Looks can be deceptive, right?
We live in an age when we might be forgiven for believing what we see. A world of mixed messages and aspirational deceptions.
I might be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have a sign hovering above my head saying “Recovering Alcoholic” for the world to see and judge.
Like I say, I might be wrong.
A subject we address a great deal on R3C0VRY.WRX is the stigma associated with quitting drinking. Not just the stigma, but the methods one can employ to deal with this transition – and the reactions of others to our decisions.
With this in mind, it would be rude of me not to introduce you to Em.
Em, AKA Sober Symposium, is a thirty-something company director and blogger, blossoming after a disastrous relationship with alcohol. In our engaging chat she reveals how she coped with giving up the booze, handled the misconceptions of others, took the bull by the horns and set out to live her own, alcohol free life.
In addition to our chat, Em has kindly allowed me to publish some of her writing. Once you’re done reading this, head on over to “The Day I Quit Drinking“, by Em, and/ or visit her blog Divorcing Alcohol to enjoy more!
Em, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…
Hello. I’m Em, a 31-year-old Brit who works in events and lives near London. In a nutshell, I was a popular PR party girl throughout my twenties who would attend the opening of an envelope if there was the promise of booze. At the age of 28 I received a shock redundancy (looking back it was probably a long time coming) which sent me into a spiral of grief, but a few weeks of sadness soon turned into positivity which I channelled into starting up my own events company.
At the beginning of 2016 I was officially flying solo, which was amazing, but without even realising it my alcohol consumption rocketed. For the past three years I’ve been battling big booze demons, and it was only in July of this year I decided enough was enough. I needed to save myself and my marriage which was starting to suffer as a result of my drinking.
So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking story”… care to elaborate?
My life has always accommodated alcohol. I was aware of the stuff throughout my childhood and assumed it was a ‘normal’ part of life. Every night we would sit down as a family of four to eat dinner, my dad, mum, brother and I, with my parents sipping brandy and cokes Monday through Friday before letting loose on the weekend. I started to take notes from an early age.
When I turned 14 and developed a social life, my mum used to drop me off at my friends on a Friday night and I’d be armed with four WKD Blue’s which I’d be gifted in exchange for my promise of sensible drinking and good behaviour. My mum’s approach was ‘I’ll buy these for you, Em, and that’s all you’ll drink, deal?’. I respected her ‘cool mom’ vibe for a while but I soon got the taste for more.
My love of socialising grew and so did my love of drinking.
From the age of 15 I was boozing every weekend and hit grand master status by the time I hit Uni, downing a bottle of wine most nights before going out. I dabbled in other drugs, but spirits and wine were my main drive.
Fast forward ten years of repeat alcohol abuse and my relationship with booze began to change in my late twenties. The fresh-faced brunette babe I once knew had morphed into an overweight, under-exercised, average-looking mess. I was married-up and…haggard. I continued to accommodate booze for a further three years until July 8th, 2018. That’s when I snapped.
So this brings me to now, fast approaching five months sober and sharing my personal journey of sobriety with you.
What was your drinking like at the point you decided to quit?
People assume there is a ‘rock bottom moment’ with teetotallers. Something terrible and shocking must have happened to make them quit alcohol. Juicy gossip, gimme!
My truth is that I’d simply had enough of alcohol and its bullshit.
My 5’3 size 8 frame had ballooned into 10 stone of wine belly and I just looked…crap. A hen weekend in Brighton was my nail/coffin moment and I never wanted to feel that hungover again.
Together with the fact that I was drinking almost every night, consuming 40 plus units of alcohol weekly, hiding my consumption from my husband and regularly getting drunk to the point of blackout; it all made for a very sad existence.
At first, I’d convinced myself that tucking away wine so it couldn’t be seen was my cool little secret. Like Sex and The City’s Carrie and her ‘SSB’, Secret Single Behaviour. But it wasn’t SSB, it was alcohol tightening its grip and at the point I decided to quit my alcohol consumption was raging.
