Inspired by Christy and her theme-word at Running on Sober, at the beginning of January I chose a theme-phrase for 2014: Letting Go.
I chose it to guide me in building an open attitude to new possibilities. Embracing the new often means letting go of what no longer works.
One month ago today I had to let go in a way I hadn’t imagined. My mom died after a very brief and sudden illness. Gathered in a hospital room with close family, I was forced to say good-bye to the woman who has been my hero, my mentor, my friend.
I’ll never stop missing her, but I’m allowing gratitude to overpower wishes and regrets.
Near the top of my gratitude list is the fact that my mom knew about my sobriety and was proud of me.
As we gathered to write my mom’s obituary, highlighting her many years of volunteer service, I was aware of a looming deadline. On the day of her memorial service, my Recovery Coach Academy application was due.
I submitted the application, went to the interview, and I’ve been accepted. I’m going to become a volunteer Peer Recovery Coach. I welcome the opportunity to honor my mom and her legacy of service in this way.
I’ve missed a lot of work during this month of grieving, funeral planning, estate activities, attending to siblings’ needs, and subsequent illness. More letting go, letting it be what it is, doing what needs to be done, letting others step in when I need them.
Through it all, I’m sober. I’m putting one foot in front of the other, and I’m seeing clearly the next right thing to do. It’s not easy. But facing the feelings is so much better than looking for relief at the bottom of a bottle.
Today it’s been 2 years, 2 months and 22 days since my last drink.
I’ve cut back on the bloggy world lately. I haven’t been reading as much or writing because other activities have taken priority.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Along with my siblings, I helped her process this information and find a good medical team. She had surgery. We’re waiting to see what’s next.
My mom is a unique, strong, smart, progressive, independent, caring woman. In a word, amazing. At 83, she accomplishes more in a typical week than most who are half her age. She’s had to deal with more than her fair share of medical issues in the last decade, but she carries on with determination and a positive attitude. All 90 lbs of her.
She’s going to make it through this challenge, and I’m so happy that I get the opportunity to be on her survival team.
I’m especially grateful for sobriety during the tough times. I’m not hiding. I’m facing things one at a time. Aware. Calm. Capable. Grateful.
My mom never talked to me about my drinking, but I know she was uncomfortable with it. (If my alcoholism is genetic, it didn’t come from her side of the family.) I recently told her that I quit drinking almost two years ago. She was surprised, and happy.
Whatever comes next, I’ll get through it. Without drinking. Without regrets.
Maybe someday I’ll look back and realize I’ve lived an amazing life. Like my mom.
Today I dredged up the first post from my first sober blog, written over 4 years ago, and I present it to you here with all of its raw attitude:
Monday, September 21, 2009
My name is Ginny and ok, fine, so I’m an alcoholic
Today I’m not going to drink and I’m kind of pissed off about it.
[Hubby] has been hounding me to quit/cut way back for a long time.
I’ve been digging my heels in the sand because I refuse to quit for HIM. He thinks I’m wrong about everything. Almost everything I do is criticized and nothing is appreciated. Reason enough to reach for another drink. Or two. Make that one a double.
I’m sick of the conversation. With him. And in my own head.
I’ll quit, but on my terms. I’ll do it for ME, not him.
These are MY 12 reasons for not drinking alcohol today:
- Save my long-term health. I intend to live to 95 and enjoy an active life with my grandkids. Dying of liver disease or cancer at 60 would not allow that, would it?
- Control my destiny. I don’t like the fact that it has such a hold on me that I can’t say no to it when I know I should. Fuck you, Windsor. You are not the boss of me.
- Set a better example for my kids who are all prone to this disease. I just saw an up-close and dangerous example of the perils when son #1 passed out in public on a trip to another city. This is not ok.
- Fewer daily calories. I want to lose the belly fat and no amount of healthy eating or exercising helps while I load up on alcohol each night.
- Ability to face each new day with more clarity and energy. I’m more functional and productive than most sober people, but I could be even better without the cloud.
- More time and attention for other evening activities. I can go more places if I’m not drinking, read more books, play more games, take on hobbies, start running. And more.
- Less time with head in the sand. Procrastination, ignoring taxes, bills, not being organized (“la-la-la-la I can’t hear you”) is having serious consequences.
- Heightened consciousness about the state of my marriage. The ability to figure out once and for all if he’s the crazy one or if I am.
- To show [Hubby] that I can do it. He thinks that he’s stronger than me because he cut back to beer and wine? Watch me. I can stop altogether.
- Save money – probably $25/week. In a year I can have that leather sofa I want.
- Avoid those unexpected changes in attitude that turn me into a nasty bitch. No one likes her.
- Give me a feeling of pride so I don’t have to work 3 jobs for personal validation.
This was the start of one of my more successful runs at sobriety. It lasted over 30 days and I was doing really well until I decided that, well, maybe I wasn’t really an alcoholic after all, and, um, maybe I’d just take a break from blogging. Yeah.
I spent another two years figuring out that I needed to quit. Maybe my denial was so strong that even 40 years of dysfunctional behavior wasn’t quite enough to convince me. I had to get back in the saddle and get bucked around for another couple of years before I’d let reality sink in.
Now, after almost 2 years sober I wonder, “Who was that crabby drunk?”
I’m a different person, for sure. Defiance has turned to humility and compassion. All of my hopes for sobriety came true, and then some.
If you’ve tried and failed, you’re not alone. Never quit quitting. Freedom awaits, and it’s so worth it.
On my way to work yesterday I drove by some maple trees showing off their fall colors, brilliantly highlighted by the morning sun. I’d noticed them before and thought I’d like a picture of them to enjoy later. I almost continued on my way as I thought, “I’ll have to photograph them before it’s too late”.
