No matter which way you choose to recover, whether by 12-step fellowship, rehab, or a “DIY” program, it is a universal truth that, early on, it is best to stay away from the people, places and things that the newly sober associates with their addiction. So, for example, it is prudent for an alcoholic to steer clear of the local watering hole at which he used to have a regular bar stool. Or for a drug addict to steer clear of dicey urban areas where she previously drove to “score.”
But what about the rest of us whose only “people, places and things” are areas that cannot be extricated from our lives? Well, to a certain extent you can, at the very least, alter the landscape. For example, if you were a home drinker, you can remove all alcohol in the house. Or if you were a rabble-rouser at house parties, you can choose to avoid them in the short-term. Both of the following examples apply to me personally, and, for various reasons, both are the solutions I used to solve the “people, places and things” dilemma for me in early sobriety.
Sooner or later, though, you have to face the music, and that opportunity came for me this holiday season. I was faced with a number of events in which I chose to participate for the first time in recovery, and I wanted to write about that experience, because I would imagine I am not alone in dealing with this issue.
At the outset, the choice to join in the fun an festivities of the holiday season was a well-thought out one. I have discussed the idea with my fellows in recovery, prayed about it, and was completely comfortable with the decision to participate. So there was planning there. I also had my toolkit at the ready, and my checklist of things to keep me safe and sober while in the moment (I wrote about this checklist here). In fact, there was one party where I said six simple words to my husband: “the party is starting to turn,” and we were out the door within 10 minutes. So adequate preparation in that department.
If there was one element for which I had not prepared, it was the emotional angst associated with event. Whether it was the location of the party, places where I have engaged in behavior that still shames me, whether it was the people themselves, and the reminder they bring of my past life, or the holiday itself, and the association with all the past misbehavior, I was uncomfortable in a way that surprised me. The memories of the past came back so quickly, and with such strength, at times it was an actual effort to turn and move in a different direction.
These feelings of discomfort took me by surprise because all of the things I did worry about were for naught. For example, I was concerned about awkwardness around family members who are seeing me in a social situation for the first time in recovery. Not only did that awkwardness fail to materialize; family and friends were supportive in ways I could never have imagined.
So why did these memories come back to haunt me? I’m not sure I will ever have a definitive answer to this question, and I have learned enough in my recovery not to over think it. I did what I was taught to do: move a muscle, change a thought. Even though it took extra effort, I turned and walked in an opposite direction, and found someone “safe” to engage in conversation. I participated in cooking and cleaning, which is helpful and distracting at the same time. Most important, I considered the real reason I was present at the holiday, to gather with family and/or friends, and to re-connect with them, and I took advantage of that opportunity in a way I never would have if I was chemically altered.
So when I said my prayer the morning after each holiday function, I was able to say with extra sincerity: “Thank you, God, for all my days of sobriety.”
I am so grateful to have 23 months and 1 day of sobriety!
Maybe not quite this old…
If ever an admission of truth could lose readership, it will be this one. I have been back and forth about whether or not to tell this story, but the comical aspect of it, combined with my pride in a dubious accomplishment, makes the telling of it irresistible.
For years I have had a subscription to People magazine. This has been the source of endless ribbing by some of my “highbrow” friends (quotes are absolutely intentional, thank you very much), because I don’t follow the news very religiously (in fact, under antonym for “news junkie” you would find my picture) so the thinking is that the source of all my current events knowledge stems from this periodical. If I make the mistake of mentioning something in headline news, the comments are predictable, and endless.
Now can you see why I keep these friends around for decades?
Back to me. I developed a rule for this magazine: I will only allow myself to read it at the gym. The reason: It covers up the control panel, and there are pictures to distract my mind while I toil away. I came to think of reading the magazine as a reward, and if I was caught up on the issues, I felt good, because it meant I was exercising regularly, if there was a backlog, it motivated me to get my ass to the gym.
Enter the downward spiral of active addiction. Because I am a stubborn son of a gun, I would not allow myself to look at them unless at the gym. Unfortunately, since other obsessions occupied my time, the pile of People magazines grew as mountainous as my pile of regret and shame.
But throwing them out felt like I was giving up. Oddly, holding on to almost a year’s worth of People magazines was actually a sign of hope, and faith that I could conquer this disease, and get back to normal life (if you consider normal reading about celebs while working out).
So, as most of you know, I bottomed out, and started the process of recovery, and still the pile of People magazines grew. Throughout the year 2012, I worked my ass of in terms of recovery, but not in terms of anything physical. I took the slogan “First things first” and ran with it… straight to the La-Z-Boy. Occasionally I would take the pile, sort through it, and throw out the issues that seemed the least interesting, but still I hung on to the majority of them.
