The end of my 30-year drinking career

My name is Kaija Balodis. It means ‘seagull’ in Latvian. I’m 45 years old from Adelaide, South Australia. I am one year sober, which after 30 years of drinking is something I still can’t quite believe!

I have been drinking since I was 12 years old. I can remember being introduced to a small glass of wine with dinner. This was the European way. My family used to joke about the ‘Latvian Liver’, a mystical organ that wasn’t susceptible to the perils of problem drinking.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I have since found out that problem drinking runs in my family. My grandmother used to say, ‘you come from a long line of alcoholics; you need to watch out’. We used to laugh her off as a silly old lady, but I’ve since found out all three of her brothers died young from alcohol.

I’ve worked in marketing and public relations for the better part of 20 years. Drinking was a big part of the culture and my career. Attendance at international trade shows, media dinners, lunches with journalist, the Canberra press club; drinking all in the name of work.

Champagne was my choice of drink. Expensive champagne too. Gosh, I have sunk a lot of money into champagne. Drinking champagne became part of who I was. It was my identity and my excuse to escape from myself. At the height of my drinking ‘career’ I wouldn’t blink at spending $150 on a bottle. As my sister said – champagne might be ‘fancy’ and ‘expensive’ – but it is still poison.

At the height of my ‘drinking career’ I was guzzling four bottles of chardonnay with vodka chasers on ‘trainwreck Tuesday,’ then getting up for work and ‘functioning’ the next day. High functioning? No. It was self-destructive.

 


The truth was I was miserable, exhausted and on an endless
merry go round of drinking to get drunk, stopping for the week,
then starting again.

had tried to give up drinking before and not succeeded long term. My husband and I were living in Canberra whilst he undertook a medicine as a mature age student. I was working in incredibly stressful jobs to keep the money rolling in. To ‘relax’ I drank, and I drank a lot. I drank to get drunk, and I drank to forget.

At the age of 40 I returned some bad bloods that indicated I had a fatty liver. An ultrasound confirmed this. My GP at the time advised me to stop drinking all together. At the time, this was something I couldn’t fathom. So, I reluctantly signed up with Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) and tried to take it a day at a time. I managed 99 days alcohol free but robbed myself of triple figures when the wine-witch got the better of me. My husband was disappointed and sad for me. I was mortified, ashamed and full of self-loathing.

Over the next four years I tried to give up again and didn’t really succeed. I’d give up for a bit, then convinced myself I could have a night off. Then the cycle of drinking to get drunk would start again. This would be followed by the day after of self-loathing. I guess I was high functioning as I still managed to hold down my stressful corporate job and put on a ‘happy face.’ In truth I was miserable, exhausted and on an endless merry go round of drinking to get drunk, stopping for the week, then starting again. A year ago, having moved home to Adelaide, I saw another GP who told me after more bad blood results, I really needed to give up drinking for good. This was not what I wanted to hear, but I reluctantly started my journey of sobriety again.

 

So, what was different this time?

The support of the HSM community coupled with the help of medication to curb the cravings was game changing. I had tried AA in the past but never quite found the right meeting or my people. I went into it quietly determined, tackling one day at a time and calling on my HSM buddies in times of need. This community celebrated with me every time I reached a new milestone. One day sober, one week sober, one month sober, and then ONE YEAR sober on 21st August this year!!! All the notes of encouragement and the wisdom of this incredible community got me through. My unofficial sponsor Shane (6 yrs sober) has also been instrumental in my success. He made me promise to call if I was ever going to pick up a drink. He also said, ‘make it your one job not to drink.’ Eat what you want, drink any alcohol-free drinks you want, do what you want just don’t drink alcohol. 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Eight months into my sobriety I nearly drank champagne at my friends 40th birthday party at a favourite winery in the Adelaide hills. I was feeling low and demotivated, and all my favourite drinking buddies were going to be there. I thought I could have a ‘day off.’ It was a perfect storm for falling off the wagon. Shane told me I couldn’t go to that party in the headspace I was in. I told him I couldn’t let my dear friend down. So, he flew over from Sydney with a few days’ notice to accompany me to the party. For the first time in my life, I admitted I couldn’t go it alone. He saved my sobriety that day and probably my life. There are no words to describe my gratitude to him.

