If Not For Sobriety, I Would Be Dead Or In Jail

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Early Experiences with Alcohol

“Growing up, I was really into sports. I did competitive gymnastics for 8 years. Gymnastics was my whole life. I was completely invested in the sport and was determined to be the best possible gymnast I could be. I started coaching and judging at competitions on and off from ages 13 to 21.

Essentially, I gave up my dream of being a professional gymnast because I discovered alcohol and drugs at 14. From the second I took my first sip of alcohol, it was like I had found my soulmate. For the first time in forever, I felt this overwhelming sense of calm and numbness in my head, and I felt like I could completely be myself for the first time in years. I loved the false sense of confidence that alcohol gave me and the buzz was everything I could have expected and more.

That same night I continued to drink half a bottle of vodka until I was in a complete blackout. I went swimming in a pond, walked home in swimwear, comatose at a railway station, caught hyperthermia, and got brought home by the police. (Absolutely zero recollection of any of this happening). Obviously, I was grounded for months. Fair enough!

From there it was a series of benders and blackouts (for roughly just over 9 years) trying to heal everything with the alcohol. I did everything I possibly could—drunk. I  went to work drunk. Did my homework drunk. Went on bush walks and places like the local swimming pool—doing lengths and aqua jogging absolutely p**sed. This was all by myself. Basically any possible opportunity to consume alcohol, I took it.

From Bad to Worse

By age 16, a traumatic and deeply disturbing (and illegal) thing happened to me.

From there everything turned from bad to worse. My relationship with myself deteriorated by the second, and I basically thought ‘F**k it, I’m going to pursue this lifestyle and be the life of the party.’ From that day onward, I was not okay. The only form of happiness I experienced was through alcohol and drugs.

I finished high school (just) and started working in childcare. I decided that university was a mission I simply didn’t want to dabble with. At the end of 2016, I went on a week-long bender, having very little sleep. Blacking out for hours on end. This was a regular occurrence for me (with the blackouts sometimes lasting around 8 hours.)

On average, I would say in the year 2016, I blacked out 4-5 times a week. Every week. Every time I drank, I aimed for oblivion. I was obsessed with drinking and strived for that unconscious/no recollection drinking. Obviously, s**t hit the fan. I wound myself up to the point where I completely lost the plot. I went into a drug-induced psychosis (alcohol is a very strong drug if abused.)

My brain literally broke, and I was in a mental asylum for roughly 2 weeks. I thought all sorts of things were happening that were not. I was full-blown hallucinating and was put on heavy-duty medication to try to treat the psychosis. The actual stint in the psych ward was fun for me at the time, as I was so sedated and I was so far from reality—I was on so many antipsychotic drugs.

After (semi) returning to planet earth, I had never felt so depressed and anxious in my life. I couldn’t even walk from my front gate to the car with my mom. I thought everyone (neighbors, friends, family) was saying or thinking, ‘OMG, there’s Hannah, the insane girl.’

This took about 8 months to recover from. Eventually, I returned to work, closely working with psychologists and a support team very regularly.

Attempts at Recovery

After that experience at the end of 2016, by late January, I was back to drinking to black out regularly. Only alcoholism is a progressive disease, and everything got significantly worse. I was drinking alone, as I was embarrassed and distanced myself completely from all of my friends.

Eventually, I reconnected with some ‘friends.’ They did not understand how sick and in my disease I was, and they continued to party with me.

2017 was a blur. I attended my first AA meeting in February. I was only able to stay sober for roughly 2-5 days at a time. I was lying to absolutely everybody around me, and I was in complete denial that I suffered from a disease and the severity of it. I remember I would do my step work with my sponsor highly intoxicated, reading and highlighting from the Alcoholics Anonymous book. Not taking anything on board. Not wanting to change.

In 2018, I went to a work and income seminar and went on a military camp called LSV for 6 weeks in Christchurch. This was one of the better things I have ever done. I learned so much about myself and the nature of discipline, routine, health, etc. It was similar to basic training for the NZ army. I was determined to return to my life in Wellington and then pursue a career in the NZ army. I wanted to put all of this behind me. However, I did not get accepted as I had experienced psychosis. They have a 5-year stand-down period for psychotic episodes. Damn.

