‘I need help. I can’t do this anymore.’ At 2 a.m., my pounding heart and sweaty body woke me from a 5-day drinking bender.’: Woman details emotional sobriety journey

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“’I need help. I can’t do this anymore.’ This is what I said to my husband around 2 a.m. on Thursday, January 30, 2020. My erratic, pounding heart and sweaty body had just woken me up out of a 5-day drinking bender. For the first time in a week, my thoughts were clear, and I was ready to accept what needed to be done. Hi, I’m Kate, and I am +570 days alcohol-free.

My first experience with alcohol was on my 3rd day of college. I grew up on a dairy farm and was relatively sheltered from the world. I was a shy/anxious girl with a lot of ambition so while my peers were experimenting with alcohol in high school, I was busy running, swimming, and getting straight-As. When I got to college, partying was a huge part of campus life, so I joined a sorority and started drinking to fit in and make friends. I joined a sorority, took part in the weekend socials, and quickly developed a reputation for being fun (because I would get pretty hammered and do dumb things). I kept the drinking to the weekends, never allowing it to get in the way of my studies, and I was able to graduate at the top of my class.

Woman in college with her roommates
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

I bounced around a little bit before I settled into corporate finance. There wasn’t a lot of after-hours socializing in accounting, so my drinking wasn’t an issue. But then I took a job in sales, and holy crap! The anxiety of sales meetings, sales calls, and trying to hit sales targets! Drinking was a way to calm my nerves, plus again, to help me socialize with others. As always, drinking never interfered with my ability to get work done, and I was able to advance my career in sales and get my MBA while working full-time.

Things changed when I went through a messy breakup. I was depressed and drank heavily to cope. Professionally, I was starting to slip. I think I would have lost my job had I not sought out treatment for depression. It was about that time that I also met my husband. I was visiting a relative in Switzerland, and there he was—the most gorgeous, unassuming man in the bar. We talked all night, and when I got back to the US, we connected on Facebook. Hooray for technology! Over the course of a year, we chatted randomly. Then, he told me he was going to be in the US and asked if I ‘fancied a jog in Central Park.’ The sparks that flew the night we met caught fire, and we were pretty much an item after that. We flew back and forth until we mortgaged a small house. He was able to get a job transfer to the US and I ended up quitting my job to join him in the Midwest.

People talk about a pink cloud when they stop drinking. It means everything looks rosy during those first few days and weeks until the newness wears off and reality sets in. Well, this was the case with my adjustment to us living together. The first few weeks were so exciting, but then reality set it. I had just quit my job, and, in doing so, I lost my identity. I was always the good student, then the good employee, but when I quit my job, I was…the good drinker? I started wallowing in self-pity not long after we moved in together, and the drinking started to get out of hand. My husband was close to calling it quits with me, but thankfully, I got a job and was able to reign my drinking in again…for a few years at least.

Woman meeting the future husband
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

We got married a little over a year after we moved in together, and we had our first child right after we celebrated our first anniversary. After our daughter was born, we settled into sharing a bottle of wine on Friday nights and me having a few drinks with friends during the week. I had a relatively easy introduction to motherhood, so drinking was less about coping and more about socializing. When my husband was offered an amazing job opportunity in Poland, we decided to go for baby #2, and she arrived right before his job assignment began.

I stayed with my parents the first two months of his assignment, and I noticed my drinking habits started to change. My second child was easier than my first, but I had two kids under the age of two, my husband was gone, and my living situation was stressful. Also, I had lost my friends in the move and, with them, my outlet for socializing. Drinking was a way to turn off all those feelings, and I turned them off whenever I could.

woman and the man getting married
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli
woman and husband having their first child
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

When the girls and I got to Poland, the first few months were enjoyable. Everything was new and exciting, my anxiety wasn’t that bad, I had started making new friends and was getting out regularly to explore the country. Then, I got pregnant again, and I was NOT READY for another child. I cried when I found out I was pregnant and was generally unhappy until I found out I was pregnant with a boy. I smiled for the first time in my pregnancy at 12 weeks and actually enjoyed the next few months getting ready for him.

His arrival put me on a collision course for sobriety. I experience severe postpartum depression and buying vodka was just easier than traveling two hours for adequate English-speaking support. So, I bought vodka…a lot of it. I had two active toddlers and a VERY CHALLENGING newborn, and I just couldn’t cope. There was SO MUCH noise. I was depressed, frustrated, and tired. Alcohol was the easiest way to boost my spirits, so I started relying more and more on it until it became the only thing that made me happy.