…and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
A combination of many things. But in the lead up to the day I quit I was finding myself in some… unacceptable situations. My blackouts were increasing (pretty much every weekend/bi-weekly) and as mentioned above, I was starting to hide my drinking from my husband which made me feel ashamed.
Around three months prior to giving up booze I was topping up white wine bottles with water and leaving them in the fridge door so they appeared relatively untouched.
My husband despises wine so he had no reason to smell or taste the decoys. Throughout the week I’d pour myself a glass of wine – not from the fridge, but from a warm stash I had tucked away in a disused kitchen cupboard. I’d then top-up throughout the night and put away up to three large glasses when the fridge bottle indicated I’d only had a tiny amount, just a ‘taste’. I was going through a bottle (plus beers and spirits) every other night in the final stages and couldn’t cope.
Plus there was a night in March, roughly four months before I quit, when Rob, my hubby, was away. I woke up having passed out on my en suite floor with zero recollection of how I got home. I checked the house and the front door was wide open with the key left in it. I’d somehow made it home, let myself in and just passed out. Anything could have happened and that scares me now.
Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?
I am absolutely recovering from my past decisions and addictions, so yes, I do feel like I’m in recovery. But I know there are many different ways of interpreting this word and some people can’t relate to it.
I don’t go to AA meetings or receive treatment for my alcohol dependence, but I feel like my collective actions are driving an overall ‘recovery’ of me.
The Oxford Dictionary’s first definition of recovery is ‘a return to normal state of health, mind, or strength’ and I feel that’s a pretty accurate reflection of what I’m trying to achieve right now.
So, you stopped/ changed your lifestyle (congratulations!)… how did you do that? How did you manage after you stopped? What did you do to motivate and maintain your abstinence? Any hints or tips, sources of inspiration for people seeking to do the same?
Thank you. I’d say I’m always in a state of change and still feel cautious about this new journey. I just don’t want to trip or fall, you know? In one of my early posts on the blog (sorry, I know this discussion topic comes later!), which details my first sober holiday with the hubby, I talk about feeling in limbo about my status as a non-drinker/teetotaller/sober person.
Like I hadn’t earned my stars to fully ‘come out’ as sober.
Or as I described the experience at the time:
‘I feel like I’m prodding sobriety with a stick, like a curious child who has stumbled across a dead squirrel in the woods.’
I still feel like that but with more experience now (and by the way sobriety is in no way similar to dead vermin)! My friends and family tend to say ‘Wow, Em. You have serious will power, good going’ as if my non-drinking is a temporary thing. Yet I’d say will power has little to do with it. The fact of the matter is I was gaining nothing from alcohol. Everything bad or going wrong in my life was attached to consuming booze, and the sexy shiny martini drinking party girl who remembered everything and still looked knock-out gorgeous at the end of the night never actually existed.
Now I’ve eliminated alcohol my existence is brighter, more authentic and just…better.
There are a few things I do to help me stay focussed – like mapping my way through an event before I’ve stepped foot in the door. SOS (save our sober) tools as I call them, so identifying your weapons and knowing how to use them to reduce risk. I talk about this on the blog in a post titled Sober Survival Skills.
And if I find myself considering a drink I play out the ‘sliding door’ scenario in my head. The first drink leading to the fifth drink leading to the ninth drink leading to bad make-up leading to cigarettes leading to bad breath leading to arguments leading to blackout.
The biggest motivator for me though is day one.
F*ck day one.
I can never, ever, be on day one of sobriety again. I simply won’t let it happen.
Not drinking alcohol can be a very stigmatising thing… were you prepared for that? How did you deal with it? How did others around you deal with it?
Some people look at you as if you’re sprouting five eyeballs when you say ‘I’m not drinking’. My step-mum almost passed out when I drove to the family’s annual horse racing get together in October.
She gripped my arm and begged for my sobriety not to be permanent!
At first I lay low, choosing not to put myself in situations, especially in the first month, that had huge potential to derail me. Then when I started to show up to things like weddings and birthdays people just assumed I was pregnant. Which actually made things easier as people didn’t press too hard.
