Managing Director

Empowered Asian Woman

Recovering Alcoholic

Sonia’s story

I always hated alcohol growing up. Even when I turned 18 and started going to the pub with my friends, I was the one drinking fruit juice or Coca Cola. At the time, people seemed to respect that I could still go out and have a good time without drinking, while everyone else was getting drunk.

But in my early twenties, I was in a relationship that went completely wrong and I ended up seeking comfort in alcohol. At first, I thought it would just be a stage I would grow out of. But it continued right up until I turned 30.

My spiralling addiction was particularly difficult for my friends and family. I’m a British Asian woman, and issues such as addiction were rarely discussed in my community. The stigma I was experiencing made me feel like I couldn’t talk about it or seek help. I found out that my parents had even received letters from neighbours asking my family to move away with me because my drinking was bringing shame on us and the community.

Drinking was escapism, a way to forget reality.

This stigma led me to suppress my feelings of angst for many years. I now believe that if I had talked about my problems at the time or as soon as I started drinking too much, it would have saved me a lot of emotional pain. But I was good at shutting things out and running away from reality, and I think this is why my problems manifested themselves in drinking. Drinking was escapism, a way to forget reality.

After studying journalism at university, I dreamed of becoming a sports journalist. But whilst battling addiction, I wasn’t truly able to thrive in my career and I found it hard to hold down a job. I became the youngest-ever sports editor and first-ever female British Asian sports editor in London. But although I knew these jobs were amazing, I had little motivation to stay in them. I just didn’t want to get out of bed or wash my hair and brush my teeth – which sounds disgusting to me now because I’m so conscious of my health!

When I was around 27, I began working for the newspaper the Trinity Mirror (now the Reach Mirror). This job completely changed my life in the best way possible. My colleagues noticed that something wasn’t right with my drinking. They used to tell me how good I was at my job, but the amount I was drinking sometimes made me come in late or call in sick. They tried to support me, telling me that I had a great job that I deserved and shouldn’t let my drinking ruin it. It was the first time colleagues had commented on my drinking or its impact on my work.

Having people genuinely care about me was eye-opening, and they became my support network.

When I got promoted to Trinity Mirror’s head office in Canary Wharf, I was always in and out of bars and restaurants with my new work colleagues, who also began to notice my drinking habits. Having people genuinely care about me was eye-opening, and they became my support network. They helped me realise that I had a problem, but also to see myself as an asset who was good at the job I loved.

In 2012, the year I turned 30, my drinking visibly got out of hand, and I got signed off from work for two weeks. I used this time to think about what I wanted to do, and I decided to go sober. I realised that there is only so much you can take; only so much shouting and anger you can push onto people that don’t deserve it.

I knew that I could contact an organisation or my GP for help if I needed it, but with the help of my amazing support network I managed to get sober on my own. If you are facing your addiction without professional help it’s important to have encouragement from others but you need to monitor who you have around you – not everyone will understand your journey or have your best interests at heart.

When I returned to work, I was strong enough to head out to the bars on Canary Wharf and order alcohol-free drinks. For me, it was important to do this, as I couldn’t take myself away from the social side of my work life; I didn’t want to let my addiction stand in the way. I managed to stay sober for three years, but unfortunately I relapsed due to the stress of my mother’s cancer diagnosis.

In 2018, after leaving Trinity Mirror and joining Talk Sport – as a massive sports fan, this was a dream job – I gave being sober another attempt. My dog becoming ill was a huge motivation as it made me realise that I needed to be more responsible for myself and those I care about. As part of my recovery, I started doing a lot of running as well as really throwing myself into sports. I’m now developing a documentary, “Running with my mind”, about how running and sports were a major motivation in my ongoing recovery and mental wellbeing.

As a British Asian woman, appearing on Zee TV was significant because it reaches people who don’t often talk about these kinds of issues

Since 2018, my career has continued to take off and I have been successfully freelancing in sports PR with Slick Sports Consultancy. I’ve also had lots of opportunities to speak publicly about my experiences with alcohol, including a feature on Zee TV – the biggest British Asian TV channel. As a British Asian woman, appearing on Zee TV was significant because it reaches people who don’t often talk about these kinds of issues. The response I had was phenomenal and the messages from other Asian women relating to my story didn’t stop. I’m continuing to encourage British Asian women to seek help and share their stories and realise they have nothing to feel ashamed about.

Starting during the Covid-19 lockdown, I began offering a free bi-weekly forums for people needing support, run in partnership with organisations such as Foundation for Change, Domestic Violence Intervention Project and Making Changes. These are a big priority for me and I’m hoping to launch my own foundation in future. I’ve also delivered free media training for athletes to build their confidence in interviews with journalists and am making plans with Slick Sport to do a speaking programme in schools to encourage kids to exercise and get involved in sport.

Although lockdown has been a negative experience for many, it has had a positive impact on me and been pivotal in my recovery journey. Even when I was sharing my experience on TV and radio, it still felt like I was putting too much energy into encouraging other people on their recovery journeys and not enough into my own. I’ve taken advantage of the lockdown to focus on the triggers of my addiction and what had been driving me towards it. I even went on Sky News and BBC Radio 4 to explain how the lockdown could be having a negative effect on drinking culture – particularly for those who were isolated from their friends and families or living alone. People can seek comfort in alcohol, so it’s important to remind them that help is out there.

Nobody should feel defined by their past, but at the same time I’m aware that it has shaped me into the woman I am today and I’m incredibly proud of that. People mistakenly think addicts can’t be successful or have a great career, but my story is testament that you can and that addiction can affect anyone.

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