On March, 31st, I clocked up 1,000 days of being alcohol-free. I haven’t been one to count or log my days during this experience but when I decided to do the numbers a couple of weeks ago and saw that this milestone wasn’t far away, I thought about what my life looked like 1,000 days ago compared with how it looks now and decided that it was definitely a time to reflect and make sense of how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned during this time.
For many years my relationship with alcohol felt unhealthy and problematic. I started binge drinking as a teenager in the 1980s and thirty years later I was still battling to control this destructive cycle of drinking despite my best intentions.
I felt confused a lot of the time as binge drinking was so normalised and accepted in Australian culture. I wasn’t a daily drinker or physically dependent on alcohol. I enjoyed taking part in FebFast and Dry July and didn’t find it difficult to stop drinking. I kept convincing myself that binge drinking was normal and that all I needed to do was moderate and get it under control.
As the years went on, I started to worry more and more about the consequences of my drinking which included blackouts, bed wetting, injuries and out of control conversations and arguments with people that I didn’t remember and would have to piece together the next day.
I had so many mornings waking up with hazy memories of how I got home, forgetting huge chunks of the night and wondering if I’d managed to have my phone and wallet still with me.
I didn’t have an off switch and the tipping point came once I’d have the third drink. I didn’t enjoy moderation or having just.one.drink. There was something appealing about the loss of control, the feeling of oblivion and once I started, I found it difficult to stop.
During my 40s I became increasingly concerned about my drinking and consequently placed lots of rules around what I could and couldn’t do. This included: not drinking during the week, only drinking the one type of alcohol, limiting the number of drinks I could have, avoiding white wine completely and taking two months completely off drinking per year.
Although moderation and rules sometimes worked for me. It felt hard. Like a punishment. It meant I was always thinking about what I could and couldn’t drink and how far from the ‘tipping’ point I was. Often, I would end up in a binge at some point, waking up in the all too familiar pit of shame and embarrassment, wondering what I had to do to stop this unhealthy pattern of drinking.
So, what was the circuit breaker? How did I eventually break the binge drinking cycle?
Simply – I let go of moderation as the solution. I realised that my sweet spot did not exist within the paradigm of moderation and that I needed to start living without alcohol for an indefinite period.
In June 2019 I signed up to a 30 day online Live Alcohol Experiment program with This Naked Mind and nominated July 1 as my starting date. And then 55 days later I was thrown the biggest curveball of my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46.
In the first two weeks after the diagnosis, the intensity of the trauma caused me to feel vulnerable and the thought of having a drink to numb the pain crossed my mind. I hadn’t dealt with any challenges or trauma in my adult life without using alcohol. How was I going to get through this without it?
‘When your mortality is suddenly put under the spotlight
you want to savour each and every moment. It is the ordinary,
simple moments in life that are magical’
One of my initial responses to the diagnosis was to research as much information about breast cancer as I could. This led me to question the role that alcohol had played in my life and whether there was a link to increased breast cancer risk.
I was shocked at what I discovered. There were over 100 studies that absolutely showed a direct link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk. I felt uneasy and frustrated that I had never come across this information and wondered why there wasn’t a more publicly visible health campaign about this issue given breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and affects over 20,000 people every year.
As I continued to work through my cancer treatment and recovery, I felt empowered by the choice to reduce my risk of the cancer returning by continuing an alcohol-free lifestyle.
The experience of breast cancer made me realise that it is the ordinary, simple moments in life that are magical. When your mortality is suddenly put under the spotlight you want to savour each and every moment. Alcohol and drinking take you away from being present in these moments and it was here that I found freedom and a deep sense of gratitude for knowing that my choice to be alcohol free gifted me a greater presence in the fabric of life.
Watch Kath’s full story on Hangouts with Hello Sunday Morning.
August 2022 will mark three years since my diagnosis, and I have no doubt the alcohol-free life I am committed to has provided me with the freedom to rebuild confidence in my health and the opportunity to support others. I spent 6 months last year training to become an alcohol coach and now support men and women who identify as binge drinkers to help breakthrough unhealthy and destructive patterns of drinking. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate 1,000 days of alcohol-free living than coaching and supporting others.
Kath Elliott is a breast cancer survivor who is passionate about raising awareness around the direct links between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk. Kath works as an alcohol coach and has developed a range of body products called My Breast Friend that promote breast cancer awareness. To learn more please follow Kath @mybreastfriendaus. Kath is now over 1,000 days into her alcohol-free journey and believes that this helped her stay present and more grateful for the life that she has.
