THIS POST IS LONG.
My analytics have spoken, loud and clear. More and more people are finding me organically courtesy of my journey and tales through alcohol addiction recovery. The one story that shamed my parents when it surfaced on here and in the media, set me free and I will forever be grateful for the courage I had to be honest and accountable for my struggles in my pursuit to move forward with my life, sober. In this post, I will reveal my most honest, no bullshit guide to getting clean and sober and how I did it with no rehab, very little AA meetings and absolutely no cheerleading squad from my own family. In fact, I was shunned and shamed for my struggles that I uncovered stemmed from my childhood. One of the main lessons I learned in my early days in recovery, still prevalent today, was that my biggest cheerleaders were people I least expected, many of whom I didn’t even know.
Keep in mind that this guide and way worked for me, it may not work for you or the person you’re trying to help. Each case is individual and there is no right or wrong way to getting sober or staying sober, you must literally take it each day as it comes.
I get asked a many questions about addiction: How do you know you’re an alcoholic, how to quit alcohol, what is AA? Is AA mandatory for success in recovery? What are the obstacles an addict faces when getting sober? What actually happens when you get sober? All these are good questions and before my road to recovery I too, asked the same questions because I had no idea what addiction was and what it meant to be in recovery.
Let’s start from the beginning…
WHAT IS ADDICTION? WHO IS AN ADDICT?
Gone are the days when the word “addict” was associated with a dirty connotation and was the word used to describe a person who used harder drugs such as heroin, meth etc. An addict is someone who is addicted to something, anything, even social media is classed as an addiction. In my case my addiction was alcohol. An addiction is where you overdo it, you abuse it and truthfully deep down, every addict knows they are an addict. There is a line in your addiction you begin to cross over and over and this then becomes your normal. You’re well aware you’re playing roulette with your life and the addiction has taken over your life. If you often tell yourself “that was the last time,” “never again,” or “one last time.” You’re an addict.
I’ll admit, the first time I heard myself refer to myself as an “addict” it was difficult to swallow. I felt ashamed and I also felt dirty because I had always associated the word with harder drug users. But nope, this Louboutin wearing plastic fantastic Croatian girl is an addict.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU ARE ADDICTED TO ALCOHOL?
I remember this one time in my early recovery (0-6months) I was having lunch with my cousins. They were sharing a bottle of wine between them, I was drinking sparkling water. My cousin said she couldn’t finish the rest of her first glass and passed it onto her husband who also said he couldn’t drink anymore. I took a look at them and said, “You know what I know right now? If I was drinking right now, I would have finished my glass, then your glass and then the rest of the bottle. It’s only 2pm and I probably would have opened a second bottle.“
You know when you’re an alcoholic when the alcohol controls you. You simply need it to function. Alcohol to me became a normal part my life, I normalised my addiction to alcohol to a degree where I was a high functioning alcoholic. I didn’t miss deadlines, I still showed up to work and when I was drinking, I wasn’t a riot. I held myself really well and concealed my addiction. When I “came out” as an addict a lot of people around me said they never ever knew I was an alcoholic. Of course they didn’t. Was I supposed to broadcast to social media that was alone at home drinking before I went to bed after saying goodbye to them at the bar? As if I would do that!?
You know you’re an alcoholic when you can’t stop drinking. It seems like a no brainer but hear me out. When the waiter comes to you at a bar and says, “Last drinks…” after many hours of drinking, how do you respond? Back in my drinking day, I’d order another drink even though it wouldn’t benefit me or improve my night further in any way. It was just because I could and I couldn’t say no. When I first moved to Croatia I went out a lot with new friends. I noticed one night when we were out at a restaurant that majority of the people switched to water after midnight. These people were not alcoholics and a stark contrast to the drinking culture I was accustomed to where past midnight it usually meant “drink harder.”
HOW DO YOU QUIT ALCOHOL?
