A year of joy and adversity

adversity

This was a big week for me.  It was Thanksgiving, and of course I have a lot to be thankful for.  However, the holidays have been really hard for me the last few years.  As many of you know, I have no contact with my family and that is really emotional for me when it comes to celebrating holidays, birthdays and the like.  I have worked really hard to accept that things are the way they are, and to no longer let my feelings about my family send me back out drinking.

The other big news for this week is that on Tuesday I celebrated one year of sobriety!  I was really excited to be able to go up and receive my one year chip at my home group meeting on Tuesday morning.  It felt great.  It felt exhilarating.  It felt miraculous.  And it was…all of those things.  Mostly though, I felt so grateful, so very grateful.  It is really apropos that my sobriety birthday is so near Thanksgiving, the timing is perfect.

one year

This post could easily turn into one about gratitude, but I am saving that for another time.  What I really want to write about is what the last year was like.  As I reflect on the past year, I can tell you that it was like a roller-coaster.  There were a lot of really high highs, but an equal amount of really low lows.  I was dealing with the wreckage of my past (I still am), learning how to live with the grief that comes from being estranged from my family, trying to forgive others and myself, and trying to do it all as honestly as I could.  It wasn’t easy, not by any stretch of the imagination.  It was a lot of self-examination, which for us alcoholics is often pretty ugly.  It certainly was for me.  It was emotional and very stressful at times.

As hard as it was though, I realized a while back that this past year was actually, amazingly, filled with joy.  Each difficult situation and negative emotion gave me the opportunity to work through it – not around it, not over it, but really, genuinely through it – without taking a drink.  This wasn’t just a change in perspective for me, it was a life change.  Before this past year I lived in extremes, even when I wasn’t drinking.  A bad situation was never going to end, good things would last forever.  I would always feel whatever emotion I was feeling.  My vocabulary was filled with “always” and “never”.  It was black and white thinking and it did not serve me well.

On Thanksgiving I wrote this in my journal:

“I’m so grateful to be alive and happy.  A year ago, two years ago, five, ten…whenever I was asked what I wanted most in life, my answer was to be happy.  I finally have that now.  I thought that I would never know what that really felt like, but now I do.  I also never thought that there could be joy in the midst of adversity.  But the two can peacefully coexist.  I’ve realized that it isn’t black and white.  I can have joy and happiness even at the worst of times.  I don’t have to get mired down in the shit.  I can do the next right thing, no matter how hard, and I can still have joy in my heart.”

Getting through the bad times, without hurting myself or anyone else, is really a cause for celebration.  The simple act of making it through to the other side is joy-producing.  Realizing that bad times and feelings aren’t going to last forever is joy-producing.  Knowing that I can hand things over to God and have faith that His will is what’s best for me is joy-producing.  Not drinking over all of life’s crap is majorly joy-producing.  How awesome is that?

I DO!!!!!

I sure do!!

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What a Difference a Year Makes

one_year

Today is my birthday – my belly-button birthday, as it’s called in the program.  I am officially 42 years old.  I have always found that birthdays are a time of reflection, and today is not an exception.  I’m not so much looking at the whole of my 42 years, as I am reflecting on just the last year.  What a difference a year can make!!

Last year at this time I was trying to navigate a very slippery slope, not very successfully.  I was caught in the downward spiral of grief and sadness and self-pity.  My husband, sensing that I was feeling down about not being able to spend my birthday with my family, reached out to some of them.  It did not go well.  At that time, I still had hope that there would be, at some point, a reconciliation of some kind.  That door was shut, and my hope was dashed.  At first, I thought that it was actually a good thing to have my hope squashed.  Living a life full of waiting seemed much more painful than just dealing with the closure that their rejection provided. But, as it turns out, I was devastated.  And so I did what any good alcoholic would do:  I hid my feelings, put on a game face, tried not to feel, and when that didn’t work, I drank.  I threw away the sober time I had because I wasn’t willing to deal with my feelings.

I got drunk on four weekends in a row.  I would sober up for the work week, tell myself that I was done drinking and then get drunk again on the weekend.  I couldn’t go on that way, I knew that.  So I made the decision to go back to treatment.  It was the best decision I could’ve made.  Once I got to the treatment center, I made up my mind that this time was going to be different.  I knew that in order to deal with my feelings I had to be honest, I had to learn to forgive, and I had to learn how to accept things the way they were.  I wrote about those things when I had eight months sober, you can read about it here.

