Lisa’s Story

March 27, 2023

I was brought up in a very lovely, very middle-class family and my parents are still happily together.  I was afforded a great education, went to a private school and was given many amazing opportunities. But with the benefit of hindsight, I see that I wasn’t ever truly comfortable in my own skin. I was always striving to be someone I wasn’t. The character I relate most to is Sandra Dee from Grease. Outwardly I was Sandra Dee, with all her rules and restrictions, but inside, I was striving to be Sandy – with her black tights, black leather jacket, red lips, and cigarette. But that wasn’t me, not really! 

I started drinking when I was about 17, reasonably late in the scheme of things. But as soon as I had that first drink, all the ‘Lisa rules’ just relaxed, and I finally felt comfortable.  

What I know now is that my self-imposed rules were exhausting. I wanted to be the girl at the party who did funny things like jumping into the pool fully clothed. “Sober Lisa” would never do such a thing, but when I had a few drinks I could turn off the rules and restrictions in my head, and be that girl. Party Lisa was fun, but she didn’t have much self-love, self-belief or self-worth…actually, I had none.

Drinking helped me become the fun one, and this carried me into my forties. I was the girl that people wanted at their party. My drinking was still under control at that stage and had not progressed to addiction levels. I could have two drinks at lunch and not continue when I got home. However, things were changing in my world. Around that time, my husband landed a high profile CEO job and my children were maturing and living their own lives. They left school, started university and didn’t need me as much anymore. In no way do I blame my husband’s role nor my children’s maturity for my demise, because if I’d had self-belief, self-love and self-worth I could have handled any and all of these situations. It wouldn’t have mattered if my husband became Prime Minister if my self-esteem was healthy and real. What happened next came down to me not being comfortable in my own skin.

I have always loved health and fitness, and I owned a fitness studio for 20 years where I trained women to love their bodies, feel good and live incredible lives. I was, and I still am, incredibly passionate about helping women to amplify their strength, and to feel good in their own skin, and while I was good at that role, I needed a break. And so after 20 years, I closed the studio and decided to commit to being ‘Todd’s wife’ and accompany him in his travels for work. 

That was probably the beginning of my demise. I lost my way because I lost my purpose, and this further diminished my self-worth. My drinking started to escalate exponentially. I can’t put my finger on exactly when I crossed the ‘little red line’ into addiction, but I know this was the time I began hiding my drinking because I knew I was consuming more than everyone else around me. I was no longer drinking for taste, I was drinking for confidence.  There is a great expression that says “alcohol is magic then medicine then madness” and I had certainly gone from magic to madness.

When I attended events with Todd and lots of very high profile people, my head would tell me “you’re pathetic, you’ve got no value to add to the night, you are worthless”.  I would have a few glasses of wine for courage before I left the house, and eventually, as my alcoholism progressed, I needed more and more and more just to get out the door. 

This all happened within a period of about 18 months. I was drinking two bottles a day and I was hiding it – full of guilt, shame and remorse. I would hide bottles in punching bags in my home gym, under beds, anywhere I could find, because I knew I had to have it nearby. I would train clients and drink before they arrived, terrified that they would realise I was a pathetic trainer too!

My mask was so heavy. On the outside, I was confident and fun, a great fixer and problem solver.  But behind that mask, I was at breaking point. I believed people would soon realise I was a pathetic impostor. I hated myself and believed I didn’t deserve to be on this earth.

The two personality traits I most dislike are selfishness and dishonesty, and at that time, I would look in the mirror and the person staring back at me was extremely selfish and a massive liar. This gave me two more reasons to despise myself. Every morning I would promise myself I wouldn’t drink that day, and I meant it with every ounce of my being. But by midday, when the kids had gone and my husband was at work, I’d be in my car driving to a bottle shop, thinking “How the hell did this happen? How am I even in this car?” I’d load up and come home and I’d just drink, and drink, and drink.

This behaviour continued until my family gave me an ultimatum – “if you drink again, we’ll leave”.  I knew they were serious so I really tried to curb my drinking.  But my addiction was now too far progressed to stop and for the last time, they came home and I was passed out on the floor. I made another excuse about how I was tired from my early starts or I’d try to find any other reason other than the truth – that I was drunk.

When they asked me this final time, if I had been drinking, once again I offered a resounding “NO”.  And with that, they packed up and left. When my husband and I discuss this day now, he tells me it was the most difficult decision he ever had to make. He had received professional advice to set a boundary and I’d crossed it. He tells me that when he walked out the door that day, he wondered if he’d ever see me alive again. And he cried as he left his home.

After they left, my initial reaction was relief. I didn’t have any more hurdles. I could drink all I wanted now without hiding the evidence. I had my beautiful home, my car, all these trappings. And I thought “Good, that’s all I need”. So, I cancelled all my clients and I drank, and drank, and drank.

I would drink copious amounts of wine and then just fall asleep on the floorboards in my lounge room. I didn’t sleep in my bed because I believed I didn’t deserve a bed. I felt so pathetic, and so unworthy. This continued for about three weeks. People told me afterwards they popped in to see me, but I don’t remember. I didn’t shower, didn’t dress or exercise. I didn’t leave the house except to buy wine so I could drink myself into a stupor every day. And my world got smaller and smaller and smaller.

