What I need to stay sober

25 July 2015 - the day I decided not to die.

Irma Schutte

I’ll never forget the last time I bought wine. It was 24 July 2015 - a cold and wintery, but sunny Sunday morning. I remember because it was the day of the annual Karioi Classic; a well-known mountain bike race for the fit and adventurous here in beautiful Raglan, New Zealand…an idyllic West Coast town, my current home. 

Enthusiastic and healthy cyclists from across the country were registering and lining up for the race as I shamefully pulled into the local supermarket to grab my stash of wine. Armed with a beanie, a dark set of sunglasses, my Ugg boots, a large scarf that covered most of my hungover face, unflattering tracksuit pants that hadn't been washed in weeks and a puffer jacket, I made the purchase - 4 bottles of The Ned Pinot Gris (my fav) and a bag of coffee. I wasn’t eating much food at the time.

 I was sure that the check out lady was judging me, but by that stage I was beyond giving a shit. The traffic outside was congested due to the cycle race. As I waited in my car, I looked at all the resilient, smiling faces of the eager competitors and felt utterly worthless. All I wanted to do is retreat back into the safety and isolation of my home and drink. Yes, it was early morning and no, I didn't think to buy my alcohol online for home delivery. 

 I was living on my own at the time. I had my little dog, my earth angel Jack, to keep me company. He was the only living being who witnessed my addiction and break down. Jack and I met 6 years before in 2009, just days after my Mum died of cancer. I believe he was ‘sent’ to guard over me. I’ve never bonded with an animal the way I’ve with Jack.  

Coming back to 24 July 2015 - I got home after my early morning supermarket trip and drank all four bottles of wine on that Sunday. Then I moved onto my bottle of Jamieson whiskey. I didn't sleep that Sunday night. I hadn’t slept since that Thursday. My mind was starting to play tricks on me. I get why sleep deprivation is used as a torture tool.

In the very early morning hours of Monday 25 July 2015 I started thinking about killing myself…again. Jack was my main concern. ‘Who would look after him?’ I thought. In my mind I made plans. I decided that I would drop Jack off at my friend’s home and pretend that I was ‘going away’ for a few days. I knew this friend would take really good care of him. Then I would go to the pharmacy, buy some razors, go home, drink as much as I could and get in the shower where I could finish the job without making too much of a mess. No one would miss me. No one would care. I’d be doing the world a favour by leaving. 

Addiction and depression are self-absorbed and self-focused spaces. At the time I was so deluded that I forgot how traumatic it was for my family when we lost my sister to suicide in 2008. In my right mind I would never do such a thing.

I think I had my last drop of whiskey as the sun started to rise on Monday, 25 July 2015. I remember being out of booze, and getting the shakes. I checked my cupboards. I even checked my car in the hope that I’d find an overlooked bottle of wine, but I found nothing. It was too early for any supermarket to be open. Shaking, sweating and paranoid all I could think of was getting more booze. I needed the pain to stop. I didn’t know if the pain would ever stop.

What pain? 

I mean, there I was…at the time, a 37 year old, middle-classed, single, educated, white woman, living in a peaceful seaside community, with the right to vote, a roof over her head, a car, running warm water, a pantry full of food, with money to buy booze & coffee and enough energy to mope about eager cyclists. 

What pain?!  

I lost sight of how privileged I was. I lost sight of how much good there was in my life. I lost sight…plain and simple. 

I let life get the better of me. 

The loss of my sister to suicide in late 2008, the death of my Mum in early 2009, not honouring my grief, pretending to be fine for years, but quietly breaking inside, an unplanned pregnancy in early 2015, a subsequent fibroid diagnosis, an emergency termination, a relationship break-up, pelvic surgery to remove the fibroids, recovery from surgery, loneliness; all within weeks in 2015…it all got the better of me.

I lost perspective.

I disconnected. 

Instead, I attached and identified with my perceived suffering. 

I never once stopped to HONOUR, FEEL and CONNECT to my grief and loss. A process which needed to happen. For years I tried to outrun my pain and discomfort by drinking, numbing and hiding.  

It exhausted me. I was done. Something had to give.

