What a year 2015 has been in this Unbuzzed life!
Here I record the significant events that added richness to my 4th year of sobriety.
- I left a job after 26 years and transitioned to a career that is soul-soothing instead of soul-sucking
- Turned 60
- Went on two retreats with sober women friends
- Attended a workshop and made a deer hide frame drum
- Took up lake kayaking as a minor obsession
- Made new friends
- Co-hosted a bridal shower and attended a wedding for a niece
- Volunteered at an annual Walk for Recovery
- Represented the face of recovery on the big screen at a major league baseball game while raising our team flag
- Traveled alone to attend the first ever Unite to Face Addiction rally and concert in Washington, DC
- Grew my little sober jewelry business
Every day, I was grateful for being sober. Without that, none of this would have been possible. Every day, I did my best to do the right thing. I have learned about the tools offered by AA as I attend my weekly fellowship meetings. I’ve continued to read about the unique paths of others in recovery, and as much as I’m able, support those who still struggle.
What was missing from 2015? Anger, resentment, judgement, jealousy, fear.
To think that it all began 4 years ago with a simple but terribly difficult decision to put away the bottle for good and begin the work of exploring life on life’s terms – one day, one week, one month, one year at a time.
Today I will face each of the challenges and opportunities that come my way, and I will not drink, no matter what.
Christmas Eve 2011 – I check my bank account balance on my phone before the liquor store closes early. I have about $11. Should I get a pint of whiskey or brandy? What if that’s not enough? It needs to last for two days until the liquor store opens again. Maybe wine, which is totally appropriate to drink at home on Christmas eve while opening presents with the family. One bottle for sure won’t be enough, but I don’t have enough money for two. I’ll go with the cheap wine in a 1.5 litre bottle for $9.99. As I pay for my purchase I’m acutely aware that I’m a slave to this bottle. I wonder if the clerk knows. Don’t be silly – it’s totally normal to buy a big bottle of wine on December 24. I walk out, clutching that big bottle in a paper bag, feeling ashamed. That night, I drink alone as I sit with my husband and son.
Christmas Eve 2014 – I’m not thinking about my bank account or liquor store hours. I’ve got some extra money from a little sober hobby I started. Some of that money I’ve used to buy a gift for a special friend. I was assigned this year to be JJ’s recovery coach, and our relationship has blossomed into one of mutual support and admiration. At 2 pm I’ll stop by to drop off her gift. There hasn’t been any alcohol brought into the house by me or my husband for 3 years now. We have plenty of sparkling water, juices, coffee and soda. I feel at peace. Our sons will come over; we’ll have a fire, food, gifts and a movie. I am free from the obsession to move through the evening with a drink in hand.
Life is good!
In my AA group we have a saying that surfaces in our meetings with great regularity: “So what?”.
For example: “I was really stressed out about getting the house ready for the birthday party until I caught myself and said ‘SO WHAT?’ So what if the toys aren’t all put away and there are dust bunnies under the furniture? Who cares?”
The “so what” reminder pops up so often in our conversations that I made each of us a pendant with a first name initial on the front and “so what?” on the back.
When I heard this song (Secrets by Mary Lambert) in my car recently, I couldn’t wait to share it with the group.
For me, “so what” is a positive tool to use in sobriety to reset my perspective. It’s different from “fuck it”, and I’ll try to explain why.
“Fuck it” was a common mental prelude to drinking when I was trying to quit. It was marked by resentment. Example: “I’m tired of being the only one in this house to take the garbage out. Fuck it, I’ll just do it and have a drink.”
Compare that to the “so what” response: “I see that the garbage is still there even though I asked Billy to take it out. So what? It’s not worth drinking over.”
While both expressions can signal an attitude of I DON’T CARE, “fuck it” means I don’t care enough about myself to deal with a situation in a healthy way. “So what” means I don’t care enough about the situation to allow it to threaten my serenity.
What do you think? Do you agree that “so what” is different from “fuck it”? Have you had a “fuck it” moment recently that you were able to turn around? (And do you love Mary Lambert as much as I do?)
The first year was all about learning to survive without the crutch of alcohol.
This is what I wrote when I reached one year of sobriety:
How did I feel as a drinker?
Guilty, foggy, forgetful, overcompensating, anxious, resentful, ashamed, judgmental, trapped, hopeless, weak, dependent, depressed.
How do I feel one year after making the decision to stop the madness?
Confident, clear, empowered, calm, able, grateful, humble, optimistic, compassionate, strong.
My life isn’t perfect. I’m still a work in progress. I’m not happy every day, but I’ve learned to tolerate the down times without seeking artificial relief. There isn’t a solution for every problem, and that’s just life. I walk through it and breathe through it.
Life is good anyway.
I’ve had a range of experiences in 2012 that have challenged me.