But now I’m over four months sober, people are starting to apply the pressure again. I’m quite accepting of it as I was genuinely a hell raiser when it came to booze, so I can understand people are confused by my dangling car keys at social occasions. My local taxi firm probably think I’ve moved away or died!
I can’t say I’ve lost many friends since becoming a non-drinker but then again the after-work-wine-invitations have slowed down…so maybe I am a little outcast.
But it honestly doesn’t bother me. I don’t want that life anymore. Sitting in a pub getting pissed and smoking cigarettes…not for me now.
Deep down I feel betrayed by alcohol but the more days I put behind me the more I’m coming to peace with it. Choosing not to drink has made me feel stronger, more empowered and truer to my real self.
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
This time, yes. But I’ve been trying to ‘cut down’ and ‘quit getting drunk’ for the past three years.
I think when I realised that in order to clean up my act and become the best version of me I needed to eliminate alcohol entirely, that was the day I accepted no ‘day one’ ever again. I simply can’t moderate.
I think it’s very important to listen to what your body needs and accommodate certain desires to avoid throwing in the towel.
Like alcohol free beer when you need the edge taken off, works great for me, but I have no interest in trying alcohol free spirits like gin. I think they’d be too much of a trigger whereas beer = no problem. I like the taste of it and a couple of AF brews make me feel more relaxed in social situations. I’d go as far as to say that ensuring a stocked fridge of AF options has saved me from relapsing on the odd occasion.
Emotionally, I write. And sharing my writing on social media platforms like Instagram has provided so much support and encouragement. My family and friends are great, but I haven’t been open and honest with them about my journey (yet) because I’m not ready to.
Day by day works for me, and despite knowing I’ll never drink alcohol again, I believe operating well within your comfort zone is the only thing that’s important. My friends and family will find out, but when the time is right.
You’ve been sober for over five months, are there any manifest benefits in your life that not drinking/ using has afforded? What are they? Any advice for people reading this… heh, can we learn from any of your mistakes?
I’m a firm believer in ‘no regrets, just learnings’ so I never give myself a hard or horrible time over the money, energy and health I wasted on booze. Living a life without alcohol has given me back so much time which is a beautiful benefit. I’m now filling that time with exercise predominantly, as not being drunk or hungover means I can go running or play field hockey (something I haven’t done in years!)
When I was drinking I had no desire to move, and especially this year after I turned 31 in March I really started to pile on the pounds. When I gave up drinking in July I couldn’t fit into many (if not, any) of my clothes, but now I’m nearly a stone and a half lighter and I’m exercising four times a week on average. I’ve even entered a half marathon in March 2019 which I’m excited for.
Even if you have no desire to run or throw yourself into a team sport just fill your time with movement. Simple basic movement which you wouldn’t be achieving if you were praying to the hangover Gods.
If you’re not big on working out then perhaps look into volunteering or join a local walking group. It’s a great way to meet likeminded people who are usually aiming to improve their overall health and wellbeing too. Plus it gets you out of the house and away from the temptation to drink. I still find kicking around at home, without a glass of red, quite hard.
So… (drum roll) your blog “Divorcing Alcohol…”- what’s THAT all about?
And something I totally talked about too soon! So sorry! Well, as previously (whoops) mentioned I started a blog in the very early days of my sobriety as writing has always been my therapy. I think it’s really important to state here that abstinence can feel like a very lonely and difficult place, so before I launched the blog I was head down reading about other people’s experiences, their challenges and pitfalls.
It really helped me to feel…a part of something.
I came across words that I could relate to, and by reading those words I felt more encouraged to progress and stay with this ‘new sober club’. At first, the blog was just a space in which I dumped my feelings and experiences, a useful point of reference if you will. Then, after reading Clare Pooley’s book, the Sober Diaries (bloody brilliant), I decided to make my words public.
I haven’t plucked up the courage to out my identify yet (a mug shot will land one day, I promise!) so for now my words are anonymous but there to be shared in case they can help anyone tackling early or long-term sobriety.
I’m not quite ready for my friends and family to stumble across the blog yet as there’s some raw and emotional reading in parts.
