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.
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.
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. ”
“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.