I’ve been sober a long time now. Hell, I’ve been sober longer than I was drinking. I’ve been in recovery – true recovery – quite a few years less than those 18 years. I have slipped in and out of true recovery quite often through the years. My recovery looks different than yours and his and hers and theirs and that is ok. We are all just trying to move through this life the best we can. But I have remained sober and that is the baseline.
It’s not that I’m going to take a drink these days but rather that I will self sabotage if left to my own devices. If left alone with my own head for too long. If I can stay out of my own way and get to helping others, I do much better in my recovery. That much I’ve learned. GETTING OUT OF SELF IS THE BEST WAY TO SNAP OUT OF IT.
Gratitude is always a course to get me back on track. If I can find my way to gratitude, no matter how much swearing is involved, I can usually right this ship. I can find the darkness all too easily, but gratitude can be more elusive. I am full of rage and sadness about so much. SO MUCH. And yet I have to find gratitude because my survival depends on it. AND IT CAN BE HARD. Life is a bitter pill to swallow some days.
My brain still cannot be fully trusted. My brain tells me it’s a good idea to jump into the train tracks. My brain tells me it’s a good idea to run away and never look back. My brain tells me that no matter what I do or don’t do with my kids, they will inevitably be screwed up and damaged – because of me.
But my brain will also – if given the correct amount of time and leeway (AND THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO RECOGNIZE THAT FEELINGS CHANGE SO DON’T DO ANYTHING DRASTIC) – tell me to back away from the tracks. My brain will tell me that if I run away, I am still stuck with me and that’s the whole thing, isn’t it? Wherever I go, there I am.
I am still this woman with anxiety and depression and addiction issues, but I AM SO MUCH MORE. My brain also reminds me when I’m questioning everything – often how I could’ve brought these two babies into this world – that these kids couldn’t have a more perfect mother for them than me. They need me to help them navigate all this shit and I’m the perfect mother to help them with all that. As long as I keep making good choices, I can help them make good choices.
So I have done some healing in these 18 years. I have done some retraining of my brain and worked tirelessly on my impulse control. Hell, this entire presidency has been a lesson in impulse control and what will actually make a difference and what won’t. You can’t argue with drunk or stupid or narcissism or lack of empathy.
18 years is a long time to not take a drink. It seems I missed out on Bud Light Lime and then all the flavored vodkas and now all the flavored sparking waters, like, White Claw is a thing now I guess and all that Rose all day business? I missed out on a lot. But I really didn’t, right?
What I’ve found in return for quitting drinking is this life beyond my wildest dreams and it is hard and heartbreaking and devastating but it is also joyful and beautiful and wondrous and life affirming all at the same time.
Our school women’s group announced that all meetings this year are to be held in a local bar. Now, I’m not a regular at these meetings, but the fact that they are now being held in a bar discourages me from attending. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I may be more vocal about my sobriety than most, but I know there are other women at my school who feel the same way. A few moms reached out to me directly to ask how I felt about this development – and just – well, thank you. THAT is how you are an ally and support someone even though you may not be directly impacted. I can take care of myself and not put myself in harms way, but it’s nice to be acknowledged. Inclusivity comes in many forms.
Oh October 4th, 2001. You will always hold a place for me in my heart, in my life, in my gratitude lists. When October rolls around each year I feel instinctually grateful. I feel reflective and sad and hopeful and just, well, thankful for the opportunity to have this chance.
If you are new to sobriety, please just hang on. The first days, minutes, seconds are so so so hard and you have to relearn every single thing you thought you knew, but if you hang on long enough your brain starts to reprogram. It is possible.
I remember wandering around in a haze so many times looking at “normal” people and wondering how they did it. How they functioned without alcohol or drugs and just went about their every day lives with no buffer. Wasn’t that super hard? The answer is HELL YES IT IS SUPER HARD.
But then one day you wake up and it’s 18 years since your last drink and you wonder how you ever existed before finding yourself. You wonder what your life would be like if you were still drinking or worse yet – if you were dead – which is where I should really be if life were truly fair.
Even a mere 18 years ago, being a woman in recovery was still kind of a hush hush thing, and today it seems there are so many women out in their recovery that it feels much more welcoming and acceptable. I’m grateful.