I don’t think I am special or clever, I just kept trying and trying. And I know for me there is no such thing as one drink. I know for some people alcohol free drinks are triggering, but for me it has helped me replace my love of champagne. I have found reading other peoples ‘quit lit’ stories so helpful. My favourites include ‘Drinking a Love Story’ by Caroline Knapp, ‘Girl walks out of a bar’ by Lisa Smith, ‘My fair Junkie’ by Amy Dresner and my all-time favourite by the fabulous Bryony Gordon’s ‘Glorious Rock Bottom”. Being able to go back and read all my old HSM posts has also been amazing.

I don’t take my sobriety for granted and know it’s ‘one day at a time.’ A dear friend of mine died last Christmas at the age of 56 leaving behind two beautiful children. He battled drink his entire life… he even quit for 10 years but during a stressful divorce picked up ‘just one drink’ at the Canberra Press Club and ended up falling off the wagon. I will always remember this and know you should never take your sobriety for granted. It’s fragile.

I haven’t talked much about my journey to sobriety, I’ve just quietly chosen not to drink each day. However, there is freedom in sharing, so I posted my one-year pic on social media, and I am writing my own book called ‘There’s no such thing as a Latvian Liver – my 30-year career drinking.’ I don’t expect it to be a best seller but it’s cathartic to write. More importantly, I’m calmer, kinder, a better wife, daughter, aunty and friend. I also listen, really listen.

I want to say from the bottom of my heart thank you to this incredible community. I am kinder, I am more content, and I don’t tell white lies to the people I love anymore. I also couldn’t have done it without you, my amazing HSM support team.

Misery and champagne – August 2021
Owning my sobriety – a picture paints a 1000 words..my social media post ‘fessing up’ to my drinking problem.

48 Comments

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  • Bravo. I’ve yet to bite the bullet but your story is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing, and bloody great job!

    By Caroline
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    September 3, 2022
  • What a raw, beautiful account of how you got sober…. thanks for sharing and having the courage to be so open

    By Estelle
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    September 3, 2022
  • Beautiful story!!!

    By Colleen
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    September 3, 2022
  • Congrats on his. Its a bit deal and a tough road. Trying to edge myself in that direction as well. Keep at it

    By Teej
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    September 3, 2022
  • Thank you for sharing your amazing journey.
    You are winning!

    By Lori
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    September 3, 2022
  • Thank you for sharing your journey.
    I’m so happy for you.
    At 65 I’ve made the decision to leave my illustrious (? ) drinking career behind.
    I’m nearly three months in, and I feel like a different person.
    I wish I’d begun years ago, but trust that I’m doing the very best now.
    Blessings.

    By Kirsten Albrecht
    |
    September 3, 2022
    • Better to start at 65 than to never start at all! Good on you. As someone on HSM said to me, drinking robs the joy of tomorrow.

      By kaija
      |
      September 6, 2022
    • I had tears in my eyes reading you raw, honest admission. I applaud you and you are a beautiful, strong, gracious woman. Thankyou for sharing💜

      By Fiona
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      September 11, 2022
  • Congratulations. This was such an inspiring read. I wish you all the best for the journey ahead!

    By John W
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Great story… I had 15 months with AA and then went out for two months… I decided to try again 6 days ago… one day at a time…. maybe I should write about my history…. when my wife of 38 years came dow with dementia, I went out of control. When she passed 38 months ago I really went out…. serious depression … then during a blackout something told me ‘you’ve had enough… I’ve got other plans for you…. ‘
    so about a month ago I went off and now decided to try again 6 days ago….. been doing well until today. But I’m fighting it …. hope this relates to someone in need…..

    By Tom
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    September 3, 2022
    • Oh Tom I am deeply, deeply sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine what you must be going through. Every day you choose not to drink you choose you and a life I am sure your late wife would have wished for you – a happier and more content one. Keep fighting, if it was easy everybody would be doing it.

      By kaija
      |
      September 6, 2022
    • Tom, I am so sorry for your loss. My mother has dementia and I know how hard this would have been for you both. Take one day at a time & every day alcohol free is a better day for your future. Take care of yourself.

      By Tracey
      |
      September 11, 2022
  • “I also listen, really listen” – This is so very true. I’ve learnt more and more that listening and being listening too is one of the best things a can person can do

    By John W
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Such honesty from the heart. Thank you. Your story is 100% relatable to me. I hope to be in your shoes one day and let us know when the book comes out.