No matter what, I didn’t drink.
I maintained two jobs, attended two weddings and an out-of-state funeral, held my beloved dog as she was euthanized, agonized over chemical use issues with my teen child, assisted two adult sons through times of unemployment and relocation. I really wanted the comfort of alcohol during those times.
No matter what, I didn’t drink.
With the time and energy I gained from not drinking, I improved my life. I lost weight, read books, completed a duathlon, made home improvements, kept up with bills, went on a road trip and began building a more loving marriage with a husband who inspired my sobriety with his own.
I met and was inspired by some amazing people in an online support group. My life was reflected back to me as I read about theirs. I learned that “one drink is too many and one hundred is not enough”. I learned that massive action is needed to successfully battle the alcoholic voice. I learned that it’s easier to stay sober than to get sober.
So I continued to not drink, no matter what.
Amazingly enough, I’ve begun year two of sobriety. I’m a different person in many ways. I’m also the same person, but better.
Life is better.
As I moved through my 2nd year, my focus began to shift outward. I wrote these posts to my online forum mates:
Alcohol remains the dominant “go-to” in times of stress because you haven’t had enough sober time to build up the muscles it takes to cope by facing things head-on. Speaking from experience, it doesn’t happen overnight, but you can eventually get there if you reject alcohol at every turn no matter what. It may feel overwhelming right now, but it will not always be this way. Trust me on this.
This leads to the other topic at hand: AA vs. doing it on your own.
I don’t believe that most people can beat the addiction to alcohol completely on their own. I only did it after YEARS of failing. My way was slow and painful. Something about this forum and the wonderful role models I found here finally clicked for me, and I am beyond grateful for that.
However, if I had to give advice to my younger self, I would tell her to get her ass to an AA meeting or another in-person organization and cut out years of bullshit.
An update on my AA experience: I’ve gone to 3 weekly meetings with the same women’s group. It’s soooo good to be in the same room with people who understand. Just like being with you folks, but we can talk face to face. I read along in the 12 Steps/12 Traditions book but haven’t started any step work on my own yet, nor have I approached someone to be a sponsor.
My plan is to continue going to this meeting and also explore other in-person group options: other AA meetings, Women for Sobriety, and a Zen Center 12 Step meeting.
What I realize is that I like associating with alcoholics!
Let me rephrase that: I like spending time with thoughtful people who have used their alcoholic experiences to grow as human beings.
Into my 3rd year, this:
My AV/She-Devil/Wolfie is in deep hibernation, but I KNOW that just one drink can awaken the f*cker. Not gonna risk it. Not after getting to a place in life where I finally LIKE myself. There is a lot of living to do and I guarantee, dear readers, that it is worth every moment of struggle to get to freedom.
Life is good.
I continue to grow in recovery by making connections in real life. After a year I’m still going to weekly AA meetings. The women in that group inspire me daily. I’ve found opportunities to help other people through a Recovery Community Organization (RCO) that promotes many pathways to recovery. I’m enriched by my experience as a peer coach.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Life is full.
On December 24, 2011, at age 56, I had my last drink. I don’t know how many times I’d decided to quit before that. I don’t know what was different about that day, except that my husband had quit 6 days prior. Maybe that was the final push I needed. Today, as I celebrate 1,000 days of sobriety, I think it’s fitting to write a letter to my former self, which may also be a letter to someone who is reading this (is that you?). I’m still figuring out what works for me, and I humbly offer in Part I some practical suggestions for early sobriety based on what I’ve learned so far.
You know it’s time to quit drinking. With every attempt at long-term moderation, you disappoint yourself. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t hit society’s definition of “rock bottom”. You’re unhappy with yourself and the power that alcohol has over you. You’ve known for years that the only solution is to walk away from alcohol in the same way you would leave an abusive relationship, but you really can’t imagine life without it.
You can do it. There are steps you can take to get yourself sober and happy. Believe me, because I’ve done it.
First things first: get rid of any alcohol in the house. This is important. (If you live with someone who still drinks, ask them to support you. If they can’t or won’t eliminate alcohol from your home, you can still do this but it will be more difficult.)
Next, you have some shopping to do! Don’t tell me you have no money to spend, because you were spending at least $6/day (probably closer to $10) on wine, beer and spirits. Go to the grocery store and buy a bunch of non-alcoholic beverages. Sparkly, fruity, low-calorie, no calorie, high calorie. Whatever looks good. Pick up some candy while you’re there. Cookies and cake too.
Get a small notebook and pen to keep with you. You’re going to lose focus at times, so keep a daily log of what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Just a few bullet points is good enough.
Your bed will be your safe place, so make it comfortable. Put on clean sheets, buy a new pillow, have a reading light handy. There will be times when all you can do at 8 pm is crawl into bed with a book or your hand-held reading device and wait for sleep to come.
