soberfire

Archive for the tag “substance abuse”

Eight Months Sober: Blessings and Curses

The Blessings:

I’m a better mom.

My kids didn’t experience direct effects of my alcoholism because I did most of my heavier drinking after their bedtime. But I wonder about the subtle effects of having a parent in an active addiction pattern over those last couple years.   And I know they experienced the not-so-subtle effects of my crankiness and irritability due to low-grade hangovers and anxiety. Now I have my patience back. I can be with my kids with joy and ease again.

I’m a better wife.

With my husband, I was cycling between two states: trying to connect and have fun together when I was having a few weeks here and there of “doing well” with my moderation plans, and “checking out”–avoiding him when I was drinking too much. And of course there was the dishonesty of trying to minimize (even to myself sometimes) how much I was actually drinking. He watched it getting worse, and he was afraid for the future and what could happen to our family. That is over. I’m not hurting him and worrying him anymore. I have nothing to hide, and I am present in my marriage continuously. We are together again.

My anxiety has been lifted.

I’ve written extensively about the social anxiety that has cropped up since I got sober. I’m still grappling with some of it (see below). But the really painful kind that has more to do with belonging and loneliness has become so much lighter since I wrote about it. Once I saw the truth of it, where it came from, it transformed.

The true miracle is how my generalized anxiety has all but disappeared. And it happened quickly. Even in the early days and weeks, facing the difficulty of getting through the witching hour without my wine, I felt immediate relief from the backdrop of constant, low-level angst. In the last year or so of my drinking, I knew that I was using alcohol partially to medicate anxiety. I knew that was unhealthy and a really bad long-term solution. But I thought as a short-term fix, it worked pretty well, however ill-advised. I had no idea now much anxiety alcohol was actually creating for me—no doubt the substance itself, but also the internal battle I was fighting daily. I was working SO hard to make it not be true. It was like expending half your energy trying to make the sky green. It’s exhausting, and REALLY stressful!   A lot more stressful, to my surprise, than getting sober—at least for me.

I’m healthier and I feel better physically.

I wake up feeling great, every day. Well, almost. I woke up with a regular, normal headache a couple weeks ago and thought, wow, having a headache sucks–I can’t believe I put up with this so often!

I’m more productive.

I’m getting a lot more stuff done. Because better health and more energy. See above.

Writing.

Sobriety has given me my writing, period. It gave me both the motivation and the material to start this blog. That led to other writing. Some of it is quite shocking to me. Poems out of nowhere. I do NOT write poetry, or so I thought. Once I got started, the floodgates have opened. I see now that writing is part of who I am, and not writing for so many years has hurt a lot. I don’t know all the reasons I sent my inner writer into exile a long time ago, but alcoholism surely is one of them. She is coming home, and I am so grateful. This is a big part of my happiness right now—finally doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I know, with absolute certainty, this would not be happening if I were still drinking.

I can still have fun at dinners and parties. I do still have some issues to work out around this (see below). I may not stay as late. But I CAN have fun. It took some time, but I can be happy with my sparkling water or herbal tea while others imbibe. In fact, I can listen better and focus more on the people I’m with. I am starting to look forward to these occasions instead of seeing them merely as a challenge to overcome.

I see progress. The witching hour is almost not even a thing anymore!  In the beginning, I HAD to have my sparkling water with lemon in a wine glass at 5:00. Now, I don’t even think about it. Sobriety is about so much more than not drinking, of course, but part of it is simply getting used to not drinking by getting some time under your belt. It is still strange sometimes when I think about it—wow, I’m a person who doesn’t drink now—how the #&*% did that happen? But for the most part, not drinking has become the norm in my days. I’m no longer thinking, “Here’s me, NOT drinking.” I’m used to it now. It’s OK. It’s more than OK, it’s good.

 My sex drive is BACK. Maybe not like when I was 25 or 30. But better than it’s been in years. Alcoholism is a libido killer, for sure. Sobriety is not 🙂

The Curses:

I still struggle with what to say when people ask why I’m not drinking. I wrote about this extensively in this post. I am a bit less anxious over it, but it is not the nonissue I would like it to be. I have a new strategy for dealing with drink offers courtesy of a fellow blogger—the enthusiastic YES strategy: “Oh, yes, I’d love a drink, I’ll take some sparkling water, please!” Still playing with it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be really comfortable with this unless I decide to “come out” as a person in recovery. But I trust I’ll get comfortable enough, with time and practice.

