What 18 Months Sober Looks Like
Later this month I hit the year-and-a-half mark. It’s been interesting, adjusting to sober living. I knew it was necessary but thought it would suck. It doesn’t suck. It did for awhile, sometimes. I am happy to say very simply that this is a better way to live and I’m happier. It does not feel like a life of “doing without” like I thought it would. I have gained so much more than I’ve lost (and to most of what I’ve lost, good riddance anyway).
Am I grateful to be an alcoholic like some people in meetings say? Not quite, exactly. If I had a choice, I would prefer to be a person who could take it or leave it and have no issues with alcohol. But I’m at peace with what is, and the way my life has unfolded. And certainly many blessings have come from my recovery process. So here’s the news…
This week, I went to the annual dinner my employer holds for all employees and health care providers. This is the third year I’ve worked there and received an invitation.
The first time was six months before I quit drinking. I was on one of my many moderation plans at the time, this one entitled Special Occasions Only. I had decided in advance that I would not drink because a work dinner did not qualify as a special occasion. That resolve lasted all of five minutes after arrival. I told that story in this post.
The second time, at six months sober, I stayed home because I had so much anxiety around what to tell people. I was terrified someone would ask why I wasn’t having wine and I would stumble over the answer. It would have been easy to say I was on call, or on a Paleo cleanse, or some medication that interacts with alcohol. But I didn’t want to tell lies. Not that I’m a saint and couldn’t morally justify a white lie for such a reason, it just didn’t feel right to me. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a rehearsed answer that felt both true and safe to reveal.
This year, I decided to go. Because of the history of this particular event, it was a strange sort of milestone for me. When the invitation came, I realized that all the concerns I had a year ago are gone. I’m not shouting my sobriety status from the rooftops (yet), but my anxiety about someone noticing and commenting is all but gone. Ask away. I no longer give a shit—yay! I actually want to experiment with telling more people when it seems natural.
Soon after arrival, someone I work closely with told me several times that the wine tray was coming around. She didn’t even ask directly, and I could have just gone to the bar for my tonic water without saying anything, but I said “I don’t drink anymore.” She said, “Really, you mean not at all, not ever?” (Isn’t that what everyone says? So funny.) “Right, not ever. For the last year and a half.” “Wow, I didn’t know that,” she says. I could have stopped there, but I said, “Yes, well, I found I am a better abstainer than moderator.” Done. She nodded and we moved on. This felt right. The truth, without a big sob story or TMI.
Urges to drink:
I am astonished and thrilled to say that I had exactly three real urges/desires to drink in the year 2015.
- My best friend’s 40th birthday party, which was a weekend at a beach house. The main party for adults and kids was during the day on the Saturday, and a small group of close friends were invited to stay at the beach house Friday and Saturday night. All of said close friends are drinkers, of course. If it had been anyone other than my best friend, or if I really thought I couldn’t handle it, I would have skipped the overnights altogether and just gone on Saturday. I decided to stay Friday night only. It was hard. I really wished I “could” drink that night. I put “could” in quotes because I stay cognizant of my language around choice and free will. The fact is, I can drink anytime I want—no one is holding a gun to my head to be sober. It’s a choice I made and continue to make because I don’t like the consequences of drinking for my health and my life. But I digress. The point is, I did feel a little sorry for myself that I was drinking seltzer instead of IPA. Partly because of the people I was with, and partly because this would have been a relatively consequence-free, all about the fun drinking occasion. No worries about staying OK to drive, and no guilt because clearly drinking heavily was OK on a special occasion. I wouldn’t have even had to worry about my husband being pissed at me—he usually looked the other way on special occasions and vacations. Toward the end, these were the only times we could have fun drinking together. The toughest moments were in the late afternoon/early evening when everyone started bringing the booze out. After that initial part passed and the evening was well underway, it got easier. I even had fun.
