Something magical happened to me the other day. No, really!
Whilst talking to someone about helping with the Recovery.Wrx, they stopped, looked at me and said “Your website saved my life…”
How amazing is that? It shook me to the core. I felt elated and astonished in equal measure.
You see, we don’t do this for any reaction – we do it to bring you stories and articles that you’ll like. And maybe, just maybe, something will resonate with you.
If that happens – happy days!
With that in mind, today I’d like to introduce you to Tracey-Anne, a forty-something working mother from Cornwall (UK). Tracey-Anne has her own blog, and after devouring it, I reached out to find out more about the lady behind the words.
Tracey-Anne speaks openly about the struggles she endured throughout her troubled relationship with alcohol – and how she has embraced a life alcohol free.
Her story may not be unique. But it is special.
Special because it is empowering, honest and passionate.
Not content with sharing her story, she has also allowed us to publish some of her writing. You can read “How to make it stick” when you’re done here!
Tracey-Anne – Thank you for being so open, patient and giving!
Tracey-Anne, hi… let’s start with finding out a little bit about you…
My Name is Tracey-Anne and I’m 43 years old.
I’m Mum to four children and wife to one very patient husband. For the past 20 years I have battled with alcohol, and excluding my pregnancies, I have never been more than a week without a drink (or a hangover).
After a decade of trying and spectacularly failing to moderate, anything rather than give up, I finally took the leap into sobriety and I had my last drink on Friday the 2nd of December 2016.
So what brought you here? I mean, you must have some kind of “drinking story”… care to elaborate?
I cannot control the amount I drink.
Believe me, I tried. I didn’t hit a conventional “rock bottom”, I didn’t lose my kids, husband or house.
Not a single soul knew how much I was drinking, and with my husband working overseas, it was all too easy with nobody watching.
We live in a lovely area, we’ve got good jobs, a nice house, lots of nice friends, and nobody knew how bad it had got.
What I did have though, was this overwhelming sensation that something was looming, that I was looking over the edge of a cliff.
And every time I woke up after drinking myself to blackout, that sensation that something very bad was coming, mixed with the delightful cocktail of shame and guilt, would pin me to my bed. The day after the panic attacks would start, and the day after that, the depression and feeling of being utterly worthless. This would last until I was ready to roll again, and I was off.
What was your drinking like at the point you decided to quit?
At the point of quitting, I had started the process of isolating myself.
This is so I was free to drink as much as I wanted.
I had started to refer to my husband as “ the fun police”, after he carried me home one night when I wasn’t finished, apparently I had sunk four bottles of wine. The aftermath of that night had me calling AA in desperation, as I was so hungover that I literally didn’t know what to do with myself.
A week later, me and my friends had a good laugh about that in the pub. My drinking had reached the level of, when everyone was calling a taxi, I was just getting started.
At dinner parties, I knew where the bottle was at all times, and I made sure I drained my glass first. I was drinking plenty before going out, just in case there wasn’t enough to get me hammered, and then when there wasn’t, I would come home and find my husbands expensive whiskey and get stuck into that, then try and cover my tracks.
I’ve never been able to have one glass.
In my teens it was cheap cider, my twenties where the vodka years, my thirties, wine and prosecco, all drunk to excess and to the point of blackout.
…and the final straw, for you, was what, exactly?
My slide towards the end happened in slow motion.
My last drink, and the night I knew it was my last, was uneventful. At home, alone with one and a half bottles of wine.
It depends on your perspective, but that wasn’t a lot for me at the time. But I opened that bottle with a sense of having no choice but to drink it. I felt depressed as I popped the cork.
In the end, it didn’t take the mother of all hangovers, or the threat of divorce, just an overwhelming feeling of sadness that this was my life, and would be my life forever unless I stopped.
What I really want people to know is that you don’t have to wait until you’re “that bad”. I told myself I wasn’t “that bad”!
I didn’t drink in the morning, my children were taken care of, I was the chair of the PTA for God’s sake!!
You don’t need to go out all guns blazing. None of us need to wait until a major, alcohol fuelled disaster to decide enough is enough.
For me, that night, it was exactly that. I’d had enough.
Do you see yourself as being in recovery… If so, how? What do these words mean to you? If not… how so?
I do see myself as someone in recovery from a drink problem.
I identify with the words sober and sobriety but I feel that “alcoholic” is such a broad spectrum that I am careful around it’s use when I refer to myself and in my blog.
The reason for this is that everyone thinks they aren’t one, I know I did.
“I’m not an alcoholic because, I don’t drink in the morning/every day/alone”, is a huge part of minimising the truth and postponing any action.
The word “alcoholic” kept me in the closet for many more years than was necessary, whereas admitting I had a “drink problem” was the start of my recovery and something that resonates more with me.
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?
The first thing I did was tell people who were close to me.
If nobody knows you have quit, then there is no-one for you to turn to when it gets hard.
If I didn’t tell anyone, then that left me only being accountable to myself, and I’d already proved that that was not going to work!
I joined Soberistas, a fantastic resource for women in recovery and I literally saturated my brain in all things sober.
Blogs, websites, books, Ted Talks and Instagram.
There are so many amazing resources out there that got me through the first 6 months. I treated it like a very important and precious project.
And the more I read about recovery, the more I understood why I had ended up here, and that is so important. Stopping is the first step, but keeping yourself stopped is where all these resources come in. It was an enormous relief to find there were people out there just like me. Literally, carbon copies of my story, and it gave me a lot of strength when I felt isolated.
Early on in my sobriety I watched the Ted Talk by Johan Hari about Connection, and he said a sentence that had a profound effect on moving forwards with being sober: “connection is the opposite of addiction”. Not sobriety, but having interaction with other human beings.
