Getting Sober Was the Easy Part

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“Pain in this life is not avoidable, but the pain we create avoiding pain is avoidable.”

– R.D. Laing

On January 3, 2010 at about 11:00 pm eastern time, my husband of over 25 years told me he thought I was drinking too much.  In all the years we’d been together, he’d never once uttered those words to me.  It was like he had slapped me in the face.  It was also when I knew I had to quit drinking.

On January 6, 2010, I stopped by the liquor store on my way home and bought a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay, a bottle of Babcock Chardonnay and a bottle of Cupcake Chardonnay.  I went home, placed them on the counter, looked my husband in the eye and said, “This is the last time I will ever drink.”  I then settled in for a long night of drinking, thinking, and resolving.

On January 7, 2010 I woke up with a hangover and started my journey to sobriety.  That was the easy part.

My past reads like a text book for classic alcoholic dysfunction.  There were a long line of addicts behind me – alcoholic father and both grandfathers, gambling narcissistic mother, sister who’d been addicted to some substance or another since grade school, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Name the dysfunction or addiction and I could point you to a relative.  It was my normal.

In spite of it all (or more likely because of it) I grew up an overachieving perfectionist who had a compulsive need to take care of people and solve the world’s problems.  I drank, but was convinced I could control my behavior.   And when I say control I mean control…otherwise, I’d get drunk every single time I drank.  As the years went by, the drinking increased and so to the drunken episodes  and it likely would have progressed further except that I decided to have children.

For ten years after having my kids I maintained some form of control, often going weeks and months without touching a drop.  Slowly but surely however, the disease snuck back in and I found myself drinking more and more but, unlike in the old days,  this time there was no pretense.  It wasn’t “date night” or “girl’s night out” or one of the multitudes of parties I threw so I could drink, although those were great excuses also.  No, this time it was just me, and my bottles of wine (yes…plural), up in my room, spending quality time together.

I knew I was in trouble.  I knew I was hurting my children (who were teenagers by this time – great time in their lives to model dysfunction right?).  I knew my husband was looking at me with concern.  I was struggling at work and my depression was getting worse in spite of the medication I’d been on for 10 years.

In short, I was a mess until the love of my life found the courage to say those six little words.

“I think you’re drinking too much.”

So I quit.  No detox (which I would NEVER recommend).  No rehab.  I didn’t even consider AA because of my ignorance of who they were and how they operated.  I didn’t say the “A” word until I was about 18 months sober!  I couldn’t be an alcoholic!  I had seen and experienced first-hand what alcoholism was and that wasn’t me!  I didn’t have any DUI’s.  I still had my loving family.  My kids were doing great.  My husband was still loving and supportive.  Sure I had recently been laid off but that didn’t have anything to do with my drinking…did it?

Maybe not directly but…

At first I was more afraid than I’d ever been in my life of ANYTHING.  This was uncharted territory and I didn’t have the single most important thing upon which I had ever relied…in fact…I had lost it.  I didn’t have control.  Wherever this journey was going to take me I knew I would have to put my faith in something or someone far greater than me in order to get through the darkness.  The pull was so strong to drink that some days I would just sit in my room and sob because I was sadder than I had ever been.  I was in mourning; mourning the loss of a longtime friend, who, as it turned out, betrayed me and left my soul stripped bare.

How in the hell was I expected to cope with life without wine?  How in God’s name would I ever have fun again without the nectar of the gods?  Who was I if not the party girl, the funny one, the hostess with the mostest?  Who in the hell WAS I?

I began reading what I affectionately refer to as “drunk books”.  Any and every memoir I could get my hands on I devoured.   They helped me not feel so alone.  Ironically I stopped watching “Intervention” because I no longer needed to prove to myself that I wasn’t “as bad as they are” and because I found myself jealous of their ability to drink until the intervention.  I jumped online and read what I could about online recovery groups like AA, SMART Recovery and Moderation Management to see if there was something out there in the world that would “click”.

I joined an AA group online but still resisted in person meetings.  SMART sounded too time consuming and before I even entered the Moderation Management website I knew it would not work for me.  I’d been trying to moderate my drinking for decades unsuccessfully.  Additionally I wanted to think less about drinking not more.  Their tools would require an almost 24/7 thought process that revolved around alcohol, and that simply did not give me the separation from thinking about drinking and the peace of mind I needed to survive.

So I carved my own path which got and kept me sober.  That was the easy part – getting sober – because that’s all I was…sober.

“Resentment is like a drug.  Once you pick it up, it will only get worse and worse until you surrender and do the work to let it go.” -Samantha Leahy

About two years into my sobriety I noticed I wasn’t quite as happy as I once was with being sober.  I began to build resentments in places they never existed.  Sure, I still had plenty of resentments toward my parents, my sister, former employers and friends but these were new.  I started resenting myself and what I’d done to my life.  I began to feed on the insecurities and self-doubt that had always plagued me and build a monument to their cause – namely, to erase all love and self-confidence.  It scared the crap out of me but, since I had been on this journey alone, I had no idea what to do or how to escape.

Since I’d been googling my path to sobriety I just kept right on googling and one day ran across The Act of Returning to Normal by a woman who had been sober about as long as I had.  Tara had been blogging since she got sober and I discovered that we had a lot in common.  I read all of her posts from beginning to end and even found the courage to comment once or twice.  On her blog roll I found others who were experiencing what I was experiencing and a kinship began to bloom in my heart.  For the first time since I’d put down the wine, I felt as if I could finally, blessedly, exhale.

I read and read and read.  Then I wrote and wrote and wrote.  I began my own blog never imaging that anyone would actually read it.  (Except Tara who I asked to read it and she did and she liked it which made me over the moon happy!)  I found that even if not one single soul ever read anything I wrote I would have to write because it had become my outlet.  Writing enabled me to take the junk that was rolling around inside my head, form it into coherent thought, write it down, and then look at it from a different perspective.  It was magic.

Reading other blogs made me realize that perhaps I had the wrong impression about AA.  I decided to go to a meeting, and then another and another.  I attended AA for about eight months, completed my step work and then something amazing happened.

I discovered the difference between just being sober and being in recovery.

That’s when things got real.  That’s when I dug in my heels and got to work.  That’s when it got HARD.

But that’s when I started getting well.

I am now almost five years sober.  I’m happier than I’ve ever been and sometimes sadder than I’ve every been but it’s all real.  I’ve blogged my way into recovery and here I’ll stay for the rest of time because I learn something new about myself and my life every single day.  I’ve learned how to be happy, to be sad, to find a good therapist, to share my experience but not give advice (it’s hard enough being responsible for myself much less anyone else), to process betrayal, anger and resentment, to let go, to open my heart, to trust.

To love.

Getting sober was easy.  Being in recovery is work.  But it’s the kind of work that you jump out of bed to get to every day; the kind of work that fills your soul with passion and makes you grateful to be on the planet; the kind of work that gives you as much as you give to it.

What more can anyone ask out of life?

Photo by Emma Brown