Two years. Twenty-four months. Seven hundred thirty days.
Today is my second soberthday. A year ago, I wrote about what my first sober year meant – how I struggled to identify the right way mark the occasion and celebrate it. This year, I am reflecting on everything I have learned over the last 24 months – these 20 lessons are only the beginning.
- Alcohol wasn’t my only problem. My body hasn’t drastically transformed since I gave up booze. That’s because I have replaced it with ice cream, pretzels, cookies, chocolate, and more. For me, these things haven proven far more difficult to quit than alcohol. I celebrate with them. I mourn with them. I eat my emotions in the same way I used to drown them in wine. And, I often excuse my indulgences by saying, “Well, at least I’m not drinking.”
- Even sober, I can be my own worst enemy. I still have the power to make choices that will completely destroy everything I have worked to achieve. My brain is very sneaky and can easily conjure up evil plots of self-sabotage when I lose focus of the big picture. This goes beyond the edible vices mentioned above, and I have to be ever mindful that sobriety requires constant love and attention.
- Life is so much easier when I am not trying to hide. Preventing my addiction from being exposed was nothing less than exhausting. What liquor store should I go to today? Not the one I went to twice yesterday. Scanning the grocery store parking lot for friends’ cars to make sure no one I knew would see me buying beer at 9 a.m. Drinking a bottle of wine before heading to dinner with friends so they would only see me drink a glass or two. Continually searching for creative hiding places for empty bottles so my husband wouldn’t know how much I drank. I don’t miss the frenetic pace of these challenges one bit, and I have no idea how I kept up at all.
- I can’t lie anymore. Sure, I know how. But, I cannot bring myself to do it. While I’m by no means overly truthful like Jim Carrey in the movie Liar Liar, I thrive on being authentic. Because if I lie to someone else, I also lie to myself. And, today I know I deserve much better.
- Pain is meant to be felt. From death to menstrual cramps, I have spent the better part of my adult life using booze to numb every shred of emotional and physical pain I encountered. It wasn’t until I got sober that I learned to sit with my pain, feel it, experience it, soothe it in loving ways, and make decisions about how to conquer it vs. simply mask its existence. Pain has so much to teach me and I am grateful I’ve learned to no longer shut it out and accept what it has to offer.
- I did know someone in recovery. When I first got sober, I said I didn’t know anyone like me. I didn’t attend meetings or look for opportunities to meet people in recovery. I’ve always known people who drink too much. But, other than my grandmother who has been gone for 13 years, I never knew anyone in recovery. That is, until I started telling my story. And, one day, someone very special to me opened up about his decision to get sober many years earlier.
- I am still funny. Maybe funnier. I thought I was the most hysterical person on the face of the Earth, absolutely slaying with my comedic jabs and punchlines and leaving people in stitches. Addiction is such a serious topic, and I found myself becoming so solemn in my commitment to recovery that I believed I’d never put a smile on anyone’s face again. I lost my sense of humor for a while. But all that changed about a year into my sobriety. I starting making wisecracks again, getting goofy for no reason, finding joy in making people laugh, and laughing at myself.
- I can write sober. Toward the end of my drinking days, I never began any writing project without a drink in hand. Keep in mind, back then I didn’t have my own blog. I wrote for others. It was (and thankfully still is!) my job and I was paid to do it – press releases, bylined articles, blogs and social media posts, strategic plans, etc. Booze was not only my means to muster courage, ease anxiety, and numb out to escape and catch my breath, but it was also fuel for my creativity. In my mind, I had to slow down my brain enough to let the good stuff break through the clutter and bubble to the surface. Recalling this pure madness today just makes me face palm. Writing comes so much easier sober. I had no idea it could. But, my blog is proof – every word of it has been written unassisted by any addictive substance whatsoever. Well, unless you count chocolate. There’s been a lot of chocolate.
- I can handle anything. In the past two years, there’s been a lot to handle – from a major death in the family to kids’ injuries to cancer scares to conflicts with toxic individuals to the declining health of a senior pet to holidays with booze to the basic challenges of running a business and making sure clients pay me so I can pay our bills to raising kids and keeping a marriage happy … all the things social media tells us mommies have to drink wine to endure. Never would I have dreamed I could get through any of it without alcohol. I used to drink because everything felt bigger than me. Everything.
- Comfort zones can expand and contract, without warning. Just when I think I know where the edges of my comfort zone lie, I find myself leaping outside them to pursue something new, something completely out of character. Then, in the midst of any given day doing something I’ve done 1,000 times before, I can suddenly feel nervous and jittery. I don’t know how to explain it. But, usually it means it’s time to pause for a moment and think about what else is going on around me, why I feel that way, and what I might need to change to feel comfortable again.
- My gut is always right. Every. Single. Time. Of course, now that I’ve said that out loud, I’m probably going to have to eat my words. But, my point is this. I used to stew over so many things big and small, thinking I would discover the answer or the right decision at the bottom of a bottle of wine or in the last beer of a six pack. The only thing I found was a hangover laced with doubt, confusion, shame, and fear. I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts. It’s amazing how well they know and value me when they’re not drowning in booze.
