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.

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Cracking the Safe

As a person in recovery who’s also diagnosed bipolar II and ADHD, finding the right balance in life often feels like I’m cracking a safe. One notch in the wrong direction can lock me into depression for days.

It sounds so simple, but I’ve only recently discovered how important sleep is to my sanity. I always believed I was functional with 6 hours a night or less. Oh how wrong I was! I easily require 8-9 hours, lest the dial slips in the wrong direction.

Over the weekend, my husband’s band played a gig, meaning I didn’t become one with my pillow until 3:30am. 3 days later and I’m still feeling the effects. My mood’s been stable for several months, but today was a steep nose-dive into depression and irritability.

I’ve learned so much these past 2 years about myself, yet I still do stupid things now and again. This old gal just can’t party until the wee hours of the morning anymore. How did I ever do that, plus alcohol? I can’t even remember anymore.

On a positive note, it’s easier to climb out of a depression pit when I understand what got me here and what I need to do to get out. So, whether my misfiring mind likes it or not, I will force myself to sleep early tonight, hit the gym early tomorrow, and remember to take shit one day at a time.

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.

What Are You Waiting For?

My therapist admits that I frustrate her. She wants to yell “what are you waiting for?!”

The snapshot of my life today looks enviable: I’m 610 days sober, I have a good job, I own my home with my husband, and I have a family that loves me. Peek behind the headline and you’ll see that I am unhappy, and it’s more than just a clinical depression. I am unhappy with my everyday life.

I’ve been unhappy with my everyday life since I started working with my therapist, but I’ve done nothing to change the big stuff.

I’ve been sober long enough that I can’t continue to use it as an excuse to not take on more change. I’ve also made enough changes within myself over the past 20 months to know that I need to tackle the big stuff to make a dent in this unhappiness.

I’m lonely. I live with a man, but I’m always lonely. We don’t share any hobbies other than a love for TV. So we watch a couple of hours together every day before we carry on by ourselves.

He says he likes his life. He doesn’t need “constant excitement,” he says as though it’s a dirty phrase.

This inactive, homebody lifestyle worked for me when I was drinking. I did not want to leave the house unless it was for work or a liquor store run, and near the end the 2 were synonymous Monday through Friday.

I didn’t want to plan day trips or spend a day running errands together; I just wanted to drink until I forgot my name.

I have a choice to make: I can stay in this house with this man and continue to evolve this new sober lifestyle around him, or I can break out on my own. I suppose the only difference is whether or not I share a house with someone.

I’d rather live alone. It’s one thing to be single and lonely, but it’s especially sad to be married and lonely.

I do not want another relationship. I do not want to swap out the groom on the top of the cake. I just want to be free to develop this sober life and not be held back from pursuing new things.

“I’d like to try snowshoeing, would you like to try together?” I asked tonight. With a blank stare he asked “where?” I’m not sure why he asked where, because it likely had zero impact on his final decision: “no.”

I need to find an outdoor winter activity. This is the first time in my 38 years that I’m staring down the barrel of a long, snowy winter and I’m genuinely sad. Last year at this time, I was less than a year sober. I was still relatively oblivious to the world outside of my crazy head. Rewind even further and I was always happy to see winter come when I was drinking: I felt protected by the extended darkness, the vodka stayed cold under the car seat, and my year-round uniform of long pants and a hoodie was not out of place in the cold.

I’m coming out of a summer that I enjoyed more than any summer in decades. I relied on my bike to provide pure happiness as I pedalled 660 kilometres around the city. I wore shorts and t-shirts regularly, in place of my alcoholic uniform. I’m very sad at the prospect of putting away the bike for the next 5 months. I can’t sit around for the next half year, it will be the end of me. I need to find a winter replacement for biking. I need something to keep me from sliding into a depressive hibernation that will only result in weight gain and even louder suicidal thoughts.

What am I waiting for?

 

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.

