soberfire

Archive for the tag “AA”

The Challenge of Kicking Off the Summer Sober: It’s Like Christmas

I used to get drunk to get my spark

And it used to work just fine

It made me wretched but it gave me heart

I miss Jimmy like I miss my wine

 —Shawn Colvin, from “The Facts About Jimmy”

I listened to that album, A Few Small Repairs, last week after a long time. It was like seeing an old, once close friend you haven’t seen in forever, and you forgot how intimately you know this person, and it all just clicks into place again right away.

I almost had to stop the car when I heard that verse. Nearly two decades ago, during phase one of my alcoholic drinking (before the “real grown-up” reprieve of more reasonable alcohol use, and the decidedly less fun return to heavier drinking), back when heavy drinking was just what you did when you were a 20-something party girl, I remember vaguely thinking, “If I ever had to quit drinking, that’s exactly how I’d feel.”

So, is it? I put that song on repeat for the rest of the ride home. It’s true, and it’s not true.

It did give me a spark, of sorts. Not the real kind, I remind myself. Not the kind of spark I have now, in sobriety, the kind that fuels the fire of creativity, productivity, vibrant energy, spiritual growth by leaps and bounds, and thriving relationships. Now, that is a pretty awesome list! And it’s all true, I’m happy to say.

But there’s that other kind of spark. The one that came from the temporary but effortless pulling back on the curtain of inhibition. I’m braver now where it counts most, but more reserved in other ways. I can still hit the dance floor, but it’s not the same. It’s harder and slower to remove inhibitions for real, the more permanent way. I’ll admit I sometimes miss the efficiency of alcohol for that. I read it somewhere (Mrs. D’s blog, maybe?) that being sober is just so…sober.

What about the next part of that verse? Wretched? Oh, yes. For sure. And yet, did it give me heart? Again, not in the real way. But also, yes. In that special way you can get giggly with a girlfriend over some wine. In that way you can get stripped right down to raw emotion, for better or worse (more often for worse, but still).

And the last part? Do I miss my wine?

Yes, right now I do. It’s my second sober spring, so without many years of experience to confirm this, I believe spring-turning-into-summer is like The Holidays for me. I haven’t struggled much over the holiday season, so dreaded and torturous for many in recovery. I actually prefer being razor-sharp with my crazy ass extended family. We do lots of holiday-oriented activities with the kids that were never associated with drinking. We don’t go to a ton of parties, and occasionally when we do, it doesn’t feel hard to be there with my club soda or coffee or hot cider.

But this time of year? Crap. At this stage, almost two years in, I want to say it just gets better all the time and it’s never hard anymore. And most of the time, it’s not hard at all, and my life is exponentially better in almost all the ways, in all the important ways, except for this one way.

Because the truth is, these last couple weeks I’m just plain pissed off that I can’t have drinks on this deck or that patio like everybody else.

All is well in my world, and I’m active and intentional about my recovery and spiritual growth. So, what is this all about? My sponsor/friend says, “Don’t overanalyze it. It’s happening because you’re an alcoholic. It is what it is. And it happens to the best of us at times, even those of us who are ‘doing well.’”

So I’m trying to keep it simple and recognize that this particular change of seasons is strongly associated with the more pleasurable parts of my former drinking, so it makes me fucking thirsty. I have to approach it the way other people have to approach the holidays—with vigilance and acceptance of difficulty.

Part of it is being a bit of a spoiled brat. I’m stomping my feet and fighting with reality, pouting because I don’t get to have what I want the way I want it (which is NOT being an alcoholic). Somehow I know in my bones, even more so than in the beginning, that if I were to pick up a drink, I would very quickly be right back to the mental obsession, the strategizing, the craving, the overdoing and the regretting. I’m so done with that. I’ve struggled with some of the language around addiction and recovery, preferring to think of myself simply as a person who chose to stop drinking, rather than a person with a “disease.” I still don’t love the standard terminology, nor do I find it particularly empowering. However, I’m very clear now that whether I call my alcohol problem a disease or a condition, it’s currently in remission, and if I were to ever go back to drinking, it would take hold again and progress despite all the ways I’ve healed and grown.

So what good does it do to lament the fact that my choices are between that and sobriety? Too fucking bad, I say to myself. I’m blessed in more ways than I could recount here—including loving being sober, most of the time—and so many people are plagued by more severe and intractable addictions, and from countless other unrelated and horrific afflictions.

