so I got myself a fake ID (thanks to a friend who I am still close too now - love you girl) and started partying and drinking.  I loved it. It was fun.  No harm done.

First hangover - the day after my 18th Birthday.  I drank absinthe and other concoctions which ended in me leaving my own party at 10pm as I was so sick.  But again - I loved it. It was fun.  I then decided I wanted to move to the UK for a gap year, so I packed my bags in search of something else, something I couldn't find in Cape Town.

While working in the UK in hotels and pubs, all I did was work and party. My drinking increased, I put on weight but I didn't really think about it.  I was young, I was having fun.  I then moved jobs and got an office job.  I don't really remember drinking loads in those days - I think I settled down a bit.  I would have a night out on the weekends but nothing major.

I met my husband in 2006, we moved in together in 2007 and then I got some news that would change my life forever.  My little sister, Grace was diagnosed with cancer.  I don't know why or how but to cope with this I drank.  I don't exactly remember going from being a "normal" drinker to a heavy drinker - I think it was gradual but anyway I definitely increased my intake as it got to one day when one bottle of wine wasn't enough for me.

After my sister died in May of 2009, emotionally I did not want to face up to what had happened.  I went for counselling and I remember SO clearly being told I should stop drinking as it was my crutch and by doing so I was not dealing with what had happened to me.  So I stopped for 3 months.  I remember being so proud but I knew in my mind that it wasn't going to be forever.  I couldn't possibly stop drinking forever - I had weddings and parties to go to. I couldn't not drink.  That would be ludicrous!! 

Then - on the 17th September 2009 I got engaged to my best friend. I was so happy.  We were in the Wilderness, on the Garden Route in South Africa on holiday.  I was thrilled and it was so unexpected.  I cried and cried (with happiness!) and then had a few drinks to celebrate.

Leading up to our weddings I remember drinking a lot - I was stressed - what with two weddings to plan and still dealing with my onoing grief I found alcohol to be the only way I could get through the day.  Most days after work I would pick up a bottle of wine and some beers and polish those off in the evening.  It was a downward spiral.

I was what you would call a functional alcoholic.  Looking back - I do not know how I went to work and did everyday things.  Seriously - I was constantly nauseous, retching in the mornings, getting sick most nights, popping painkillers, ate unhealthy food and piled on the weight.  I was miserable.  Our weddings came and went - and yes - of course I had a fabulous time.  We had four weeks of partying, love and happiness all spent with friends and family.  It was fantastic.  But I was slowly coming to the realisation that I was relying on alcohol to live my life day to day.

The first time I started to acknowledge this was in December 2010.  We had been back from our wedding and honeymoon holidays for nearly 2 months and I suddenly realised that I had not gone one day without drinking.  2 solid months.  I was taken aback with myself.  When I thought I should have a break I started to get anxious; stressing about if I could go a day without having a drink.  How could I?  I need it to relax, to de-stress after my day.  But I was getting tired.  Tired of being sick, feeling hungover and just feeling "fuzzy-headed" all. the. time

I tried different things. I tried only drinking on the weekends, which turned into drinking Friday - Monday. As Mondays are hard of course and everyone needs a drink on Monday evenings.  You can guess that this just developed back into drinking 7 days a week.  I tried only drinking wine to lose the weight from drinking beer. I tried only drinking spirits.  Nothing worked.  Of course nothing worked.

In March 2012 we went to South Africa on holiday which we try to do every year.  I remember thinking to myself before the holiday to take it easy on the booze - have fun but have control.  I didn't want to wake up every morning hungover and struggle to enjoy being home.  It was a fabulous holiday but I don't think I went one day without having a drink.  By this stage I was conscious of this fact.  I started thinking and planning our days based on when I was going to drink.  I would have a few beers at lunch and then just carry on throughout the day.  My mom and sister started to worry.  I started to worry.  What was I going to do?

