Jane came to a workshop a few years ago, got sober and now she is paying it forward as an indispensable member of the Tribe Sober team!
Here is her story:-
First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you live? Married? Single? Age bracket? Kids? Work life?
My name is Jane, I am 50 years old, live in Cape Town and am happily married and have two children. I don’t work in the conventional sense, but I do work hard at improving my life and that of my family. I assist my parents who live with us and I am around for the children who rely heavily (take advantage) on my independence!
When did you start thinking you had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol?
I grew up in a very loving home. I have fond memories of laughter, watching my parents horsing around, brilliant birthday parties where my father would conjure up games for my friends, road trips and picnics. They were a very social bunch and popping across to the pub in our PJ’s was common. These were happy days until my parents decided they wanted to move into, and run, the village pub.
In one fell swoop, I seem to have lost everything that I knew, as my parents focused on running the pub until the wee hours. I saw things I should never have seen as a 10-year-old, and I started to feel lost and that I didn’t belong and started looking for attention wherever I could find it. I started stealing from my father’s cellar to lubricate my lagging confidence and to ply my friends with gifts. By the time we moved out of the pub, I had a criminal record and my life was on a different course.
We moved to South Africa in 1981 and I hated being out of my familiar surrounds. I hated school, I hated South Africa and I rebelled. Funnily enough it is my rebellious streak that got me through all the dark times and still does today. After a miserable school career, I quit and focused on my social life. I got a job at my father’s company and I met my first love. This was a happy time and I don’t recall alcohol featuring much during this time other than socially. I lived with his family, but he moved overseas, and I started drinking to cope and was summarily sent home to my parents.
Once I was over that, I found my tribe in clubs, pubs and pool bars. I loved the Johannesburg city life and I loved a good party. Never once was I concerned about my drinking even though I had regular blackouts. By then I had another long-term relationship and I seemed to manage my alcohol better when I was close to someone. I only remember drinking socially and didn’t feel dependent on having it every day, until the end of this five-year relationship. I had moved out and was drinking a bottle of wine a night. It was around that time that I started feeling depressed and suicidal, but I never understood what I was feeling.
After I picked myself up again, I got my first meaningful job. I supplemented my day job with night-time restaurant work and I lived on the edge. I functioned on little sleep, drank loads, experimented with drugs and smoked like a chimney. I was in my social element again. I also eventually left my day job to focus on a career as a chef. I had my own place, I was single, and I had my freedom. I was having fun.
It is fascinating now to look back on these times and recognise pivotal moments where my life changed trajectory and I am acutely aware of how dangerously I lived.
One night at a party, I met a guy who became a feature for the next 10 years and he drank. The writing was on the wall at that party, but being the rebel I was, I did not heed the warning signs, nor the warnings from my boss whose opinion I valued highly! I sought out another damaged human being and so began an exciting yet toxic union. We partied, we argued, we drank, we experimented with drugs, we were abusive to each other and he brought out something in me that I had only seen in my teens.
Eventually though, it all came to an end, although I never really moved on as I carried on working for him, drinking with him and partying hard, but I was also now drinking alone at home after my shift or after a party.
I had an on-off boyfriend and after he left the country, I met and fell for a guy who was younger than me. I was 33 and he was 25, we could not have been more incompatible and now I was pregnant. It all happened so fast, I had moved in with him and by the time I was three months pregnant, it was over.
James was born when I was 34 and we settled into life together, him, me and by now a bottle and a half of wine per night. I didn’t want to be involved with anyone and planned a single life; this decision turned out to be a blessing. I had unconsciously changed an old pattern and when Jamie was 11 months old, I met the love of my life.
We were living in a small farming community. I was a single Mum and I had fallen for a man 13 years my junior who was planning a move to Cape Town to attend university. In my loved-up and determined state I planned to follow, and we settled here in 2003. After living in such a small community, I had taken on more than I could chew. I had under-budgeted and lost my car. I took a job I didn’t enjoy, and I drank every night while my partner studied and took on parenting duties. I was suffering from terrible anxiety and wasn’t coping, but somehow, we pushed through and I eventually settled.
I knew I had a drinking problem though, and even the promise of marriage didn’t stop me. I was in too deep. AA was no help and moderating only caused me to drink more and more. I couldn’t see a way out. We had our second child (our first together) in 2008 and we got married in 2010. This was one of the happiest times of my life, but I could not stop my lifelong affair with drink.
