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!
I have written quite a bit about my time in active addiction, and this blog is a journey through my recovery, from about 6 weeks in to the present day, but the time frame I have omitted, for no real reason, is that first 6 weeks when I put the brakes on ingesting addictive substances, and began the road to recovery.
I can tell you about my daily schedule during that time pretty concisely: get up, pray, hang out with my Mom, go to a meeting, hang out with my Mom, spend a few hours with my children, hang out with my Mom, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. The to-do list was short, but the mental chaos was long, and difficult. To those reading who are new to recovery: I feel your pain, I remember it like it was yesterday. You go to meetings and try to emulate what you see happening around you, but your mind is racing so much, and there is so much personal damage, that it is incredibly difficult to focus on what is important. Hang in there, I promise it does get easier!
During that time, there is one aspect that, in retrospect, is a blessing: there was really no thought on my part that I would not “get it.” I knew it was possible for me to recover, it just took me time, and trial and error, to get it right. I hear many people say their plan was simply to die a drunk or addict; that was never for one moment a thought in my head.
On the other hand, during the earliest days, I did believe, in the deepest way, that life as I knew it was over. I was certain my marriage was over, and I was almost as equally certain that any remaining friendships would choose my husband over me. The silver lining in this cloud was that my head was so full of craziness, I just didn’t have room to imagine the future… I couldn’t picture it, so I didn’t even try.
My primary group of friends have been around for 20 years. We met in college, and, for me, I realized that I found the best group of people in the world, so why let them go? When I hit my bottom, these friends would fall into two categories: those who knew of my addiction, and so therefore I have actively lied to them, telling them I was recovering when in fact I was not; and those who knew nothing about my addiction. Either way, I figured I would lose them all. Devastating, to be sure, but then again there was so much devastation who had time to process it all?
Two of this long-time group reached out to me in those early days. I will devote a separate post to each, they deserve it. Today I am going to focus on my friend Joe.
Joe falls into that first category about which I spoke: I let him believe I was recovering, and so therefore I actively lied. And I knew, when the bottom dropped, that Joe was possibly the first friend my husband went to and shared all the gory details. So, imagine my surprise when, while sitting with my Mom (see my daily schedule above), I received a voice mail from my friend Joe. He sounded about as far from happy as you can get, but he was reaching out, and he wanted me to know he was still there for me. I am feeling the elation all over again as I am typing. This voice mail came about 2 weeks into my recovery, and I believe it was the first glimmer of hope I received that life may in fact become happy again.
And so began the new leg of our decades-long relationship. Joe has an exceptionally busy career, a wife and two small children, but he took time, almost every night, to talk to me into the wee hours of the morning. He insisted I text him every morning with the day count of my sobriety. He talked me off too many ledges to count. He gave me a reason to smile when I thought I would never smile again. All this from a friendship I was certain was doomed.
So now, it is a little over a year later, and life is amazing. All the relationships I thought I lost forever are back, and better than ever. And while Joe and I see/talk to each other as much as we can, life gets busy, so it is certainly not as much as I would like. Recently Joe had a series of things happen to him, coincidences like the ones we have always joked about, and debated whether or not they were meaningful. Miracle of all miracles, he actually came to me for some perspective, rather than the other way around. It is nothing short of amazing… I can use the tools that I very likely would not even have if not for him, and I can help him find his way. If you had told me that would happen a year ago… that I would have any kind of positive life experience to share… I would have laughed, and laughed and laughed.
Joe is not an alcoholic or an addict. He is just a guy trying to be the best person he can be. And because he believed in me, he now has a friend with a set of tools not found in the “regular” world, tools that just may be able to help him live a more joyful life. Seriously, does it get any better than that?
Friends that stand by you during impossibly tough times is a miracle. Remembering that, and having gratitude for it, is priceless. And I am already mentally writing the future posts for all the great people in my life!
I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed, and the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying. –Tom Hopkins
When I last left off in this story, it was the summer of 2011 (if you are just joining the story now, read yesterday’s post). I have successfully removed a few addictive substances from my life with the belief that simply one vice would satisfy the people around me, while still maintaining the control I so desperately wanted. Two hitches with this train of thought. First, I still had to live a lie in order to hold on to my addiction. Second, addiction doesn’t sit, lay down and roll over as I truly believed it would.
As I have learned, there are a number of paths my “philosophy” in the summer of 2011 could have taken me, such as: I could have picked up another, totally separate addiction, or I could have simply reverted to all the previous ones, since, what the heck, I’m already lying, why not just go back to everything? But the way it actually panned out was this: I held onto that one vice, and that addiction simply took off. What at first was a “when you have it, just enjoy it, and when it runs out, wait until you can get some more” thought process evolved into “let’s see what we can do to make this happen as frequently as possible.” And so the addiction progressed, and, if I am being honest, I truly believed I was pretty clever. It’s like anything else: when you put your mind to work, it is amazing what you can accomplish, and accomplish I did. Through trial and error, I came up with some pretty ingenious ways for obtaining my drug of choice.
Never once giving thought to the damage I was doing to my physical self, or the addictive properties of the drug itself, it became like a game to me. At the time, my husband was the referee of the game, and our marriage suffered greatly for it. My thinking at this point was something along the lines of: “If he would just stop prying into every little detail of my life, everything would be fine!” I can’t stress this strongly enough, I wasn’t justifying my actions, I simply chose not to look at myself at all. All my thought processes at this point were external… where and how can I obtain my drug of choice? Why is my husband spying on my every move? How can I be even more clever so I can avoid his interrogations?
So the next few months were a series of deceit, lies, cover-ups, and explosions when I was finally “caught in the act.” The culmination of this particular bottom happened on October 14, 2011. My husband, for what felt like the millionth time, uncovered a deception, and gave me an ultimatum: go away and get help, or simply go away. It took a few days to find an appropriate facility, and I was able to negotiate staying home long enough to celebrate my son’s 9th birthday, but I went to an inpatient rehab on October 19, 2011.
Wouldn’t it be nice if this was where the story turns around? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s shocking twist…
That I can retell this story, and my friends and family still love me.