Sometimes I still feel sadness over not being able to drink like normal people.

This came up recently. I had coffee with a new friend and later she messaged me, saying “Let’s get together again, this time with dinner and wine!” Sigh. That hit me right in the gut. It isn’t so much about whether to tell her—maybe a little, but I think I could comfortably tell this person. It is grief over not being able to do that anymore. No more bonding with a new friend over wine, no more loosening up and getting giddy with girlfriends in that way that really was wonderful. Oh, well. I remind myself that there are much worse problems to have. It is a blessing to have friends to spend time with in the first place. Perspective.

I’m not losing weight, dammit! I thought for sure the extra 30 pounds would just melt right off given all the calories I’m not drinking. I’ve replaced alcohol only with sparkling water, coffee, and tea with no sweeteners (no artificial ones, either).   I really don’t think I’m eating more. I got faked out because I did lose 5 pounds pretty quickly, but then it came back on and stayed.   So this has been a disappointment. But hey, at least I’m not gaining weight!

A blessing and a curse:

I have to feel everything, or, I get to feel everything!

Feelings have nowhere to hide since I nixed my usual escape hatch. This is hard sometimes. Big feelings feel bigger. Sadness, loneliness, anger, regret, shame—it’s all sharper. I feel it all in my body more. But I am learning that I can let it all come, and in its own time, it will go. I’m learning to trust that I can handle it, and it’s always temporary, so I try not to fight it.   It really is mostly a blessing, even the really hard stuff, because then I get to see that I can come out the other side of it and be better than fine. And I get to feel more joy and more love, too. It’s ALL bigger.

Looking at these lists, there is really no question which one carries more weight. Sobriety is a blessing.

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 3: Everything Old Is New Again

Soon after I quit drinking, I noticed a strange new development that I didn’t immediately connect with new sobriety. It is still ongoing, although I’m working through it. I am frequently overwhelmed with painful feelings of not belonging, not being chosen, not being included. “Will they like me?” “Do they like me?” “Look at that fun event they posted pictures of on Facebook, how come we weren’t invited to that?” “Oh, I don’t think she likes me.” “Nobody likes me!” I noticed I was feeling increasing angst over these questions and I thought, “WTF is this? Am I in junior high again?”

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I am! I am 13 again. That’s the age I started drinking—my path to deadening the pain of not belonging, among other things. That 13-year-old girl has a lot of unfinished business. Now that I’ve taken away the anesthetic, she has stepped forward, and is insisting some attention be paid to her wounds.

I’m not surprised at all that old issues are resurfacing, but I am taken a bit by surprise that it’s manifesting as social anxiety. If you had asked me what my main problems were at that age, social difficulties would have been quite a few down on the list. So it’s taken me some time to begin untangling this.

At age 10, my family moved to another state and I had no difficulty making new friends.  Then, at age 12, we moved back. My old friends were at different schools, and I was the “new kid”  at the most torturous age possible.  I had no friends at all for most of the school year, no one talked to me, and I cried every night. It was bloody awful.

I finally started to make friends after running into a girl from school on the beach in another state during spring break. We bonded that week, and when we got back to school, I quickly assimilated into her group of friends. They were good kids and we really did have supportive, loving friendships, and I was so grateful and relieved. At the same time, I was still me–desperate for belonging and fearful of being on the outside again. I wanted to do whatever was necessary to fit in seamlessly. They smoked and drank, so I did, too. They never pressured me, per se. The pressure came from within me, if there was any pressure at all. I remember that when the first opportunities to drink with friends arose, I took them with no deliberation at all—there was no question what I would do.   I quickly learned that drinking made me feel less self-conscious and helped me forget everything except the fun of the moment.

Much happened to me and within me around age 13, most of which is beyond the scope of this post.  My friends were literally my lifeline, and in some cases, I was theirs. I believed I was nothing without them—that they were the only thing good in my life.  I was also consumed by feelings of not being good enough, fears of not being accepted, and fears of losing whatever acceptance I’d gained at any moment.  Despite the fact that this doesn’t match the current reality, these feelings are all coming back up now, I believe because I stopped drinking. The pain feels old and new at the same time, and it feels very real.