This blew my mind!
Towards the end of my drinking, I had began to get tired of connecting with others unless I was drunk. I hated going outside and I live in beautiful Cornwall! I stopped listening to music…anything that made me feel something, I cut out of my life.
So now, I make sure I connect with my friends and family, my colleagues, and connect with nature. I make space for it in my life and in turn I’ve found it nourishes the connection with myself.
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?
I have a good support network around me, who know and understand. I know there was a bit of gossip in the early days, but Truro is a small place, so I was prepared for that. I usually find people are curious rather then judgemental and I’m always happy to elaborate as you never know what that person is going through.
For the really pushy people, I’m a big believer in “I don’t drink” being a complete sentence.
Were you successful from day one? Any relapses (etc)? How did you cope, emotionally with all this?
I remember reading that 80% of people experience a relapse in the first three months and I promised myself that would not be me.
I had what I like to call my “mental relapse” which was in month eight.
I had been to a very drunk party, alone. I felt like I was on the outside looking in, and very, very sober.
I came home and called my husband who very innocently said “well maybe one day you can drink again”. So I decided I would have a drink on my 60th birthday and by the end of the week, I had whittled that time frame down to drinking at Christmas.
When I realised what was happening, I had to dig really deep and remember why I started. It was a lesson that I can never take my eye off the ball. I have several incidents I think of to snap me back to my reality of drinking, which I think of when I start romanticising my drinking.
That combined with the awful thought of waking up in the horrors and having to set my clock back to day one.
You’ve been sober for over two years, 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?
In three days, I will have been sober for 2 years. I am no longer living with that ball of anxiety constantly churning away in my stomach, which was my gut literally telling me something wasn’t right here!
I have better decision making due to the mental clarity I have. Before, I was full of resentment for everything, shifting the blame onto anyone and being sober has helped me to let all of that go.
The most rewarding thing is an overwhelming sense of gratitude I have for my life, and everything in it.
I made the mistake in the beginning of saying yes to everything, as I was so desperate to prove to people that nothing had changed, I could still have a good time and it was exhausting!
I don’t regret much about my first year, but one of the things I would change is to be very choosy about who you see, where you go and the situations you find yourself in.
My sobriety is precious to me, and there I times when I just felt very uncomfortable and that I was putting it as risk.
My “mental relapse” in month 8, was a good example to me of what happens if I don’t put my sobriety first.
So… (drum roll) your blog “The Sober Bird”- what’s THAT all about?
The first week I quit drinking, I found a blog by Clare Pooley, called Mummy is a Secret Drinker. For the months of December and January, I read every post and it was one of the sobriety stories that I really related to.
I have always loved writing, and I had started to write some of my feelings and thoughts down, and it basically just evolved to a blog from there. I am not a regular blogger, my original intention was to do one a month but I tend to only write one when I really feel that if someone is feeling the way I felt at that particular moment, then maybe they will read it and not pick up a drink.
I just want to pass on what I have learned, and like I did with Clare’s blog, relate to my story and find it encouraging.
“How To Make it Stick” is a very personal reflection – could you tell us how/ why you wrote this?
How to Make it Stick came about from a little flurry of relapse posts that kept popping up on Instagram.
Everybody was asking the same question, how do you stay sober and how do you get through the early months?
My blog post was just a very honest account of what I did, and how it worked for me. I mainly talk about telling people that you have or want to stop drinking, and the guilt of upsetting your loved ones and how to move forwards through that.
I wrote it for everyone who was like me, and admitting the problem to other people was my personal turning point.
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?
It wasn’t until I was 15 months sober that I wrote my first blog.
I was a big reader of other peoples blogs, but I didn’t have the confidence to write my own.
I had been writing in a journal about small or big breakthroughs, and how I was feeling at that particular time about quitting drinking. As I got a bit more sobriety under my belt, I really wanted to get the message across to other people like me, so I started my blog. A big part of my recovery over the last year has been about spreading the word to other people with drinking problems.
That even if you can’t see it right now, there is a big and beautiful life to be had out there, without ever drinking alcohol again.
Do you have any further plans for the blog? For you as a writer?
I would really like to commit to blogging more frequently! I would also like to be a bit braver and really get it out there. I’m also planning to pitch a few ideas to some mainstream women’s magazines about the sober movement.
If any of our readers are thinking about writing/ starting a blog – what advice would you give them?
There are so many different blogging styles, it really depends on what you have to say.
Some blogs are more “ a day in the life” and others, like mine, are only written when you have a particular message. I found WordPress an easy place to start, and it’s also free! It can be really nerve-wracking hitting the publish button for the first time, but I have honestly not had a single negative comment.
The sober world is a very positive place, so just go for it and enjoy it.y.
And finally, after all that – what’s next for you? For Tracey-Anne??
In future blogs I would like to focus on the current culture of the normalisation of drinking among women and those who don’t identify as alcoholics as such.
Women who don’t know where they belong, who feel that AA is too much but they also need support.
I found it so easy to justify my excessive drinking when everywhere you turn there are alcohol references telling you, it’s ok to drink at playdates, or be hungover on the school run every day.
This idea that we all need “rose all day” is so dangerous for people on the slippery slope, and alcohol being packaged as self care just boggles my mind. I’d also like to start meeting up with sober people in person. I sometimes feel a bit cut off down in Cornwall.
I know they’re out there, I just need to find them!
My long term plan is to stay sober, and always be grateful for my second chance at life
About our author, Tracey-Anne:
Tracey-Anne would like to stamp out the current “rosé all day” attitude to alcohol promotion around women . Mother to four, and wife to one who has survived her 20 plus years of excessive drinking. Sober and loving life since December the 2nd 2016.