I think about the conversations I’ve had with other women in particular about drinking and how it robs us. Alcohol is a liar and a thief and I am here to tell you that no matter how messy or mundane my life is today, I cannot imagine doing it while drinking. I cannot imagine missing out on all the little moments that, while nestled in between the rotten and heart shattering ones, make life so freaking beautiful you feel like you may not be able to handle all this breathtaking goodness.
But I can and I do and I witness and I stand in my life today as a woman of character and stature that I never dreamed my life would hold. I stand in the heft of my body and feel the aches and pains and know that I have lived long enough to warrant feeling every feeling that I experience. I rest assured knowing that I have tools to help me navigate life today that I never had some 18 years ago. I can help my kids walk through their lives and let them know that whatever they are feeling or thinking or desiring, it’s all ok and we can walk through it together. I get to be here for them today. If I keep on trudging this road.
I have drinking dreams. I still have drinking dreams. You would think they would eventually stop but the impact was so dramatic on my life, on my body, on my brain, that it’s all still in there.
In many ways, I am who I am today solely based on alcohol. Had my life gone a different way, had I not become addicted to alcohol, where would I be today? And then, why me? Why do I get the gift of recovery and pulling myself out when so so so many people don’t? I don’t know. I know it’s not at all fair. I just know I choose to take each day and try my best to take no shit and do no harm. I try my best to help others and present myself the best way I can so that people know they are not alone and that if they need someone to talk to, I’m their gal.
It’s a comfortable, complacent place to be some 18 years into recovery and that is where it gets a bit dicey, right? You hear people tell stories of folks who were clean for so many years – decades – then they went back out and that was it. I don’t want to be that person. I want to back away from the train tracks.
I am where I am because of the humans who walked this path before me and shared their experience, strength and hope so generously. I am part of that now. I never take that lightly. I am part of that for my family, for my friends, for my community. I am so proud of how far I’ve come. But I absolutely couldn’t have done it alone and without sharing every part of me with other people. My family, my loves, my friends, my sober companions, the strangers still struggling who reach out are all the reasons I am here. Connection is the key. Connection with other humans is the part I loathe seeking out and yet when I find it, it keeps me sober and full of joy and gratitude.
There are few things that bring me to my knees in gratitude quicker than when I think where I was all those 18 years ago. And then 15 years ago, then 10, then 5. Because I keep growing. I keep moving forward. And when I don’t, I feel it. I feel the resentment and the indifference and the chaos swirling. I feel the depression lurking. I feel the negativity lashing out into corners of my speech and treatment of people that is unwarranted and uncharacteristic. I am a woman in recovery and I take that very very seriously. I am who people think of when they hear about sobriety or someone they love is struggling. I am an important part of my community. But that only holds true if I am being good to myself and extending that goodness outwards.
Anxiety, depression, addiction to alcohol. These are the beasts that threaten my every day existence. And yet they are not to be feared as much as they are to be accepted and incorporated into my life today. They aren’t going away. They are my dark passengers and they have brought me to destinations and to people I never ever intended, desired, expected to find.
I don’t begrudge myself these things for they are all part of what makes me so who I am. It’s simple really. I’m 18 years in and I really really like myself today. My confidence in my ability to walk through this life every day is unwavering because my kids make it so. I show up for them. But I also show up for myself and that is more important.
Thinking of all I’ve seen in 18 years is astonishing. The deaths, births, re-births of so many people is humbling. So many don’t ever make it. I will not squander this life. I am mad as hell and I am fighting for what is good and right, but I swear to gods if we don’t find some laughter and joy and beauty then what is the point.
And so on this anniversary of my sobriety, 18 years in, I celebrate quietly and reflectively. My recovery is ever evolving and looks much different than it did all those years ago, but isn’t that how it should be? There is no one right way to live a life, to be in recovery, to mother our children. But what a gift it is to be given the chance.
My son said recently, “I can’t believe we have so many days of school in our lives – how will we get through it all?” I said, “You know how I live my life? I live it one day at a time. That’s all I can handle. Then I put it to bed being grateful for all the good and hard things that happened that day and wake up the next day and do it from scratch all over again. It helps make my life a little easier to walk through.” His big eyes told me he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “That’s how you do it? That seems like a good way to do life.”
I cherish the life I have today, with all the connections and the human understanding and the walking together just to make it through each day. THAT is what I really longed for all along. I just took some winding, thorny roads to get here. I wonder what the next 18 has in store for me. As always, I will take it one day at a time. Thank you, as always, for being here with me.
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