The current reality is that I have fewer friendships in my daily life than ever before. I grew apart from a couple of my close friends as we got married and had kids. A couple of others moved away, and while we keep in touch a few times a year, and we can pick up where we left off on the rare occasions we see each other, it’s obviously not the same. As for friends I’ve had for decades that I still see on a regular basis, there is one left.  And there is one other treasured friendship that is newer but solid. The others are tenuous. Months can go by before we see each other or even talk. It seems everyone is just too busy. These newer friendships tend to feel so promising and then they never seem to get beyond a certain point of very occasional get-togethers. I want more. Girlfriends, you know? Like I used to have, people who are part of your daily, or at least weekly, life.

I am beginning to wonder how my alcoholism has affected the role of friendships in my life. I have read articles like this one about the difficulty of growing new friendships at this age, and I know it’s not all about what’s wrong with me. But I can’t help but look around and wonder, where are my soul sisters? Where is my woman tribe? How is it that female friendships have always been so crucially important to me, and yet I have not managed to build a strong and lasting circle?   Was too much of what I have to give taken up by my alcoholism and all the energy it took to try and control it?

Besides being a fun drinking buddy, I have always been the friend who wants to talk about real stuff, and listen to real stuff, too. I know friends have felt loved and supported by me over the years, at least in large part. Since I’ve been struggling with all this, I have considered whether being an empathic person is an ego construct—some kind of story I like to tell myself.   But no–I know it is a genuine part of who I am.  Still, I wonder about the self-absorption that I am told is a hallmark of alcoholism. Is it possible I am not as good a friend as I always prided myself to be?

So, a perfect storm has gathered here. Very currently, I feel lonely for real community with women, and I’ve felt this way off and on for a couple of years. Now I add the layer of my recovery—this major thing happening in my life that carries a stigma, and my conflicted feelings about if and when to tell new friends, and how they might react. And meanwhile, the part of me that is 13 again suffers a preoccupation with belonging and inclusion that has the exact flavor and quality of that early adolescent age. Several times over the last (almost) 8 months, I have been racked with sobs over real or imagined slights and child-like feelings of being “left out.” It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that as a woman in her 40’s, but hey, that’s why this blog is anonymous!

All this adds up to feeling incredibly raw and vulnerable.

There are good things happening. I am blessed to have the close friends I do have. The get-together I was all nervous about in my last post happened last night, and it was lovely. I talked to my sponsor beforehand about all of this, especially the question of what to say about my glass of sparkling water instead of wine. She said, “Let’s put this into perspective. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Worst case scenario is…drumroll…they will think you’re an alcoholic!” That, along with several comments from readers here, helped me relax a bit and not take it so deadly seriously. One of the women did ask if I drink when she saw my Perrier, and when I said no, she said, “Really, not at all? Is that because you’re a better person than me?” I said, “Definitely not, I just discovered I feel better when I don’t.” Not the whole truth, but also not a lie. And that was that. It was a really fun night, and at the end, there were hugs and a heartfelt “We really should hang out more often.” I got a phone call today from one of them and a text from another about getting together again. And, I am meeting another new friend for coffee next week.

These things make me so happy, but I must be careful even about that. I must move beyond diving into tailspins called “What’s wrong with me?” if someone I like seems uninterested in a friendship with me. By the same token, I cannot depend on positive signs of new friendship to feel good about who I am.

Where is the line between healthy, natural desire for connection and community and neediness, desperation?   Wherever that line is, at the moment it seems to be a fine and precarious one for me. I do know which side of that line I want to be on. I want to come to new friendships from a place of genuine interest and caring for others, not out of craving for whatever emotional need friendships promise to fill for me.

Time to listen to the 13-year-old me, hear what she has to say, and discover what she needs in order to heal. As for this longing for more connection and community, I think I must first find that in connection with my own spirit, and with God. I believe the rest will follow.  This is my healing work.

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 2: What the Hell am I Supposed to Tell People?

