2 Years, Less a Day

Two years ago today, I took my last drink. Tomorrow marks 2 years of sobriety. I don’t know if I’d say my life is good or bad, but I can say that’s it’s remarkably different. I’m remarkably different.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a strong urge to drink. I wish there was a formula for that freedom, but I truly don’t know what combination of efforts took away the desire. I see newcomers struggling, saying “I’m not getting it, whatever it is that everyone else has; I’m missing something.” I want to give them the recipe that will give them relief.

Hardcore AA’ers would say that the formula is the 12 steps. But it’s more than that. You can’t just tell someone to read the big book, go to meetings, and follow the steps. Life is practical and the steps are abstract.

On this soberversary eve, I am overwhelmingly grateful to be sober. I truly did not think this was possible. I spent years sobering up for a month or a week, here and there. I somehow managed 7 months years ago. My father-in-law died and I don’t remember when I gave myself permission to drink, but on one of the days between the funeral and my returning to work, I plunged right back into the bottle. I showed up to my first day back to work drunk. I don’t remember how it happened.

I now know that I was doomed right at the start of those 7 months. Alcoholism isn’t something I was going to be able to beat alone. I’ve discovered over these past 2 years that I am someone who needs a regiment of AA, therapy, and continual self reflection, if I want a chance at staying sober. I don’t know what the rest of my life will look like, but I want it to be sober.

Recovery Evolves

Before I get started, let me dust off this blog that’s been sitting patiently. I would not have been upset with it, had it refused my login attempt. I’ve been a fair weathered friend. I relied so heavily on this blank screen during my first year of sobriety, hammering out paragraph upon paragraph of fear, sadness, self pity, and every other raw emotion that lived on the surface those first several hundred days.

But, in true shitty girlfriend fashion, I found myself pulling away from blogging as I began stringing more and more happy days between the dark ones. I didn’t think I needed it; emotions have slowly, but surely settled into place, slowing the mental rollercoaster just enough to make myself think that I’m “ok.”

For the most part, I am ok. I have 22 sober months under my belt (I’m still not sure what cosmic anomalies had to line up for that to happen) and I’m feeling more in control of my life and myself than ever before.

That’s why I need to return to this space. Pouring my insides out in this space, even when I’m on top of the world, is immensely therapeutic. I miss it. I want to continue to have a record of this journey, no matter where it takes me.

Recovery has evolved for me in a big way this week and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. For too many months, I was complacent in recovery, treating AA like a casual acquaintance. Yes, much like with this blog, I was a shitty girlfriend to AA, too. I started working with a new sponsor 5 months ago. She has a very busy life and I took advantage of the fact that she doesn’t micro manage. I was attending 1 meeting a week and not connecting with fellow drunks.

She called me out on it just before Christmas (in a very kind way) and suggested I attend more meetings and make a point of connecting with people before and after the meetings. Like the good little soldier I am, I agreed and immediately began going to more meetings.

But I still wasn’t connecting. I was trying, but I’ve always been very uncomfortable in social settings. I knew I needed more. And just like that, at a meeting on Saturday, a complete stranger asked me to sponsor her. She was on day 3 in detox, was scared and couldn’t look me in the eye. I gave her my number, but I wasn’t sure I’d hear from her.

Fast forward to Tuesday night, when my sponsor introduced me to someone who is also in need of a sponsor. She and I went for coffee tonight (2 days later) to get to know each other and talk recovery.

As I was driving home, my phone rang. Yes, it was the stranger from the weekend asking if we could get together tomorrow. I may be stretching the interpretation of The Promises, but this is what it means to me today: the longer I stay in recovery and in the rooms of AA, I am given the opportunity to evolve and strengthen my chance at long-term sobriety. And the fact that I have an opportunity to help a fellow alcoholic is all the more rewarding.

I’m spending my evenings and weekends in ways I never would have imagined just 2 years ago. My gratitude is immense.

That Scent

There’s that scent, the one that’s in my hair after every AA meeting. It’s a musky balance of drug store perfume, coffee, and lightly curried cauliflower. No matter what meeting I go to, or how many people are there, I come home with this unmistakable blend over my entire body. Tonight I attended an AA conference committee meeting; there were 12 people in the boardroom. Surely, I thought, I won’t come home with the scent. I think you know how this story ends.

In my university days, “the tiptoe into alcoholism” as I like to call it, a night spent drinking and dancing at the bars resulted in smoky hair. For 2 days, or 4 shampoos (whichever came first), my hair would reek of tobacco. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a smoker – spending 4 hours in an airtight, ventless building surrounded by thick, thick smoke was enough to leave you smelling like an ashtray for days.

I’m on a mission to find the source of this AA scent. Is it a regional scent? Do meetings in other provinces smell differently? Perfume smells differently on different people, as it reacts uniquely with each person’s own chemistry. Is this scent that I’m identifying my body’s chemical reaction to AA? If it is, I think my body’s saying “pee-yew” to AA.