I thought I was happy, until one day, I don’t know why, I realised I couldn’t continue like this. I kept having the vision of the hurt I was imposing on everyone – I could see it in their eyes. So I decided it was time for me to leave this earth, to “check out”, but I would have one more big drinking sesh first.

I’m a ‘relaxed Catholic’. I go to church at Christmas and Easter, but that’s about the extent of it. But that day, after passing out and waking up on the floor, I looked up at the ceiling and I said, ‘Alright God, I can’t do this anymore. I need some help’.

I still don’t know why I did that.  But as I know that in response to my pleading, I saw a message, on my ceiling that said ‘Get to a 12 Step Meeting’.  

My initial thought was, “No way. I’m way too good to sit on plastic chairs and drink instant coffee with park bench drunks”.  The horrific egotism and arrogance of this statement mortifies me now.  My knowledge of 12 Step Meetings was based solely on what I’d seen on TV. But I couldn’t think of a better option so I decided to try it, just once, for my family, not for me! I also planned on the way home, after the meeting, to drive off a cliff or drive into a truck – I was done! I called my family and told them I was going to a meeting. I didn’t tell him what I was planning to do afterwards, but I wanted them to know that I had tried.

I remember walking into my first meeting feeling so broken. I sat next to a woman, impeccably dressed in designer clothes, with bright clean, skin and she looked happy.  I remember thinking I was in the wrong place. I was amazed that she looked so beautiful, and so happy to be there. I still call her “My Angel” to this day. She told me she could see in my eyes what I was planning to do on my way home, because she’d been there herself.

She took me for a coffee afterwards, and said “you have a disease – you’re an alcoholic”. And when I replied, “I don’t want to be” she told me that we’ve got no choice. It is what it is. Then she suggested I go home, and call South Pacific Private. She’d just come out of treatment there herself.

Something resonated that day when she said this disease isn’t a choice, but recovery is. That word ‘disease’ also helped me – maybe I wasn’t a pathetic loser. Maybe it wasn’t my fault. It was the first time someone had told me that alcoholism is a disease.

So I drove home, called South Pacific Private and got an assessment. I rang my family told them, but they were sceptical about whether or not I’d actually commit. 

I had my last drink at 2am on the 29th of June 2018 and committed to give the SPP program all of my attention and effort. I remember walking into South Pacific Private still feeling broken but with the thought, ‘OK, I’m going to give this a go’.

I don’t know what changed for me that day, but I started to listen, really listen for the first time. I gave everything 110% of my effort. If there was a job to do, I volunteered. If an activity was optional, I was first in line. It was very important to me that I did anything and everything I could to help others.  The word “service” hadn’t yet been introduced to me, but the concept was intrinsic. I thought if there’s a chance this will work, then I have to give it a go. I embraced every single moment of it. And I haven’t had a drink since that day, nearly five years ago. I’m so incredibly grateful.

I’ve sent many people to South Pacific Private since then, and I always suggest it’s not a quick fix strategy –  you have to want sobriety. There’s no miracle cure. I’ve returned to training clients now, and interestingly, it’s the same philosophy. I can present my clients with a programme and tell them how they can change their body composition, strength and fitness, but they have to want it. It’s funny how the principles are identical!

In the early days of my sobriety, my sponsor asked what was most important to me. When I answered, “my family”, she said sobriety had to be first in my life – the most important part of my life. When I asked her why, she explained “you won’t have a family if you’re not sober”.  In fact, I don’t have anything if I’m not sober. I know now that if I put my family first, I’ll lose them, so sobriety is number one in my life, now and forever. And everything else then slots beautifully into place.

Every day I put sobriety first in my life, and it’s not a chore. I get up every morning and I do my readings. I reach out to people. I exercise and I tell my story to anyone who wants to hear it. I’ve discussed it on 60 Minutes, I’ve told it to Body + Soul magazine and I visit different rehab centres regularly sharing my sober journey and what works authentically for me.  My passion is to do my part to decrease the alcoholic stigma because that stigma certainly stopped me reaching out initially.

Today, I’m a sober 53 year old and I’m stronger, fitter and leaner than ever – my mantra is happy, healthy and hot! That’s fabulously fantastic. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t have sad days, or down times. Of course I have days where I say, “this disease sucks”. But I now have the tools I need to ensure I don’t stay stuck in this toxicity because, sobriety is amazing.

I’ve even changed my wording – it’s not that I can’t drink.  Of course I can drink, at any time I can pick up a drink but if I use these words I disempower myself.  Instead I say “I choose not to drink” and then I am empowered to live a sensationally sober life, because it’s my choice and I choose sobriety every day.

I used to hear people say “I am a very grateful alcoholic” and I was perplexed.  Being an alcoholic was something I wanted nothing to do with but now I sincerely say I too am a grateful alcoholic!  What a change!! In fact, I now go further and I never demonise alcohol.  If someone can have a drink, that’s great for them.  I choose not to because I know what the consequences are FOR ME. 

I passionately share my story and advocate that while addiction is not a choice, recovery is, and I choose it every single day, one day at a time. I have a sober life that is beyond my wildest dreams – I’m a better daughter, sister, wife, mother and person. 

I am forever grateful to SPP for initiating my sober journey.

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