I was still smoking, but I managed to give that up one New Year and I guess that gave me a false sense of security that I could carry on drinking until I reached that same resolve. By now, my kids were acutely aware that I had a problem and my husband was begging me to make some changes but I just drank more.
No amount of trying new drinks, moderating or trying to be careful worked and I made peace with the only solution being either an ultimatum or rehab. I even ended up in a clinic for depression, the perfect place to seek help. But I could not admit my shame, and the thought of having to stop was not an option. So, after three weeks, I carried on drinking where I had left off.
Eventually I heard Janet on Cape Talk. I couldn’t believe that there was a possible way out, but I didn’t act straight away – I carried on for another 8 months or so. I never did get that ultimatum, but I slowly started to realize that my family were drifting away from me. At the time, I thought they had stopped caring but in fact, they just didn’t know what to do anymore.
One Monday morning, on 21st August 2017, I woke up with another hangover and that feeling of anxiety and shame and I said, “This has to stop”. We were all in the kitchen together and I have a clear picture of everyone’s faces showing a brief flicker of hope before seeing the strain of, we have heard it all before! Perhaps seeing that was the push I needed. I don’t know where that conviction came from, but it was my decision and I was taking ownership of it, at least for 30 days, a start to possible freedom.
What were your objectives when you subscribed to Tribe Sober?
I contacted Janet straight away and managed to secure a space on a workshop in November. But it was too far away so eventually a cancellation allowed me to attend one in September. I think I was about 19 days sober by then and I was starting to see the benefits of not drinking. I really wanted to explore being able to moderate and to educate myself about the habit that I was entrenched in, but I soon realised that if I could moderate, I would not be where I was.
The workshop galvanised me into looking at a longer commitment of 100 days and with my tribe and Janet backing me, I managed to reach that goal. By now I had also started to realise that I could never ever drink again. I am an all-or-nothing person and one sip would never be enough.
What have been the main benefits of Tribe Sober membership for you?
The Journey has been difficult and challenging but in-between that I was noticing the changes in me which helped keep me on track. Having a group of people who are like me is invaluable. I was gently coaxed through hard times and given the space and support to recognise the positive impact of not drinking. My family were so much more at ease and were also starting to see that this may be a long-term plan for me.
How long have you been Alcohol Free – and how do you feel?
Today 7 December, I celebrate 838 days living completely sober, not a single drop has passed my lips since that morning. I have purpose, I have peace and I have freedom and most importantly I have a second chance at life. I no longer want to die all the time; I want to live and grow old whilst getting the best out of my life and I want to carry on being a great example to my kids and someone my husband can be proud of.
What was your first month of sobriety like?
The first month is the hardest, so take notice of the little shifts, they come every few days and are subtle but are TOTALLY AMAZING.
Did you have to go back to “day 1” often or did you stay firm once you had made your decision?
I have stuck to my decision and have never ever got back to day one. I did flirt with the idea at around 100 days, but I had a fellow member, K, who challenged me to be honest with myself. Restarting was not an option.
What are the best things that have happened to you since you stopped drinking – and the benefits of being alcohol-free?
I am living a life I never knew existed, I am no longer fearful, I am fit and adventurous, I am free and at peace. I was always “that girl”, “that family member” that got teased because of my behaviour and now I say, “that is not OK.”
What do you say when offered an alcoholic drink?
I have been honest from the start, no means no and if I drink, I won’t stop. I have loads of fun with it, but in reality, not many people ask. It seems so normal not to drink and to have others with me who don’t drink.
If you could go back to a time when you were drinking what would you tell yourself?
STOP, do not go there, do not poison your body and your mind, you will eventually die prematurely and the pain of going down that road is crippling.
What would you say is keeping you on track?
There are several things keeping me on track; my family, my tribe, regularly helping out at Tribe Sober and my own strength and belief in my capabilities.
What have you learned about yourself since you gave up drinking?
I can do anything I set my mind to, there are no limits. I guess I drank with the same attitude, no limit but now I choose to apply that to things that have a positive impact on me.
What would you recommend to newbies?
Be honest with yourself, you know you have a problem, that’s why you are here.
Close the loopholes, these are the little, “oh but this is coming up”, “that’s coming up”, “it’s Christmas”, “it’s New Year”. It leaves too much room for you to have that Fuck You moment and drink. We are masters at engineering loopholes for when it gets a bit too uncomfortable for us.
Be vocal, share your journey, your story, the more people who know, the harder it is to fall back to old habits.
Celebrate your goals. Your first sober Friday, TICK! your first sober Birthday, TICK! Your first sober braai, TICK! You have conquered and can do these things with ease going forward.