‘Divorcing Alcohol: My New Sober Marriage’ documents how my drunk twenty-something partying turned from a fun social outlet into a downward, dangerous spiral.
It’s my story.
The words focus on my addiction to alcohol, my past and present experiences and my new learnings.
“The Day I Quit Drinking” is a very personal reflection – could you tell us how/ why you wrote this?
Thank you for reading the blog. [My pleasure, Ed.]
I wanted to write about the day I quit drinking as it seemed like an obvious thing to do really. After hitting the three month-sober mark (and my friends and family being denied the big ‘I’m pregnant’ announcement) the nature of peoples’ questions began to change. Empathic raised eyebrows were replaced with frustrated furrowed brows. ‘Well if you’re not pregnant, Em, why are you not drinking? Why are you doing this? What’s happened?’ My mum even went so far as to call my sobriety ridiculous after I offered her a lift to my cousin’s hen party (that tale turned out to be a corker and yes, it’s on the blog)!
I decided to write about my experience of quitting drinking as there wasn’t an obvious rock bottom for me.
There are some harrowing experiences that make people turn their back on booze but my decision to call time on the hard stuff came more as an overdue protest. I was sick to my back teeth of alcohol ruining my relationships, my body and my life, and I simply had enough of looking like sh*t and wading through the hangovers. It was crippling me and I’d had it. I decided to regain control and boot the bast*rd out.
I’d been tolerating a life drenched in booze for far too long, thinking I had to. It’s alcohol guys c’mon, it’s fun, it’s sparkly – the.best.thing.ever! Right? I wasn’t getting any of this. Who does to be fair?
My life was dark and difficult, and everything bad was trickling back to alcohol. I guess what I really wanted to highlight with this post is if YOU think your alcohol is a problem or holding you back in any way shape or form, then have the confidence to shut it out.
You don’t need to hit an obvious rock bottom to quit, and I think it’s important to talk about that. People can just fall out of love with booze, and that’s 100% OK.
More broadly, what does writing a blog mean to you as part of your recovery and/ or more widely in terms of the subjects you tackle?
The blog is essentially a real-time rolling feed of me.
Every memory or experience I have bubbling away that I feel needs to be written about will get uploaded onto the blog at some stage.
I do it to help ground me and document my journey.
It’s therapeutic reading over older posts and saying to myself ‘you know what, Em, you’re doing it. Look how far you’ve come and continue to go’.
Whatever I’m feeling or thinking I’ll share, and I’ve actually had a couple of comments now from people saying they like reading the blog and can relate to it which is amazing. If one post helps someone to stay sober for another day, week or longer then that’s truly ace.
What subjects move you to write? What issues madden you? What is floating your “recovery boat”?
I only write about drinking related issues attached to my sobriety. The blog is very specific to my experiences of drinking and not drinking, so if you don’t want to read about a once-piss-head-now-sober woman’s alcohol-free journey then my words may not be for you!
Everything you read on the blog is essentially ‘me’, and the challenges I’m facing (and overcoming) as my sobriety deepens. My only intention when writing the blog was to stay true to me, and my learnings, as opposed to attempt anything revolutionary in the health and wellness sphere.
My posts are just my truth really. I’m not one for churning out generic waffle to gain followers by covering popular subjects.
If any of our readers are thinking about writing/ starting a blog – what advice would you give them?
I guess it depends what you want the blog for. If it’s to channel your thoughts and energy as a coping mechanism, like I’ve done with mine, then just write what’s in your heart.
And be honest.
I write for me and others like me, so my posts aren’t fussy or fancy. They’re just words that I feel, but ones I feel are important to share. My writing comes from a good place and I believe people gravitate to honesty.
About our author, Em:
Em describes herself thus:
“I’m Em aka Sober Symposium and my blog documents my recovery from alcohol dependence. I’m 31, married and Director of my own company – which on paper sounds pretty good right? In truth, for the past five years or so, I’ve been hanging on to life by the skin of my teeth as a result of my disastrous relationship with alcohol. Writing and reading is like therapy for me which is why I’ve decided to offload everything here. If you’re in the same position I really wish you the best of luck x”