Caroline’s Testimonial

I had been a wine drinker since my early twenties, a story that has been told a zillion times before, my parents motto was always work hard play hard, I did.

The dynamics changed when I started having commitments and responsibilities. Again, not an uncommon story. Marriage, children, mortgage, juggling all for quite some time well, with the input of a bottle of wine a day, quipping as so many of my friends did that it was part of the five a day.

By the time I reached 45, the amounts had doubled. I was forgetful, grumpy, fat and not delivering my full attention to either my family or my work. I climbed the greasy pole but was losing it in a very patchy way. Some days I would perform well, usually at the end of the week, I realised, we lie to everyone else, but we are terrified internally with our behaviour, that those days were a build up to the bingeing that I had started at the weekends.

Then what I dreaded would happen, did. I was caught drink driving on the school run, 8.15am. Everything went pear shaped. My partner stood by me, my children were so embarrassed they barely spoke to me, my employer told me to get help, with the inference, or else.

I went to rehab. It worked in terms of me stopping drinking. When I came out, shaky, fearful, the reality of restarting life was overwhelming. I had been cocooned, now everywhere I looked there was alcohol, and I truly had to white knuckle every single second of the day. I started back at work, paranoid and unable to concentrate fully as I believed that everyone was talking about my fall from grace.

My partner was worried, he watched me like a hawk. The whole atmosphere around me was like living on a knife edge. On June 17th this year I bought a bottle of wine and drank it in the garage at home. Weeping self-pitying with a smattering of defiance I wobbled into the kitchen and realised that I firstly hated the taste, and secondly knew I needed more than being dried out.

Enter Harrogate Sanctuary. Sarah had done some work with my company a few years ago, my arrogance about being able to handle my drinking had stopped me joining the group who had found it very helpful.

When I called, I was not that up my own arse woman I was then. After a brief call, we organised a meeting. That hour was a revelation. Sarah works her programme in a completely different way to what I had experienced in the rehab. The shortest way of describing it is she gets to the root of the problem and doesn’t mess about with peripheries. Very direct, extremely insightful, and so supportive and a real stickler with routines that the programme shows work for women like me. She covers so much more than as she puts it the faulty on/off button, and the result is I spent 10 weeks in her care, am continuing with single sessions weekly as I go forward as a non-drinker, a woman who knows herself, who isn’t frightened of being curious or asking for space and help with a plethora of problems I once thought I could handle alone. My expectations have changed. Sarah makes sure that you keep those low, for most of my life I had set a very high bar, and it was bloody exhausting. She shows you how to accept your flaws, embrace them, and make them work for you as we are unique. Because my fall from grace was so public, local paper, the parents who saw me being breathalysed around the corner from the school gates, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, I can’t hide. That has allowed me to be honest and authentic.

I am healthy, losing the wine belly, and importantly I like myself a lot. I am open about my troubles with misuse, I have never once been castigated for it. I made a HUGE mistake, but I am paying my dues, and grateful that Sarah was there, and still is there for me and many other people and families like mine.

C O’s Testimonial

I was an occasional social drinker with a propensity to binge drink, from my late teens to my mid-40s. I could stop drinking after the second glass of wine but if I chose to have a 3rd glass, there was no off switch. In my md 40s, my drinking behaviour changed. I began to drink regularly at home to wind down from a demanding job involving frequent domestic and international travel. I didn’t drink every night, and when I did drink, it was the exception rather than the rule to drink a full bottle. But I was diagnosed 5 years ago with a medical condition which puts me at higher risk of liver damage if I drink more than a few glasses of wine a week.

I first contacted the Harrogate Sanctuary 5 years ago, but Sarah was booked up and I didn’t want to go on a waiting list. I also wasn’t sure that my drinking was bad enough to warrant the cost of the programme. I tried to stop drinking without help and did manage a couple of lengthy periods of sobriety. They didn’t last and while I did reduce my drinking, it was still too much and I was concerned about why I drank. I didn’t like needing to drink and lying about my drinking and arguing with my husband about it.

More recently, my work stress was exacerbated by Covid lockdowns and concerns for our kids who were working on the frontline. I ended up seeing a psychologist earlier this year who said I had anxiety. I was able to use self-help strategies most of the time to manage situations where previously I would have needed to drink but I was still finding that when things got really bad, those strategies went out the window and I’d go into panic mode and need a drink.

I’m now in my late 50s and I knew that if I didn’t stop drinking, I would be seriously compromising my health.  I felt I’d done as much as I could to deal with this on my own and needed professional help. My psychologist was puritanical about drinking and I couldn’t be honest with her or my GP. None of the local online sobriety groups (I live in New Zealand) resonated with me in the way that Sarah’s blogs and testimonials had. I wasn’t at rock bottom, I had a happy marriage, great job, loving family, supportive friends, so AA didn’t resonate.

