Getting Sober Is Like Starting A New Job …. Everyday

Next week I will celebrate my 2nd consecutive year living in long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder.  Notice my language.  It is very specific for a reason:  I believe that I will spend the rest of my life working to develop deeper understanding of my need to numb feelings and, hopefully, will be granted the Grace and inspiration to pursue ever-deeper practices for managing and maintaining a healthy, well-rounded life without relying on alcohol.

I am so proud of this achievement yet I know that I could “slip” at any time if I begin to neglect the positive practices that keep me humble and eager for continued sobriety.  Just like a person who has changed jobs, my openness about my struggles is just one of many facts about my life – in other words, sobriety will never define me as a person.  Yet, surprisingly, maybe because of tv shows like “celebrity rehab” or the heavy infiltration of 12-step type phrases in popular culture, it has been my experience that people automatically have their own sets of expectations of what your recovery should look and feel like.

It is impossible to convey to a person who does not have addiction controlling their life the excitement and liberation you feel once you decide to change, accept your limitations, and work everyday to seek newer and better ways to live “a normal life” without obsessing over wanting to numb.  That’s why I write about it.  But it makes people feel “awkward,” it seems.  So I am supposed to confine and limit my experience to groups of other “users.”  This does not make sense to me.  You wouldn’t avoid talking to a person about their new “job,” so why would the topic of pursuing a life without addiction be any different?  This is why maintaining sobriety can be difficult – it is more “polite” to ignore the addiction monster in casual conversation.  This kind of sweeping under the rug behavior is bad for our children.  They need to hear us talking about and showing them what a life built on zero reliance on alcohol looks and feels like.  Just like we introduce our children to the concept of work by taking them to work  with us, we should not be afraid to declare our commitment to sobriety to our friends, family and community.

The reality is that the younger a person is when they first experience alcohol, the more likely it will cause an addiction problem later in life.  We don’t perpetuate self-sabotaging cycles in other health-related concerns (for instance, heart disease), so why are we reluctant to openly discuss and support addiction and sobriety?

I have a suspicion it is because many of us believe one of two things:  that we are already slipping into bad habits of relying on alcohol to “numb” difficult emotional situations or we mistakenly believe we are immune to addiction.  Those are highly dangerous beliefs.  I think another reason people don’t want to talk about their feelings related to numbing and alcohol is because there is a widespread misunderstanding of what a sober life looks and feels like.  I will definitely admit (if you have not already ascertained this fact!) that I am a much more sensitive person sober than drinking.  I have to work hard to process my thoughts, feelings and responses to everyone and everything around me to avoid falling into old patterns of numbing.  But that doesn’t mean my life is no longer fun or that I will not tolerate others’ drinking around me (everybody has their own barometer of tolerance about this, so it is always thoughtful to ask).

Over the weekend, I felt so many “feels” as we celebrated our first-born child’s Graduation from High School.  At once sentimental and fearful, the onslaught of well-wishing from people in  your life you may still be reconciling with, the entire weekend was challenging and tiring for me to navigate.  And the past two nights, my poorly trained brain with only 2 years of sober thinking under its belt, even began telling me “You should go ahead and enjoy a drink or 2 or 10.  You don’t really have a problem.”  This is proof to me that I will spend every waking moment for the rest of my life “managing” this enormous force that lives inside of me that wants to numb everything.

Finally, some thoughts about people in Recovery that might help others better understand this journey:

Sober people are fun people;

Getting sober means the party is just beginning, not ending.

Sober People do  not intend to make you feel uncomfortable ;

Sober People would rather you throw out all your old ideas about Recovery and learn by engaging with them rather than avoiding the topic altogether;

Just like becoming confident about one’s performance in a new job, living comfortably in your own skin as a sober person takes time, and you should not have any unrealistic expectations about what this should look like – every sober person is unique.

It has been an honor and a pleasure sharing the past 24 months with Readers. I have received so much love, grace and appreciation from the many people who want to understand addiction.  This propels me forward, especially after my 99th cup of coffee during absolutely perfect cold Heineken or margarita weather!

That was me, 2 years ago, before I got Sober

0429160942_HDRThis is me today.  In 9 days, I will celebrate my “First Sober Birthday” with my my AA friends and family.  I feel grateful and humble and raw.

For every person, the desire to become sober and begin living a life in the truth, however imperfect, comes from unique motivations.  Sadly, many find themselves seeking sobriety after huge losses or tragedy.  I am lucky that my story is pretty simple.  I knew alcohol consumed ME, not the reverse.  I knew I needed to find something I wanted more than the feeling of numbness and relief I got from consuming an entire bottle of Malbec on my couch every night.