I don’t want to overindulge or rev up these feelings of discontent, and I don’t want to deny or squelch them, either. It’s a fine line. I’m trying to draw on what I’ve learned from mindfulness meditation and the practice of observing thoughts and feelings without clinging to them or pushing them away. I know I’ll get through this patch by remaining grateful for all sobriety has given me, staying vigilant, and being regular with my self-care and spiritual practices.

And as of this morning, I remembered to give it up to God, the Universe, my Higher Power—whatever you want to call it. Anne Lamott talks about the God Box in her book Help, Thanks, Wow. It’s for those times when you’re spinning your wheels and can’t let go, or stuck inside of a wish to change the unchangeable. You write the thing down on a little piece of piece of paper, and put it in a little box. You say a prayer of release. “It’s yours now, I’m done.”

The first time I tried it, I was desperate to unhook from some other painfully obsessive rumination and willing to try anything, so I said, “What the hell.” I never expected it to work. But it does work. A few girlfriends and I use it as a verb now. When one of us says, “I’m struggling with this thing and I can’t find peace or acceptance around it,” another says, “God Box it.”

This morning, I wrote this on a little piece of paper: “My desire for my situation with alcoholism and sobriety to be any different than what it is.” I God Boxed it. I’ll be back to let you know how it all shifts. I trust that it will.

Until then, I’m wishing you a safe and happy sober start to your summer!

© Copyright Soberfire, 2016, all rights reserved.

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…

Work Parties

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

AA

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.

Family Life

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.

Friendships

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.

Writing

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.

Transparency

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

 

 

Being Seen

When I was two months sober, I went to a meeting on a day of the week I don’t usually go because I wanted to get my 2-month chip. There I sat, feeling peaceful and calm, waiting for the meeting to start, when he walked in. Someone I know. He saw me, too, then quickly looked away and sat down across the room. Immediately, my heart started pounding in my chest, I felt my face flush, and I felt nauseous. Full-on cortisol flood. I whispered to the kind soul sitting next to me, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Someone I know just walked in. He’s sitting over there.” She saw my sheer panic and put a hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, after all, he’s here, too.”

It took me half the meeting to get ahold of myself, and a half hour is a long time to sit in a panicked state. At the time, I didn’t want anyone at all to know about me, other than the few very close family members and friends I’d told. I REALLY didn’t (and still don’t) want people from work to know. If the chips had been handed out at the beginning of the meeting, I don’t believe I would have been able to get up and claim mine. As it was, I had some time to decide. At first, I was sure I could not and would not. With some deep breathing and just hanging on for dear life, I started to regain my composure. Meanwhile, he raised his hand and shared, and I saw that we are the same. So when chip time came around, I stood up, and with trembling and tears in my eyes, I got my chip.

After the meeting, he came up to me and hugged me. I said “I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you.” He said, “Well, I almost had a fucking heart attack when I saw you. And in fact, until you got up to get your chip, I assumed you couldn’t possibly be here for the same reason as me. I assumed that since it’s an open meeting, you must be here with a friend.” We talked for awhile and he told me some of his story, and I told him some of mine.  He had been sober just a few weeks longer than me.

I was so glad he had shared in the meeting, and I had decided to buck up and go get my chip despite feeling so vulnerable doing it. If neither of us had done those things, we may not have connected at all, and we may have both left the meeting feeling uneasy and off-balance about being seen.

As I walked to my car, I felt grateful for the way it unfolded, and I thought, “No wonder I always liked that guy.”

© soberfire, 2015

Drinking the Kool-Aid

In the very beginning, I was sure I would be doing the full duration of my recovery without AA. I recoiled from the dogma and fundamentalism surrounding the program, and it was super tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I know the God stuff is really hard for a lot of people. As long as there is inclusivity for all religions and spiritual belief systems, that part is not an issue for me.   What I have a hard time with is the insistence that frequent meetings and the 12 steps are the one and only legitimate way to go about this recovery business. I don’t believe there’s only one way to do ANYTHING. And I know from the amazing stories I read on sober blogs that it’s not the only way to get and stay sober. So the fear-based stuff doesn’t work for me at all. I now know quite a few people who go to AA meetings most days and in some cases every single day. I would never presume to say they don’t need to or shouldn’t, any more than I want anyone else presuming they know what my path should be (and besides, the proof is in the pudding—they are amazing people). But I call bullshit on the idea that I and every other person in this situation had better go to meetings often and forever–or even at all–or be guaranteed screwed with a capital S.   On the other hand, some of the vehement anti-AA stuff I’ve read online strikes me as the flip side of the same dogmatic coin.

