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.
I 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.