About a year after, my son was born, I realized my drinking was not healthy. There were a few nights when I just couldn’t deal with life so drank until I passed out. That’s one way to turn the noise off. My relationship with my husband suffered, and obviously, I wasn’t providing my children with the support they needed. So, I began working towards quitting alcohol. I created rules for myself and accumulated chunks of alcohol-free time (7 days, 15 days, etc.). Nothing lasted longer than a few weeks, and each time my drinking picked up where I left off. Sometimes worse. My husband and I agreed I couldn’t quit alcohol on my own, so we found a treatment center in Scotland. I spent 4 weeks there, going through the motions of sobriety, but I never fully surrendered to sobriety. I got home from treatment and stayed sober for 12 days, then, in a moment of high strong emotions, picked up vodka again.

woman and her husband share drinks in restaurant
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

At this time, we were ending our assignment in Poland and moving to Switzerland. My husband is from a small town where everyone knows each other. I never wanted to be the foreign drunk mom, but after a few short months, that was me, and it affected everyone around me. My husband left for work each morning worried about his wife and kids. His family walked around on pins and needles with me because they didn’t know what version of me they were getting. One night in a drunken rage, I destroyed a beautiful wooden birth announcement that belonged to my brother-in-law. He and his wife refused to speak to me for months. My father-in-law just didn’t know what to do, so he just avoided me and the kids. As for my family, they were at a complete loss because they were living an ocean away. Everyone was miserable.

The last time I drank, I went on a five-day bender. I don’t know how I got alcohol to keep it going, I don’t know what my kids did, and I don’t know how my husband worked—I have zero memory of those days. I am not overly religious, but I do believe God spoke to me at some point in those five days. I was given a choice—live or die—and thankfully, I chose to live.

So, I went to treatment again. I spent six weeks at an inpatient center here in Switzerland. For the first time, I was given medication to treat my anxiety and depression. I was introduced to a variety of alternative therapies—art, music, sunlight, movement, group, and AA-like sessions—and began individual therapy. The primary focus of treatment was unraveling this concept of self-worth. As an adolescent, I was defined by academic and athletic achievement. As an adult, it was by professional advancement. As a mother, I strived for perfection because what other way is there to validate all the work you’re doing? I never learned basic coping skills growing up or how to effectively manage my anxiety because I never had issues in these areas before I left home. When feelings of disappointment or anxiety flared up in college, I used alcohol to cope. That was the start of an unhealthy pattern in my life until I finally decided to do something about it.

Lifting weights, not wine is the motto of my recovery journey, but I didn’t start with heavy lifting. I started on a 30-year-old home trainer when I got home from treatment. I biked whenever I felt triggered, depressed, or stressed. I soon saw the connection between exercise and stability in my recovery, so I kept at it. I biked over 13,000 kilometers during my first nine months of sobriety. Starting in 2021, I wanted to challenge myself differently, so I set a goal of 10 burpees per day times the day of the month in January. I started with 10 on the 1st and ended with 310 on the 31st.

former alcoholic lifts weights
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

When people hear the word ‘burpee,’ they cringe, but for me, I equate the word to mental stamina. If you can do 10 burpees when you’re craving alcohol, you can get through that craving. And if you can do 100 unbroken, forget it. You can do anything. Through my love for burpees, I connected with a large group of sober fit individuals and that put me on the path to where I am today—an advocate for fitness in sobriety. Lifting weights makes you physically strong, and when you’re physically strong, you’re mentally strong.

Besides exercise, service is the other tool I use to maintain sobriety. I connect with newly sober on Instagram and Facebook. On Facebook, I am an active member of a few sober women’s groups. One of the ones I help administrate has over 24,000 members, and this has grown by over 20,000 in the last year! That shows you how much women have been affected by COVID-19. A lot of these women reach out when the first join and share how lost they feel or how embarrassed they are to have reached the point where they need support.  I always tell them that there is NO SHAME in what they are going through and that they are not alone. These are the words I wish I had heard years ago, and I hope they make a difference to the women reading them like they did for me.

Additionally, I launched my own personal training business supporting women in and out of recovery through nutrition, fitness, and connection. Connection is one of the biggest factors to staying sober. Women struggling with alcohol often think they are alone. I wanted to share my story because I want to let as many women as possible know they are NOT alone. I also want them to see that recovery is possible. When we stop drinking, we give up one thing…but we gain EVERYTHING.”

Woman changes her life with fitness
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli
Woman 10,000 km biked in 5.5 months and over 13,000km for the year
Courtesy of Kate Gugerli

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kate Gugerli of Kanton AG, Switzerland. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her Website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribeto our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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