Conversation with Magz Shores
Hey everyone, meet Magz of Sober Courage. Maggie set up a great blog and resource to those in recovery: Sober Courage blog! She describes herself as an idealist, mommyist, bloggerist, coffeeist, stigma fighter and recovery advocate. Her sight seeks to welcome those in recovery to join her on this crazy, amazing journey from liquid courage to sober courage, one day at a time!
Web: Sober Courage
Listen: Sound Cloud
Kitchen Table Conversation
Hi Magz, thank you so much for talking to Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. You’re a real inspiration to me and I just love your message and what your blog achieves.
Liv: Let’s jump straight into your experience of alcoholism! In reflecting upon your journey, you describe struggles with your identity and feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, fitting in and experiencing feelings of loneliness – what did alcohol represent to you at that point in your life? Would you say that you used it to ease those feelings?
Magz: Yes, most definitely! I had a rather turbulent childhood, and my family moved to the US from Poland when I was 12. I struggled to fit in as a “normal” kid and through my young adult years. I was very shy, and I did not make friends easily. I did not start drinking until my mid 20’s, however when I did, I immediately could feel a sense of belonging. After a few drinks I felt confident and comfortable enough to talk to anyone. I thought that drinking made me more fun, easy going and happy. I finally felt like I had many friends and I was well liked. I loved going to parties or out at a bar hopping and just having fun with a bunch of people.
Liv: You describe others perception of you as a ‘social butterfly’ and it was said that the parties you hosted were known as ‘legendary’; but you go on to say that people attending weren’t there to see you – what do you mean by that?
Magz: LOL! Yes, I threw huge parties! And usually I was the last one still up and drinking. I was very proud of the fact that I could out drink many people! The parties got bigger and bigger, and more people were showing up whom I didn’t know nor did I know their friends who invited them on my account. I remember one party where I was walking around and I had no idea who the people in my house were – they weren’t there to see me, there were there for the free booze, and the free party!
Liv: As we hear so many times in stories of alcoholism, the disease progresses. For you, you talk of getting a DUI and subsequently staying in jail, with stints in rehab and periods of hospitalisation and court intervention. You finally realised, after a long blackout, that you were an alcoholic and could not control your drinking. How did that feel?
Magz: It is really hard to explain what that moment felt like and I am not sure I have ever had a feeling like that ever again. It was a huge relief and it gave me a sense of freedom – I felt like the craziness was finally over and I never had to feel this way again! But also it was super scary, I had no clue what my life would look like without my trusty alcohol!
My last drunk came out of nowhere. My life was pretty good and I can’t say that there was anything wrong when I seeming out of the blue decided that I coulad drink safely, because there was nothing wrong. But when I came out of the blackout 3 days later, I finally had the moment of clarity – it was absolutely clear to me that I could not drink safely and that I did not drink because of the circumstances in my life, I drank because I had an addiction to alcohol.
Liv: What really struck me in your description of the early days, was your use of the word ‘naked’; what do you mean by that?
Magz: Well, alcohol did so much for me! It was my social buffer, my security blanket and my best friend. I felt like I could do anything with a few drinks, and I did everything with a few drinks. It was the perfect cover up for all my insecurities and pain and disappointments. So, once I stopped drinking I felt naked – like I just took my cover off and it was just me, the real me, and I had no clue who that was!
Challenges in Sobriety
Liv: You describe some of the challenges of the first year in sobriety, and the difficulties that presented – that you had to learn how to live life – and you said that you reached a point where you wanted to stay sober more than you wanted to drink – what was it that tipped the scales in favour of continued sobriety?
Magz: Yes, I think so. For a long time, it was the other way around! I had many relapses and for a while I could only stay sober for a few months after which I always decided that my life was better when I was drinking except I just needed to learn how to drink responsibly. Of course things always got crazy when I drank, and I was never able to drink responsibly!
After my last drunk, I heard at a meeting, that you should put as much effort into your recovery as you did into drinking, and that alone helped me to turn my thinking around – so since I drank all the time, I decided that I needed to do recovery all the time.
Liv: Moving on to your site. I love how the title encapsulates the real challenge of recovery; that sobriety takes great courage. You say that ‘…It takes a great amount of courage to move forward into the unknown, against the grain, against all the odds, against all the social stigma!’ What do you mean by that?
Magz: Well, drinking is so socially acceptable, and it seems that everyone drinks. So not drinking felt like going against the grain. The odds of getting sober are also very low, only a small percentage of all that attempt to get sober succeed (as I learned while in rehab). And of course there is still a huge stigma associated with alcoholism which hinders many people from ever attempting to find help, because many view addictions as a weakness or a moral failing. So by asking for help they would have to admit that they have a problem.
I, myself, have dealt with lots of my own stigma based on things I heard around me – I did not want to be the loser that they always talked about when referring to alcoholics and addicts. I also did not understand that I had a disease so when I was getting sober I felt like I had to hide more so than when I was drinking – being drunk seemed more socially acceptable than being sober!
Finding Strength in Recovery
Liv: You say that, at the time, you hadn’t realised your journey would be just so challenge and intensely rewarding. You move on to explain that getting sober takes time, determination, perseverance, and a tremendous amount support from others. Just how fundamental was support to your journey then and in your continuing sobriety?
Magz: Support was and continues to be a huge part of my recovery! My AA family carried me when I couldn’t carry myself and loved me when I couldn’t love myself. Every challenge in life they were there every step of the way. Through the good and the bad I had someone that I could always count on.
