A wellness coach and mother-of-two whose extreme alcohol addiction nearly killed her has revealed how she learned to socialise without booze in her life.
Justine Whitchurch, 47, from the Gold Coast, quit alcohol seven years ago when she saw what it was doing to both her own life and that of her children.
Justine said one of the biggest challenges of living a healthier lifestyle was finding a social circle that fit in with her recovery.
‘For most of the population, the thought of entering the social arena alcohol-free is not a concept they would ever consider,’ Justine told FEMAIL.
‘After all, Australia is a drinking nation and we are the largest population (per capita) of social drinkers in the world. It has become an integrated part of our culture and a very acceptable one at that.’
Justine said that it can be hard to tell people that you’re ‘not drinking today’ or even that you’re ‘not drinking ever again’, but once you do it you will never regret it.
‘Alcohol is the only drug you have to justify why you are NOT taking it,’ she said.
Justine quit alcohol when she was 40 years old after she spent most of her thirties ‘medicated from alcohol 24/7’.
At her worst, in the last six months before she quit, the 47-year-old’s drinking would see her consume at least three bottles of wine a day ‘with some vodka shots occasionally thrown in if she wanted to go “undetected”.
‘The single turning point was my nine-year-old daughter looking at me with tears in her eyes and saying, “Mum I am scared you are not going to get better”,’ Justine said.
‘I dropped 14kg in six months, my liver reading was around 2500 (it should have been 42), my triglycerides were so high I was a major heart attack risk, my platelet count was so low I had bruises from head to toe and my hair was falling out.
‘It got to the point where my dad saw me for the first time in months and he said that if he had not known it was me he would not have recognised his own daughter.’
Doctors also told Justine that she had just months to live if she continued the way she was going.
Justine explained that when she first quit, it was the first few months that were the ‘hardest’.
‘The initial phase of recovery is a lot about self-protection,’ she explained.
‘You can’t expect to be exposed to social situations with a nil effect.’
If you are looking to give up, the 47-year-old recommends that you try and distract yourself as often as possible.
‘Look to do things that will benefit your health, like exercise, good nutrition and sleep, as well as re-connecting with the things that you used to love,’ she said.
Once you have got over the initial first stage, the mum-of-two explained you still need to be careful with what you do and pick your social occasions wisely:
‘When you do start to socialise again, choose a time of the day that you know you are least likely to be enticed,’ she said.
‘For me, that was always breakfast or brunch. That time of the day, you are less likely to be faced with the opportunity to drink. And just remember, you don’t need to do a whole heap of explaining.’
The 47-year-old also swore by engaging in social events that ‘integrated’ with health and fitness, like a long walk around a national park, beach or botanic gardens.
‘Encourage and influence your friends by leading the way,’ Justine said.
Of course, there are certain occasions when you will feel as though you have to go to a bar or pub, whether it’s a birthday celebration, an engagement or a party.
‘If you are out in social situations and you still feel uncomfortable without something in your hand, grab a wine glass and fill it with soda and lime,’ Justine said.
‘Better still, if the influx of questions as to why you’re not drinking are getting too much to bear, then pour some apple juice into your soda so it looks as if you’re chugging away on a Chardonnay. No one will know the difference.’
Finally, Justine said that one of the best ways she has handled giving up alcohol while still managing to have a social life is by being honest with those closest to her:
‘When I am asked “Why are you not having a drink?” or my favourite, “Can’t you just have one?”, I am now confident enough to say “Actually, no. I can’t just have one. Because one for me turns into two, which turns into three and ultimately becomes all-consuming and completely ruins my life. Is that reason enough for you?”
‘Your reasons are your reasons,’ Justine said. ‘Own them.’
Part of what makes Justine’s story so incredible is she not only clawed her way back from the brink of being desperately unwell, but her health overhaul has seen her become a fitness model.
At 40 and newly sober, she revealed she made it her mission to shed 17kg of unwanted weight.
While she said exercising was something she resisted at first because she felt so bad about her ability at the gym, a session with a personal trainer helped change everything.
‘He was very encouraging but also extremely black and white [in his thinking]. He told me how it is and if anything, taught me how to apply the “just fight” mentality,’ she said.
‘I trained with him at least three times per week for about two years. I still attest to this day that him imparting his passion for training on to me was single-handedly the biggest part of my recovery.’
Her dedication meant she would not only enter her first bikini modelling competition at 41, but she would also go on to compete three times.
And today Justine teaches others through her work as a fitness coach that the ‘impossible is always possible’.
‘I am healthy, fit, happy and present and that kind of s*** you can’t find in a bottle,’ she posted on her Instagram page.
Justine is the author of an upcoming book, Sobriety Delivered Everything Alcohol Promised, which will be released later in the year.