This past weekend, I went to a meeting where the topic was hope. There were a lot of thoughtful shares (directed, I suspect, toward the newcomers) that caused me to think about my life before and in early sobriety as it compares to my life now. The differences are many. In sobriety I am honest, I am forgiving, I am mindful. I have real, genuine friendships that are reciprocal; I have support; I have real, unconditional love. When I was drinking, I had none of those things. I lived, if you can even call it living, a life of survival. I was just barely hanging on, by my fingertips, waiting for the inevitable. I don’t think I knew what ‘the inevitable’ was at the time, but I realize now that I was waiting for one of two things – either something catastrophic (like a jail sentence or commitment to the looney bin – something that would force me to stop drinking), or death. I didn’t know or care which it was. I was completely without hope in my life.
The time that I spent drinking was a horrible, depressing time. I was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD from abuse I suffered over the years, I was recently divorced and lonely. I struggled financially and felt like a failure. I tried over and over again to drink my sadness away…to escape those feelings that were uncomfortable to feel. Living life was painful. Too painful. I thought that maybe I was just destined to feel that way forever, that things would never change; that I would always be miserable and hopeless.
The series of events that finally got me to treatment didn’t raise my level of hope. I knew that treatment was my only option, but I didn’t really have hope that it would make things that much better. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to keep from drinking, but that alone didn’t give me hope that I would I would ever have a happy and fulfilled life.
So as I sat there at the meeting, listening to my fellow alcoholics share about the hope that they have found in sobriety, it struck me that now, I too, have hope. Somewhere along the way, these past few years, I started to believe that things could and would get better. I don’t really know when it happened, it was such a gradual thing. Perhaps it was when I chose to really work the steps of the program with a sponsor, or when I learned the importance of forgiveness and acceptance, maybe it was when I found Jesus and learned that I didn’t ever have to be alone again. It may have been when I met my husband and learned what unconditional love was, or when I figured out that me being honest wasn’t something that was going to drive my friends away. Most likely, it happened because of all of those things.
The fact is, though, that I never could’ve done any of those things if I hadn’t been sober first. I have heard so many people new in sobriety say that they thought that all they had to do was quit drinking and that everything would be ok. That just isn’t the case. It takes time and work and soul-searching. It takes a heart change. And it takes hope.
So to the newcomers I say – don’t drink even when you feel hopeless. Keep doing the next right thing, find a support system and use it, forgive yourself and others, accept what you can’t change. I promise you those things lead to hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had.