I contacted Sarah again.  Her programme was once again booked up but I signed up anyway and in the 6 weeks before the programme started, Sarah had me keep a weekly journal which she responded to, and we had a zoom meeting in the middle of the waiting period, so that there was continuity from when I first contacted her to when the programme started. That support enabled me to remain sober during the waiting period. This felt like a genuine investment in MYSELF, a complete overhaul, which was going to be and is, life enhancing.

Then I started the 6 week programme of daily journals and weekly zoom meetings. It was fantastic. Sarah’s no-nonsense approach worked for me. Unlike the psychologist, who told me she was puritanical about drinking, Sarah wasn’t judgemental, and she was the only person I was ever honest with about my drinking. She gave me tools to change behaviours that didn’t work and was insightful, supportive, and empathetic.

 I have now been sober for 14 weeks. My anxiety has improved dramatically, I sleep well, exercise regularly, am more present for family, friends, and non-work activities. I don’t miss drinking. I don’t even think about it. I feel much happier and content with my lot and no longer feel as though I’m chasing my tail. I realised that my job was no longer bringing me any joy and I was just putting up with the ever increasing stress and workload because the status of that role was important to me. I resigned without having lined anything else up and within a week had secured a less demanding and more highly paid role. I am also actively pursuing other interests to meet needs that I previously tried to meet through my work.

I was confident the programme would work for me because it had worked for lots of women whose experiences of drinking, and drivers for drinking, sounded similar to mine. I was particularly inspired by the women who said the stuff they were drinking to hide from or cope with didn’t magically go away when they got sober, but they were much better able to deal with it sober. That’s certainly been my experience. I feel more empowered and confident to tackle the hard stuff and I’m much more aware and appreciative of everything good in my life. I am so grateful to Sarah.

Relationships. I’m Out The Other Side of Multiple Dependence.

In 2016 I lost my Husband to heart failure. We had been together for 32 years. He loved me and I him, even through my drinking career, he always had my back. Grief lasted a long time, and I kept asking my departed husband for answers, those of us who have lost a partner either through death or divorce, will know what I mean. With practicalities, DIY, concerns about my business, cars, tradespeople, banks, the list went on and on. It is only in the last 12 months I have stopped – completely. The process of grief is long and finding your feet incredibly difficult.

I have realised that what had happened during our relationship is that I had become, dependent, to the point of co dependency. This year I have started to trust my own judgement, learned how to put shelves up, and much more, believe in my own decisions. Since starting the Couples programme, There is no doubt my situation is not unusual, there are many similarities to mine. I am not suggesting that Michael was manipulative, but I was very easily led by him, just as I was with alcohol. My personality had become one of pleasing, caring about what he would want and others, losing my creative side, which is vivid, probably eccentric, but it’s me.

1991 was the start of it. We lost our forever home in the recession of that time, it was more than a house, it was a lifestyle and I was confident, bold and made it everything that I wanted it to be. To lose it was an awful blow to Michael although he wouldn’t show it, for me the insecurity was unbearable, and I became doubtful of everything I thought and couldn’t imagine making a decision alone ever again. My drinking ramped up, adding to the anxiety and low self esteem. By 1995 I had stopped, but was not whole again by any stretch of the imagination.

We rented. Michael always said there was no point nesting in rented property. I went along with him. Any spare money it seemed was spent on his work, his cars, and rightly our sons education. In truth, I wanted to spend on comfy sofas, curtains, decorating, dogs and chickens. I settled for second best. Before I started The Sanctuary studying for my qualifications, I worked all sorts of part time jobs whilst Michael worked away. He was a gypsy really, I should have recognised that, I am a homing pigeon.

I internalised criticism, became defensive, and because of the lifestyle lost assumed that none of my old friends would want to socialise with me. Michael said we had to start again, when actually I should have strived for more independence and control over financial affairs, kept my friends close, and where I saw my life going, rather than everyone else’s.

For the last 5 years of Michaels life I was ostensibly his carer. I had started the Sanctuary, was supporting the family and still not brave enough or I thought, clever enough, to juggle mainstream stuff. I also thought Michael would feel even more useless not having anything to do, I wanted him to keep telling me that everything would be okay, I was doing a good job, HE had to confirm that I was a useful engine.

As of now, I stand alone. I am not looking for a prop, human or otherwise. If I’m not praised every day I don’t care. Alcohol stripped me of my true personality, it made me frightened to be brave and make my own decisions. My marriage might have been long, and this is very hard to admit, for the most part if I had been in the driving seat more often, it could have been much happier, and way more balanced as a partnership. I take the responsibility for that, my drinking most definitely paved the way.

My couples programme does not just come from studying, it comes from experience.