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In January 2021, I celebrated my 39th birthday sober. Giving up drinking was something I never thought I could do even for just one day let alone 14, 235 days, as I sat in a 12-step meeting room all those years ago, after planning to end my life earlier that morning.
The day before that fateful morning, I had returned from a holiday with my then boyfriend, also an alcoholic. He had punched me at the caravan park in front of horrified families. This was the end of the road for me. I had become totally hopeless after this and a culmination of other traumatic events, my continual alcohol abuse being a contributing factor. I woke up that day and felt like I couldn’t go on. I made a decision that I would end my life. Then I heard a loud voice saying, ‘don’t do it, if you hang on a bit longer you will find happiness one day’. So instead, I picked up the phone and called AA. One day at a time I have been on this long and winding, but very rewarding, journey of sobriety.
Alcohol abuse ran rampant in our family. As a result, sadly I never met my grandparents. They died from alcoholism before I was born. Both my parents were also alcoholics. My dad became sober at 22 before my birth and my mum drank until I was 12 years old. In my early years I went through a lot of trauma. I felt like I didn’t fit into the world around me at all and I suffered a lot of shame.
Being bullied at school and coming home to see my mum also struggling from depression, was too much to take. Then, at seven years old I witnessed my mum being electrocuted. She came back to life but I was left scarred with deep insecurity and fear.
At nine years old, I was sexually assaulted while on holidays, by the adult son of the cabin owner. I lived in terror from that day on and didn’t feel safe in my own home. Children need some kind of safe haven whether that be home or school, but I didn’t feel safe at either. I just wanted to escape from the fear and constant nightmares playing over and over in my head. I felt like I was going mad.
At 10 years old the trauma of those past three years had taken its toll. I had a breakdown. My parents took me to a psychiatrist and I was put on anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants.
The medication provided short-term relief but it wasn’t long until I was taking too many, in the attempt to escape the DIS EASE going on inside of me. The day I picked up my first drink was the day I thought my life would change forever for the better. I remember the first drink like it was yesterday. Boiling hot wine from a cask which had been hidden under a caravan across the road. I drank the lot and was extremely sick. But I thought I had just found my new best friend. I didn’t care what it tasted like, I just loved the effect. I felt like alcohol coloured me in.
From that day forward I attempted to control my drinking but never could. Once I picked up the first drink, I was as good as gone. I always lost that point of control and couldn’t just stop at one. I would end up paralytic every time I drank. The situations got worse. My behaviour escalated. I had a personality change and became violent. I would end up in places I didn’t know with people I didn’t know. And the next day was unbearable as I said to myself, over and over again, I will never drink again.
I continued to blame people, places and things around me for my constant unhappiness and desperation. But the truth is, no matter what I changed or where I went, I took myself with me. I was the problem. My drinking was the problem. But I was yet to be rocked out of the state of delusion quicker than I thought.
A near-death experience, as a result of an accidental overdose, catapulted me into a downward spiral. I knew my life was spinning drastically out of control. Not long after, I was taken advantage of while out on a date. This was the most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me.
But I never told anyone. I felt helpless, vulnerable and ashamed and I thought, ‘who would believe a drunk girl over him anyway?’. There would never be any justice and I would live with this trauma and carry the shame while sober, for many years. D day was soon coming, when my life became totally hopeless. It really got down to a choice between death or sobriety. I knew that if I wanted to see my 21st birthday and beyond, I could never drink again. That was the reality for me.
Since that day many years ago when I chose sobriety, I have finally found great healing on the journey. It took me becoming really honest and taking a good hard look at myself. Allowing other people to speak into my life and attending many 12-step meetings along the way. Being around a supportive group of like-minded people who understood me, and learning to forgive myself and others, has been a huge part of my recovery.
I was encouraged to get an interest, and being a musician I found much healing in writing songs, singing and playing the piano. I have experienced the greatest highs in sobriety, had meaningful relationships and now have a fulfilling career working in the mental health and addictions sphere helping other people recover.
I have also experienced my hardest times ever in sobriety, watching my mum die of cancer and my dad of emphysema, along with many other challenges. As a result, I have experienced so much grief and PTSD but I never needed to pick up a drink. It will only exacerbate the hard times.
Today I do life on life’s terms, as hard as it is sometimes. The upside of that is that I get to truly feel, and I get to be able to empathise with others who are struggling in life. I don’t wake up with regrets about the way I handled things. Every day I find something to be grateful for. We find what we look for in life.
One of the biggest things I learnt and that I share about today, is that ‘If we keep looking back, we can never move forward. We will be stuck.’
Despite what my alcoholism took from me in a few short years, I have been given an amazing life to live. By sharing my story, I have helped so many people find hope, which has been a big part of the healing process for me. Above all, my faith has played a huge part in my sobriety. Without it I wouldn’t be alive today.
Even though in my drinking days I couldn’t maintain proper relationships, I am so happy to say I have been happily married to my husband for 34 years, have two amazing children who have never seen me drink and two beautiful granddaughters. To know that I have been fully present in their lives every day, brings me a lot of joy. I love my life and am so grateful I got a second chance. Even though it’s not always smooth sailing, I choose to live with peace, joy and gratitude. Today, I have healthy coping strategies set up so I don’t reach for a drink when life gets hard.
My mantra is ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life, and the rest of your life can be much greater than the past.’
I used to hate Sundays when I was drinking, but now that I’m sober, I love Sundays.
Because others cared for me, I walk this earth today. Today I carry the message for people out there who are still struggling in the grips of this addiction, that HEALING and a wonderful life of sobriety are possible if you seek help and NEVER GIVE UP.
Hope is truly possible.
Kerrie Atherton is the Founder of Stories of HOPE Australia and EMPOWER Life Solutions. She is a Keynote Speaker, Author, Event Host, Trauma and Addictions Recovery Counsellor and School Program Presenter.