One thousand days, part II – the journey to Unbuzzed

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:

December, 2012

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:

September, 2013

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.

November, 2013

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:

February, 2014

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.

Now

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.

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Step by step

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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.


“I refuse to feel ashamed”

Last week, my husband and I went to see a screening of the film “The Anonymous People” (which I recommend), sponsored by a local recovery support organization. The theater was packed and I felt bathed in a warm and welcoming vibe.

This was the first gathering of sober people that I’ve been a part of and I loved the sense of belonging. (Yeah, we’re all sober, dammit, and we’re proud!)

Walking away from the movie that night, hubby and I weighed in on its message. Not surprisingly, we had different viewpoints. I felt inspired and agreed with the premise of the film – that it’s time for people in long-term recovery to speak out and become advocates. Hubby, recently stung by an idiot’s judgment after “outing” himself as an ex-drinker, thinks it may be better to just quietly carry on.

He compared it to quitting smoking. He was dependent on cigarettes, quit 15 years ago, went through a tough withdrawal, and then moved on to life as an ex-smoker. He explained that he’s not a “smoker in long-term recovery”. He doesn’t feel a need to be a non-smoking advocate or part of an ex-smoker community. Smoking is simply a part of his past and he’s done with it.

This is the way my husband quit drinking. He decided to stop, he declared to his family one day that he was done with alcohol, and that was it. He never looked back.

It was different for me. After deciding (for the final time) to quit, I white-knuckled it for the first week or two, then connected with an online group of lovely people who were also struggling or had recently been there. That forum became my lifeline and today, almost 21 months later, I still check in regularly. For further reinforcement, I read sobriety-focused books and articles and I follow a number of blogs. More importantly, I had to grow out of my addiction by learning to interact differently with myself and everyone around me.

I’m a different person now, shaped by the journey I was forced to take in order to live a happily sober life. I don’t think there will be a day when I feel that recovery is behind me, nor would I want that. In fact, I feel a need to continue to grow in my recovery by helping others who are trying to get to the other side.

The older I get, the less I know. There are many different paths to recovery, and I don’t judge anyone else’s methods. AA continues to work miracles for many. Alternative support groups, online and in real life, are abundant and effective. Just putting down the bottle and walking away works for some. I admire everyone who has succeeded in building a new life without alcohol, however they’ve been able to do it.

Reluctance to take one’s recovery public is widespread and understandable. No one wants to be branded a drunk, even in the past tense.

For me, I think it’s time to open up and reach out as situations present themselves. As Kristen Johnston said in “The Anonymous People”, “The shame and secrecy are just as deadly as the disease itself…I refuse to feel ashamed of who I am. I most certainly will not be embarrassed that I’m an addict. I’m gonna tell whoever I damn well want to. ”

Amen, sister!


A friend of Bill?

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“I like your necklace. Are you a friend of Bill W.?”

Knowing that this is a reference to AA, and although I’ve never gone to meetings, instinctively I answered, “Yes”.  I’m a former drinker and I’ve worked hard to stay that way, pretty much on my own.

Tim, offering that he is 19 years sober and still goes to meetings 5 days a week, seemed to want to talk.

I told him the story of the pendant. Last year, almost 8 months after I quit drinking, I took a road trip with my son. On that trip, the first I can recall without alcohol, I made a point of buying myself little rewards to celebrate my sobriety.

On our last day I found myself in a Native American shop looking at sterling silver jewelry. As I browsed, one piece with an unusual design caught my eye. I asked the shopkeeper if he knew the significance of the symbol, and he said he didn’t. I was drawn to it and it was reasonably priced, so I bought it.

Back at the hotel room with my iPad, I did a search for “triangle in circle symbol”. I learned that it’s widely used in AA. What? Wow. Seriously.

I’ve worn this pendant a lot. Tim was the first person who approached me and acknowledged its connection to AA and recovery. I felt proud to be wearing it and happy that it helped me connect to a kindred spirit.

Afterward, I wondered about my response to the “Bill W.” question. Am I a “friend of Bill” if I embrace a life of recovery but I don’t go to AA?  Is it unauthentic to wear a symbol of a movement that I support but to which I don’t “belong”?

Here’s what I think: the sober community is diverse and no matter how we got here, we share a common bond. Code words and symbolism that help us to connect to one another can only be a good thing.