I had my first taste of being ‘drunk’ at eleven years old. I stole the alcohol my father had in decorative miniatures around the sitting room. I was with a friend, and we still talk about this memory now. We were paralytic, to the point I fell down the stairs and knocked myself unconscious. My mother was besides herself, but that didn’t matter to me – what I’d learnt was so powerful it superseded anything else, alcohol = escape.
My teenage years were marred with alcohol and substance misuse. I was known as a 'wild child,' always in trouble with the Police, always looking for the next big adventure. People described me as ‘rebellious’ when the truth was I just chasing that feeling of escape, of numbness, a way to tone down the world around me. Despite my chaotic presentation and missed Schooling, I was determined and naturally bright, so fuelled mainly by a teacher who told my mother "Don't bother sending her for them" I passed all of my GCSEs. I made a decision in my mind that I was going to help people and I committed to this in my 'Record of Achievement', writing that I wanted to become a Social Worker.
Fast forward twenty years and I’d been successful in education, graduating with honours in Psychology and Criminology and then a second degree in Criminal and Community Justice. I’d then been successfully selected to train as a Probation Officer and had moved to a big city to ‘cut my teeth' where I met lots of young professionals all looking to work hard/play hard. I quickly became known as a party girl, always the last to leave a party, always looking for something after the after party. A good time girl, with lots of friends and a city centre flat.
What no one knew is that nearly every night, I was sinking wine on my own, on the sofa. Most mornings I was hungover, tired, depressed, ashamed, confused and perplexed as to why I was doing this. I had a good job that involved supporting other people – many of whom were in active addiction themselves. I advised Courts on sentencing, I advised Parole Boards on risk, I advised Children’s Services on safeguarding matters.
All the while harbouring what felt like a 'dirty little secret.' I often wondered how many other people were just like me. If there was anyone like me. Whilst I felt like a hypocrite, I was really good at my job. Every morning I managed to plaster a smile on my face and enough makeup to cover the dark eyes. I frequently took quiz's like "am I drinking too much" and "am I an alcoholic?" Missing the point that by virtue of the fact I was taking these quiz's, there was a problem.
In time, I got married and had my children. My lovely house was always clean, my children well taken care of. I was a classic ‘unseen drinker’ – no one, not even those closest to me would’ve guessed the depths and despair I sunk into.
I couldn't accept I needed to change. No one ever questioned me. I never drank in the day. My ducks were all in order. I’d swear to myself every morning that I wouldn’t drink that night, sometimes I’d be successful, but most of the time the ‘wine witch’ would start calling around 5pm. By 6pm, we’d again be firm friends. I always made sure there was wine was in the fridge. I'd start drinking, setting a firm resolution that I'd have 'one or two' - just like the actors on the TV I was watching. You know, a couple after work to unwind. The problem with that is, that after 'one or two' the logic of needing to go to bed early for work would disappear and I’d wake early (as soon as my body had stopped processing the alcohol) cursing myself for ‘doing it again.’
Mornings often started with an anxious check of my phone. Who did I text or call last night? Did I post anything on Social Media? What was the last thing I watched on TV? Paracetamol and coffee became my day time friends. I fawned illness more times than I care to remember, yet I continued to excel at work, even achieving a promotion and several accolades.
There was a strong sense of incongruence between who the world saw, who I was and who I wanted to/knew I was supposed to be. I also hated the example that I was setting my children, that alcohol was the answer to everything, just as I'd learnt.
I was never truly present at any given moment and I didn't feel very much at all. That's the kicker with alcohol, it's great (for a short while) at numbing down the emotions you want to escape, but it also numbs all the good ones too.
In August 2020 I made the decision to quit alcohol for 90 days. I’d had many day 1s and even a dry January under my belt, but it hadn't stuck. People around me were both amused and horrified in equal measure. I took these photos 90 days apart and I was astounded at the difference in my eyes, skin, hair and energy levels. I knew I wanted to continue and I set another challenge to continue for one year.
I quickly established that me going sober challenged the drinking behaviours of those around me. As soon as I referenced the fact I wasn't drinking, people would question it and reference their own drinking patterns. It was an uncomfortable dialogue that I wasn't equipped for. I told people I was doing an alcohol free challenge - which was true, but I never told people the real reason why. Not even my husband who would've supported me unequivocally. The truth was that I wasn’t ready to own my sobriety, so instead I turned to books. I read any and everything about alcohol and it’s affects. I qualified as a Coach and a Master Practitioner of NLP. I leant into the sober community and found like minded others. I realized I wasn’t on my own and I learnt from those around me. I began using coaching techniques on my case load and the results blew me away. I knew I was onto something, but I wasn't ready to walk away from my career. I continued practising the skills on those around me and myself. I set about becoming the most authentic, best version of myself, the real me - without alcohol. I quit my job and I re-trained selling Life Insurance. For those who don't know, there is a ton of money to be made selling life insurance - but it wasn't aligned with the authentic me. I retrained again as an online travel agent, I've always loved travel and helping families create those special memories filled me with joy. I loved this role and the flexibility of being able to work from home, but that innate desire to help others still wasn't being fulfilled.
No longer shackled by the rules around social media whilst being a serving officer, I decided to come clean with my sobriety. I 'came out' to friends and family and set some pretty strong boundaries. At the time of writing this, I am 2.5 years sober. I went through all the pitfalls of sobriety such as isolation, managing others perceptions, boundary setting, people pleasing and moderation. I worked hard to remove all the beliefs I'd developed over the years that enabled the FOMO (fear of missing out) and I am truly thriving. I wake every single day with a deep sense of gratitude. I no longer suffer with anxiety or depression. I no longer carry shame, guilt and I actually really like the person I am possibly for the first time in my life.
I re-certified as an Holistic Alcohol Freedom Coach specialising in working with women who are in the shoes I once walked in. I am able to combine an almost twenty year career in supporting people, my educational and qualifications with my own experiences of a problematic relationship with alcohol to enable women just like me, to achieve freedom from alcohol.
To truly live. To truly thrive.
From Jo, someone who's been there xx