However, sometime in my third year of sobriety I kind of veered off from my network. I got married, had a new job and a new baby and things just got busy. And I got scared! I got scared that I was losing my connection to recovery and I was worried that with the extra stress and busyness I could possibly pick up a drink! That’s when I reached out to the internet for the extra support that I needed and I also started blogging. This also connected me to many people from all over the world, like you Liv, who were also trudging the recovery road, and I started to build a new recovery network.
Today I continue to be connected to both my AA family and on the internet recovery network through the blog and the social media, as well as the new Sober Courage podcast on the SRN Recovery Network.
Liv: You write of the social stigma and cruel judgements that surround alcoholism; what have you observed in this sense?
Magz: I personally have not had many instances and they were not as direct as people seem to be more reluctant to be rude right in your face. But I see many negative comments on social media – I suppose it is easier to judge when you are behind a computer screen. Nevertheless, it is heartbreaking to read some of the stuff and it doesn’t even matter if the person is or was famous or not. But it seems that the idea that alcoholism is a moral failing or caused by poor upbringing or a personal weakness is still out there. Many people have no idea that alcoholism has been classified as a disease back in 1996 as written in the Journal of American Medical Association (article here) , and the stigma is alive and well still in 2016!
Liv: What action do you take in fighting that stigma? And what action would you encourage others in recovery to take to fight such a great cause [Liv’s bias added]?
Magz: I truly believe that the stigma is still alive because no one knows or sees people in recovery, because we have been hiding ourselves along with the shame and the stigma! I lived in fear of being found out for the first 3 years of my recovery and it felt horrible – why should I feel ashamed of being in recovery? Why should anyone be ashamed of changing their life for the better?
I started opening up about my recovery when I searched out support on the internet. To my own surprise I found that there were many people out there just like me, from all walks of life! The more I opened up the more people I met, the more support I found and the more I could help others. I am also open with my kids, at work and with people all around me.
I do not outwardly encourage recovery one way or the other, I basically try to lead by example rather than promotion. I know and respect the fact that recovering out loud may not be for everyone, but I also see more and more people coming around and realizing the benefits of being open not only for their recovery but also for those who are still struggling.
Liv: I love your quote: ‘Recovery in not an anchor, it’s a pair of wings.’ — what kinds of freedom have you experienced in recovery?
Magz: Well, it’s not my quote, and I am not sure who said it originally. And I really love it too, especially since I used to think that getting sober meant a life full of boredom and dullness! Furthermore, I did not realize what a horrible prison active addiction had me locked up in until I got sober. But once the fog cleared and life started falling into place, I started seeing that the freedom was endless. Realizing that I could do anything I wanted was probably the greatest feeling in the world. All the things that I used to wish I could do I actually can do now – even the simplicity of just showing up for the normal day to day tasks in life is also a huge freedom.
Friday Nights Sober
Liv: Your blog describes some of the elements of support we need help with in recovery, including challenges of early sobriety and surviving Friday Nights sober; what would you say are some of the common challenges we experience in the early days? And what significance does a Friday night hold to those in recovery?
Magz: Friday nights were super hard for me to get through sober. I drank every day but on Friday’s I usually really tied one on because it was the night that most people went out for happy hour and celebrated the end of the work week and beginning of the weekend. So early on I realized that I needed to keep my Friday nights busy to avoid any temptation. I shared about my struggle in meetings and realized that others also had a difficult time on this day and that is how the Friday Night Pep-Talks come about.
The Friday Night Pep-Talks include many topics that I believe were really important for me, such as finding things to do, working through cravings and remembering what it was really like when I was drinking instead of entertaining my imaginary of how drinking was super fun.
Liv: You created a series of Friday Night Pep Talks, with the aim of helping others get through Friday’s sober. If you had to name three of your favorite talks, what are they?
Liv: You talk of the need for supporting those parenting sober; what are some of the unique challenges parents experience in recovery?
Magz: Parenting can be very stressful, and stress can often lead to relapse. This is why I believe that we need to take really good care of yourself, and our sobriety should come first. I know we parents all feel like our family needs us now that we are sober and that we need to focus on them. We often think that we just don’t have the time for meetings and fellowship. But we need to find the time because, I know that at least for me, if I start drinking again, I am no use to anyone and I will lose everything. This is why I still attend meetings on regular basis and I am consistently connected to my recovery network.
Being a Sober Mom
Liv: You have a series of Sober Moms blogs on your site. What are some top tips you would give to parents in recovery, finding juggling two mammoth tasks of parenting AND sobriety really tough and unmanageable?
Magz: Make a plan and schedule time to do what you need to do for recovery, whether it is meetings, online support, meditation, whatever, but do it and do it on regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time either but more of a regular time when you do something that will keep your recovery in the forefront.
I also think that being open with your kids about your recovery is probably the most important, so they understand why you have to spend some time tending to your recovery. Especially if your kids have seen you during your drinking days, this will give them a better sense of security that you will not drink again.
Another huge help is connecting to other parents in recovery. This has huge benefits in the sense that you can air out your frustrations and most likely other parents have experienced the same issue and can offer lots of support. If you have not found any parents in recovery yet, please check out the Sober Courage Pod where I share my trial and tribulations in parenting sober.
Liv: Similarly, if you could speak to the heart of someone still using, what would you say?
Magz: You can do this! Sobriety is attainable and an amazing journey to a life that you have never imagined. I know it is super scary but give it a chance and you will see your life coming together in the most amazing way!
Liv: Lastly, one thing I love to ask of all the people in recovery — what are your top five recovery tools/tips?
Don’t drink no matter what.
Find a good support network.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Be honest especially with yourself.
Try several recovery programs.
Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations.
Thank you Liv for this great opportunity to share my courage, strength and hope. And thank you for all that you do to help inspire and support people in recovery!