I was tired and afraid.  Our family had been through so much and I sort of resented (WARNING! Resentment is so dangerous! ) having to start over again with our young children after the course my husband and I had put in motion in 2002 did not succeed.  Starting over after moving to the comfort and simplicity of small town life in the company of dear friends, in every sense of the phrase, had not been in our consciousness whatsoever.  It happened.  Everything we had planned on failed (and then some) and we were forced to come up with another plan.  Meanwhile, my parents were getting older and I  resented the fact that I was so preoccupied with caring for my own family.  I resented everybody and everything for a very long time.  I lived with the awful sense of complete domination by choices of others for many years and it broke me.  I started to drink.  Then I started to need to drink.  Then I couldn’t stop.

When you resent people and situations, you forget the power you have to change your life and you lose all hope of ever experiencing serenity.  Though I did not know this is what I was doing when alcohol dominated my life, it was.  And it was destroying me and moving closer to destroying my family.  After suffering the indignity of watching a friendship and business partnership destroy my husband and interfere with our marriage, I did not want to live in the present any longer. My drinking was the equivalent of hiding beneath the covers.

Slowly, after many bad hangovers and raging outbursts that produced nothing but hurt feelings and distance between my husband and me, I began to have tiny inklings of desire to climb out of my self-protective shell (what irony, alcoholism is anything but) and live in the truth everyday.  I couldn’t do it by myself.  I had to be humble, grateful, open, raw, willing to confess my bad behavior, open to listening to others’ stories, and willing to being broken open over and over by memories and feelings I thought I had long ago dealt with at any moment. This is the life of a sober alcoholic. And it is beautiful.

“After we’ve been in A.A. for a while, we find out that if we’re going to stay sober, we have to be humble people. ….Gratitude to God for His grace makes me humble.  When I think about the kind of person I was not so long ago, when I think of the person I left behind me, I have nothing to be proud of.  Am I grateful and humble?”

Richmond W., 1954

 

At the end of the day, however imperfect, I want to live life instead of copping out.  Even though unpleasant, feeling fear, anxiety, pain, dread and powerless are part of everyday life.  I had to learn to cope.  I love the lessons God is giving me, even unto this very moment, in coping with life and my feelings.  It has given my family a new life.  Sobriety is my joy and I am willing to fight for it every single day.

 

 

 

What Teapots and Birkenstocks Mean After 120 Days Sober

In less than 6 months, I will be turning 50.  For the first time in 30 years, I will celebrate sober.  A little over halfway through the journey, sometimes I feel regret that I waited so long to discover inner peace but also many days I feel upset that I can’t party like a rock star anymore!  Maybe that feeling will fade as 120 days rolls into 200, 365 and more.  More time of living in the present and fully engaged.

In many ways, my newfound sobriety has brought me back full circle to the things I have always loved, especially COMFORT.  I am a homebody (though this is surprising to many) who loves my couch, family, warmth of the sun or a roaring fire, homemade meals and simple pleasures.

I think the bare-boned honesty it takes to admit one is powerless over a person, place or thing brings with it comfort and liberation – so really, I have just come “home.”

I choose comfort over cuteness
I choose comfort over cuteness
I want my tea, not my Malbec
I want my tea, not my Malbec

I realized I had accepted my “lot” as a “recovering alcoholic” when I found myself daydreaming about having a pair of Birkenstocks and a good tea kettle.  Chuckle and snort, though I may about this, the darned truth of the matter is:  I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF!  

There are messes our family must deal with left behind from my years of selfish self-medicating, at the top of which, of course, is my habit of overspending.  But, my God!  4 months ago I could not have stayed clear-headed long enough to even research where our money was going much less devise a plan to resolve it.

A good friend is helping me re-vamp my resume, too.  THIS would never have happened when I was drinking.  She cannot believe I don’t have any “professional” self-esteem.  I can’t believe there is someone out there that sees something I can’t see, but I am willing to dig further, to consider some truths about myself and put myself in the ring of competition for whatever rewarding career awaits me next.  I must do this, not only for myself and my family, but because things are going too well to just sit on my couch (as much as I love it!) for the rest of my life.

Push Push Push.  I think I can until I know I can – the Little Engine that Could.  This is me at 49, a little war-torn and rough but loving the journey and thanking God every day I wake up sober.

120 days sober looks like this when you are 49
120 days sober looks like this when you are 49

4 Things I’ve Learned After My First 4 AA Meetings

13 months ago, I told everybody I was an alcoholic and I stopped drinking – cold turkey.  5 months later, I had decided that I could manage drinking moderately on my own.  3 months after that, I allowed myself to expand my definition of “moderate” to 1 bottle of Malbec nightly.  About a month after that, “moderate” often meant 1 1/2 bottles of any wine – I wasn’t picky any longer.  In the last 6 months, I have had more hangovers than the previous 25 years combined.