A lot of people don’t know this but I back in 2013 I had a really scary incident in Sydney. I sculled half a bottle of cafe patron, went out and woke up to a message from a guy that I really liked to take the morning after pill. I had no recollection of the night before. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable and disgusted with myself. It gave me fucking anxiety, It still gives me anxiety. The day after I vowed to get sober. None of my friends believed I would and laughed at my most ambitious idea yet. I logged onto Hello Sunday Morning, created a profile and remained sober for 3 months. I didn’t know anything about alcoholism or addiction, or about recovery. I thought after 3 months off the booze, I was healed and could slowly ease my way back into drinking. Which I did, slowly but surely I was back in top form. By my late 20s I was a fully fledged alcoholic trying to figure out whether I should commit suicide or simply let my body die.
As many of you are aware, I did toy with the idea of committing suicide during the first quarter of 2016. I gave myself a second chance when I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took to get sober for 12 months. If I still felt like life isn’t worth living after one year of sobriety, that was my ticket to my grave. September 11, 2017 was my one year sober birthday and I was sailing with the National Tourism Board of Croatia. There was one dream that I had had since I was a little girl and that was to live in and promote my country, Croatia. I had achieved that. I had achieved a lot of things beyond my wildest dreams by choosing life and to get sober.
In April 2016, when I made that promise to myself to get sober, I set a “sober date.” My sober date was the day after my sister’s wedding. Looking back now, I wish I didn’t drink on her wedding night, it was totally unnecessary but Dear Reader, I didn’t know how to function without my triple gin and tonic.
Between April and September, I prepared myself in ways I’ll explain further in this post. One of the main ways I prepared myself was to continue to drink as much as I could because I knew these were the last 5 months that I would ever taste alcohol again in my life. I was so serious about my commitment to getting sober from September 11, 2016 that nothing and no one would get in my way. I had a feeling that my life would begin and I would start living on the other side of recovery. I have made many mistakes in my life but choice to get sober was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
QUESTION: ARE YOU EVEN READY TO GET SOBER?
I mentioned my 3 month sobriety stint back in 2013 to show that you may decide to “get sober” more than once. Back then with my limited knowledge of alcoholism, addiction and recovery, I genuinely wasn’t ready to commit to a whole new life and lifestyle change. I was 26 and no where near ready to enter addiction recovery, my party had barely begun and I still had plenty of wild night aheads of me.
At 29 it was a whole different story and different conversation that I had with myself. It really was a matter of life or death. It sounds dramatic but those suffering from an addiction will understand exactly what I am trying to say. Despite a decade long history of alcohol and substance abuse, I was ready to get sober at the age of 29. I recently learned that it also takes between 7-10 years for an addiction to come full circle and surface in your life.
To get sober and enter the path of recovery, you’ll need to have a very serious, open and honest conversation with yourself and ask, “Am I ready to commit and put in the work to stay sober?” There is no maybe here or “I’ll try to,” you either make it work and stick to it or forget about the whole idea of sobriety. Maybe it’s not your time to get sober, perhaps you need to realllly hit rock bottom like I did.
I understand some people will consider what I mentioned to be cruel and harsh, as relapsing is to be “expected” in recovery, especially in the first 6 months. Not in my recovery, if you want a snowflake guide to getting sober, there are millions of other blogs you can refer to for guidance.
(However, if you do relapse and hate yourself, good. This is part of the journey, accept it, forgive yourself and start your sobriety again when you’re ready)
CHANGE OF SCENERY
I knew deep down that living in London was killing me and if I truly wanted to defeat my demons that I had to move where I felt most at home. For me that meant moving to Croatia. The irony is, with many moving away from Croatia for a better life, I moved to Croatia and found a better quality life. I always say that despite the negatives of living in Croatia, it’s still the country that saved my life and gave me everything that I have today. Moving to Croatia meant that I was slowing down the pace of my life significantly and also opening up myself to a lot more judgement as I tend to be quite forward and honest about my life and Croatian society is the polar opposite to that philosophy.