    By Rubey
    |
    September 3, 2022
    • Thanks Rubey that really means alot to me. good luck with your journey.

      By kaija
      |
      September 6, 2022
  • This gives me a lot of hope. I am still stuck in the cycle, 20 years in. I fear for my liver (and the rest of my body/life!). I relate so much to this as I’m “functioning” and “successful” as well. Thank you for sharing your story!

    By katie
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • This is beautiful and so well written. You inspire me and you should be proud of yourself as you are saving lives.

    xx

    By Victoria Hart
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • You are an amazing strong woman.

    I got sober in Adelaide 25 years ago. I am grateful every day that I kept chugging along day at a time. Love my sobriety life. Keep going it is a wonderful journey and put yourself and sobriety first.

    Thank you for sharing and reminding me of my first year.
    Bless you
    Kriss xxxxx

    By Kriss
    |
    September 3, 2022
    • Thank you so much for your comment. It is very special to me – can I assume you are a fellow Latvian? With a mystical Latvian liver?! My brother is also a Kriss. Very special people you Kriss’s

      By kaija
      |
      September 6, 2022
  • God this is my story too. Thankyou for sharing. You’ve inspired me to try again tomorrow.

    By Aaron
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Congratulations and I know you will continue to do great things. One year is an amazing achievement. So glad you have done this for you, as well as for your husband and family.

    By Sally
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Congratulations
    I love reading its a reminder why I choice not to drink alcohol
    Treat yourself to a retreat

    By Trudie
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Thanks for sharing this Kaija. And for the list of quit lit books too. Achieving a year of sobriety is incredible and hard – well done! I’m hitting a year alcohol free in October after a previous attempt got me to a little over 300 days when I decided that I could moderate – which of course was a ridiculous plan that absolutely did not work 🙂 This is a truly inspiring story x

    By Allyson
    |
    September 3, 2022
    • Hello Allyson, I too thought I could moderate my drinking. How wrong I was. I either abstain completely or drink way in excess. It would be nice to hear more from you, if you care to keep in touch and share experiences. I live in Scotland gaelwalker@hotmail.co.uk
      Kindest Regards, Gael

      By Gael Walker
      |
      September 3, 2022
    • Oh I so understand..I tried to kid myself with the myth of moderation many times over. Sadly for me with my addictive personality there is no such thing. We all just need to find our own paths. Good luck. As my sober friend shane said if it was easy everybody would be doing it!

      By kaija
      |
      September 6, 2022
  • Wow 😳 HUGE Congratulations Kaija 😍 your story is very inspiring 🥰 I could relate to alot of your issues. This has given me the determination to live a sober life for the rest of my life. Thankyou for sharing ❤️

    By Cheryl
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • There’s so much much to relate to in your story. I’m hoping to end my “drinking career” after 20 years and reading this has encouraged me to stay on track and prepare myself for the inevitable drinking opportunities (expectations) that will be ahead of me. Thank you, thank you, thank you

    By Dan
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Inspirational! I loved your
    “ I just kept trying and trying”
    That’s how to do it!
    (and asking for help sometimes)
    ❤️❤️❤️

    By Martha
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • WELL DONE YOU!!

    By Joanne comerford
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Thank you…I am struggling…your words have helped.

    By Madelyn
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Oh such an amazing story. Thank you. I too have to wear a happy face for my family, friends and work – but I feel sad and unworthy because of my addiction to alcohol. I am starting to read the stories of others and hope I have the inner strength, motivation and dedication to beat this demon.

    By Jennifer
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Such an inspirational honest post, I can see some of my own issues in your story..

    By Matt
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • WOW thanks for sharing. This sounds like me. I can relate to your story and I am so committed to getting to the one year mark too. I am one month in this time round. Sober all lockdowns despite being misplaced Aussie in the UK. desperate to come home. To see my family. I hope that will be soon and I know it will be triggering for me. Yes three generations in my family and having lost most of my dads side to alcohol related disease as well. Well done sista, you have inspired me to keep going. How did HSM support you. Via the daybreak app? or something else.

    By Trish
    |
    September 3, 2022
    • Thanks for your comment. Yes I used the HSM app daybreak and found it amazing. The most supportive and wise community of people you could wish for. It’s not easy – if it was easy everybody would be doing it but so worth it. I talked to my GP and also went on a medication that helped for the cravings. This was a game changer. I did try some AA meetings but I never found ‘my trive’ I know many find them amazing so could also be worth a try. Good luck and thank you for your kind words.