But I kept craving my wine every evening by 5:30, in spite of the hangovers.  Meanwhile, things got pretty challenging for my son in Middle School.  He lost 50 pounds in 3 months and stopped going to school altogether.

It was time for me to stop riding in the backseat of my life and commit to sobriety, for myself, for my family.

Sitting outside the first AA meeting, terrified and shaking and on the verge of tears.
Sitting outside the first AA meeting, terrified and shaking and on the verge of tears.

Today, I have been sober for 6 days, and I have found a brand new group of empathetic souls.  I live for my sobriety and my daily Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  Here are 4 poignant truths I have learned from listening to many brave people about addiction to alcohol:

1.  FEED YOUR SOBRIETY LIKE YOU FED YOUR ADDICTION

I hear people talking about being grateful for waking up sober each morning, in spite of their fears of facing a new day.  They cherish their newfound way of living and find creative ways to nourish it.  Meeting and talking with other alcoholics is just one way.  Other people have found comfort and courage in meditation, prayer, public service, laughter, and just relishing in the simple gift of living one day at a time.  I learned there is a term for the first way I tried to stay sober – “white knuckle sobriety” – just like the metaphor suggests, it is all work and no play, very tense and lonely.  Now I am learning new ways to enjoy my life free of fixating on that next drink – because I am surrounding myself with the wonderful people of AA.

The
The “24 Hours Recovery” Coin I received at my first AA meeting.

2.  “ROCK BOTTOM” IS YOUR FRIEND

Whatever it is that leads you to commit to Recovery is a blessing.  Don’t ruminate over it, be grateful that it opened up a new way of living and move toward the future.  Yes, eventually I will “work” the 12 Steps and do a thorough and honest inventory of my past and make amends to those I have harmed.  But for now, in my first week of Recovery, I am just grateful for my “rock bottom” and whatever Force that led me to a program with new friends to help me stay sober.  At my first meeting, I received a plastic coin with the Serenity Prayer on one side and the phrase, “To thine own self be true” on the other.  I touch it several times a day – it is a real symbol of a miraculous change that is happening  within me.

3.  THE VIEW FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT IS MUCH BETTER THAN THE BACK SEAT

Some alcoholics are control freaks, others are fearful “yes” people who prefer to let others control them.  I am the second type.  Sitting in the back seat, I have observed a lot of faults in others but given myself permission to avoid honestly assessing myself.  Each additional day I nurture my sobriety, I am stronger and have more desire to sit in that driver’s seat and enjoy the journey that is my life.

A few hours after my first AA meeting.  Completely serene.
A few hours after my first AA meeting. Completely serene.

4.  HUMILITY SHINES MORE BEAUTIFULLY THAN GOLD

When actively living in my addiction, I tried to fool myself with a “pretty veneer” – shallow expressions of success, happiness, and a good life.  Everybody knows, the only thing more frightening than a room full of crusty bikers is a room full of addicts.  I avoided walking into that room for longer than I care to admit.  But I have and it is glorious.  Maybe only an addict can laugh at this, but one of the the group leaders self-deprecatingly shared with us how unlike other addicts he was sure he was – until one day he found himself sitting in a County jail reading a copy of “I’m Ok, You’re Ok”!!!!  Fortunately, he got out of the jail and generously shares his story with “newbies” like me because getting sober is a really scary thing at first.

I am excited about starting this journey with others instead of “white knuckling” it by myself.  I am grateful to have the opportunity to share parts of the journey with those who wish to read about it here.  Stay tuned!

How My Sobriety Is Like “Fuck You” Money!

Cheeky in 1988 - when I could chug a beer and feel good the next day!
Cheeky in 1988 – when I could chug a beer and feel good the next day!

September 13 will mark my 4-Month Sobriety Anniversary.  I am pretty excited.  I have done it all on my own – not even a single AA meeting, no sponsor, nothing but GRIT and DETERMINATION.  I have managed to turn around in my head all the old assumptions about why/how drinking made me a better person.  For instance:

1. “I cannot get through another “Back to School Night” without a nip of the old sauce” has changed to “I can go and enjoy noticing the OTHER parents who have had a nip or 2.”

2.  “I am just not fun anymore now that I cannot drink” has changed to “I am giving myself and my family a wonderful sense of stability and security knowing that I am fully present, alert and sober 24/7.”  That is KIND OF fun, right?

I have also learned a thing or two about how other people react when you tell them you are no longer drinking.  Many of them appear supportive – how can they NOT be, right – but there is always a little question at the end of their interactions that says, “Maybe in a few months you’ll be able to be like me again.”