And so it happened…I let go of alcohol on that morning of 25 July 2015. It wasn't a conscious decision and I don't think I was totally ‘with it’ either. 

Looking back, I didn't want to physically kill myself. What I wanted to end was all of my abusive patterns and habits. 

How?

With help and support. 

Again, none of this was premeditated, but I called my friend…out of desperation I think. I was out of alcohol, severely sleep deprived and it felt like I was going crazy. I lost my grip on reality and my mind went places I never want to revisit. Until this point NO ONE knew just how out of control my situation was. Not even my family, who were halfway around the world in South Africa, knew how severe my alcohol problem and depression had become. 

 The same friend who was going to 'look after my dog' answered my call. She saved my life and I’ve never looked back.  

The toughest part for me was to surrender and acknowledge that I needed help. For too long my pride and ego prevented me from being vulnerable and speaking my truth, yet this is what shifted things for me. 

 My friend arrived at my home not long after I called her. I felt so much shame and embarrassment when I revealed to her all of the empty hidden bottles which I had stashed away in my cupboards. I was too embarrassed to put my empties in the recycling bin. What if my neighbours saw how many bottles there were?! Yet, despite all of my shame, my friend only had love for me. 

What happened next is not unique. Many have a similar recovery story to tell...I'm not the first or the last to change a habit. 

 With professional support I got to work and committed myself to a whole new way of thinking, being and living.

WHAT DID I DO? 

There are innumerable ways to stay sober. This is what worked/works for me. One thing remains to be true, no matter what you do, if you want to let go of a habit, substance or belief that no longer serves taking action is required. There is no magic bullet or quick fix. And there is no 'one-size fits all'. 

 

1. DETOX

 First I went through supervised detox in a respite facility. I was drinking a lot at the end and needed medical supervision. I never realised just how dangerous it was to detox from alcohol until the day that I stopped. My intake was at a level that required this type of intervention. 

 

2. REHAB

After my medical detox I booked myself into a private rehab centre. I have much gratitude for my Dad who was willing to lend me the money to do so. Rehab helped me to take ownership of my life. I met people that impacted me for good. I received tools to help me deal with my stress triggers and cravings.

 

My highlight during rehab was meeting author Wayne Dyer. He just 'happened' to do a talk in Auckland in my third week of treatment. I got special permission to go a listen to him speak. It was a divinely timed moment. Wayne's talk explored desires. He asked 'What are you willing to do to manifest your burning desires? Creating the life of your dreams involves taking inspired action and a willingness to let go of any thing, person or place that no longer serves you. How willing are you to manifest the life you desire?'.

 

I wept tears of gratitude as I listened to his every word. It was there, that night, in that audience, in the presence of a great teacher that I realised what I wanted to do with my life. It was going to be life of service. Wayne Dyer passed away two days later, in his sleep, at his home in Maui. Auckland was the last crowd he ever spoke to.

 

3. NURTITION

During rehab I created a nutritional program for myself to restore my neurotransmitters, gut and liver using good quality fats, proteins, super foods like Peruvian maca and a plant-rich diet. 

I’m thankful for my experience and history in natural medicine - I was able to combine a holistic approach with my rehabilitation program. 

 

Whole food and nutrition is something I've always been interested in. After years of heavy drinking I was determined to rebuild my body using mother nature as inspiration. I drank freshly squeezed vegetable juices, made super food smoothies, ate large amounts of fats like nuts, seeds, fish and avo. And I stepped up my green leafy vegetable intake - all in an attempt to remove the neurotoxins from my body. 

This nutritional program I believe helped me to come off an anti-depressant and a sleeping pill. I wanted to be totally drug-free, which to me included prescription medication. 

4. NLP

After rehab I went on to receive NLP therapy. I'm fortunate to know a wonderful practitioner here in Raglan named Stephanie Philp. NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Neuro refers to your neurology; Linguistic refers to language; programming refers to how that neural language functions. In other words, receiving NLP is like receiving the language of your own mind. I found it very helpful. NLP anchors me into beliefs that work for, not against me. 