I recognise that there is no way in the world I would have succeeded in addiction recovery in my early days in London. As I’ve mentioned before, I take my hat off to anyone who has, I simply didn’t have that will power. I had to completely remove myself from that environment and detoxify in a much quieter place. I really needed to be alone.
HOW DO YOU GET SOBER WITHOUT GOING TO REHAB?
Being brought up in a fairly traditional European household meant that problems were never really dealt with at the table, they were swept under it. My relationship with my parents has never being the best and their emotional absence from my life and problems was more visible the older and “wiser” I got. Rehab was never an option for me. I couldn’t even imagine telling my parents about checking into an addiction centre, they probably would have sent me to a psychiatric hospital instead.
However on the contrary, I find it to be a very “Americanised” way of solving problems and it’s not for me. If I was committed to the road of recovery, I, myself needed to understand the highs and lows of this new journey. I didn’t want to be told what to do or preached a certain method, I trusted that all the answers were within myself. I was and still am very attuned to myself. I also refused to go on any anti-depressants and I knew if I went to rehab there was a good chance I’d be introduced to a whole new world. I knew this would open the door to a whole new addiction I’d have to deal with down the line. I knew all these things about myself and I trusted that as long as I stayed honest with myself, checked in frequently and did my research, that I would be fine.
What research you ask? My search results and algorithm was filled with questions about alcoholism, addiction and recovery. I watched endless videos on Youtube about addiction recovery, I found men were more open about their struggles than women, as for some reason it was a taboo topic for women to be open about alcoholism. So, I searched long and hard for addiction stories by women and identified myself in their struggles and their journeys. I also shared mine and to this day I receive emails and messages from people I don’t know who say they found me and thank you.
Recovery is a very individual and lonely road, it’s a very private matter and one that really confronts you with your past. The main question that surfaced when I got sober was, “what is the root of this pain?” and everything lead to my childhood.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET SOBER?
A lot. This is kind of why I was happy that I decided to get out of London because the path to recovery is brutal, it’s confusing and it’s one hell of a head fuck. First and foremost, I was ready to get sober and you need to be as well. You need to be firm about your decision to get sober and you must remove anyone in your life that doesn’t encourage your choice, this includes family.
You’ll be okay for the first few days, even for about a week. Then you’ll find the courage to go out with some friends for the first time sober and everyone will order their drink and you’ll order your water or soft drink and think nothing of it. It will be okay at first but as the night carries on, your sober eyes will feel sadness, you’ll become bored, restless and tired, you might even consider relapsing… then you’ll want to leave. People will interrogate your idea about “getting sober” and some of your friends will even insist that “you weren’t even that bad to begin with…” You’ll probably go home and cry, wonder if it’s all worth it. You might even promise yourself to never go out again, you’ll feel pathetic and like a loser.
Who goes out and doesn’t drink anyway? You do, accept it and allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that you feel. Part of you will feel proud about your first outing sober but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that you’ll mostly feel sad and as though you’re missing out. It’s shit.
Sobriety is fucking shit in the beginning.
You know what else is shit that I’ll warn you about? The first time you hear yourself tell someone that you’re an alcoholic. Ohh that’s going to hurt. But the more you say it, the more you hear yourself repeat it, the easier it becomes and it will keep you accountable to remain sober.
You’ll really start to feel the detox at around the 4-6 week mark. At this point your body is freaking the fuck out. It’s been hearing you tell everyone how you’re sober blah blah but now your body is starting to catch up with what you’ve been saying. You’ve be starving it from it’s alcoholic supply and now it knows for sure you weren’t joking when you said NO MORE! You won’t be be able to sleep. You’ll have nightmares about drinking benders where you’ll wake up in a panic and recap the night before, only to remember you did nothing but cry yourself to sleep because.. yeah, sober life sucks (for now). You’ll probably crash throughout the day too. I kept falling asleep at 4pm every few days. My system was going mental. It’s normal.
