Cassandra Gaisford is a self-empowerment author, storyteller, and novelist based in New Zealand. She is also a holistic energy psychologist and an award-winning artist. She has an intense passion for passion – an outlet her various roles provide. She believes in magic and the power of joy, love, and creativity to transform peoples’ lives.
www.cassandragaisford.com On this website you’ll find resources she has created to uplift, encourage and inspire.
Giving up alcohol is a heroic journey—it’s not easy and it’s not a quick-fix, but inevitably there is a happy ending and you are rewarded with a life more beautiful. The journey to sobriety very often takes extreme courage, tenacity, and resilience in the face of obstacles, setbacks and, occasionally, defeat.
Alcohol addiction remains a hidden and stigmatic problem marked by denial and fear. There are millions suffering alone, afraid to ask the question, ‘am I drinking too much?’ Reading and hearing about others who felt similarly and share their stories of triumphing over addiction is inspirational and transformational. I know this personally and professionally.
I thank Justin Raj for being willing to share his hero’s journey (I use this term in a gender-neutral way). The word “hero” comes from a Greek root that means to protect and serve. The hero is connected with self-sacrifice. He or she is the person who transcends the ego and incorporates all the separate parts of themselves to become a true Self.
I asked Justin that as he responded to the questions he may like to recall the details of his journey from alcohol to sobriety as though his journey was a movie, recalling all the aspects that had the greatest impact and both his decision and his success in controlling alcohol. I have structured the questions I asked Justin by drawing on Christopher Vogler’s Story Structure.
“The reader is usually invited to identify with the hero”, says Vogler. “You admire the hero’s qualities and want to be like him or her, but the hero also has flaws. Weaknesses, quirks, and vices make a hero more appealing”
I honor Justin for not sanctioning his responses. He has been brutally honest, shared from his heart, and spoken the truth with heartfelt desire that those who read his story may be emboldened and inspired to join him in joyful sobriety.
Cassandra: You recently gave up alcohol. What was your life like when you were drinking? What, if any problems, or issues did you face?
Justin: I started drinking at the age of 18, I still remember clearly the day I experimented with alcohol.
It was during a Christmas party at my home. I took some brandy from the bottle from which my dad was drinking. I felt dizzy after two drinks and I puked. Next day I woke up with head ache and I was not well for two days.
During my days of higher studies, I started drinking with friends and it became a norm to celebrate with drinks.
It was when I started my own business in 2011 that I realized that my drinking was effecting my business and life. In 2014 my business failed terribly.
After that, I joined Alcohol Anonymous (AA) group in my hometown. I thought AA can help me quit drinking.
But, AA here is filled with spirituality, prayers, boring lectures and public confessions. So, I quit the group after two months and continued with drinking.
While I was drinking, I was failing at any endeavor I undertook. Only thing I think about was to get drunk and have fun.
Even at a point in life, I even thought of making money just to have drinks. I was penalized for drunken driving several times, ended up in number of illicit sexual relationships and also involved in fistfights with strangers and friends in bar.
Cassandra: What was the catalyst or call for change?
Justin: The catalyst or call of change happened in the night of 24th February 2018. I met with a road accident in which I hit an elderly pedestrian with my motorbike. My left forearm was broken and dislocated. I had to undergo a surgery. My family and friends came to know that I was drunk when I met with the accident.
Even after the accident and surgery, I continued drinking regularly at the nearby bar with my broken hand resting in arm-sling. After observing this addictive behavior of mine, my family took my drinking seriously.
One of my cousins who is a psychiatrist counselor recommended me to attend a counseling session with a friend of hers. It is after the counseling session that I decided to quit
Cassandra: Was there ever a point when you knew you needn’t to stop drinking but refused ‘the call’ or had second thoughts about giving up? What obstacles did you face in order to stay firm?
Justin: Yes, whenever I decide to quit alcohol, I had second thoughts that why should I?
Alcohol is the only answer I got to escape from my boredom, to have fun and pass my free time. I didn’t know anything other than drinking alcohol to engage myself with. To me, peer pressure was less. I don’t have any friends who compelled me to drink. I cant blame anyone other than myself.
Cassandra: What sources of help did you receive to continue on the path to sobriety? i.e. Did anyone appear to help you? A mentor, friend, adviser, support group etc.
Justin: Counseling sessions were great. It was those three days of counseling, that changed my attitude towards drinking. Then, the books the counselor recommended. One of the books was yours – Your Beautiful Mind.
Your book happened to be the first book in my life I read on alcoholism. It was a well written, informative and inspiring book.
I spent three weeks after the counseling sessions to read books on alcoholism. Reading helped me a lot. Knowledge is real power. My family and friends also provided great support. Two of my close friends have quit alcohol inspired from my sobriety. I’m really happy and proud about that. At least I could make changes to the life of others.
Cassandra: At what point did you truly commit to giving up drinking and follow with action? Describe the point when you crossed the threshold.
Justin: It was the road accident, counseling sessions, reading books on alcoholism and knowing more about the menace of alcohol, I strongly decided to quit alcohol for life.
Cassandra: Once you gave up drinking did you face, or were you confronted with, any difficult challenges (ranging from minor struggles to setbacks) that threatened your resolve and may have defeated a lesser person. What tests did you face, what allies did you meet?
Justin: Only enemy I have to face was myself. As I said earlier, none of my friends compelled me to drink ever in my life. It was my decision to start drinking and it is the addictive nature of alcohol which kept me hooked. Today, I’m getting great support from my family and friends. The happiness my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends experience after I embraced sobriety is priceless.