- One night I was making dinner and all of a sudden, a white wine craving hit me very much out of nowhere. I did whatever the psychological equivalent of a double-take would be, it was so strange and random. I thought about what could possibly be causing this, because I was in a fine mood, but also not too happy, so the craving could not have been out of any urge to de-stress or celebrate. Then I figured out that it was a musical trigger. A certain Lyle Lovett song was on, and I realized that I listened to that album for many years almost exclusively while making dinner. And what goes with making dinner? That first wine of the evening. Once I knew where the craving came from, it disappeared.
- I went to a karaoke night with some people that I don’t know super well, so I didn’t feel completely at ease socially. I felt like a fish out of water once the booze started flowing and people started singing. It’s not even that I wanted to drink. I really didn’t. It was more a feeling that since I don’t drink, it sucked to be in that particular place at that particular time. I told my husband I needed to get out of there, like NOW. I cried while we were walking to the car, hating that I couldn’t loosen up in that scenario and lamenting my lost inner party girl. In retrospect, I don’t feel too badly about having a tough time in that setting since, let’s face it, karaoke wouldn’t even exist without alcohol.
That’s it! Three times in an entire year that it sort of sucked to not drink. I never would have believed it. This IS a miracle.
I came to AA reluctantly and cautiously. I said more about that in this post. Since I found a meeting I like, I have continued to go about once a week. I skip a week occasionally now. Honestly, going to meetings doesn’t feel as important as it used to. I’m a busy working mom and it’s a challenge to build in time for any kind of self-care. On most mornings, making time for exercise, yoga, or writing is more important to my mental and spiritual well being, and therefore my sobriety, than going to a meeting. Still, it’s important for me to go on some sort of regular basis, to be reminded why I don’t drink.
I still maintain that AA is not the only way. Certainly, there is more than one way to unpack your shit and clean it up. I believe that any approach to recovery that involves active self-inquiry and reflection, rigorous honesty, living in awareness, responsibility for one’s actions, self care practices, and mutual support with others in recovery is a good approach. The dogmatic insistence spouted by some AA members that theirs is the only legitimate way to get and stay sober can leave people who can’t relate to the program without hope for recovery. Because of that, other options should be acknowledged and accessible. That said, AA is a great program for many, and it’s the one with the most readily available support and camaraderie.
Conversely, I agree with those who say that AA could be a great spiritual growth program for anyone, not just those with addictions. Step 1 says “powerless over alchohol.” You could substitute alcohol for just about anything to which you’re clinging. Many people are miserable because they make their happiness dependent on the behavior and decisions of other people. Such a person could do a 12 step program that begins with “I’m powerless over other people’s choices,” and take it from there. That’s just one example.
So it’s not the only way to recover from alcohol addiction, and it’s a great program for any life struggle, not just addiction.
What about the 12 steps? I did one through five formally with my sponsor. I did six and seven on my own, and I practice ten and eleven in my daily life. As for step twelve, I am not ready to sponsor another person, but I have been able to informally support a couple of people who have come to me for help. Eight and nine are still out there. I have made amends to the obvious people—namely my husband, and living amends with my kids by being more mentally and emotionally present for them. Thankfully, I am going to have to dig deeper to find other people to whom I owe apologies since I quit before I progressed to the point of making a huge mess of my life. But having done step four and five formally and being surprised by the richness of that process and how much had been forgotten until I really dug for it, I’m sure there is much to learn from doing steps eight and nine formally as well. I just need to get off my butt and make a plan with my sponsor to get started.
Meanwhile, I’ll talk about my experience with what seems to be regarded as “the big ones,” step 4 and 5 in upcoming post.
My kids and husband no longer have to deal with my irritability due to hangovers—just my natural irritability 😉 Seriously, though, I am a much happier person and a happier mama. I’m still something of a hothead and I have to work on my yelling habit, but in general, I have a lot more patience and ability to set the tone for a peaceful, joyful household. When things are not so peaceful, I am much better able to find creative solutions and have faith in all of us to find our way back to harmony quickly.
I no longer struggle with knowing that my drinking behavior was at odds with my values as a parent, even if my kids didn’t witness what I was doing—yet.