The Perfect Storm

When the perfect storm of depression, mental illness and addiction comes together, it takes you to some very dark places. It’s difficult to put the internal storm into words for those who have never stood in its eye. Even now, as I’m typing, I’m separated from my last storm by only a couple of months, but the memories of the feelings, both physical and emotional, are fuzzy and difficult to articulate.

What I can say is that I am not surprised by Robin Williams’ suicide. As tragic, unexpected and painfully sad as his death is, I understand it. I suspect he was in the center of his own perfect storm.

Depression, in its most insidious form, removes all rational thoughts and memories and replaces them with truly irrational stand-ins. During my most lucid, rational, depression-free days, I know that I have a wide circle of family that loves me. However, in stormy times, I feel completely alone and as though no one in this world think twice if I ceased to exist.

That loneliness and isolating sadness is not just a thought, but something I know and physically feel. It’s during these times, when depression replaces rational thought with irrational, that suicide is possible. If I feel it in my soul that I will not be missed, then suicide becomes a real option that otherwise wouldn’t be considered.

I’ve been suicidal since 13 and over the past 25 years, the definition of “suicidal” has evolved a few times. Today, what it means for me is that I consider it in passing almost every day. I know that I will not do it today, but I regret that I didn’t do it 20+ years ago. I have the best handle on my suicidal thoughts today than I ever have, however it’s always still on the edge of my consciousness.

On top of living through depression, Robin Williams was an addict. He publicly acknowledged relapsing after 20 years of sobriety. Active addiction, recovery and relapse are all such powerful forces that they change any person who struggles through them. I cannot imaging the struggle through relapse after long-term sobriety; that alone must carry it’s own set of self-loathing irrationality.

I hope that his death has a ripple effect throughout the population. Of course we mourn, but my hope is that we consider his life, angst, and death from different angles. For this recovering alcoholic, it’s a reminder that even in recovery, when mixed with depression and other forms of mental illness, addiction changes the brain, giving irrational thoughts a disguise of normalcy. It’s what allows a person with long-term sobriety to pour a drink.

If I can ingrain that reminder in my head, like spray paint on a brick wall, I hope to keep it in the light during the next perfect storm. At the very least, it’s now painted here.

Outside of the Comfort Zone

I have given myself a new job title: “Conference Queen.” 95% of the time, my job keeps me at a desk, chained to a computer. This month, I’m living the other 5% and spending each week in a different city, whoring out the company that writes me a cheque several times a month.

I’m naturally painfully shy, making it difficult to strike up conversations with complete strangers. Even more difficult is that my only reason for introducing myself is to give them a sales pitch (yuck!). Multiply that by several hundred conversations and that’s my entire experience at any conference.

That said, I’ve forced myself over the past few years to become the person who can man an exhibitor booth on a trade show floor and come out the other side with solid new leads. Hell, I’ve even gotten pretty fast at setting up and tearing down the booth on my own.

However, the one piece I’m having a hard time getting comfortable with is the after-hours networking. Every night is an event designed to outdo last year’s host. I’ve had dinner on a museum rooftop overlooking the nation’s capital, dinner at a historic fort, followed by a fireworks display that would rival most city’s Canada Day celebrations and a 70’s themed cocktail party at a war museum surrounded by dozens of tanks, planes and machinery that date back as far as the 1800’s.

The venues are always amazing and the alcohol is everywhere. It’s free, it’s abundant and it’s an opportunity for attendees to have a good time away from home. I don’t directly struggle with wanting to drink, however I do struggle with interacting with people as they slowly become pickled.

The jokes aren’t as funny to me as they are to everyone else. I’m not “in” on the inside jokes that inevitably come out between long-time co-workers as they become more and more drunk. I imagine a lot of people are uncomfortable around drunks, but as an alcoholic in recovery, there’s an added layer of discomfort.

So I politely excuse myself from attending the after-after-hours hospitality suites that flow free booze until 1am. And when I hear the rumours over breakfast of a broken elevator and vomit on a wall, I’m happy to have missed the “party.”

The setting for one night's cocktail party

The setting for one night’s cocktail party