Largely because two people I admire and trust asked me to, I kept an open mind about AA and didn’t rule it out. Meanwhile, I went to a Buddhist recovery meeting a couple of times. I thought that had to be the ticket for me since I had been practicing meditation and yoga for years and loved the idea of a recovery program based on Buddhist principles and mindfulness practices. To my surprise, that meeting didn’t do it for me and I can’t even say why. Maybe it would have grown on me, but I couldn’t stick with it anyway due to my work schedule. I did find a book there that has been a wonderful resource for me, One Breath At a Time:  Buddhism and the Twelve Steps by Kevin Griffin. That book pointed to the possibility of finding compatibility between AA and my beliefs about spiritual growth.

I decided despite my reservations, it would be stupid to not at least explore this program that was tried and true for millions. So I went to my first AA meeting and found it thoroughly depressing. The talk was all doom and gloom and war stories—I did not find it helpful at all. Here was me: “I cannot believe I am away from my family at dinnertime to sit in this dark church basement right now. Is this really my life now? Seriously?”

My sponsor/friend encouraged me to try a couple more meetings before making up my mind, and I agreed. I started reading the Big Book given to me at the first meeting. I found that I actually like the AA literature a lot. You do have to get past some of the dated language and gender bias. I have had to develop my own interpretations of words like “powerless” and “disease”—interpretations that feel empowering instead of demoralizing. Other than that, most of what I read in the literature resonates as truth for me.

On my birthday, I tried another meeting. It was in the morning in a sunlit room, and it could not have felt more different. It was not depressing at all–quite the opposite. I heard inspiring stories and insights about how people are learning to live better lives. People talked about how they are taking responsibility for their own thoughts and behavior, releasing control of others, and learning to be better spouses, parents, sons, daughters and friends through their recovery.  There was sadness and struggle, and there was also laughter.  I thought, “Now here is a meeting I can do.” And the location was poignant for me—it’s right around the corner from the house where I lived in high school—the house I used to sneak out of at night to go “partying” with my friends. The meeting is on the very street where I took walks many times a day to get away and be alone, smoking and listening to my Walkman, looking at the same view. My recovery could begin in the very place where the problem took hold and grew roots. At the end of the meeting, a woman gave me a small pewter angel.

I started going about once a week. I didn’t have to speak at all until I was good and ready, and that was important for me. You could go to that meeting forever and never say a word. There is another one I go to occasionally—a women’s meeting that I also really like. But it’s a good thing I didn’t try it until I had several months’ sobriety under my belt. Because at the end of that meeting, they go around the room and everyone who didn’t share introduces themselves one by one, by saying, “I’m ______ and I’m an alcoholic.” There is no explicit requirement that you MUST introduce yourself in exactly that way, but that’s what every single person does, so clearly that’s the expectation. By the time I tried that meeting, I was fine with saying that out loud in a room full of strangers. In my first weeks of sobriety, I wouldn’t have been. I would never have gone back to that meeting, and it could have scared me away from the program entirely. I think it’s important that people feel free to sit in meetings and just listen, and not speak at all unless they choose to, and not feel pressured to make declarations about themselves.

There are a couple of mavericks at my regular meeting who introduce themselves by saying ‘I’m ______ and I’m in recovery.” I really like that. Even if you’re fine with the alcoholic label, identifying yourself as being in recovery puts the focus on the solution instead of the problem. I’ve considered making that my practice as well. I still may do it. For now, when I choose to speak, I am fine with saying “I’m ______ and I’m an alcoholic.” I just feel like, you know what? It’s true, I now believe, at least by most definitions. It may not be the most positive way to repeatedly self-identify. But whatever, it’s fine. It’s what 99% of people do in meetings, and when in Rome, you know?

I go to meetings now because I like going. I find it inspiring and positive, and I learn something each time. Occasionally, I share something myself and in doing so, I have the privilege of participating in others’ recovery. My meetings help me remember that sobriety is something I must nurture and not take for granted. The stories people tell show me all the ways that sobriety is about a lot more than just not drinking. I like that men and women from all walks of life welcome each other and connect through this common journey.  I’ve met a couple of people that I’m getting to know better, but in most cases I only know the other members by what they share with the group. Still, I love these men and women. Many of them I would never have given a second glance if I walked past them on the street. Now I get all excited when they start talking, because I know I’m about to hear something awesome and real, and that is a gift. What a surprise–the Kool-aid actually tastes pretty damn good!

Once a week feels just right. Meetings are important to my recovery, AND they are just one part of my recovery landscape. Some days, a Zumba class does more for my sobriety than a meeting! I create time and space for nurturing my sobriety in lots of other ways—with meditation, jogging, yoga, writing, reading about sobriety and spiritual growth, and psychotherapy.   And doing my best to remember to practice mindfulness in all the ordinary activities of the day, and release my attempts to control everything (with highly variable degrees of success!). These are the ways I tend my fire.