5. COUNSELLING

This goes without saying. Counselling plays a big role in my every day life. My therapist specialises in addiction, trauma and grief recovery.  

6. ACUPUNCTURE

In the early stages of my recovery I received acupuncture weekly and it worked for me. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy, or qi, in the body. One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neuro-hormonal pathways. 

 7. MEDITATION

I returned to my meditation and mindfulness practises. Meditation helps me to take stock of the content of my mind. It helps me to determine which thoughts are valuable, which thoughts are not. When I meditate regularly I feel more productive and focussed and I tend not to sweat the small stuff so much. 

8. MOVEMENT

While I was drinking I did zero exercise. And I've never been someone who LOVES getting sweaty either. Exercise and I have a love/hate thing going on. I did heaps of cycling, pilates, yoga and spinning at the beginning of my recovery. These days not as much as I used or need to! When I move my body I feel better, but I don't think I'll be entering any half marathons in this lifetime. 

 9. NO-FLUSH NIACIN

I cannot talk about this enough. NO FLUSH NIACIN (B3) changed my brain. It is the single most important nutrient I take to stay well. I still use high dose Niacin therapy daily to reduce cravings, anxiety and depression.

10. VIT. C CHELATION

I get Vit. C chelation injections at least 3-4 per year. Early on in my recovery I had one a month. Intravenous Vitamin C reaches a 25 times higher level in the blood stream compared to taking it by mouth. It helps to restore my adrenal glands, immune system and liver.

 11. LETTING GO

I let go of toxic relationships…the most challenging part of my recovery. In my drinking years I was a magnet for drama. As a result not all of my relationships were healthy. Creating distance and space from people who didn't have my back was tough. Many nights I cried myself to sleep. People who didn't align with my alcohol-free life stopped showing up. I took it personally. But then over time new people organically started to appear in my life. New friendships were formed. My circle has changed so much since I stopped partying. It's just different now...more authentic perhaps?

12. PLANT HEALING

I received ayahuasca plant healing - a moment that deserves an entire different blog - in Peru in 2017. I first read about the effects of this Amazonian plant on healing addiction, depression and trauma by Dr Gabor Maté, a renowned speaker, and bestselling author who is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Taking ayahuasca was one of the most transformative events of my life. I don’t say that lightly. Throughout the past decade I’ve read a library of books on personal growth, meditated for hundreds of hours, traveled the world, worked with therapists, attended personal growth workshops and the list goes on. Amidst it all, an ayahuasca experience stands in a league of its own. Don’t get me wrong, everything I just listed was crucial in my development, but the sheer volume of growth compacted within the week of my retreat can’t be compared to anything I’ve done previously. I learned more about myself within 5 short days than I had the previous 5 years.

11. BOOKS

I devour the work and books of Wayne Dyer, Gabby Bernstein, Marc Lewis, Gabor Maté, Russell Brand, Eckhart Tolle, Brené Brown, Johann Hari, Robert Whitaker, Pema Chödron and Anthony William. I will never stop learning from these inspirational minds.

12. EARTHING

I plant vegetable gardens now and watch them grow. I go to the forest to connect with the wood wide web. I walk by the ocean. I stop. I stop and reconnect with nature as much as I can. 

 13. HOMEOPATHY

I use homeopathy to support myself in stressful times. It also helps me let go of even deeper layers of shock and trauma.

14. ESSENTIAL OILS

I bathe myself in essential oils daily. They support my emotional wellness. Patchouli, bergamot, geranium, lavender, cedar wood and clary sage are some my favourite.

15. ASSUME IMPERFECTION

I started imagining what my life would be like without anxiety about imperfection…a work in progress. I imagine accepting myself just as I am - with this body, this appearance, these behaviours, these life circumstances. What if I assumed imperfection? That my body and mind will be reactive. That I'll get attached, be angry at times, fearful and even hurt the beings I love the most. What if it's the way I relate to that that matters most? When I feel deficient it manifests as shame. That shame gives rise to the most intense sense of self aversion. Paying attention to my shame is a gateway for awakening. It's not something to deny or suppress. Rather I lean into it these days, I explore it and let it guide me towards my-SELF. 