At around 3-6 months months you’ll feel like a whole new person when in reality, you’ve only shedded 1% of the shit you’ve got to shed. You’re used to telling people you’re sober and no longer drinking alcohol, you feel good and confident, right? *Cue mental breakdown* The reality is, you’re far from recovered and you’ve only just started swimming in the deep end.
My mental breakdown happened on my cousin’s kitchen floor while I was home alone. Why? I missed my old life. I wrote about it, you can read about it here. I couldn’t get a grip of my ‘new reality’. I hated the fact that I was an addict, why me? Wtf did I do? I didn’t want to be this bore everytime I went out. Alcohol was my blanket of confidence, I was a “better” version of myself when I was drinking. I simply had to re-learn how to be fun, without alcohol and steer my mind from this idea that I needed it.
Remember in the beginning when I said that people will interrogate your decision to get sober and others will tell you that you weren’t that bad after all? Well, after 6 months your own voice begins to play tricks on you. You’ll struggle between your past and present. You’ll tell yourself that maybe you could have ‘just one.’ You’ll go out and contemplate relapsing because you’ll be convinced that you’re recovered and will be able to drink in a controlled environment. You’re wrong, stay sober.
The one year mark is bittersweet. You’ll feel a sense of pride and everyone around you will be clapping along, many people you thought would accompany you on your journey are no longer with you and you’ll have a sense of clarity and freedom with your thinking. There’s a good chance you’ve lost a lot of that alcohol weight too, your skin is clearer and you feel great over all. At one year sober you look back at all your struggles in recovery and thank yourself for staying clean and sober. Life has improved in many ways but life is long and there are many more sober anniversaries to come, the trick is to take it day by day.
AT WHAT POINT DO YOU GET OVER THE WHOLE IDEA OF DRINKING ALCOHOL DURING RECOVERY?
Everyone is different, no two recovery journeys are the same. I’ll be honest and say that after the 12 month mark, I still struggled significantly in recovery. The 12-24 months that followed were quite difficult as I just entered a loving relationship, totally out of my comfort zone. I had just started learning how to love and care for myself but now was finding myself loving someone else, too. In my new relationship I often found myself feeling like I was letting my partner down by not sharing a bottle of wine with him. It really interfered with my conscience and the way I navigated through recovery, so I can’t really say that 2018 was an easier year for me. It was far from it. However, I found after the two year sobriety anniversary I stopped thinking about alcohol and it became almost invisible to me.
LET’S TALK ABOUT AA: WHAT IS IT AND DO YOU REALLY NEED TO GO?
Ahh Alcoholics Anonymous, it kind of is the same as you see in the movies. AA, a room filled with people from all walks of life with one thing in common, the desire to stay sober. I started AA around 3 months into my recovery, I figured that’s what you’re supposed to do when you get sober. Don’t get me wrong, I like the whole let’s recognise and talk about our struggles from our drunken days, it’s very sobering to hear other people’s stories and struggles. I am all for for being as open and honest about your struggles. But I got over the whole idea of AA, I simply didn’t want to regurgitate my issues and past to a random group of people anymore. As therapeutic as it is, I found my solace writing about it on my blog.
I was already so immersed in all this information about my addiction and recovery, I felt with AA I was overdoing it. I kind of also didn’t like a few forced rules that were placed on me, don’t talk publicly in the media and you MUST attend once a week. They say, “you do you” and “me doing me” meant not going.
I can see how it works for some people and I totally respect that, you need to do what works for you. But the only way of ever knowing is by going and seeing for yourself. AA isn’t for everyone, it wasn’t for me. However, I know people who attend AA meetings every single day and that works for them. You do you.
DO YOU NEED GOD IN RECOVERY?
AA meetings are usually held in a community hall or private room connected to a church. A lot of people associate AA meetings with religion which isn’t really true. Although in AA you will refer to a ‘higher being’, that higher being is subject to interpretation. For me that higher being was my inner voice that I had been using to guide me through my recovery journey. The AA meetings that I attended didn’t force religion down your throat which I preferred.