My World is Shifting But I’m Strong Enough to Stand

GlobeI was incredibly lucky during my first year of sobriety, in that life around me remained consistent. While I waged a war internally, running through a thick forest of long-suppressed feelings, battling the demons of addiction and the realities of decisions I made within addiction, the sun rose and set every day without a hitch. Little hiccups occurred along the way, but overall, external forces were kind to me.

Fast forward to day 399: the world around me is starting to shift ever so slightly.

My husband is quitting his job today to start with a new company at a 40% pay reduction.

My sponsor has asked to meet with me at my home tonight. I believe she is going to tell me she can no longer sponsor me. She’s been struggling at a dangerous level lately and I don’t think it’s a smart idea for her to be a sponsor right now. I think she’s realizing that now, too.

400 days ago the ball of angst would have started building in my stomach, my mind would try to remember how much vodka I have left and how soon I can get to it without arousing suspicion, and my body would automatically drive to the closest liquor store (my mind not catching up to my body until I’m pulling into the parking lot).

Today, I’m able to calmly and objectively review both of these imminent changes. To me, that’s a testament to the work I’ve done this year in therapy and AA. Sure, my head is swimming a little when I think about how my husband and I will have to adjust to this significant drop in income. And yes, there is a butterfly or two where previously the ball of angst would have been, as I anticipate the uncomfortable conversation when my sponsor “divorces” me. But I’m taking a moment to reflect on how I’m feeling and comparing it to how I think I would have felt had this day happened a little over a year ago. The difference is extraordinary and I am proud of myself.

Even that small piece of self-awareness is enormous. To have the clarity to stop and reflect, instead of falling off a proverbial cliff into a pity party, is a significant change.

I am proud of that, as it makes the work I’ve done feel tangible. Until now, it’s been an abstract awareness of the work I’ve done.

I’ve heard people in meetings say that they’re grateful to be alcoholic because it brought them to AA where they’ve learned how to change their lives and they’ve become part of a supportive family that will absolutely help you when you need propping up. I suppose that’s how some alcoholics in recovery have survived unthinkable tragedy and stayed sober.

If people before me can stay sober through the unthinkable, then surely I can get through whatever I need to today. Again, I am incredibly grateful that my world stayed so stable for that year while I learned how to be a strong enough person to continue standing when the world becomes a little unstable.

 

Maintaining Tradition vs. Group Evolution

Every long-standing institution, at some point in its longevity, needs to decide whether it’s going to hold steadfast to its traditions or if it’s willing to evolve with the generations. Alcoholics Anonymous is no different. With its beginnings rooted in 1930’s ideology, it seems as though it must naturally go through its own evolution of sorts to “get with the times.”

One piece of evidence of its evolution is the establishment of women-only meetings. The 70’s and 80’s saw droves of women coming into program, to a point where women equal or outnumber the men.

I regularly attend a women’s meeting and think of it as a safe, friendly and warm place to share and listen. This past week, one woman attended for her first time. She’s been in program for 25 years and is an “AA purist.” She’s told people over the years that she doesn’t believe there should be women-only meetings.

We’ve gently altered the readings, scrubbing gender references to use more neutral language. This enraged our purist. She grandly stood and proclaimed to the world that we should all be ashamed of ourselves and she wished us fitful sleeps. For reals.

For whatever reason, she decided to return to the meeting after dramatically storming out. She remained (relatively) civil for the remainder of the meeting until afterwards when one woman attempted to apologize for the “offensive” readings. The purist’s response was: “I hope you don’t die today for what you’ve done.”


Know Your Meme

It’s sparked a conversation among some of us about whether or not AA needs to evolve. Arguments can be made on both sides. I believe it needs to evolve to integrate aspects of the 21st century that the founders never could have considered (technology and social media, the loosening bond between church and state, etc.). Others believe the program is a complete package that works because of its traditions and should not be tinkered with.

I know I’m not the first to come into program, believing I can “make it even better” but I do want to be part of the evolution. There isn’t an agnostic meeting in my city and I want to explore the possibility of starting one this year. A lot of leg work will need to go into researching the local appetite for such a meeting and seeking out the right location (the traditional church basement doesn’t seem appropriate), but it could end up being a worthwhile project for me this year.

I wonder how the AA purist will react to an agnostic meeting? Is it wrong to secretly hope it causes her some anxiety? Yeah, I know… it’s wrong!

(My apologies if the shocked Daschie above is distracting as you’re reading, but he’s just so perfect for the reaction to “I hope you don’t die today”!)

Day 393

On the Eve of a Sober Birthday Celebration

It’s Monday, 9:00pm. At this time tomorrow night, I’ll be speaking at my AA group’s birthday celebration meeting. We are marking my 1 year, along with 5-year birthdays for 3 other members. My home group is a large group on its own, with around 50 people attending each meeting. For birthday meetings, that number easily exceeds 75. The butterflies are starting to flutter as I put the finishing touches on my 1 year coin speech. I plan on bringing extra Kleenex, wearing water-proof mascara, and doing my absolute best to live in the moment without giving in to anxiety as I deliver this message:

My name is Mental Rollercoaster and I’m an alcoholic.

