Widowed and sober: Karen’s story

July 2023

To mark Alcohol Awareness Week, WAY member Karen shares the powerful story of how she battled alcohol dependence after her husband Ben died of cancer – and is now celebrating being five years sober.

Karen's Story


One night I was sitting with a glass of wine in my hand, one glass already finished. I asked myself the question I’d been putting off for weeks… ‘what would Ben want me to do’? 

I knew that the voice in my head that kept nagging me about drinking was right. I needed to change my thoughts around how alcohol served me. 

There was no falling down moment, literal or otherwise. Rock bottom was a place of gradually eroded trust in myself, in the things I said I would do and the broken promises. ‘Tonight I won’t have a drink,’ I would say to myself with conviction. Then tonight came and the girls were playing up, so I deserved to have a glass of wine because I’d dealt with them and survived another day. I needed a glass of wine. Then when things went okay or it was the weekend, it was ‘I shall have a glass of wine to celebrate the day going as I wanted it to’ or the fact it’s Friday. You get the picture. 

When Ben died, I had every possible excuse to drink all the wine, all the beer, all the gin because Ben was dead. Why shouldn’t I, if that is what I wanted to do. It took me almost 10 months to realise that, although that option was available to me, I didn’t want to take that path. 

“I wanted to make myself proud”

I wanted Ben to be proud of me and, soon after, I realised I wanted to make myself proud too. 

Each time I poured a glass I was drowning out the cries from my body asking me to stop, telling me I couldn’t go on like this, that my body needed a break. I had been living in this place since before Ben was diagnosed with cancer. It was exhausting and frightening. My smart watch thought I was running while I was sleeping such was the stress my body was under constantly. I ignored this and tried to convince myself my watch was broken and then I kept forgetting to charge it so I wouldn’t see how my heart was being affected.

My heart had been broken and I didn’t know if I could stitch the pieces together again. 

All I knew was this was a path I no longer wanted to tread. 

“This was now my journey”

I woke up the next morning with a knowing. I knew the this was my day 1 of sobriety. No fanfare, no black out, no confessions but a knowing deep within that this was now my journey. 

That was over five years ago and I truly believe that, if I had continued to drink alcohol, I would be in a very different state of being than where I am today. 

I white knuckled it through the first few days without alcohol, holding onto the stories of others who had walked a similar path before me and I held onto my belief that this was my next right step. Just don’t pour that glass of wine… 

“Finally I was free”

Suddenly I had this spaciousness and time around me. I allowed myself to be with my thoughts and feelings and let them out. I stopped pushing them away and actually looked at them. 

During the early days of my sobriety, I took every opportunity I could to get out of my comfort zone and to live my life well. This brought home to me how much joy there was available to me and the girls but also how much Ben was missing out on. 

But finally I was free. And finally I was able to find my way back to me – the woman Ben had fallen in love with.

Read Karen's story in full:

Karen has shared her full story with WAY members in our member only newsletter, WAY Forward, which comes out three times a year and is written by and for WAY members to share the different challenges they have faced and to offer practical tips and support. Members of WAY will be able to read Karen’s full story in our Summer issue of WAY Forward later this month. 

Join WAY

Karen is also a member of a subgroup within WAY Widowed and Young called WAY and Sober, which offers support and encouragement for those who have successfully stopped drinking alcohol or who wish to stop drinking. 

Please contact us at enquiries@widowedandyoung.org.uk if you’d like to find out more.