I know that in Croatia there are a few recovery centers that are run by the Church and I strongly believe that religion and recovery should not be mixed together.
There is an addiction recovery centre in Croatia for men called Dom za Ovisnike Zajednica Susret.
Due to a lack of funding, there is no facility for women seeking recovery from addiction in Croatia.
SOCIAL MEDIA & SOBRIETY
Social media in sobriety is both great and horrible. At first you’ll most likely get FOMO (fear of missing out) as you will witness first hand all the parties and people you’re missing out on without a drink in your hand. If you do choose to go to these events, you will definitely have a whole different expereince to what is presented on social media. Over time, you’ll natrually get over it but it takes time so don’t be hard on yourself if the FOMO creeps in.
Social media in sobriety is a great way to connect with other people in sobriety, it’s the fastest way to find others who are just like you. I have so many people find my recovery through Google and email me to let me know that I touched their lives in a positive way.
BEWARE!! On Facebook there are many sobriety support groups and they are fantastic, they will reaffirm how you’re feeling and most of the time everything you’re feeling is all normal and part of the journey. If you’re new in sobriety, some of the posts in these groups can be triggering as people do talk about relapse. I found in my first two years of sobriety these posts triggered me a lot as I was still dealing with an internal struggle of relapsing or recovery. It was hard to read and often these posts were very confronting. As much as you want to get emotionally invested in other people’s struggles, sometimes it best to leave the space alone. You’ll know when it is the right time to comment or share advice but if it triggers you, log out.
WHO ARE YOUR REAL FRIENDS IN RECOVERY?
In recovery, who are your friends and who can you trust? This is the conundrum of recovery. There will be plenty of people from your past who will tell you that you “weren’t THAT bad” because if you’re an alcoholic that means that they are an alcoholic as they most likely can keep up with you, or drink more than you. People aren’t ready to face their own demons and reality but also, it’s not up to you to change them. It’s on them them to change themselves.
If your sobriety triggers people around you, it’s time to move on from those people. It’s better to be alone than around foes. They are not healthy for your recovery journey. This works on the contrary too. If you’re triggered by someone’s drinking habits, remove yourself from the picture.
You will find that the deep down the road of sobriety you go, the less likely you will enjoy the company of toxic and dysfunctional people. The root of any addiction is dysfunction and emotional starvation from childhood. You’ll be able to identify them right away and they will literally irritate your soul.
Don’t be surprised if you’re repelled by other people’s drinking habits too, pictures and stories on social media. It may even remind you of who you once were and give you a front row seat into your past behaviour. Forgive yourself, you were a different person. This is hard and very confronting, I still struggle with this sometimes when I meet people who are mirrors of my former self.
That said, there will be people who will stick around and help you. Sometimes in places you least expected and usually it’s people who have been directly affected by alcoholism and mental health. In recovery you begin to learn to say NO more than you say YES. It’s about setting boundaries for yourself and recognising that in the past you literaly had none.
I look back at some of the people I attracted in the past and now understand why. These people would never have a seat at the same table as me today, no fucking chance. The further down recovery you go, the more you’ll notice that inner peace within yourself and how important it is that it reflects the environment around you.
Spend quality time with people who respect you and your journey, who lift you up instead of bringing you down. In recovery you must reevaluate everything and everyone.
Not every deserves a seat at your table.
On a final note I’d like to add that life BEGINS when you get sober. Engaging in an addiction is far easier than it is to face the darkness and ask why? Why was I an addict? Why did I feel the need to self medicate with alcohol? Figuring out your why will trigger a whole new level in your recovery from your addiction as you grief a part of you that has been wounded. It’s all part of the journey, it’s a process. It takes time, patience and courage but it’s not impossible to enter this path.
Sobriety is an eternal lifestyle change, it’s a commitment for the rest of your life. Are you ready?