So now, a year after the beginning of the end of my drinking, how are things different?  I’m not afraid of my feelings.  When negative emotions come up, I don’t try to hide.  I know that things are the way they are, and if I can’t change them, I let them go.  I am honest with the people in my life.  While I feel sadness and grief sometimes, I don’t wallow.  I use the tools I’ve learned in the program.  I’m grateful for what I have, and who I have in my life, and I let them know it.  I feel comfortable being me.  I even like me, most days.

It occurs to me that the biggest difference on this birthday is….I’m happy.

It’s a happy birthday!

Who would’ve thought?

Maybe 42 is going to be a good year.  🙂

Happy-Birthday-to-me

Sobriety Isn’t For Sissies

no-sissies

Life is full of ups and downs, isn’t it?  I’m a firm believer that you have to suffer the downs in order to fully appreciate and enjoy the ups.  But sometimes, the downs really do get to me.  The last couple of weeks have been like that.  It’s one of those periods of time where it seems like it’s just one bad thing happening after another.  Without end.  There have been major things like dealing with the wreckage of my past (read: legal stuff), having a car in the shop and having to ask others for help getting here and there, being overwhelmed at work, and financial issues. And then there have been small things like the washing machine overflowing, our wi-fi not working right, not making it to as many meetings as I like to, and stepping in dog poop.  Twice.  In the same day.  It’s been a crazy couple of weeks.

Yesterday though, things started to look up.  I dealt with my wreckage, and things turned out okay, the part for our car came in and our mechanic got it finished up today, I found out that I get to hire a part-time employee to help me, and a wonderful family member helped us out financially.  Even the small stuff has gotten better – we got a new washing machine, I figured out the best spot in the house for wi-fi reception, and I have asked for rides to meetings instead of sitting at home pouting.  And the dog poop?  Well, it’s so far so good today, but it’s hard to be sure…chihuahuas are troublesome (but loveable).

When I was drinking, there is no way that I would’ve been able to stay sober for any of what has happened recently.  Any one of the things I mentioned earlier (even the poop!) would’ve sent me straight to a bottle. Here’s the thing, I was able to trudge through the icky stuff, with only one crying meltdown, which my sponsor mercifully said was just me using my release valve to relieve the pressure, because of a couple of key things.

My first lifesaver was the knowledge that all of these situations and the negative feelings that I was having about them would pass.  Although at the time, actually having to feel my emotions was pretty damn hard.  I’m only at almost eight months sober, so feeling negative emotions does not come easily.  It’s nearly excruciating to just have to sit in them, without stuffing them, or numbing myself.  Knowing, intellectually, that my situation (and mood) would change eventually, really wasn’t an emotional comfort at the time.  I was feeling hopeless, like I would be stuck in chaos forever.  But somewhere, down deep, I knew that things would get better, as long as I put one foot in front of the other and tried to do the next right thing, no matter how hard.

That leads me to the second thing that saved me.  Sobriety.  I would never have come out on the other side of this, the good, positive, joyous side, if I had gotten drunk.  Not only would I not have been able to deal with those things, I would’ve created even more wreckage!  It would’ve been like the snowball rolling down the hill you see in cartoons.  It would keep getting bigger and bigger, gaining speed as it got closer and closer to running me over.  I know that bad things are going to happen, even in sobriety, but as long as I don’t drink, I can avoid the snowball.

So today, I am really grateful that things are on the upswing and that I was able to weather the last couple of weeks.  One of the things that I try to remember when uncomfortable feelings come up is something that I heard in treatment, “our emotions won’t kill us, but our addiction will.”  Those words have given me comfort during times of emotional stress and upheaval.  When I think about how I felt on Sunday, during my crying jag, I’m so glad that I was able to remember that my emotions were not something that would cause my world to end.  Another thing I remembered was that, when I am in that state, I can’t always believe what I think.  My hopeless and defeatist thoughts aren’t reality.  My alcoholic brain tells me that those feelings are true, when in fact, a lot of times, they aren’t.  But while I may not always be able to change the way I feel about a situation,  I can accept that sometimes my feelings might not be quite accurate, and that perhaps I should try to change my perspective.  Sometimes it works.

think

I guess what I am getting at with all this, is that sobriety isn’t for sissies.  See, in the beginning, I thought that when I got sober, life would get better.  It didn’t.  Bad things continue to happen, and life continues to be challenging.  What did get better, though, is me.  I bounce back quicker from disappointments, I allow myself to feel, I talk about things with others, I live pretty darn transparently.  It’s not always easy, in fact, it’s hard a lot of the time, but it’s always better than it was when I was drunk.  I experience so much more joy and happiness now, even in the midst of life’s messes.  Being sober doesn’t take away the trials and tribulations, but it equips me to be able to handle them.