Wow! There’s been a lot going on this month. The first week, my husband spent four days in the hospital with a respiratory infection (he’s doing great now, fully recovered). The next week we had a meeting at my stepson’s school with his mom and grandparents that has since really opened the lines of communication between us in a wonderful way. The third week brought with it some awesome news – my husband was offered a full-time teaching position; a promotion from his current adjunct duties. Then last week was Thanksgiving, which we spent with one of my closest friends and her son. It was a nice, relaxing day…and only doing half of the cooking made it very easy.
Oh yeah, and something else happened. Last Wednesday I celebrated two years sober! It’s fantastic, crazy, awesome, miraculous, and exciting that I have not had a drink for over 731 days!
As I reflect on the last two years, I’ve been thinking about how much different my second year of sobriety was from my first. When I look back at old journals, blog posts, and even old Facebook posts, I can see the progress that I have made, and how I’ve grown in recovery.
For me, the first year of recovery was all about figuring out how to live life on life’s terms. It was learning how to find coping skills that didn’t include drinking, lying, or just checking out. Without booze, I had to learn how to sit with emotions instead of drowning them out. I had to learn to face consequences of my past actions without trying to lie my way out of them. I had to learn to share the things I was feeling and not stuff them. I had to learn how to forgive even when I hadn’t received an apology. I had to learn to allow myself to grieve with patience and self-care. I had to learn to be mindful and grateful and to have faith. I was very much like a toddler, learning how to maneuver in a world that still felt big and unfamiliar.
The second year was different for me. It was less learning how to live, and more learning to be myself. I think that if I had to pick a theme for my year-two, it would have to be self-awareness. It feels like I’ve finally gotten to know myself, the real me. It’s been an incredible experience.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
- Recovery is different from sobriety. I think, no…I know, that in the beginning I thought that the answer to all of my problems was to stop drinking. Looking back, it seems pretty foolish, like I expected some magical, you’ve-quit-drinking fairy to appear and Poof!, my life would be perfect. What I’ve learned is that just being sober doesn’t really change much. Well, except that I don’t get arrested, do bad things, or have huge periods of time erased from my memory. Seriously though, all of the reasons, feelings, situations that I drank over didn’t go away when I stopped. They were still there, bright and shiny, waiting to see what I was going to do. Staying sober in the first year was about learning to deal with those things. I learned that it takes recovery, not sobriety, to live a life that is happy, joyous, and free. It takes continually working the steps, being grateful, being honest and forgiving, and mindful.
- Recovery is like a roller-coaster. I learned that recovery, like everything else, has ups and downs. There are days that I feel very grounded in my recovery, I know what I need to do and I do it, and then there are days that I feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And you know what? That’s ok. I don’t get down on myself when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I talk about it, ask for help if I need it, and wait for the roller-coaster car to head back up.
- Staying active in recovery lessens my fears. When I was drinking and first sober, I lived in a lot of fear. I was afraid of being sober, and I was afraid of continuing to drink. I was afraid of letting people see the real me, because then they would reject me. I was afraid of people finding out that I was an alcoholic, and I was afraid that people would think that I was crazy. I was afraid that people would find out all of the horrible things that I had done. I could go on. Ugh. It was truly a life lived in fear. Being active in my recovery has alleviated many of those fears. All of the fears that I mentioned, plus many more, have actually come to pass, but not in the way that I thought. It turns out that by writing this blog, sharing my story with other alcoholics, and by being open and honest, I, myself, have outed all of the things that I thought I had to hide. And while there have been a few times that I have paused before clicking on ‘Publish’, I am no longer afraid to be me when others can see me. The amazing thing to recognize is the results of doing that. I realized that those I lost were never really there for me to begin with, and that many, many people in my life love and support me. Who would’ve thought?
- I’m never going to get recovery 100% right. When I first came into the program, I thought that nearly everyone in the rooms had it all together. And I thought that in order for me to be “well,” I had to have it all together too. It turns out that I was wrong on both counts. After getting to know a lot of other recovering alcoholics, I can tell you, they don’t have it all together. They are not cured. No matter how long a person is sober, there are still things that they have to work on. There isn’t a magic switch that flips when you’ve been sober for X number of years. It’s on ongoing process. It’s a daily reprieve that we all get when we choose to stay sober another day. When it comes to me, the biggest thing that I have learned about getting the most out of recovery is that I must have constant reminders. I need to be reminded by the old-timers that consistent, quality sobriety and recovery can be achieved. I need to be reminded by the newcomers where I came from. I need to be reminded that my recovery is not to be taken for granted, and that I have to thank God for every sober day. I have to be reminded that I am not alone, that there are so many others that have felt what I feel, done what I do, said what I say. I need these constant reminders, and the best way I’ve learned to get them is by going to meetings.
- My recovery lets me help others. I work at a job that I like enough, with people who I love, but that’s not what feeds my soul. The most meaningful things to me are the times that I am able to share the message with someone who wants to hear it. The other night I got a call from an acquaintance who confessed that she is drinking alcoholically. She said she didn’t know what to do, but then she thought about me. She called and asked about AA and about getting sober. I was able to share my experience, strength, and hope with her, and offered to take her to a meeting. I don’t know what she has decided to do yet, but I do know that if she hadn’t heard me talk about being sober and happy in recovery, she would’ve had no one to call that night. That’s what feeds my soul. I love that.
So this, my second year of sobriety, has been awesome, and wonderful, and easy. And it’s also been sad, and trying, and really fucking hard. I’ve become pretty good at accepting all of those things, and anything else that is thrown my way. Thankfully, I no longer feel the desire to drink, that went away a long time ago. I have, however, picked up the desire to live peacefully, gratefully, and joyfully. I can’t wait to see what year three brings.