I no longer have to subtly avoid and disconnect from my husband in the evenings so he hopefully doesn’t notice how many I’m having. If there is one image that proves to me I was drinking alcoholically, it’s me filling my glass to the brim and quickly drinking it back to the level it was when he stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. I never had secrets from him until the last couple years of my drinking. I’m happy to have none again now. And I am grateful that he no longer has to suffer from worrying about our family’s future.
I no longer have to burn up all my energy keeping my drinking under some semblance of control. I am able to be who I really am as a person and spend my time and energy on things that matter to me and others. Having a mom and wife who is happy, vibrant, self-actualized person—or at least on the path, for real now— is good for my kids and husband.
Those who have followed this blog will remember the angst I had as my adolescent social anxiety and issues with belonging came rushing back full force with my early sobriety. I wrote all about that in this post. I’m glad I faced that head on and wrote in my journal and cried and really felt it all. Because it’s gone.
I’ve reconnected with a couple of old friends who I never lost touch with completely, but now we are much more involved in each other’s lives than in recent years. And I have a few new sober friends. I still have my friends who do a good bit of drinking, and that’s OK, too. They support what I’m doing and I have no need to try and influence their habits. Just a little, I miss drinking wine and getting wonderfully silly and sloppy in that special way with a couple of them. But all in all, it’s really OK that those days are gone. Good thing we did it to death 😉
Some amazing women have come into my life who are neither recovering alcoholics nor big drinkers. They are loving, funny and smart—living in awareness and continual growth. We support each other completely, whether we are falling apart temporarily or celebrating large or small successes, and all the ordinariness in between.
I know I was open to the arrival of these friendships because of the space that opened up in my life once I removed alcohol and its attendant baggage. It was also necessary for me to go through the residual, very old pain I was holding around feeling left out, needing the “cool kids’” validation of my worthiness, and feeling so, so lonely. I cleaned all that shit out, with patience and compassion for myself, and beautiful things have grown from that space.
Sobriety gave me my writing. It lifted the damper that alcohol placed on my creative energy. It gave me the motivation and, initially, the material. I started this blog first and soon found I wanted to write about other things, so I started another one—a non anonymous blog where I write about whatever I like. Except my recovery, of course—for now.
I started this blog as a way to process my recovery experiences and connect with others. It turned out to be the perfect way to take my first baby steps into writing. Anonymity has been necessary for obvious reasons. It also allowed me to get my feet wet as a writer without too much ego involvement and vulnerability.
Starting my newer blog, on the other hand, was a huge step out of my comfort zone. I was a nervous wreck when I hit “publish” on that first post with my name on it. The good kind of nervous wreck, though. The kind of stomach butterflies that tell you you’re doing something brave that will grow you as a person. Thirty-odd posts later, I am much more accustomed to “putting myself out there,” but I still get those butterflies once in awhile. That’s when I know I’m taking risks with my writing and really giving something of myself.
Being more present and emotionally balanced for my family has been the greatest gift of sobriety for me. My writing is a close second.
The last two topics bring me to this one. In my personal life, I have begun to share the fact that I found it necessary to quit drinking more openly. I would like to be open about this in my professional life as well, but other than the small steps I have already discussed, I’m not sure yet how careful I need to be around that.
I am clear in my heart about where I want my life to go, and that is toward living a transparent life, without secrets and shame. I do not want to compartmentalize myself, being this person here and that person there. Every day, I move more toward being not just kind of the same person, or mostly the same person, but the exact same person no matter where I am or whom I’m with. That’s the way I like it.
At first, I felt it extremely important, to the point of paranoia, to keep this part of my life private. But now I have come to terms with it and it has become the new normal. I can talk about it without crying. It’s a source of health and happiness in my life, not just “doing without.” So now, keeping it under wraps makes me feel split and hidden. I want to feel integrated and open.
I believe those of us who feel comfortable being “out” with our recovery status can contribute to reducing the stigma and shame associated with addiction.
This desire for transparency dovetails with my writing. I want to write publicly about my struggle with alcohol and my recovery, with my name attached. I’m trying to figure out whether my career in health care can withstand that. I am talking to people and considering it carefully. I trust that more will be revealed.
© soberfire 2016