How do you tend yours?

© soberfire, 2015

The Other Scarlet Letter “A”

“Yeah, but am I REALLY an alcoholic?” “MUST I take on this label?” Those are the questions we wrestle with, especially the “high-functioning” types among us, right? I just read a great blog post from one such newly sober woman. Also, I just saw this video. I wish I’d seen it at the beginning of my two-year moderation odyssey–it would have been a lot shorter, I think. I identified myself as an alcoholic in my first post. That’s only because I wrote it several months into sobriety. Here’s what I wrote to my friend Joe when I first I reached out to him on day two:

“…Mostly I’m afraid of taking on the big “A” word as part of my identity. I may very well fit the clinical definition, but still, I’d rather just say to myself and others, that I’m not drinking because I was starting to drink more than is healthy and quitting altogether is the best way for me, you know? That is a true story, if not the whole entire story in vivid detail.”

Why didn’t I want to identify as an alcoholic, even as I knew I needed to quit drinking?   The stigma, obviously.  Not wanting to be mistaken, at some unknown future point by unidentified people, for someone who was physically dependent, which I never was. (Not that anyone gives a shit about the semantics of my drinking problem, but you know what they say–we alcoholics are a self-absorbed lot!).

Plus, let’s face it, it’s confusing. The line is fuzzy between “problem drinker” and “alcoholic.” Some definitions draw that line at physical dependence, but most seem to define anyone with addictive behavior around alcohol as an alcoholic, whether or not they must drink daily to avoid withdrawal symptoms. It seems even the clinicians can’t figure out what to call whom. Although maybe they finally have—the American Psychiatric Association has revised their definition in the DSM-5. They put it all on a continuum called Alcohol Abuse Disorder with mild, moderate, and severe categories.  So my type A brain can now be happy that I can give myself a clinical diagnosis that makes sense to me—I’m in recovery from a mild-to-moderate alcohol abuse disorder. But I doubt the new terminology is going to make it into the recovery lexicon anytime soon, at least not outside clinical circles. So I still have to deal with the word “alcoholic.”

There was another reason for my resistance. I was under the impression that people who embraced the label took it on as the primary thing that defined them, and the recovery program became just about all their lives are about. I have heard people say things like, “I made AA my life.”  I was shocked to find out that even after many years of sobriety, a lot of people go to meetings most days or every day. That scared the crap out of me. I wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to go to meetings at all, never mind every day—not now, and certainly not years from now.  It seemed that accepting the label meant throwing myself whole hog into this subculture.   That’s great for people who want to do that, or people who must in order to stay sober. But I knew it wasn’t my path.

Then I found my sponsor, “Susie.” I worked with her on a project years ago and she’s one of the sparkliest people I’ve ever met. I ran into her a few times over the years, and each time I thought, “Now there’s someone I’d like to get to know better.” When I had about three weeks of sobriety, I remembered her telling me she had been in recovery for a number of years, so I contacted her. She enthusiastically assured me that sobriety is “PURE FREEDOM!” and we made plans to meet for a walk. She told me her story and how she has stayed sober for 23 years. She did the 12 steps with a sponsor “military style,” exactly as prescribed in the program. We talked a lot about my discomfort with the program and the insistence in the AA community that people who find a different path are doing it wrong and will surely drink again. She said that while she loves the steps and did them in the traditional way, her one issue with the program is the insistence that one size fits all. This scares people away from recovery, she said.   She also rejects the notion that all alcoholics must attend meetings often and forever in order to stay sober, and in fact only goes a few times a year herself at this point. What IS critical to sobriety, she said, is continuing to work on yourself either through the 12 steps or some other path to spiritual growth, and to keep sobriety “always in the forefront, never in the background.”

Now here was a woman I could relate to. Here was someone who DID have what I wanted. Long-term sobriety, a happy, productive life and a recovery program that supported her but didn’t define and overtake her whole existence. Yes, I’ll take that. She offered to be my sponsor and said she would be happy to take me through the steps formally as she had done them, or just be there to support me if I chose to go about my recovery in another way. She also did not insist that I ADMIT RIGHT NOW THAT I’M AN ALCOHOLIC. She said I was the only one who could decide that, and if I would rather just call myself a problem drinker, that was fine with her, too. I am so grateful to her and to Joe for their light touch, and for supporting me in finding my own way to a recovery approach that makes sense to me and feels right.

© soberfire, 2015

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