By the end of the year, I was back in the psych ward. In a similar state to my original episode. Only different delusions. I later was informed that I was experiencing full-blown mania. They diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. I could not have felt more disappointed in myself and f**ked off at the world.

2019, was my year! Surely? No.

I worked more, partied more, and went from being semi-stable to manic again.

This time I thought I was New Zealand’s best rapper of all time, writing pages and pages of raps and screaming them at the psych ward at the nurses, patients, and doctors. I believed I was writing music with Mac Miller, a rapper who unfortunately passed away.
I thought he was with me through this experience. I believed I could change the weather by moving my toes. I thought I was superhuman and everyone else was absolutely insane not to believe me.

That was it. Surely I had learned my lesson. I was done with drinking/drugging forever. I stayed sober for 5 months with the help of AA. Obviously, though, I relapsed, around the time of the first lockdown—March 2020.

I continued drinking excessively for another 7 months until I hit complete rock bottom. I decided that I actually could not live the way I was anymore. I wanted it more than anything else and was willing to go to any lengths to stay sober. This was October 17th, 2020.

Journey to Sobriety

The first 6 months were SO difficult.  I was so used to having alcohol and drugs to numb my mind and deal with this ‘trashy world,’ but mainly to deal with my head. I had no idea how to deal with my emotions or trauma, the good times or the bad times without alcohol. I felt like I was relearning how to breathe, talk, relax, and sleep. Everything! This took a long time to adjust to.

For me, it took so many near-death experiences to actually wake up and realize my life is important and that I want to survive my alcoholism and bipolar disorder and be a ‘stable’ person. I realized everyone has a purpose on this earth, and mine is to overcome these obstacles I’ve faced and help others.

A few major things that have helped me to get where I am today are:

I opened my eyes to spirituality and meditation. I pray to a higher power of my understanding; in a couple of months, I was blown away by how much my thinking had transformed. The power of thought and positive thinking is so important. If your thinking is f***ed, you’re going to feel f***ed and this will reflect in your energy towards other people.

My cousin, who is also an alcoholic and is 20 years sober, pretty much took me under her wing, I was constantly at her house, volunteering at her work, babysitting her kids, going on runs with her, going on road trips together and just being exposed to a lifestyle without substance abuse. I was beginning to learn that there’s a way out of the darkness. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model. This was so crucial to my recovery.

This was the first glimpse of hope I had experienced in years. She is so positive and would do anything to help another alcoholic. I completely look up to her and still have a close relationship with her to this day! I’m so grateful!

She made me think maybe one day I could help another person, which is something I have been doing and want to continue to do.

I had experienced so much and had seen so much (good and bad) at such a young age and the thought that I could one day help another person who is unwell and suffering gave me more motivation to get my sh** sorted.

I came to the realization that I didn’t want my disease to define me anymore and that I was willing to go to any lengths to stay sober. Easier said than done. There was so much work to be done on myself. If you put in a little bit of work each day, you will start to see progress.

Healing Inner Trauma

I realized a big factor as to why I drank, apart from being completely addicted to alcohol, was that I suffered a lot of severe trauma as a kid/teenager. I was drowning every emotion I was experiencing with liquor and other addictions. Obviously not a healthy approach. I couldn’t handle reality and needed an escape.

I needed to get to the core of the issues that I was facing and deal with those emotions. I was living in so much fear/anxiety around everything. I was completely living in the past and had no future plans. I felt really stuck for years on end.

I remember being in a counseling session with my psychologist thinking I’m not only wasting this poor lady’s time, but she probably knows I’m lying to her and what am I actually gaining from this?

I wanted my confidence back, I wanted to feel happy and healthy again. I wanted my life back. All these things have come true with hard work and balance.

I decided that I would just work on one thing a week with her and actually do my ‘homework’ that she had given me.