Then I pulled the car to the side of the street and took my phone from my purse. I knew that if I waited a day, it may be cloudy. If I put it off until next week, the leaves may be falling. I snapped (do iPhones “snap”?) a couple of shots.
On the way to work today, the sky was gray. I’m happy that I seized a moment in time to stop and appreciate one of life’s many simple pleasures.
As I’ve embraced a life that revolves around recovery, I’ve suspected that I’m missing something by not connecting in person with others who are doing the same.
I decided yesterday to look up a meeting. There are so many available. I selected one close to home (though not the one at the end of the block, which feels too close) and I chose one that is for women only, thinking it may feel a bit less intimidating for my first visit.
I’ve read a lot of AA literature and testimonials, and I had an idea of what to expect, but I was nervous as I pulled tentatively into the church parking lot. There were a few other cars parked and I watched a couple of women walk into a side door of this building that I’d never entered. I followed, staying close enough not to lose sight of them as they made their way to the “fireside room”.
As I walked in, the woman who turned out to be the meeting chair asked if I was new and we introduced ourselves. I took a seat on a chair set up in a circle. This could have been a Tupperware party in a neighbor’s living room. It felt cozy and familiar as a dozen or so women filtered in and took their seats.
The discussion was organized but not formal. The topic was the 12th Step – reaching out to others and being of service. A couple of women did readings and then one by one, each person made comments.
One voice at a time, I heard bravery, sincerity, humility, maturity, faith, and loving kindness. Each face was like a textured canvas painted with subtle colors, inviting me to take notice of the nuances and enter an open landscape. Then I spoke, and the eyes around me responded. They knew me.
The voices and the faces. In real time. That’s what I’ve been missing.
The meeting opened and closed with us standing in a circle, holding hands, reciting the Serenity Prayer. Then came the hugs, and the “welcomes” and “glad you’re heres” and “come backs”.
I didn’t turn to AA to get sober 22 months ago.
I haven’t relied on the 12 Steps to stay sober.
But I think I’m going to include the program and fellowship of AA to grow in my recovery.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll come back”.
When I first quit drinking, I installed a simple free app on my phone called “Quitter”. It allows me to track the time elapsed since my last drink and the money I’ve saved. I made a guess that I was spending $6 per day when I set it up, which is probably pretty close to accurate. That’s the equivalent of one bottle of inexpensive wine, two bottles of Trader Joe’s 3 Buck wine, half of a fifth (would that be a tenth?) of Canadian whiskey or vodka, or a 6 pack of beer.
In the beginning, I checked my progress on this app a lot as reinforcement. I also kept a small notebook with me and wrote each day how I was feeling, any triggers I encountered, and rated myself on a “craving scale”, complete with little hand-drawn smiley or sad faces. These tools helped through some long, uncomfortable days.
It’s been a long time now since I’ve looked at the app or used the daily notebook. Over time, success in sobriety becomes its own reinforcement and widget-dependence diminishes.
Today I noticed that as the days tick along, the savings have become significant! Since I don’t actually have those dollars sitting in a savings account or a piggy bank, I’m reflecting on what I’ve done with the money I formerly invested in poisoning myself.
-Ingestible substitutes – I have to admit that for a time I became a little bit addicted to a beverage called Sparkling Ice. At $1/bottle, it satisfied the need to have something fizzy or fruity to sip in the evening. Then there was the ice cream, candy and other assorted sweets, but altogether, I’d call it a reasonable financial trade-off. And even with the junk eating, I’ve lost weight.
-Travel – I LOVE to travel but could never find the extra money for it so I rarely went anywhere. Since I quit drinking, I’ve taken two road trips with my kids and two plane trips to see my dad. I was also able to finance a trip for my dad and step-mom to attend a family wedding before she died of cancer.
-Debt reduction – I’m not debt-free by any means, but at least I’m able to keep up with payments, eliminating a huge source of stress.
-Rewards – If I see something I want to buy for myself – jewelry, clothing, shoes, books – I give myself permission to do it! I’m worth it.
Of course, it’s not about the money. That’s just a nice side benefit.
The sense of peace and the growth I’ve experienced as a human being?
Well, that’s priceless.
On Saturday I joined hundreds of other people for an annual 3-mile Recovery Walk, one of many such events held nationwide as September is recognized as Recovery Month.
It was a beautiful morning for walking, the turnout was great, and the city lake where the event was held is just 15 minutes from my home.
I went alone, walked alone, and didn’t really “connect” with anyone, but that was ok. I’m still dipping my toes into this pool of real life sober people. As a participant/observer, I felt completely at ease and fully present if somewhat invisible.
As I walked quietly alongside groups and pairs, I took in a couple of memorable slices of conversation.
“I used to think I had so many small problems in life, until I figured out that I really just had one big problem.” Yeah. I can relate to that.
Members of the “honor guard” wore purple sashes with numbers attached representing 10 or more years of recovery: 36, 28, 11, 15, etc.
A younger woman congratulated an older woman on her 10-year achievement, adding, “I would have had 6 years, but I messed up.”
The woman in the purple sash replied, “You didn’t mess up, sweetie. You just needed to go back and do some more research.” “No”, said the young one. “I really MESSED UP. I’m looking at doing 5-10 years now.” A poignant reminder of how serious this can be.
The variety of participants represented a true cross-section of our community. These were people I would expect to see at the grocery store, the mall, the movie theater, the county fair; normal people, living every day in recovery, coming together with friends and strangers on this day to honor the journey and show their faces.
I had my photo taken in a Fun Photo Booth labeled “Show The Faces of Recovery”, and I’ve posted it on my About Me page. Yes, I’m still hiding behind sunglasses, and I’m still a work in progress, but one baby step at a time, without fanfare, I’m getting out there – sharing myself, my face and my story of recovery.
Recovery works, and I’m living proof.