The subscription ended December 2012, and for obvious reasons I could not justify renewing it. So for the next 5 1/2 months while the pile did not grow, it certainly did not diminish in size. I moved them out of sight, but still could not bear to part with them. At one point my husband was in the drawer that housed them and said, “What the hell are you planning to do with all those back issues of People?” Of course, he was unaware of this particular insanity, so I mumbled something and the subject was dropped.
Finally, the time had come, and I signed up to kick-start my fitness over at Running On Sober. Finally, the People magazines will be put to good use!
So I picked one out of the pile, and out the door I went. As I started reading about Tom Cruise‘s idea of the perfect day being spending it with Katie Holmes, I realized a slight problem in my logic: this was old news, really, really old news.
Did I mention that I am stubborn? If I held on to these magazines for this long, by God, I am going to read them.
I watched the pile dwindle, and damned if I didn’t feel just a notch of pride each time I threw out a magazine.
Meanwhile, I got to find out the following hot-off-the-press information:
- Richard Dawson, Phyllis Diller and the guy from Beastie Boys are all dead
- Jessica Simpson had her first baby (apparently already pregnant with number 2?)
- The sit com Go On with Matthew Perry is picked to be a winner (now cancelled); the sit com The Neighbors is picked to be a loser (surprise hit)
Here’s the end of this ridiculous story, and I promise this happened exactly as I am telling it. I got down to the final old issue of People, and I put off reading it for a few days, because it felt like the end of an era. So I swam or took neighborhood walks. Finally, I went to the gym, read my last back issue, and threw it in the trashcan with a smile. I drove home, went to the mailbox, and I swear to you, this was what I found, that day:
Could I even make this stuff up?
Surviving a trip to the mall with 5 kids ranging in age from 13 (with an attitude) to 2 (also with an attitude). If mall employees were also recording miracles, it would be that we left with the building still standing!
Truth is not determined by the number of people who believe it. Truth just is. -Lisa Neumann, Sober Identity
I had an interesting experience this morning. I was sharing some less savory details of my legal consequences with a friend in a meeting, and I began my story with “I am embarrassed to say…” He responded by asking me if it was embarrassment or shame. The question stopped me, because I had not really differentiated between the two words.
So further research revealed that embarrassment is more external, while shame is internal. At the time, my response to my friend was that I was experiencing both embarrassment and shame. His quick response was “Really? At a 12-step meeting you are embarrassed by your circumstances? Think about your audience!” Immediately I felt better, but I continued to think about the distinction, and to try think both feelings entirely through.
And, like fear, anger, many other strong emotions, embarrassment and shame can be removed when fully examined. I was feeling both ashamed and embarrassed by the external factors of my legal consequences from my addictions. Things that, at first blush, feel like they rob me of my dignity. But as I really think through what I am doing, the truth is this: I have an addiction, I have made mistakes in the past, and now I am doing all the right things that are keeping me sober one day at a time. The truth is that I am proud of the actions I am taking daily, and the icing on the cake is that these particular circumstances, which have a pretty short time frame, will ultimately give me complete legal freedom, on top of the freedom I am experiencing as a sober woman.
There is nothing in my current life about which I should be ashamed, or embarrassed. That is the truth.
So, I guess the title pretty much says it all, and this is definitely a topic that applies to more than just recovery. Pick a topic… cleaning, exercise, eating well, working, family issues, errands… the list is endless of things in life that we don’t want to do.
But sometimes the things we don’t want to do are more serious than others, and the stakes are higher if we don’t do them. I recently visited a relative recovering from surgery. The recovery is really rough, and it is so ridiculously unfair that she has to deal with these issues at all. Like so many things in life, there is no conceivable reason why she is going through this illness at all.
And yet… that’s pretty much life sometimes. I can relate this, in a very roundabout way, to my own recovery. Not the “life isn’t fair” part, because I brought my issues on myself, but that feeling of “I just don’t wanna!!!” with regards to various parts of my recovery. And, like my relative, I could skip elements of my daily recovery, but at what cost? There are things I need to do, on a daily basis, whether I want to or not, and if I fail to do them, I will lose my recovery, which means I will essentially (and possibly literally) lose my life.
So when I look at it in that context, are the sometimes annoying little things I have to do each day really that annoying? If I say, I can go to this meeting for one hour, or I will die, if I look at it in from that viewpoint, how hard does that task seem? It becomes incredibly silly to resent doing something that will ultimately give me the life that I want. So, as with all things, doing the things I don’t want to do all becomes a matter of perspective.