The most amazing support I have received since admitting to myself and my friends and family that I am an alcoholic has come from the most astonishingly surprising places.  People in my midst that I  really did not think I had much of a connection with have continuously expressed positive, affirming, loving praise and kindness.  It helps a lot.  Especially when I feel my head exploding and would love to have a drink and a smoke!

 

After 4 months without drinking, I definitely feel more like my “old self” and am so happy to be embracing a life of acknowledging and avoiding addiction.  It is much more pure – it liberates me.  And it gives me the security that other people feel when they have “FUCK YOU MONEY” in the bank!  I have MYSELF in the bank.  I have MY ESSENCE.

Guess what else?  I am thinking about the future for the first time in many years.  I don’t feel trapped in a life I did not choose anymore.  No more self-pity.  It went away with the Malbec someplace far, far away!  I am back in college and pursuing a career in the allied health professions – and this goal I will ACTUALLY achieve and celebrate with CAKE and my FAMILY – not a bottle of Malbec in the darkness.  I am stronger, better, happier, and have that “Fuck You” attitude back that is healthy.

If you find yourself battling addiction – don’t hesitate to think about what I am saying and reach out for the support you need to move forward in your future.  It feels good to have SOBRIETY at my side….at all times…..covering me like Linus’ security blanket.Lucy-and-Linus

Why Do We Ignore Hurting Souls?

Like many people, I am deeply saddened by the death of Robin Williams.  In retrospect, his unimaginable act of courage that led to his death says more about our culture of blindness than it does anything else.  We prefer to remember “the funny man” who gave so much to others than the human being suffering from depression and addiction.  We will talk about it for awhile at parties but nothing will change in the end – people who are hiding in places of extreme darkness will continue to end their lives and we will say later what a shame it is.

You see, Robin Williams’ death has struck a personal chord with me.  I, too, suffer from major depressive disorder and addiction.  I will take antidepressants the rest of my life but there is no guarantee I won’t experience lapses into frightening voids where nobody can reach me.  Mental illness does trick our minds into believing ridiculous lies about ourselves and reality.  I watched my own Dad suffer and struggle with depression and addiction my whole life.  He was so brave to have weathered what must have felt like insurmountable pain and conflict to protect his wife and 7 children.  Of course, there were happy times.  Like Robin Williams, my Dad was extremely intelligent and most often the funniest person in the room when he chose to socialize, which was not often.

I dream of this image over and over.....
I dream of this image over and over…..

Like Robin Williams, people sought my reclusive Dad out – they were uplifted by his company when, all the while, he believed himself to be a weak and unworthy person.  It was the trap of depression and addiction.  He did not talk about it, we just knew, as kids, when Dad was not feeling well.  We hugged him and he hugged us back even harder.  But it was only a temporary fix for his pain.  Ultimately, he felt alone.

"I apologize for superfluous!"
“I apologize for superfluous!”

My Dad was the first person to admit he had made a mistake.  Among other traits, this was one of his most endearing.  He was humble and honest and kind even though, most of the time, he just plain wanted out – out of pain, out of suffering, out of this life.  He visited me once when I was single and dating a hot-shot young lawyer and I was embarrassed during a conversation in which my “super lawyer” boyfriend corrected my use of language at the breakfast table in front of my Dad, the DICTIONARY NAZI!!!!  I was shocked when my Dad took “super lawyer’s” side but, as expected, the minute he got back home Dad pulled out his dictionary to see if he had been correct – and discovered he was wrong.  I received a beautiful note of apology from the MAN WITH THE DICTIONARY himself.  And he even took a moment away from his own pain to comment on the pain of a colleague whose daughter was dying from cancer – wishing her well.

Instead of burying his greatness, somehow the struggle with depression and addiction made my Dad even more brilliant and beautiful to me.  He felt broken, for sure, but that is what we all saw and loved and admired about him.  On the morning he passed away, our Mother had a look of absolute serenity and relief on her face.  She said, “I’m glad – your Dad is free and happy for the first time in his life.”  And so is Robin Williams.

I don’t know why some of us are dealt the shitty hand of depression and addiction in this life.  But I do know we are all capable of comforting one another and touching each other’s wounded souls even from the unreachable depths of darkness.  I am proud of my Dad and Robin Williams and everyone else who admits, in this culture of shame, silence and blindness, that things are NOT okay with us most of the time.  Maybe, little by little, the world will come to recognize that people who have been marginalized by the pain of depression and addiction aren’t weak or pitiful at all – but really “special angels” sent to us so we can practice compassion and empathy.  That’s how I choose to view it, anyway.