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?)
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!