It was not an option to stop drinking.  It just can't be the only way.
Unfortunately, with my genes and my personality it was the only way and it was something I had to accept.  Leading up to my last days of drinking I was visiting the GP, drinking copious amounts and trying to figure out what to do.  In my heart I knew what that was.
And then I woke up one morning and decided. Enough was enough.

That was on Monday 23rd April.  I built up my courage and went to my local AA meeting.  I sat in the car wondering if I should go in.  I nearly went home.  But I went in and I listened.  But I wasn't like these people.  I hadn't lost everything, I had my job, my friends, my family and a life.

But that night I saw what I could become.  I saw what my life was spiralling towards.  Nevertheless - the next evening I had another drink and that was to be my last.  It was a gin and tonic and to be honest at that point I wasn't drinking for the taste.  I was drinking for the feeling.  And that's when you know you have to stop.

1 year on and I cannot tell you how different my life is.  I am in control. I am happy, healthy, functional and organised.  I am me again.  I have lost the feelings of resentment, self-loathing, low self-esteem and worthlessness.  I can see life for what it is again - a journey which is to be enjoyed to the full. I couldn't do that if I continued to drink.

The support I have received from friends and family is phenomenal.  I am blessed.  This is it.  This is how you learn and I had fun. I had my partying days and I can still party but then drive everyone home.  Not a bad deal if you ask me.

25 comments :

  1. Such a beautiful post! Such a beautiful story!

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  2. oh wow. I didn't know. You are an amazing strong person and what you did was so powerful. Thank you for sharing your story Cuz xxxx

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  3. Inspiration. I've been thinking about this very much recently, and I'm going to give it a go. Thank you for sharing this Claire, you best. x

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    1. Go for it - what do you have to lose? Let me know how you get on, take one day at a time and know that you are not alone :)

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  4. Well done Claire! You are really brave and should be very proud of yourself.

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  5. I'm so glad you shared this story. It really shows how strong you are -- and congrats on staying sober for a year! That's so impressive. It takes so much more bravery to fight addiction.

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  6. Well done Claire, stay strong girl and keep enjoying life!!!:)xx

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  7. Thanks for deciding to share this story with everyone Claire - only you know how hard it was but just look what you've achieved in the year and you've become stronger for it! All power to you my friend. Jane x

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  8. Can I ask, did your husband say anything about your drinking? I think my partner is going through the same thing and when ever I try and bring the subject up he snaps at me. Im not sure how to approach it with him, thanks Kathryn

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    1. Hi Kathryn, it was a difficult time for me and my husband - the key in a situation like this is great kindness, understanding and care for each other. Communication will get you through it.

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  9. This is amazing. Congratulations and way to go on sharing your story. It's not an easy thing to do.

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  10. Claire, I really admire you for being so honest in this space. I quit drinking in December of 2012. I just really didn't like doing it any more. It made me feel yucky when I was doing it, after, etc. I just wanted to go to sleep the minute I had a few sips, which made me feel like I was missing out on a lot of the things I love to do at night - reading, watching television/movies, etc. I am MUCH happier with the way my life is now.

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    1. Thank you Shana! Good for you for stopping too! :) Yay for us!!

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  11. Favourite line: " I am me again." Good job!

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  12. Claire, how did I miss this?! Only just saw this post now. Well done, you! I know, as a person who has an addictive behavior as well, that it is HARD to kick a bad habit. One thing I don't share with many people is that I used to be married to an alcoholic so I know a lot about the struggle and the constant denial of the problem even when it is destroying the person from the inside out. I'm so happy for you - look at your life now :)

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  13. Great post, Claire. Congrats and good for you. Your husband, son and you will all benefit from being clear headed and you again. Mwah.

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  14. Way to go! Now that calls for a healthy and clean celebration, which is the best and most defiant way you can appraise your achievement. You've got something good going on there and I wish you'll keep it up. Stay sober and find more opportunities in your life. All the best!

    Donnie Benson @ Midwest Institute for Addiction

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