      By Kaija
      |
      September 11, 2022
  • Well done! Huge achievement!!!
    I had a year off alcohol in my early 40’s … and now I am 50 … I’m needing another lengthy break from alcohol again. The self-loathing is absolutely horrible … doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity! And yet I continue to do it. But when I toppled over with my young 26 year old niece at her bridal shower recently … and received a firm ‘telling off’ from my husband for the first time in my 30 year odd ‘drinking career,’ I am slowly contemplating my relationship with alcohol again. I just can’t stop thinking how hated I would have been if something terrible had happened to her during her fall on that occasion … just before her wedding.
    I know what I need to do … but I am still fighting it.
    I’ve tried lower percentage alcohol … and this is what I took to the bridal shower to avoid the champagne. But, of course, as soon as the champagne was handed to me I convinced myself that I could have a couple before switching to my lower percentage white wine. I remember feeling proud of myself that I’d made the switch … but soon ditched the wine for more champagne!
    It’s taken me an extremely long time to realise / believe that no one AT ALL likes me when I am an annoying immature drunk! Strangely, I find that hard to understand … but that’s the devil that alcohol is! We all think we are the best thing since slice bread when we are tipsy or toppling!!!
    Writing this has helped to confirm that at least I will purchase the xxxx … but I do need all the encouragement in the world to seriously give alcohol up … at least for another year!!!

    By Lisa
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • You’re so inspirational
    Thanks for sharing your empowering story

    By KE
    |
    September 3, 2022
  • Thanks for your story. These stories are so important to us who have done a time alcohol free then want to have a drink and think it won’t creep up. It’s hard to keep in mind all the good things about not drinking sometimes. So these stories really help.

    By Lisa Deramond
    |
    September 4, 2022
  • Congratulations great story very motivating as I progress along the journey of sobriety 🙏

    By Lyn
    |
    September 4, 2022
  • Great going! Wishing you the best now and in all the days to come.

    By Clyde from Florida
    |
    September 4, 2022
  • Thank you so much for sharing your story, I can relate to so much of what you have written here and it’s helped cement the knowing that I need help to take action (i’m in the early stages of accepting my problem). Well done to you and thank you again.

    By Jenna
    |
    September 5, 2022
  • Brilliant achievement – well done you.

    I am only on my fourth week after 48 years!

    Your story is so encouraging – thanks.

    By John from Dublin
    |
    September 5, 2022
  • Congratulations you are such a strong, vibrant, smart beautiful woman. I am so proud of you and thank you for being brave yet again and sharing your story with us ❤️❤️

    By Kathy
    |
    September 8, 2022
  • Oh MY GOSH… I am Latvian and you’re right … there is not such thing as a Latvian liver ! Unfortunately my mom died from alcohol … liver cancer 🙁 when she was 48! I’m 48 this year. I love to drink .. drink to celebrate .. drink to self medicate … drink to numb drink drink drink . So I have been praying for help I need support … it’s not that I’m just like my mom but similar … and I don’t want to die! Your story is inspiring and I thank you so very much for being brave enough to just be honest..! Please email me if you ever have time …
    From one Latvian to another. If this isn’t a sign I don’t know what is. ❤️

    By Jessica
    |
    September 11, 2022
  • Congratulations! I’m on the same journey, AF 75 days now. I had a moment today about hating I can’t remember so many years of my life, but moving forward I will cherish my new sober lifestyle and enjoy family and friends.

    By Teresa
    |
    September 11, 2022
  • Congratulations Kaija, for meeting the challenge head on and being brave enough to share your inspirational story.

    By Sylvia
    |
    September 11, 2022
  • Work bestie I am so incredibly proud of you. I vividly remember seeing your struggles and so many blocked talks about them. Sending you my biggest hugs and love 💕

    Bella xx

    By Bella
    |
    September 11, 2022
  • You are inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story. I couldn’t be more proud of you and the fact You are a happier healthier version of my dear friend, makes me happy!! Love you to pieces!

    By Tracy
    |
    September 11, 2022
  • Congratulations. However it works for you. For me it is the Steps and Higher Power. I must say however we reach a free, joyous life is a win. 🤗

    By Nellie
    |
    September 20, 2022
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