Two years ago today, my life changed forever.
November 8, 2011 was the last blackout drunk, or drink I’ve had. I have now spent the past 730 days in my own skin.
To say the least, my first year of sobriety was tumultuous. I went to 5-7 meetings a week. I worked the steps. I meditated and prayed. I cried. I struggled. My husband and I separated and ultimately divorced. I lost most of the people whom I thought were my friends. I made amends where I could. I began to learn how to listen. I did everything that was asked of me, and threw myself into my recovery with everything I had. My “if it’s not worth overdoing, it’s not worth doing” attitude served me well here, and my life began to unfold in ways I’d never even imagined.
Changing my behaviors was a full time job. I cannot emphasize enough how much alcohol is just a symptom of alcoholic behavior. I was like an archaeologist picking through the wreckage of my past, excavating and examining each unique piece, and working through the many emotions that were attached to each one. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings and emotions, I had been drinking and using drugs since I was twelve in order to escape them. I began to write, it became one of my most valuable and therapeutic outlets, of which this blog transpired. To this day, identifying, handling, expressing, and working through my feelings and emotions, is in fact, one of the most challenging aspects of my sobriety.
But I made it, and in addition to my two beautiful sons, I consider my sobriety to be the greatest accomplishment of my life.
This second year has been quite different. After celebrating my year anniversary, I started slacking off. I went from going to five to seven meetings a week down to three, then two, then only one, which I went to only because I had committed to running it. This was not a conscious decision, it just happened.
I was happy. My kids were happy. My life had blossomed and was full of all of the wonderful things that came along with my sobriety. I was going to the gym regularly, and had gotten into better shape than I had been in since high school. I was healthy. I was taking freelance design jobs again, I was painting, writing, playing golf, and constantly doing a multitude of things with my kids. I coached my son’s soccer team. I had started dating again. I was living. All of these things replaced my previous routine of meetings and meditation and even my painting and writing began to slow down. I very seldom ever thought about alcohol.
In June I met Aaron. It was instant, as if we had known each other our entire lives. Something I never believed in, love at first sight, happened for both of us in that moment, and we have been together every day since. He does not drink either, so now I had all of the wonderful things I had before, and I was head over heels in the kind of love that is healthy and pure and makes you feel high all of the time. Between my new relationship, traveling, kids’ sports, and everything I mentioned before, I decided I was just too busy to secretary my meeting anymore. After all, I had done it for a year, so I passed the position on to someone else. After that, I think I maybe went to maybe three meetings in five months.
My thinking became this; I don’t need to go to meetings, I am fine, I’ve got this, I have all of the tools to stay sober and I never even think about drinking anyway. And I really was fine, for a while. Friends from the program would call and text to check in, asking where I was, if I was still sober, why I had stopped coming to meetings…to all of whom I replied that I was fine, that I was just too busy and that I was still doing all the things I needed to do in order to stay sober.
Over the past few months, I began to notice a shift in my overall mood and attitude. The feelings of restlessness, irritability and discontentedness began plaguing me. I was becoming frustrated and annoyed at the smallest of things. I was defensive and moody, and before I knew what was happening, all of my old behaviors, and numerous character defects, rose to the surface and once again began dominating my life. I experienced a few anxiety attacks, the likes of which I had not had since I was drinking. Feelings of depression were creeping back in, I stopped going to the gym, and became petty and argumentative. And still I was not putting two and two together.
What finally got me thinking there was a connection, was that I had started to contemplate drinking more and more. Not because I wanted a drink, but because I thought I could. It was the first red flag. I would get upset or angry, and it was the first thought I went to. In social situations, I would entertain the notion of being able to drink differently this time around.
Then out of the blue, two words popped into my mind. Dry Drunk. There’s a guy at my home group meetings, Mark, who had been sober for something like twenty years. He would often talk about how he had stopped coming to meetings altogether for eight years, and his miserable existence over that duration as a dry drunk. The expression basically means that you have the old behaviors of a drunk, just without the alcohol. He had started coming to meetings again shortly after I got sober, and is now a completely different person from the time I first met him. Suddenly, all of this was resonating with me.
The universe works in mysterious ways, and the signs are always there if you pay attention. That night at my sons soccer practice, guess who I ran into? Mark. I started putting two and two together, and then it hit me.
I had been taking it all for granted. It was so easy for me to forget. To forget where I had come from, and for the tremendous amount of work it had taken for me to get here. There’s a saying, “we do not wish to forget the past nor shut the door on it…” for a reason. I need to be reminded; the flipped car, the crippling anxiety and depression, the selfishness, the blackouts, the dread and humiliation, the ruined relationships, the bottle of vodka that went with me everywhere, the lies, the pills, the mess, the wake of destruction, the complete detachment…all of that, casually forgotten.
I forgot that, for me, those meetings are a privilege, not an obligation. I had started thinking that I was above it all, that I didn’t need help; I was different and totally capable of doing it without the support anymore. Why? Because any alcoholic or addict will tell you that needing or asking for help is just as hard as staying sober. I thought that if I wasn’t drinking, that I could do it on my own.
The reason that we get sober in the first place is so that we can have a life, one that is rich and fulfilling and worth living. I started to think that sitting in a church basement for the next 20 years would hinder that life, and forgot that sitting in a church basement is in fact what helps enable me to have this life in the first place. It was in that moment that I remembered, you can’t keep it if you don’t give it away.
Alcoholism is a disease, the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. You have cancer, you go to chemo. You’re diabetic, you take your insulin. You’re an alcoholic, you go to meetings. That vantage point provides me with some much-needed perspective on my personal recovery. Some people may be able to do it without them, but for me, meetings are my medicine.
About three weeks ago I went to my first meeting in over 2 months. Let me tell you, it felt good, so good, like coming home. I heard everything that I needed to hear, and expressed my heartfelt gratitude to Mark. I was reminded that I was not there for me. Everyone else was there for me, and I was there for them. It is unity, support, and service to others.
So it’s back to work for me. I never get a certificate of completion, and there are just necessary steps I must take every day to ensure my continued sobriety, and overall happiness. It’s back to the gratitude, the meditation, the meetings, and the service to others. Without all of these components and reminders, I am only arms reach away from my next drink, and jeopardizing everything I have worked so hard to achieve and accomplish. With this decision comes a beautiful clarity once again. The judgment, anxiety and restlessness ebbs, as the love, gratitude and acceptance flows.
As I begin my third year of sobriety, I am once again full of gratitude for the life that I have, and for the many gifts that I have been given. I have been reminded that I can lose it all in an instant, if I forget that I am still Tracy, and I am still an alcoholic.