I went to a work party about six months before I quit drinking. Nothing dramatic happened, but it stands out in my memory of drinking related episodes toward the end, when I was trying so hard to drink like a normal person. I was in the midst of one of my many moderation plans, and I actually thought I had it this time. This particular plan was entitled: “I’m removing alcohol from normal life activities.   I only drink on special occasions now.” And I hadn’t had a drink in a month or so, since the holidays! Success! See? No problem, I’ve got this drinking “issue” under control. Now, I knew I would want to drink at this thing—it was a work party, after all. But I was really trying to be purist about “special occasions only,” and decided before going that this did not qualify and I would not drink. That lasted less than 5 minutes. As soon as I walked in the door, a friend from another department bounced up to me and said, “Yay! We get to drink wine together!” I looked at her like a deer in the headlights and the poor thing was so confused, looking concerned and asking, “What’s wrong?!” I quickly recovered and determined that there was no f-ing way I would be stumbling over “Oh, I’m not drinking tonight.” And furthermore, there was no f-ing way I would be doing this event without wine, period. So I went straight to the bar with my friend and got my wine, and what a relief. Soon I ordered a second, and I was so pissed that they were serving those tiny wine glasses that actually hold 4 ounces. I forced myself to drink at half the speed I wanted to and tried to focus on conversation with my colleagues. After dinner, I went to the bar and got a third glass, wondering if anyone would notice that I was still drinking wine while everyone else at my table had switched to coffee. When I got home, I drank more, of course. After that, “special occasions” became ever more loosely defined, and I was back to my old habits in no time.

The same annual work party came around again recently, six months onto my sobriety. This time I skipped it, even though I love opportunities to socialize with the people I work with, and there aren’t enough of them. So why didn’t I go? It wasn’t because I was afraid I would want to drink. It was because I couldn’t think of a single thing to say that I felt comfortable with if someone were to ask me why I wasn’t drinking. My friend Joe says, “Just get a glass of something and carry it around. Nobody gives a shit what you’re drinking except another alcoholic.” Maybe. But still. I knew it wasn’t rational, to be that concerned about whether anyone would ask, and what I would say. I guess it’s because I really don’t want people from work to know, and I’m not a very good liar. The fear is that no matter what I say, they will see through me and know.

I don’t know what to say in lower-stakes situations, either. A few family members and very close friends know why I don’t drink anymore. What to do about the more casual friends and acquaintances I’ve drank with in the past? A few times, I have been asked directly and even probingly why I’m not drinking. I have said things to the effect that I’m getting older and I started getting headaches the next day after just a couple glasses of wine, so I experimented with giving it up and found that I feel better not drinking at all. I like how that all sounds, but it’s a lie. I have said I’m on some Paleo no sugar, no grains, no alcohol nutritional cleanse thing. Another lie. I’m a pretty up-front, straight shooting kind of person. What you see is generally what you get. Not now, not with this.   I really hate that. I want to tell the truth. I suspect at some point, I won’t care anymore and I will. But not for a long time.

There are the people I’ve met since I quit, and those I knew before but who never saw me drink. They are mostly other moms who I’ve only socialized with through kids’ activities during the day. No problem, unless you go to a mom’s night out or other evening occasion where there is alcohol. I may be getting to the point where I could actually say, simply, “I don’t drink.” Even a month ago, that felt like a joke. “I don’t drink” implies that I’m one of those bizarre people who don’t like the taste or (gasp) don’t like the feeling or something.   It’s hard to imagine saying it with a straight face.

The other day, I was talking with three other moms, none of whom know whether I drink or not. One of them was singing hallelujah about a recent article saying a glass of red wine is as good as an hour at the gym. I decided to take a stab at participating in the general banter about alcohol (maybe partly to feel them out, because I’m having dinner with them in a few days). So I said, “Yup, the trouble is, three glasses of red wine does not equal three hours at the gym.” Hahaha. Then the second woman said, “Oh, if I ever had three glasses of wine, I’d be so drunk, I’m such a lightweight, cheap date,” etc. And the third said she picks her calories and would rather have dessert than a drink (hmmm…another closet recovery person? I wonder). These are new friends. I have just barely begun getting to know them, and I have no idea what to expect at this dinner. Maybe I will to be able to quietly, simply, have my sparkling water. Or maybe I’m going to be in a position of having to say something about why I’m not having wine. I like these women. I don’t want to start new friendships with lies, or even half-truths. I also don’t want to tell them the real story.

