Alcoholic 'looks better in 40s than 20s' after ditching 3 bottles of wine a day habit
A woman whose crippling addiction to alcohol nearly killed her has revealed how she finally managed to turn her life around.
Justine Whitchurch, from Gold Coast, Australia, quit alcohol nine years ago after being hospitalised with a chronic addiction that saw her hiding booze in shampoo bottles in the shower.
While she's now thriving as a personal trainer, author and mum of two, in the months leading up to her decision to quit, she would consume three bottles of wine a day with vodka shots thrown in if she wanted to go “undetected”.
Now, she speaks to those caught in the clutches of poor mental and physical health, alcoholism and addiction.
“The amount I drank was sporadic and most certainly towards the end of my ‘drinking career’ as I affectionately refer to it, it was at least two to three bottles of wine every day followed by the vodka chasers, particularly when I wanted to go undetected,” she told Daily Star.
“On the odd occasion, I even swigged on mouthwash when I was desperate for something to take the edge off.
“I always had the bottle on the table for all to see and then a couple strategically placed throughout the house for the extra top-ups where required.”
Since Justine has given up alcohol for good, she looks better in her 40s than she did in her 20s – but it took a battle with her inner demons to get here.
During the height of the disease, she was a skeleton at 7.4 stone and was barely able to hold herself upright.
She had her first drink at a party when she was 15. At the time she thought it was just your typical rebellious teenage decision, little did she know, it would change her life forever.
After her first few drinks, Justine noticed the alcohol's ability to reduce her inhibitions and allow her to be less self-conscious.
The 49-year-old learnt fairly early on that she could medicate any anxiety she was feeling with a drink.
“Albeit it something that I would not acknowledge until at least another decade, there was one incident where I believe the way I drank changed,” she explained.
“I had been on and off with a boyfriend who I was madly in love with and had a difficult time accepting the split.
“I walked to the fridge, grabbed a bottle of beer and took it back to bed with me and drank it as I sobbed myself to sleep.
“That feeling of numbness and calm was something that I would later become accustomed to dealing with anything that made me feel uncomfortable."
After this, alcohol quickly became a tool for her to manage the white noise, constant anxiety and uncertainty of life.
While Justine was in social settings she would drink a moderate amount, it was once she was behind closed doors her drinking would really ramp up.
She continued: “I felt my intake increase during a rather tumultuous separation from my first husband and subsequent shared care arrangements of small children and significant financial pressure.
“I suffered a complete loss of self during that relationship and my sense of self-worth was indicative of the little I cared about what I was doing to myself.
“Emotionally I became stunted and I became unravelled at the simplest of challenges. Physically I had become fully dependent and my body was beginning to shut down.
“My liver was showing signs of cirrhosis, platelets dangerously low, elevated triglycerides levels, my hair was falling out and at the latter part of my addiction I essentially replaced food with alcohol.”
Justine believes her alcoholism stems from a variety of factors, such as genetic predispositions, learnt and expected social behaviours and medicating her way through undiagnosed mental health conditions.
“I can’t pinpoint one particular issue that created my dependency; however, I do recognise that it crept up on me ever so quietly,” she explained.
“There were periods of time where my intake was somewhat under control but the moment something challenging came along, it was my first port of call.
“My natural coping mechanisms slowly dwindled with each episode of anxiety fuelled consumption and it didn’t take long before my ability to sit in uncomfortable situations had reduced significantly.”
It took hitting rock bottom in 2012 for Justine to want to turn her life around.
She was forcibly moved back to Queensland by her family in hopes it would help her get her life back on track and her parents took care of her two young children while she entered a day program at a local rehab clinic.
Initially, Justine wasn’t a willing participant in her recovery and was simply “ticking the boxes” that her loved ones had created as part of the agreed plan to get her well.
“I had an army of support whilst I was not in a condition to look after myself, let alone my children. They were lucky to be quite shielded from the alcohol and mostly thought I was just ill,” she explained.
“My dad had picked my kids up from school one day and brought them to me whilst doing his observation of whether I was capable of having them overnight.
“I’d been drinking and sleeping most of the day and he told me that he couldn’t leave them with me.
“My daughter, who was nine at the time, looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I’m scared you’re not going to get better.’
“That hit me somewhere on a very deep level and I knew at that point that I had to do whatever it took to be the Mum those children both needed and deserved.”
It was during a session with her psychologist that one simple piece of advice transformed the entire trajectory of Justine’s recovery.
They told her to start exercising and so she did. Little did she know at the time that such a small decision would positively change her life for good.
Justine joined the gym and soon noticed the strong correlation between good physical health and strong mental health.
“I learned resilience and power from pushing myself physically. The structure and routine of a healthy and fit lifestyle are crucial for a recovering addict,” she said.
“There was accountability to myself but also the discipline of exercising regularly was a much-needed distraction, especially early on.
“Every time I conquered a physical challenge, my mental fortitude increased. The feel-good endorphins that I was subsequently creating from movement were also beginning to change my thought patterns positively. I began to like myself again.”
Justine knows better than most people that every day, people are suffering and self-medicating with alcohol.
Her writing and blogging experience is centred around self-medicating, alcohol addiction, how exercise was the key to her turning around her life, mental health maintenance and so much more.
Every day she is conveying her message on social media and through her programs that recovery from alcohol addiction is possible and that 'not drinking' should also be normalised behaviour.
Her life today is a complete contrast to the one she was living whilst drinking.
“We have this false sense of security that it’s alcohol that is keeping us afloat yet it is probably single-handedly the one thing dragging us under,” she said.
“When it comes to recovery, there is not one way to skin a cat. We didn’t all drink the same way so why should we expect to recover the same way?
“I got and kept sober through fitness, health and creating a strong network of people who were just as driven as me to manage their lives alcohol-free.
“But where there is life there is hope. You are never too old and it’s never too late to remove alcohol as an imbedded part of your life.”
She added: “All it takes is one decision to change your future.”
The mother-of-two continues to “make her mess her message” in order to provide an example that life without the bottle is beautiful.