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Thank you Kath for so honestly sharing your breast cancer and alcohol story, it’s really been a double whammy! Congratulations for taking the insights and knowledge learned through this challenging time to help others on their journeys, well done!
Hi Lou – thanks for reading my story and providing your feedback. I really appreciate your support and kind words. Al the best, Kath x
Such a powerful story and as a breast cancer survivor and sober woman lots of parallels. This is definitely a topic that needs more airtime and Kath is leading the charge.
Thanks gorgeous Yvette for your incredible support. I know you understand so much of my experience and it’s been wonderful to have been able to share it with you. Much Love Kath x
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and subsequently it was surgically removed. The urologists informed me that it was possibly caused by my excessive consumption of alcohol.
After the dust settled, if it ever does, I researched the subject and discovered that a great number of cancers are attributed to alcohol consumption.
Thanks for sharing your experience Vic. I hope your health is on the improve and congratulations for getting on the front foot to do your own research. Best of luck, Kath
After 50 years of drinking alcohol, I’m nearly four years without, and your wonderful interview has inspired me to reflect on the journey. I can related to all that you said, especially that I couldn’t moderate, and needed to quit for good. Also, the support from hello Sunday morning was invaluable in my success. Now, as a 71 year old woman, I am at my best, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Thank you.
Hi Karen – I am so delighted to hear this. It’s important to reflect on the journey and how far we have come. It’s never too late to change our relationship with alcohol and I wish you all the best. Thanks for your kind words and support. Kath x
Fabulously uplifting and profound story. Thank you for sharing. I loved reading it. Will touch so many I’m sure.
Hi Laura – I truly love when people connect with my story and let me know. Thank you so much. Best of luck, Kath x
Thanks for sharing your story Kath. I wish you all the best going forward in your sober life
Thanks for your kind words Nicola. Much appreciated. All the best to you, Kath x
Your story has so inspired me. I am so glad you have survived your breast cancer 🙏. I have been struggling with binge drinking for many years. It is stories like yours that makes me realise that it’s time to admit alcohol is ruining my life and the time for sobriety is now before it’s too late. Thank you for sharing your story and God bless you. X
Hi Gael – I’m so glad me story resonated and inspired you. Binge drinking is a destructive pattern to break out of but I’m sure you can do it with the belief and support. Please feel to reach out and connect on my IG page @thealcoholmindsetcoach if you need any further information or want to ask me any questions. All the best, Kath
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am 75 days alcohol free and this inspires me to keep going. Having a history of breast cancer in my family and having struggled w moderation the same way you describe for decades, I realize that my life is so much richer and more present without it.
“There was something appealing about the loss of control, the feeling of oblivion and once I started, I found it difficult to stop.”
How that sentence resonated with me. At last, someone, you Kath, put into words why I would pick up that drink.
My AODS case worker, doctor, sober friends and others would always want to know what the trigger was that started me drinking again after days, weeks, months of sobriety. Often they’d even come to their own conclusions for why I’d started once again. It was as if they felt the need to put a label on it. Your simple explanation for the ‘why’ was exactly what mine was.
Thank you for putting into words what I believe is true for many of us.
After your journey through the horror that must have been the diagnosis and treatment of your breast cancer, I wish you only continued and improving good health, the attainment of that magical five years cancer free and the same number of years alcohol free.
Thank you for your inspiration Kath and your courage in sharing it.
Hi Sally – I’m so glad my words resonated for you. It really helps when we know we are not alone and that others share a similar experience. I hope you are feeling strong and happy with where you are at with your drinking and I’m so grateful for your kind words and support, Best of luck, Kath x
What a great story to read. My 1000 day milestone is coming up too. I’m so happy to be rid of that toxic substance. Best wishes from Sydney, Australia 🇦🇺
Congratulations on 1000 days Sam – it’s certainly worth celebrating and reflecting upon all that you’ve achieved. Thanks for reading my story and sharing your feedback, I really appreciate it. All the best, Kath x
Congratulations on 1000 days. A breast cancer diagnosis early on what definitely have been triggering. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s truly inspiring.
