Sally tell me about what your drinking was like before we started working together.
I always enjoyed a drink. I tried to keep it 1-2 times a week but then through lockdown it crept up and I was probably drinking 4-5 nights a week. When we got out of lockdown it stayed and I felt it was spiralling out of control and I would wake up feeling tired, lethargy, no energy. I was having treatment for cancer, so I didn’t drink through that because I was too ill, but afterwards I went back to it and then there was a slump, from people supporting me through my treatments and then I got quite depressed and the drinking made me even worse and I was getting more and more morse and I then I found just the tonic and I was just at point where I knew I needed assistance with it all as I was worried about how low I was feeling.
You must have gone through a lot of emotions when you got diagnosed, when you look back do you think your diagnoses had an impact on your drinking?
Yes absolutely, it was yes because I was stressed, I’ll have a drink but there was that small thinking of ‘I might die anyway’ keep drinking and I upped the alcohol. It was a bit fatalistic really. ‘I might not have very long, I might as well enjoy myself’. And that usual things you say to yourself about alcohol I get enjoyment it helps with stress, it helps me relax and now I know that is all a complete lie, but at the time I was in a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings about having cancer and alcohol seemed to be the answer, and retrospect now it was probably the worst thing I could have done from a mental, physical and health point of view, but at that point it just seemed like my best mate.
You went through the treatment and sometimes were very ill and couldn’t drink. You mentioned you had a lot of support initially, but when you didn’t need the physical treatment anymore you were just left to manage the emotional side?
Yes, by the professionals but also by family and friend’s because ‘you are ok now’.
I was very down, but I didn’t switch my brain, it was like I had a death wish. I didn’t eat cakes and sweets because they said sugar is bad for you, but kept drinking (even though there is loads of sugar in alcohol). My depression was getting worrying and what I might do, I knew I wasn’t present for anyone. I was so self-absorbed with the depression I was dead inside and didn’t want to be here and I knew it was not a healthy place to be.
So, we had a conversation and started working together. When we started were you sceptical that this would work for you?
Yes, I had a lot of hope and was optimistic but I thought how am I going to turn my life around in 3 months when I had been drinking for 30 years!
So, you joined the group and saw other people at different stages. Did you find that easy, or hard to share, did you find the group supportive?
I felt the group was such a lifeline, it sounds so simple, but you have a struggle, and you write a post and before you know it someone responds, with a simple thumbs up or heart or simple comment. At the very start I didn’t tell anyone close to me, because I was a bit ashamed and I didn’t want people to know I had a problem but, in the Just the Tonic WhatsApp group, it was a safe place and everyone ‘gets’ how you are feeling, and everyone can relate to you.
You are working through the program, and we don’t ask you to take a break from alcohol until month 3. Can you remember the first weekend when you didn’t drink? How did that feel?
I had had a mid-week night without drinking and when I had to do a AF Friday I felt anxious, but I got through it and felt really proud. When you asked me to do a weekend, the first Saturday without alcohol, if I was a spider I would have climbed the walls, I used all the tools, but it was tough, I thought about alcohol pretty much all night. I more or less stopped drinking in the second month. The first month was really hard and all the tools helped, I got through every challenge I set myself, but I think what it did for me was when I got through a whole week in the 2nd month and it went on and on and I kept challenging myself.
Was there anything when you look back, that you learned anything about yourself?
I am not sure I learned anything except I have discovered I am very much an island, and I was not good at reaching out for help. Getting quality time back with my daughter as I was now no longer hungover, snappy, tired, not present.
When you were noticing AF how would you say your relationship with your daughter changed?
I show up for her, she wants to bake, I’ll bake, if she is just being a teenager, I will just ride it out rather than exploding. I knew we were drifting apart during lockdown… homeschooling put a strain on our relationship and then because of work there wasn’t much time for us to enjoy each other, then my cancer diagnosis added even more strain because of all the fears and worries, it was one thing after another so we did need to work on our relationship, but I couldn’t see the problems when I was drinking. That is a benefit for not drinking because I am mentally present now. And I am pleased that I am now a good example for her regarding alcohol. Hopefully she is young enough to forget how I used to be, and I have broken the cycle in the family.
How are your energy levels now?
There is a massive difference, I still have fatigue but that’s to do with chemo, but I still have more energy and the biggest bonus is clarity of thought. I am spinning so many plates and I don’t feel overwhelmed, and I would have reached for the bottle to ‘help me’ with that. But I am just dealing with it on an even keel.
A belief that had kept you stuck when you examined your relationship with alcohol … you felt that you had to have alcohol to have a good time. How do you feel differently about a night out now?
Even when I was doing my ACT and having to do my share of designated driver I was so resentful but now I don’t drink, I very often drive and I am still having an amazing time with my friends, and I don’t resent it at all there has been a complete mind shift.
I remember all the conversations from the evening, I don’t have to worry about what I said or did the next day … I am just happy. I haven’t felt that genuine to the core happy for years.
What is a Sunday like now?
I am always busy doing 100 things at a time, I used to get up and walk the dog to sober up and then veg on the sofa for the rest of the day, but now I am enjoying life.
What do you think about socialising in December and the party season being AF?
I will remember it! I won’t have that feeling of shame or guilt and I have become choosier with what I do, I used to go out to everything because it involved alcohol, but now I am more selective about my nights out.
When you look back at some of the mum and daughter things you did at Christmas, were there things you didn’t really enjoy doing?
Yes, I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t really present, but now I am really looking forward to this Christmas because I will be present, energetic and want to spend the day with her and I have lots more patience to do what she wants.
How long have you been AF for?
What are you looking forward to over the next six months?
I am really looking forward to moving and once we are settled, I want to pick up my hobbies again … motorbikes, meeting up with people, going to the beach with my dog and daughter, paddle boarding. All these things I said I didn’t have the time, but it was because I had hangovers and no energy. I have regained all this timeand I am looking forward to doing good things with it and not just drinking.
I am hoping in the next 6-12 months you will see a completely different Sal, someone who is getting her life back together.
If someone was watching this and they were thinking it’s nearly Christmas, so it’s not a good time to start, what would you say to them about booking a call?
I would say there is never going to be the right time, in hindsight I wish I had come across you sooner. I hit rock bottom and in 3 months my life has completely turned around. If you have come to the thought that you think you have a problem, trust that you have got a problem! Trust this process, get on with it, you will be challenged, start now, 3-4 months’ time you will feel so much better. Trust me you are making the right choice if you get in touch with Sandra.