- Mental clarity is underrated. Grossly underrated. I drank so heavily for such an extended period of time, I no longer understood the benefits of clarity or even knew it existed. This is actually something I learned in my first seven months of sobriety before my relapse. When I went in for my spinal fusion surgery in November 2014, I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in almost six months. When I awoke from surgery, I was completely doped up on morphine. I had control of the dosing button and when nurses checked on me and saw how few times I had pushed it, they urged me to push it more. I couldn’t do it. The haze was maddening. I couldn’t see straight. I needed my clarity back. Today, while there are times I still crave a little numbness, I can’t imagine trying to function even slightly buzzed.
- 24 hours in a day are enough. They’re plenty. Because when you’re not wasting them planning to get drunk, getting drunk, figuring out how to survive when you can’t be drunk, or waking up repeatedly in the middle of the night because you went to bed drunk and have the sweats and shakes, you can actually get a boatload of stuff accomplished. It’s amazing.
- Spending 30 minutes in bed with a mug of hot tea every single morning is not laziness. I just learned this one the other day. Every morning, my husband brings me a mug of hot tea in bed. He gets up earlier than I do and I am just not a morning person at all. I’ve been feeling extraordinarily guilty about this lately. I don’t know why. He takes the morning routine with the kids, and I am there for them at the end of the school day and for shuttling wherever they need to go. It’s a beautiful balance. But, I was feeling perhaps they thought I was being lazy sitting there, sipping my tea, ignoring sibling rivalry and my husband’s reprimands, setting my intentions for the day. That was until Thursday. I woke up later than I meant to and jumped out of bed the minute my eyes opened because I had promised my daughter we would try a new smoothie recipe. My eyes were barely open, I couldn’t think, and I fumbled with everything, spilling, grumbling, and whining. The more I tried to rev up, the faster everything turned to shit. I ended up fighting with my husband because the mug of tea that was sitting getting cold because I couldn’t pause to take a sip wasn’t full enough (I know, I’m rotten), my son got upset with us and walked out the door to school without saying goodbye, I got upset with him when he refused to come back to exchange an “I love you” with me and I threw the mug of tea out the front door onto the snow covered lawn. It all ended with me declaring, “See. This is why I don’t come down in the morning. This is why I need my time with my tea before I join the real world.”
- Self-care is not selfish. First, see above. Self-care doesn’t make me selfish or indulgent or lazy. It fuels me when my tank is running empty. It gives me the opportunity to screw my head on straight. If I don’t do a little something for me every day, I can’t be the person others need me to be. Most days, my wake up routine is enough. Other days, I need more – it could be a walk or coffee with a friend or a bubble bath or writing or reading or a drive to the shore. Sometimes self-care is something big. But it usually can’t be due to time and resources. When all else fails, a few minutes sitting in silence with my thoughts can suffice.
- Silence is beautiful. I’ve fallen in love with silence. And stillness. That pure absence of sound when you can hear your own heartbeat. It is so powerful to know your stillness has created it and you can break it at any time.
- Imperfection is perfect. As a child, I was driven to perfection. I can’t be certain if this was a self-imposed mandate or because I felt it was expected. Regardless, I settled for nothing less than A+ from myself and resided in that space well into adulthood. Lack of perfection was failure. My grades, my body, the cleanliness of my car, the way my living space was arranged, hosting the perfect dinner party or holiday gathering. If I couldn’t control something I couldn’t make it perfect. If I couldn’t make it perfect, I shut down. Today, there is zero perfection in my life. Sure, I strive to write without typos and I work hard to avoid making mistakes. But, that’s where it ends. I am perfectly imperfect and completely satisfied with all my messiness, despite how it might make others cringe.
- Pride is good. Not the seven deadly sins kind of pride. That’s disgusting. I’m talking about patting myself on the back in recognition of a job well done, filling my tank with the power of satisfaction that comes from personal success. I am immensely proud of every detail of my recovery and today’s celebration of my second soberthday. I wouldn’t have made it this far if I didn’t consciously load up on pride every single day. As my dear friend, Ellen, told me at the start of this journey, “Be a Pride Junkie.”
- I am absolutely terrified of dying. Toward the end of my drinking days, I wanted to die. I thought death was my only option, the only escape from the choke hold alcohol had on me. I believed my family would be better off without me, that freeing them from my crap was the only way I could give them happy and successful lives. It’s terrifying how addiction so drastically skews reality. Somehow, I made the decision to recover – to live, and be able to look back on the absurdity of my alcoholic mindset. I’ve gone from “who cares if I die” to “I am grateful for the gift of life today.”
- Alcohol is pure evil. I truly see no reason for it to exist. I hate it. Drinkers will throw daggers at me for this one, but I don’t care. Alcohol is killing people every day, yet society continues to celebrate its existence. Over the past three years, I have learned so much about the dangers of alcohol and how insidious and how unconditionally undiscriminating alcoholism is that I truly wish there was no such thing as booze.
These aren’t the only lessons I’ve learned over the last 24 months, but they’re my biggest takeaways from this journey to date. Even this far along, people still ask me if I think I will drink again. My answer is the same, always: Never is the goal. It is more than possible or manageable or doable. It is the most empowering thing I have ever done in my life. Sobriety is the air I breathe; if I deprive myself of it, I will die.