Thanks so much for your support Rach. I really appreciate having a friend/fellow coach to share this journey with. Love Kath x
An amazing story. Congratulations Kath you’re an inspiration. Clare Pooley who wrote ‘Sober Diaries’ has a similar story with alcohol and a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s a good read. I find it so frustrating that our culture brushes over the very real and serious health risks of drinking and I’m grateful to people like you for working so hard to highlight it 🙂
Thanks for your very kind and supportive words LC. Reading about other people’s experiences really inspires me so I love that people take something from what I share. I have read lots of memoirs in the sober space but not Clare’s yet….it is sitting on my bedside table and I’m about to start it. Many thanks, Kath x
What a wonderful story Kath you must be so proud of your achievements heath wise and with alcoholic. I gave up 4 years ago and relish every alcohol free day I live!
All the very best to you.
Hello Laney – congratulations on 4 years of alcohol free living. What an achievement! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me, I am beyond grateful, Kath x
Kath. Wow, it is uncanny that I saw this HSM email in my inbox and I thought (for some reason), that I need to read this one, as I don’t read all of them.
Your story is remarkable, familiar and most notably very courageous.
You need to be proud of what you have done here and how you made that massive leap of self help to stop the drinking which gave you the internal foundation required to take on the breast cancer in the best possible way.
It’s incredible that I actually also stopped drinking in Jan 2019, but officially gave my start date as July 1st 2019 – which means we are effectively taking the same journey from the same start date. Insane.
I dare say our respective drinking habits began at almost similar ages and almost similar places (dare I mention Underground TC Club or Saturday afternoons at Glenferrie Station?!). Even at that tender age of 15 or so we were binge drinking which meant our brains were being wired far too early to the addictive nature of alcohol.
I too “craved the high” and “chased the escape and freedom” that alcohol seemed to provide all the way through my 20s / 30s and into my mid-40s, at which stage I realised veyr clearly that something had to give. I could not continue to binge.
Congratulations on your bravery and taking ownership of your future. I am sure like me it hasn’t been easy and even now there are probably still times when you would like to hit the “f it” button, but every morning waking up fresh and without a hangover compounds the decision that this life is better than the one with flowing booze in it.
I still live overseas but I would like to catch up one day in Melbourne (I get back every couple of months) to chat through mutual stories and experiences and state of mind.
Stay well, and here’s you.
OMG Will when I saw your name below I wondered if it was you! Wow. I actually felt quite teary when I was reading your email but in a good way because I love hearing stories of others who have taken this courageous step and gone against the grain. There are so many similarities to our stories. I am so touched that you read my story and reached out to share yours. I would love to catch-up when you next come to Melbourne and share our stories/experiences. Please reach out at anytime. I’m now an alcohol coach so you can reach me via instagram @thealcoholmindsetcoach. I hope all is well in your world and look forward to reconnecting after all this time, Kath x
thank you for recovering out loud and increasing the awareness of alcohol and women health.You look beautiful and happy with your friend:)
Thanks so much Daisy, I appreciate your support and kind words. Isn’t my friend Ralph gorgeous? All the best, Kath x
Hi Kath, thank you so much for sharing your story, truelly inspiring. It is mind blowing that is not more know about the true effects of alochol and what it can contribute to. I am 426 days into my AF journey (2nd time round lol) and am so gr8ful to be present in living my best life.
I would love to know where you completed your alochol coach training as this is where I feel my true puropose lies.
Sending you love and light xx
Hi Shell – a heartfelt thanks for reading my story and a big congratulations on being 426 plus days AF – this is an incredible achievement and the fact you are doing it a second time around is very inspiring. I did my coaching training through This Naked Mind (based out of the US) and love the methodology. If you’d like to chat further please reach out via my IG account @thealcoholmindsetcoach. Best of luck, Kath x
Wow! something to think about. Thank you for sharing your very personal experience. It is very empowering and your courage in sharing your journey has certainly given me to reflect on my journey.
You now look so radiant , happy and beautiful 🙏🏼🌸
Thank you Cathy. That is so lovely of you. I really appreciate your feedback and kind words. Love Kath x
Wow what an open and honest story which I will share with others including my best friend who has just been diagnosed with Brest cancer…
simple moments in life are magical… Alcohol and drinking take you away from being present in these moments
Hi Kelly – I’m sorry to hear your friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I hope she is doing ok? Thanks for reading and sharing my article I really appreciate it. Kath x
well done, I’m MBC, living now 12 months with no alcohol, great to see other strong women doing the same, I wish I knew the health benefits of my new lifestyle earlier