I wanted “We, not I” engraved on my coin because it succinctly summarizes what AA has done for my life. I had isolated myself from my family for so long, that I forgot that it’s possible to be part of a We. I had convinced myself that I needed to hide my drinking and hide my pain from my husband and my family. I convinced myself that I was protecting them. They didn’t need to worry about me, on top of all of their own problems.

The truth is, I wasn’t protecting them. I was protecting my addiction. I knew that if I allowed them to get too close, they would not let me continue on the way that I was. I was protecting the addiction from them.

Now I am a part of the AA We and I am a We again in my marriage and with my family. Thank you for being patient with me and giving me a We to come back to.

I came into AA very lost and scared. I’d been drinking alcoholicly for close to 2 decades and I was quickly stumbling towards the finish line. Like so many of you, I’d tried staying sober on my own with zero success. On day 3 of sobriety, I started working with a therapist who is the reason I walked through the door of my first meeting.

My first meeting was the Women’s Meeting. At that first meeting, like everyone else, I was scared, emberassed and generally lost. A woman immediately welcomed me. She gave me a big book and sat with me until the meeting started, asking me how I was doing. I saw this woman at the Alkathon on Christmas Day and she told me that she wasn’t sure about me at that first meeting. She said I looked like I could be a runner. She couldn’t have been more right – I am a runner and had she not shown such compassion to me at that first meeting, I very likely wouldn’t have seen a second meeting. I thank her for being such a big part in saving my life.

I kept coming back and I heard “you have to get a sponsor.” For this painfully shy, isolating alcoholic, that was a terrifying prospect. I knew right away that I wanted Susie as my sponsor, but it took almost 2 months for me to get the courage to ask. I was so afraid to ask for help and even more afraid of rejection.

The anxiety was overwhelming for those 2 months. The night I knew I absolutely had to man-up and ask her, I was grabbing my keys off the counter and I thought “you know, I could just swing by the liquor store on my way. A couple of shots and I’ll totally have the courage to ask her.” That’s the insanity of this disease!

I am so incredibly grateful to have Susie as my sponsor. I know I haven’t been an easy one because I do have trouble reaching out, but she has read me perfectly from day 1. She’s known when I am ready and able to open up and she’s known when I need to clam up. The moment Susie agreed to sponsor me, I literally felt a shift from within. I felt the anxiety fly away and I felt a strong sense of “this is right.” As Susie would say: “Everything is as it should be.” Your support and wisdom has done more for me than I can ever express. I am so grateful to have your guidance in this journey.

To the people who came into AA before me, I thank you for carrying forward this program that saves lives. I thank you for taking in the newcomers under your wings. To the people who have come into AA after me, I applaud you. You are home; you’re where you need to be. Sobriety doesn’t have to be difficult. Life is difficult; AA makes sobriety manageable within life.

Thank you all for my sobriety.

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1 Year: Recovery and Reflections

Fireworks Show

It’s been one year since I’ve had a drink. Who knew that was even possible? Day 1 happened because I was hitting a new low every day. This is a progressive disease and after 20 years of alcohol abuse, I was at a point where my life had to significantly change or it was going to turn very badly, very quickly.

During my drinking career, I dodged a lot of bullets. I took a few flesh wounds, the kind you can recover from (job loss, bankruptcy), but I missed the really big ones. I am lucky to have retired from alcoholism without a criminal record. The possibility of a DUI and injuring someone was always right around the corner. Alcoholism lead me to take some very foolish risks on a daily basis.

I’ve had dozens of Day 1’s over the years and I’m still not sure which stars aligned one year ago to make that Day 1 different. I didn’t feel all that different that day. I knew that I had an appointment with a new therapist scheduled for Day 3, and I knew I shouldn’t drink until (at least) after that appointment.

So I made it to Day 3, met with my new therapist and cried the entire drive home. I had to pull over because I got lost driving through the tears. I was very guarded during the appointment, yet still I shared more during that hour than I’d ever shared before. It was hard and it was painful to pay mind to thoughts and feelings I’d previously worked so hard to drown. But I knew that I had to give therapy an honest chance. I was miserable and I knew that alcohol was going to kill me one way or another.

That got me through Day 4 and a few more. Through therapy, I summoned the courage to walk into AA. Again, I’m not sure which stars aligned to have that happen, but it’s become one of the unlikely pieces of my sober foundation. I am still amazed today that I ever walked into a meeting.

My sober foundation is strong today. I’m cautious, however, knowing my own history of self-sabotage: “I can handle a few drinks. Now that I know how bad it can get, I’ll just moderate myself.” That thought has been the starter’s pistol for many relapses over the years.

Today, one year in, I am a new version of myself. I have an idea of the me that I want to be, and there’s still some work to be done. But that doesn’t get me down because I know that I am capable of changing my reality. I’ve done it every day for the past year.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, which is laid out in black and white on this blog (usually more black than white). I’m grateful to have record of those days that were rough, to serve as a reality check when life feels great and I think “aw, what could it hurt?”.

Reaching the one year milestone is tremendous, but it’s not the end. I’m not magically fixed today and tomorrow will be no different than today when it comes to the day-to-day struggle that is alcoholism. No, it’s not the end, but it’s a thrilling and proud summit to reach.