Today I made 8 months sober. I posted this morning on my Facebook page that these past 8 months have been the best I’ve had in a long, long time, and that they have, by far, been my best months of sobriety. This isn’t the first time that I have had this many days, but it’s the first time it’s felt like real physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety. The longest stretch of sobriety that I had since I started trying was was nine months, I drank on the day after getting my 9 month chip. So I have been asking myself why this time feels so different.
The difference certainly isn’t because these last eight months have been uneventful. I have gone through more stress, anxiety, grief, and the like, since last November than I went through in the year prior. I have had to deal with some really difficult feelings and situations. Things that, not too long ago, would’ve sent me right back out boozing. But I haven’t had a drink. In fact, there was only one exceedingly crappy day in the whole eight months that I even wanted to. I wrote about that day in an earlier post. But even on that horrible day, I didn’t pick up. Why is that?
As I’ve thought about it, there seem to be three major changes I have made that are helping me stay sober. Number one, I finally got honest. I practiced varying degrees of selective honesty for 40 of my 41 years. When I was drinking I lied to everyone about everything, it didn’t matter who it was. As I got into recovery, I think I really tried to be more honest, but I omitted a great many things. If it was something that was going to cause me feelings of guilt or shame, or if it was uncomfortable or unpleasant in any way, I would almost always leave it out. It wasn’t until my second trip to treatment that I was able to be honest about the ugly stuff, all of the ugly stuff. It was the first time that I told the whole truth to a therapist, to my fellow addicts, to myself. I had the gift of desperation, and I was finally willing to go to any lengths to get sober, and to not die. For me that meant being honest.
Number two, I learned to forgive. I struggled with resentments for so long. I’ve realized that while I could (and did) act like I forgave people that I thought had wronged me in some way, deep down I held on to those resentments like a security blanket. I wrapped myself up in them and they actually gave me comfort. They gave me a reason for my drinking, I had someone other than myself to blame for it. If I hadn’t been so heinously wronged by others, I wouldn’t have to self-medicate all the time. Once I came to the realization that not only was I holding these grudges, but I was reveling in them, I knew that something had to be done. I talked a lot about how to forgive with my husband (he’s a pastor after all), and I talked about it with a therapist, with my sponsor and with other alcoholics. I read books about forgiveness, I read the Bible, I prayed, I journaled about it. I can’t tell you when the switch was flipped, it was a gradual thing. I started off by praying just for the willingness to forgive, the actual forgiving seemed a long way off. Somewhere along the line, I started to let go of my security blanket, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I did have the capacity to forgive. I kept praying, and writing, and talking, and something happened. My anger lessened. I learned that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, and it doesn’t require reconciliation. I started to let go, to truly forgive. Some transgressions were easier to let go of than others, and some I am still working on, but I have much more peace now.
The last biggie was acceptance. Oh, have I fought with acceptance. I have always loved the story in the Big Book called Acceptance is the Answer. And I knew that accepting that things were what they were, would make life easier. I just didn’t know how to do it. So I got the words ‘It is what it is” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder. I tried to just intellectually accept things, just tell myself that I had no choice but to accept it, and that would work for a while, but it never lasted. I said the Serenity Prayer over and over. But true acceptance only came to me when I was able to turn over whatever seemed unacceptable to me, to God. I have written about laying down my rock, surrendering my problems to God, and how, for me, it often involved the literal laying down of a stone. I don’t usually carry rocks in my pockets these days, but when something that I can’t change is bothering me, I write it down on a piece of paper, and I put it in my God box. I give it up, and become willing to accept it as it is.
There are a number of other things that I do differently to stay sober now. I journal like crazy, I chair meetings, I reach out to others in and out of the program when I need help, I take care of myself whether it means a nap or a good cry or a hot bath, I know my strengths and I know my liabilities and I plan accordingly, I call my sponsor almost every day. My recipe for sobriety has changed, there are a lot more ingredients. But the main ones are honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance. And they make life pretty delicious.