16. ALLOW IMPERMANENCE

Buddhism teaches a terrible truth - whatever we cherish we shall lose and there's simply nothing we can do about it. This sounds horribly depressing at first, but it's not. It's simply the truth. It's what we all know instinctively all ready, but don't want to examine. We rarely examine this willingly. It often takes shock, trauma, loss or illness for us to reawaken to the clarity and truth of impermanence. It's uncomfortable as fuck. It's reality. The question I ask myself these days is: What do I do about it? It's not impermanence that makes me suffer. What makes me suffer is wanting things to be permanent even when they're not.

17. HUMOUR AND LAUGHTER THERAPY!

I try to take myself less seriously these days…another work in progress.

 REBUILDING

 Not long after I became sober I decided to continue my studies. I was hungry and eager to learn more. I enrolled in a nutrition course and became a certified health coach. I found and completed a holistic addiction recovery course that spoke to me. 

I knew that I wanted to be of service and help others, so with the help of a business mentor I started my own business. This was something I only ever dreamt of doing and this mentor is now one of closest friends.

It’s not always been easy, and I'm not going to turn evangelical on you and claim that my life is a walk in the park since I let go of alcohol, because it's not.

But life is very different now and I could not have done it alone. 

Slowly, bit by bit, I'm putting myself back together. There is no end to my healing. It is a process. 

Desire, direction and discipline is what I need to keep going. 

Three years later and I’m still doing the work. I’ll never stop doing the work to stay in this new lane. 

 Right now I don’t feel like drinking. I don't have any guarantee that I'll be able to stay sober for the rest of my life though, but for today I think I can. For today I think I will.

See, sobriety is a choice, a choice I make every day of my life. And I don't make this choice because I view myself as an addict or an alcoholic. Labels have never felt good on me. They restrict me and make me feel powerless. No, being sober is a conscious decision which I make daily because it aligns me with my values and beliefs.

Sobriety empowers me. I don't think of it as a weakness. Drinking made me feel weak.

 

Being sober brings me closer to who I want to be.

Being sober helps me to manifest my dreams and desires.

Being sober supports my spiritual growth.

Being sober enhances my relationships.

Being sober makes me a more present and less egoic human being. 

Being sober improves my health.

Being sober betters my finances.

Being sober is a different kind of buzz all together.

 

And I prefer being on this buzz. Sober is not some kind of default setting. I’m sober because alcohol makes me feel shit. And I don't like feeling shitty. It’s not rocket science. 

Over the last three years being sober is the single most important thing I’ve done to enhance the quality of my human experience.

And I'm able to sit with gratitude over my past now. My abusive relationship with alcohol has taught me more about myself than anything else ever has. Without it I wouldn't be where I am.

I don't miss the parties, reckless sexual encounters, black outs, arguments, hangovers, guilt, shame and regrets. I don't miss feeling worthless, depressed and suicidal. I don't miss feeling puffy, bloated and heavy.

And I never thought that I was a morning person until I stopped drinking. I do my best writing and planning before breakfast! Watching the sunrise is something I celebrate now…in my party days it was something I hated, because it meant another night of no rest and a work day filled with shitty excuses, fatigue, irritability and unhealthy fast food. 

I don't miss the chaos of alcohol at all. Life is so much simpler now. Some might call it boring, but to me this is freedom. 

It’s taken me all of this and so much more to reach three years of sobriety. No one else was going to get me to where I am now. I had to pull my finger and do the work myself. And I’m nothing special. I still have all the ‘grown-up’ issues everyone else has. The only difference is I choose not to drink. 

As a result of my sobriety I'm having candid conversations about holistic addiction recovery and mental health support these days. These are topics that lie very close to my heart. I believe my own recovery has prepared me for my life's work.

 

I don't think anything happens per chance. 

 

NOTHING has ever meant more to me than being of service and connecting with you…in a sober state of mind. NOTHING.

 

And I’ll never claim to be an expert at being sober. I teach what I need to learn. 

 

25 July 2015 was the day I decided to live and for now, I choose to do life alcohol-free. 

 

In service always.

 

Irma. 


 

 

 

Irma Schutte