It has been two months I have been sober and I will remain so for the rest of my life.
Cassandra: Did you emerge wiser from these trials? In what way did these tests help you prepare for the ultimate test—unwavering sobriety. Looking back now, what advice or warning would you give to others about what could go wrong, and possibly derail their decision to give up drinking?
Justin: Our life is a great teacher. Out of my drunkenness and reckless riding, I hit an innocent, elderly pedestrian with my motorbike. He was 73 years old. Still today, I can’t recollect how I hit him or what happened that night. If that elderly person was dead, I would have ended up in jail. To me, thinking about that incident is still scary.
Alcohol is a legally available addictive substance. People cant stop drinking because they are hooked by its addictive nature and nothing else. People think drinking is fun. Even I thought so till few months ago. But the truth is, I still cant remember the ‘good times’ I had, while I was drinking.
It is saddening that our society and media is all praise for drinking and smoking just trapping youngsters into the mindset that drinking and smoking is essential for a fun-filled life.
Life is more beautiful if you take away alcohol from it. We can have everlasting, memorable fun and experiences without the influence of alcohol. My advice is: don’t try alcohol if you haven’t tried it and quit it if you are using it.
Cassandra: What were your deepest fears during this time? Some people describe this as a battle with “the dark villain” – an inner battle whereby they faced and overcame their own demon and inner fears. Was this your experience? In what way?
Justin: The dark villain is myself. I was engaged in an inner battle with my own demon. If we need to change our life, we have to take that decision by ourselves, isn’t?
Even before going to counseling I have determined with half heart that I have to quit drinking. My family has a background of alcohol and drug abuse. My father died from alcoholism related disease, my maternal grandfather died due to heavy drinking. My paternal grandfather was also a heavy drinker. Few of my uncles, cousins and family friends are also suffering from alcoholism.
I started experiencing alcoholic depression for past few years that I couldn’t even recognize. It is only after counseling, I realized that I was suffering from depression not from hangover. I have great many reasons to quit alcohol not a single reason to continue with it.
Cassandra: Describe/recount the time you truly knew you had succeeded in defeating the enemy of alcohol, when you transformed into a new state of being – where fears were vanquished and the new you was born.
Justin: When you find no reason to drink alcohol, you will quit, isn’t it? What I thought was fun wasn’t fun anymore. When I get bored I have better things to do today other than drinking alcohol.
Why should I drink and invite trouble as well as a deep hole in my purse, if I can do productive, enjoyable things like reading, writing, working out and talking with friends which add value to my life and myself. We are basically our thoughts. When we change our thoughts, ultimately we change ourselves.
Cassandra: What rewards did you reap – external (knowledge, a promotion, career success, improved relationships, better health etc.) and/or as inner reward (the personal growth that is achieved, fulfillment, freedom, self-respect etc.)
Justin: Even after two months of alcohol-free life, I can really feel the changes in myself and things I do.
First and foremost, my financial situation has improved. I spent too much money on this destructive habit of mine. I started doing things I love with more vigor and passion. I’m getting an everlasting, joyful and positive high from it. Alcohol disconnected me from my life, business, passions and myself. Today, I feel that connection is back. It is priceless.
Cassandra: Having gained the rewards, and with nothing left to prove, how was your early experience on sobriety?
Justin: Past 4 years, I was struggling with my drinking. I tried to quit in all ways I can but in vain. I couldn’t stop drinking even for a week. I never read any books like yours those days.
Today, I feel that if I would have read the books I read today or attended a good counseling session, I would have got the power to quit alcohol for life years ago. And also I could have avoided all the troubles I had to overcome in those alcohol filled days.
Cassandra: Was there ever a point where you felt lulled into a false sense of security, but in reality, where was one last challenge you had to face? Perhaps the desire for alcohol was not completely vanquished or perhaps something plunged you into a temptation to drink—just when you thought it was safe to breathe easy again.
Justin: It was my lack of knowledge and the addictive nature of alcohol. You know, I quit sugar two years ago when I learnt the bad effects of it on my physical and mental health. I was too much addicted to sugar from my childhood and when I learnt that it is doing me bad, I quit.
Why I couldn’t do it to alcohol, even though, I know it is bad for health, mind and my purse?
Only reason is alcohol is addictive.
It is normal that we defend our alcohol or drug addiction by stating ‘today is Saturday’ ‘my friends are here so we are going to party hard’, ‘i can stop it anytime’ and many more.
These defensive mentality last only till the day we realize the habit we are nurturing is gradually destructing our mind, body, finances and relationship with our loved ones. I have met with that stage of self-realization and freed myself from a self imposed prison of my addictive behavior.
Do you think, I want to go back to the prison again? I don’t think so.
Cassandra: Describe the moment when you felt truly reborn into a new and beautiful form, with your beautiful mind – able to control the desire, temptation or compulsion to drink alcohol. In what way have you been rewarded for your courageous and determined journey?
Justin: I can give full credit to the psychiatrist counselor who have counseled me. He has a decade long experience in dealing with alcohol and drug addicts. His level of knowledge fascinated me. He made me realize that drinking alcohol which I thought is a joyful fun is in fact an illusion.
The counseling sessions usually last for three days. By second day itself I learnt that what I’m doing is wrong and decided to quit alcohol for life. Last day of the session was just a friendly talk and he recommended few books to read including your book.
Today, I’m not thinking the way I used to be. I have changed and I can feel that transformation. I got myself back. My business improved, my passions started blooming and my financial condition improved. Today, I started welcoming mornings without hangovers and regrets. It feels great!