My four year sober anniversary came in like a lamb. I only remembered it, because Lauren sent me a text to congratulate me. And other than being a mother (and for a while a wife) I haven’t maintained interest in many things for four years straight, so I should have been jazzed. Maybe the milestone fizzled because I drank as a hobby and later, as an avocation, for at least ten years. So by comparison it’s small potatoes.
Or maybe it’s that my sobriety has settled…
…and I’m not dealing with those punch-in-the-gut demands to DRINK anymore. So I don’t feel so full of my sober self at this milestone. It’s been six months since the last time a Bob Marley song or a walk through an airport or the smell of Aqua di Gio Pour Homme (don’t ask) has made me crave a tall, icy glass of chardonnay. Reading the words “tall, icy glass of chardonnay” doesn’t even make me salivate.
I don’t want to negate the degree of difficulty in getting and staying sober. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. There will always be a little piece of me that feels “missing”, but I am comfortable as a sober person now. And my life is so much better, I can’t even muster the resentment I used to wear like a cheap suit, because I couldn’t swill white wine anymore. I have learned there is always a worse case scenario, always something to be grateful for.
And I do not want to drink.
I work for an addiction treatment center, so I am around folks who are new to recovery all the livelong day. And at Sanford House, in the marketing group, we are always researching the cutting edge treatments, methods and modalities available to increase the national averages for successful long-term recovery. I have found that you really have to want to get sober. No one can do it for you. I have also found you have to be ready to slay the dragon when the words, “I’m going to drink” pop into your head at inopportune times (and they will).
Four things I know for sure about getting and staying sober:
1. You Simply Must Find a Passion (If You Are Able – Get Physical)
I am convinced that long term sobriety must contain a passionate interest in something outside of oneself. For me it has been writing and hiking. Seriously. I am still saved regularly by a comment on this blog or a rigorous walk with friends (or alone). I have started a walking group at Sanford House, and I can see the positive influence an early morning, city trek can make on a day in treatment.
And if the passion is physical, I think it works even better for quelling the cravings. Statistics show that rigorous exercise and challenging yourself will increase your chances for long term recovery. Fill your hands with something and get the heart pumping. You can mountain climb, but you can also walk dogs at a rescue shelter or garden. Or for a double whammy, become a docent at an art museum and take the stairs.
Passion is defined as “strong and barely controllable emotion”. Yes. Find that.
2. We Are All in Control of Our Own Lives
I hear from people all the time who say things like, “It was my sister’s wedding. They made me drink.” Or they might say by way of excuse, “My cousin died,” or “I knew I shouldn’t have gone to that Kid Rock concert,, but what was I going to do? I couldn’t cancel…” This “excuse-thinking” is something I can relate to. Because I did it for years. I am reminded of the plastic bag in the movie American Beauty. Born on the winds as it dances with no direction of its own.
All my drinking stories used to begin with the words “I ended up”, as if I were not responsible for crawling out of a ditch after drunkenly crashing a golf cart. My bad? The fact is, we are not pushed around by capricious winds. We are in control of our own lives. And here’s the kicker – shit still happens, temptations abound even when you are sober.
3. Nature Has the Power to Save You (God is in His Heavens…)
One of the reasons I am so passionate about hiking, is that I am humbled by what I see in nature. There is something about standing alone on Guana Reserve beach before a storm that makes me feel large and small at the same time. In my mind, it is impossible to deny the existence of God, while rustling through the Michigan Up North in Autumn.
In the excellent book by Interventionist Jeff Jay, Navigating Grace, he describes exactly that feeling during a solitary moment on the deck of his boat. He says, “I was standing on the deck, leaning back against the shrouds, looking up into the Milky Way, musing on the Universe. Here I lived in a tumble of stars, sharp and silent as the night, a thousand visible and a billion more I couldn’t make out… …And here I was, an infinitesimal being standing on a sailboat.” Beautiful.
Jeff (who is obviously farther up the ladder to heaven than me), says he can get that feeling on a city street too, or having coffee with a friend. But it is in a natural setting, in solitude when my path becomes clear and my troubles very small by comparison. I want you to have this feeling, no matter what you believe – this epiphany that is seeing the trees and the forest.
4. Find a Way to Be Accountable to Someone or Something
I am a card carrying loner and a natural at isolation. All my heavy boozing took place behind closed doors. A wise psychologist (who I summarily ignored and lied to at the time) once told me, “Marilyn, it is dangerous to not be accountable to something.” At the time I was newly divorced and swanning in the Exumas like I owned the place (I should have, for all the dough I threw around like a drunken sailor…). The truth is, I didn’t really listen to any good advice, and I was getting some from Kim and Dee…
I think this is where AA comes in. Or a church or another 12 step or recovery group. If you can find a community where you feel comfortable and will be missed if you don’t turn up, it is a positive move for your recovery. Create a schedule. Join a book club or a walking group.
It is also the place where mended family fences and work relationships can assist. I advise anyone who is serious about getting sober to tell every single person who is important to them they have quit drinking You would be surprised how resistant most newly sober people are to doing that…
I’m Still a Grasshopper…
In the grand scheme of sobriety, four years is not a long time. And time is certainly my sober buddy. After five years of sobriety I can feel a little more comfortable that the statistics are with me on maintaining my place on the wagon. And the longer I am sober, the smarter I feel. The more secure in my own health and wellness. Maybe I don’t have all the answers, but I have four.
I can’t say, “Whoopee! I got sober, found the love of my life, lost 20 pounds and I can do a cartwheel now!” But I can say, “I have found myself. I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing.”
And I don’t lie anymore. So that’s the truth.
PS Excuse me for all the hyperlinks, but it’s my belated sober birthday. And after almost three years of writing this blog and over a year at Sanford House with our online magazine Excursions I have a lot of writing to love and link!
Today I’m not drinking, because I want to see my 5th birthday!
How come you’re not drinking?
E2E Click on the link for Guana Reserve above – I miss him too…