I tried to replace this negative energy and fuel it with something positive. Even if it was something as simple as going to a yoga class or even a YouTube yoga class online. My self-esteem was so low I simply didn’t have the confidence to leave the house for a long time, and the thought of going to a class by myself blew my mind. I felt so stuck in a state of deep depression and extreme anxiety constantly.

It wasn’t until I addressed these issues and trusted someone, until I spoke up about what had happened to me, that I realized I wasn’t a bad person, and I didn’t deserve what had happened to me. I surrounded myself with a lot of other alcoholics, some with decades of sobriety, some with a few hours. Length of sobriety is not important: we are all alcoholics at the end of the day.

This was exactly what I needed to understand the nature of addiction. For so many years, I was blaming myself. I also had a case of the ‘poor me’s: ‘Poor me, pour me a drink!!’ What I didn’t realize was I had a crime committed against me.

Before I relapsed for the last time, I had 3.5 zopiclone tablets. I drank a bottle of vanilla essence and consumed a lot of rescue remedy and essential oils, all because they had some alcohol in them. In my head, I thought, ‘Well, I’m not actually drinking a glass of wine or vodka, so surely this is okay?’ In reality, if you are an alcoholic, these substances will most likely lead you to another relapse.

And obviously, it did.

I’ve really struggled with self-acceptance since I was about 14. When I started to accept myself for who I was and what I had been through, I actually believed from the bottom of my soul that I deserved good things. That’s when I started to feel slightly better.

I had weekly appointments with a psychologist for roughly 2 years. This helped me to dissect and process my trauma. For about 6 months, I sat at these appointments and lied to her about how many standard drinks I had had. How my mood was and literally anything under the sun. It’s a big step to be ready to reach out for help. It’s easy to go to endless appointments with the best professionals and nod your head and say ‘yeah,’ but nothing will change until you’re ready for change.

One other thing that stood out to me was how self-obsessed I was—I still am today to some extent. But I found social media (Instagram and Facebook in particular) completely toxic. There is so much fake and unimportant content online. So many unrealistic beauty standards, people usually post their highlights and make out like everything is fantastic 24/7, which is not true. I deactivated all my social media accounts for 9 months in 2020. This was a good opportunity for me to grow within myself.

I felt more present and in the real world. If I wanted to talk to a friend, I would call them or meet up with them rather than sending a quick chat on Instagram or Facebook.

A Whole New Life

Today, now, in May 2022, I do not even recognize myself as the person I was.

I have a full-time job I love and feel passionate about. A healthy relationship with myself. Lots of amazing real friends and a good relationship with my family. I am so grateful for all of this. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who was involved.

I try to live each day in the present and strive to be the best version of myself that I can be. I try not to dwell on the past. I literally feel like that was a past life and this is my new life.

So much has changed. There is so much help out there if you want it. For me, sobriety only works if you want it for yourself, not for anyone else. Today, I meditate regularly. Journal. Exercise. Socialize. I have good days mostly, which I am so grateful for. I also vape a lot and consume a lot of caffeine. But I feel at peace.

Since the day I quit alcohol, I have lost 55 lbs. I was obese and my relationship with food and sugar was very unhealthy. I am super proud that I have stuck on my health journey, as this has been so crucial to my recovery and to my sobriety.

Moving forward, I would like to become a trained teacher, travel the world, and help other people who have battled similar addiction problems!

If I have learned anything, it is to speak up if you feel like you’re struggling. Be open and honest with people. Have fun—in a healthy way, and live life to the fullest. I feel like I’ve been given a second shot at life. If it wasn’t for sobriety, I would most likely be dead, in jail, or permanently in a state of delusion.

I’m excited that I have the rest of my life ahead of me, and I’m so grateful to have realized this all at the age that I did, as things would have turned out horrifically if I continued on the path I was on.

You are good enough. You deserve happiness. Life is beautiful.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by a woman who wishes to remain anonymous. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.

Read more about addiction recovery:

‘She put her drink in my face. ‘Have a sip!’ I was risking my life.’: Woman recounts alcohol recovery journey, ‘It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done’

‘I had no money to my name, I broke into my daughter’s piggy bank to buy a bottle of wine.’: Mom of 4 details alcoholism journey leading to recovery

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