What do you tell people? How often have people actually asked? How has your approach to this issue evolved since you first got sober?

© soberfire, 2015

Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 1: Loss of the Lube

A common struggle for people in recovery–and a scary part of deciding to get sober in the first place–is navigating social situations without the glorious, wondrous, magical super lube. I’m sorry to say part of me still views it that way, but there it is. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t had any fun in social situations since I quit drinking. I have genuinely enjoyed myself at some gatherings where I was the only one not drinking. This has given me hope that my new sober life need not be devoid of fun, and I don’t have to become a boring party-pooper.  I’ve had glimmers—a taste of what will hopefully become the rule rather than the exception. I have felt what it can be like—true presence with people, listening fully, without half my focus being pulled elsewhere (sometimes toward the effort of trying to keep a lid on my alcohol intake, and sometimes toward the nagging guilt in the background for choosing to drink with abandon). I have already experienced the blessing of leaving a gathering grateful for having what felt like the best of all worlds—fun with friends, total clarity, and knowing I’d wake up in the morning feeling great, with unclouded memories.

I’m not going to hold on too tightly to those glimmers, though. I keep hearing that as time goes on, social events get easier and sobriety can mean socializing with joy and ease. I am hopeful that will be true more and more often as time goes on. I really believe it will happen.  And yet, I’m not going to bank on it. Because I need to stay sober either way. Even if the social aspects stay challenging forever.

The toughest time was my sister’s wedding about five weeks after I quit. I so wanted to rise above the struggle and simply be happy for my loved ones, untainted by this beast. I wish I could say I was grateful to be fully present and alert for every moment, focusing only on them, not my own inner drama. Nope. It absolutely sucked not drinking. That’s the plain truth. The ceremony was beautiful. Then, the cocktail hour was of course ALL ABOUT THE BOOZE, and I felt deprived. Instead of focusing on the occasion and enjoying the lovely people around me, I was having my own little personal pity party about my seltzer with lime. I scolded my kids harshly for getting their clothes dirty rolling down the hill. I never get uptight about that kind of thing—I like my kids to have fun and get dirty—even at a wedding. I was trying, trying, trying, but I was so tightly wound.   The dinner was hard. The dancing was hard. I love to dance, and I made myself get up there for a couple songs, but I didn’t really feel it. The whole day and night, I felt raw, shaky and awkward and like I was on the periphery of it all. I simply had to soldier through it. I did the best I could and I didn’t drink. Everything went perfectly for my sister and it was a beautiful wedding. I’m sad that I couldn’t be present in the way I would have liked to be, but I guess I wouldn’t have been if I’d been drinking, either.

That was the only occasion so far where I had to fight the strong desire to pick up a drink.   Other times, the difficulty is feeling awkward and nervous. Feeling shy.  I never even knew I was shy. I’m not, really. Actually, I don’t know whether I am or not!   How crazy is that? I’m 43 years old, and I don’t even know anymore if I’m shy or not, or if I’m really an extrovert like I thought I was. I feel more like my gregarious self in small gatherings. At the few larger parties I’ve been to, I’ve clammed up and shut down, just waiting for it to be over. I’ve also felt overstimulated by the noise and number of people. It all makes me wonder if I’m not something of an introvert after all, sans booze.

I guess most of us must rediscover (recreate?) who our social selves really are when we give up alcohol. My friend “Joe,” who has 30+ years of sobriety, says he likes being around people who’ve had a couple drinks. He says they are a lot of fun, and they are more themselves. I think that can be true with people who don’t have a problem, or even sometimes for people who do, before it gets bad. I miss how it was when it was good. We don’t have the luxury, says Joe. Even as it gets easier, that will always be a sad thing for me. I believe it’s good for my sobriety to give that its due, rather than pretend it was never any good anyhow. It’s a loss, period. Not the end of the world, not insurmountable, and not more significant than the gifts. But a loss nonetheless.

How is your social self changing since getting sober?

© 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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