Get connected to other sober people, online if you’re not ready to do it in person. Find websites and blogs. Put a sober days counter app on your phone.
Reward yourself. Three days sober? Yay! You deserve a treat.
Alter your routine. Drive home from work a different way. When you get home and your arm wants to reach for a bottle of wine, pour yourself one of your sparkly or fruity beverages instead. After dinner, go somewhere instead of sitting down to watch tv. Before bed, have a sweet treat. (You won’t need to do this forever, but in the beginning it will help.)
In the early days, people are going to piss you off. You will feel overwhelmed, angry and frustrated. This is when you’ll need to remind yourself that you will not drink today, no matter what. Write it down. “I am anxious about abc and angry about xyz”. Others around you may wish you were drinking. It doesn’t matter. You will not drink today. You’re sick of the empty promises you’ve made to yourself and you’re armed to succeed.
In Part II I’ll address building a life that supports long-term recovery. Stay tuned.
I’ve been absent from this blog space for awhile – wow, since April! – but I’ve continued reading other blogs and living solidly in recovery. I think it’s time for me to recommit to posting at least monthly, because I know how helpful it is to read about the lives of others with years behind them. If this blog has a primary goal, it’s to inspire people who still struggle to create a rewarding life without the buzz. So here’s what I’ve been up to.
What I’ve survived so far this year:
February – My amazing mom died unexpectedly.
March – My “baby” brother went through detox and treatment for heroin addiction. My youngest son, 18, moved out of the house.
April – June – I helped clear my mom’s house and put it on the market. Sold the new car she’d bought to celebrate her successful cancer surgery just months before she died suddenly of something else. I did my best to remain the strong oldest daughter in support of my siblings.
July – A visit to my 84 year old dad made it clear that his days of independent living are numbered and he needs help with a transition.
August – Closing on my mom’s house; time to distribute the proceeds of her estate. Delayed grief creeps in.
Throughout all of this, I continued working a full-time job, a part-time job, and began a volunteer job.
How life is better now than it was 3 years ago, despite recent challenges:
I don’t take things personally. Each person on this earth is living their unique existence as they best know how. As I cross paths with others, there will be points of connection both positive and negative, but my existence is peripheral to theirs.
I allow other people their experiences and space. I try to tread lightly.
I don’t waste (much) time feeling righteously indignant. (“What gives him the right to be angry at me?”) I jump more quickly to accountability. (“How could I have handled this communication differently?”) I respect myself more when I do this, and it becomes easier each time.
I establish limits and boundaries. I pause before making a commitment and have a small conversation with myself. My decisions are more thoughtful and less squishy.
I move through my sadness, and sometimes I move slowly. I allow myself to live with my feelings as long as I continue to do the next right thing.
I follow my interests. I didn’t know that making hand-stamped jewelry would be rewarding until I was inspired to try it. Now it’s an activity that blends into my life and gives new opportunities for sharing.
I’m grateful every day and I share that gratitude with a group of sober women like me.
I embrace cherish my sobriety and don’t take it for granted. Protecting it is my highest priority. From that foundation, not drinking is easy.
Have you been put to the test in recovery and survived it as a better person? Please share!
Last week I completed an important step toward becoming an advocate and coach for others in recovery. The seeds were planted here.
I attended a Peer Recovery Coach Academy sponsored by a local non-profit recovery advocacy organization. I got to know twelve amazing people with the common goal of helping others achieve and maintain the freedom we’ve found. We were led by expert trainers who generously shared their passion and knowledge.
Let me just say that, as grateful as I was for this opportunity, it came at a most inconvenient time. In the wake of my mom’s death I’ve been working through a steady onslaught of family issues, and I’ve missed a lot of work. Fortunately, in recovery I’ve developed the ability to establish priorities and keep promises, even when it’s uncomfortable. This was a promise I made to myself last year and I’m so happy I honored it.
At the end of the week, each of us presented our “elevator” speeches. These are statements we learned to create describing who we are in relation to long-term recovery. This is the current version of mine:
“My name is Ginny and I’m a person in long-term recovery, which means that I haven’t had a drink since December 24, 2011. My dad modeled long-term recovery for me. I’m now able to be a role model for my three sons and other family members, and enjoy a mutually supportive marriage. Recovery has taught me that it’s never too late to build a more meaningful life, and the capacity for change lives in everyone. I’m inspired to carry on my mom’s legacy of service to others. For me, that means supporting people like me who seek change and better lives through recovery.”
One of my classmates shared that in another group she was offered the title of I.T.E., which stands for “I’m The Evidence”. I’m grateful beyond words to have had the opportunity to get to know L.K. and all the others at the Academy. The world has just gained a small army of people equipped to venture forth and present evidence of hope to those in need.