LAURA

8 Years

Today, I celebrate eight years of continuous sobriety. I'm happy to be in long-term recovery. Those are statements of pride, not shame.

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Some have actually asked me before: why do you keep celebrating each year?  If this is your lifestyle now, then why do you observe these anniversaries?  And maybe a bigger question is why do we celebrate recovery when maybe we shouldn't have become addicts/alcoholics in the first place?  If so many people can drink normally or never use "harder" drugs, then why should we pat ourselves on the back because we failed at doing the former?

BECAUSE WE SAVED OUR LIVES.  WE TURNED THEM AROUND.  AND NOW WE HELP OTHERS.

In the SinceRightNow podcast episode that the KLENandSOBR guys did with Sarah Hepola, author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Ms. Hepola really struck a chord with me.  She alluded to responsibility in addiction; part of which is ours (addicts/alcoholics) in the choices we make, and part of which is out of our control entirely.  I, and so many of you/us (although I certainly can't speak for all) have a brain chemical imbalance that gives me a pre-disposition to addictive behavior.  Add to that social anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, panic attacks, and I become a walking, talking recipe for disaster.  Blackouts/brownouts come a lot easier when you have a predisposition to said behavior, and if you're a woman, have skipped meals, aren't on the tall end of the height spectrum, and have light colored eyes (this is a thing, apparently), then good luck!  

I'm not going to tell someone to how to drink.  To get sober.  To do this or that.  It's frankly none of my business.  But I *can* be an inspiration to those struggling or living in recovery through my actions, not just words.  I celebrate because eight years ago, I could have died.  Or been raped.  Or gone missing.  But instead, for whatever reason, I came out of a harrowing set of circumstances with an honest-to-God resolve to change.  Maybe my first hospitalization should have shaken me to the core.  And it did.  And yes, I said "never again!"  And I meant it. And and and.  But I just wasn't ready.  

And then, suddenly, I was.

I was shaking and sweating and scared out of my mind, but I reached out for help.

Today, I'm a better daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, ME than I was before getting sober.  It certainly didn't happen overnight; more like a glacial-watching-a-second-hand-of-a-clock pace of small, baby steps in the right direction.  

Recovery isn't for everyone.  But for those who are on this path with me, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart (and from the top, sides, and middle).  I'm grateful to call myself an alcoholic or a substance abuser or whatever you'd describe for someone like me.  Because the path I was on led me to where I am today.  

 And I wouldn't change a thing.

Rent-a-Program, pt. 1: How did our fine heroine make out?

What would I say when it was my turn?  “My name is Laura, and I’m an alcoholic?” or “My name is Laura, and I’m in long-term recovery?” 

That’s all I could think about, over and over.  I attempted, somewhat futilely, to quiet my mind and listen to the other women reflecting on the first step.

Quiet my mind?  Um, yeah.  That’s kind of hard to do when you have a constant barrage of mental repetitions (OCD), heightened by the anxiety of being back in a familiar yet totally foreign land: AA.

Yep, I went back.  Just as promised in “Rent-a-Program.”  I felt like a fish out of water.  A ginormous fish in a tiny tipped-over fishbowl, water whooshing.  Luckily, our very own Jo sat on my right and helped me feel a little more centered in what I was sure was the “Laura Circus,” a chance for everyone to stare right through me to the depths of my soul.  Ego, ego, ego.  It’s not all about me, but to me, sometimes it just is.  I’m the one in my head, I’m the one living my life.  I was just another gal sitting in another chair, but I swear to all things holy I thought everyone was scrutinizing my every move, my every word.   The Laura Show, on every channel.

Look, I ain’t no Sarah Hepola.  I’m not Koren Zailckas or Sacha Scoblic or Kristen Johnston or Laura McKowen.  I’m not going to be able to make you laugh while making you cry as you read the words that make you say ME TOO

Or will I?  

The whole point of this haphazard post it to let you know I delivered on my promise.  It was a promise to YOU, to keep me accountable, but also to me, because part of my recovery is (at least claiming) to be open-minded to new possibilities.  Life through a slightly adjusted, slightly crisper lens. 

And I am grateful I went back.  I heard stories from women who are just like me.  Or I’m just like them.  I was able to compare in and not out, as I was taught from my time in the program.  I may not have ended up in alleys smoking crack, but the end result of said “extra-curricular” is likely guilt, shame, horror, pain.  And I knew those feelings well from my own carousing. 

At the very end, no one said I *had* to find a sponsor or *had* to work the steps.  No one bemoaned my “long-term recovery” epithet.  They just hoped they’d see me again sometime, no pressure.  And maybe, just maybe, they will.

L: @28daysmore; R: @wearesober.  My noggin' looks huge.  But I love this lady on the left!  Such a good person. 

-Laura

*Stay tuned for next week’s installment: Rent-a-Program part II: SMART Recovery!*

What AA Taught Me

I don’t love AA, but I don’t hate it either. 

Kind of a revolutionary statement to make considering the whole reason I started The Sobriety Collective was to have a place where people who found sobriety and recovery in any way, shape, or form, could congregate.  With close to eight years of continuous sobriety, I have long-term recovery I never imagined possible--most of which I achieved outside of "the rooms."  But I did learn from the program. 

I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous not by choice, but by “force.” 

The intensive outpatient rehab I checked myself into stipulated 15 hours of AA as a non-negotiable.  So of course, besides feeling like I had crawled out of my skin and landed on a foreign planet—and I’m not talking about the meeting here, I’m talking about that “newly sober and not sure what the hell is happening” feeling—I also didn’t want to be there. 

At the behest of my group counselor, I kept it up after I graduated from my five-week program and attempted, just attempted, to compare in instead of out (commonalities instead of differences).  I went back for all my sober month-aversaries and tried the whole finding a sponsor thing.  But it just wasn’t clicking.  Even though these people intimately understood what I had been through, I still felt so alien, so less than.  The underlying current in treatment was that 12-step programs were the only way to get/stay sober[1]. 

So I stopped going.  And before I knew it, I was coming up on three years sober.

I was already well into therapy for the underlying issues that I was self-medicating with alcohol (anxiety, OCD, panic attacks) and had cut ties with toxic people I was friends with in my drinking days.  I exercised more and had better relationships with my family.  But still, according to many of the very people I had met in the rooms, though, I wasn’t sober.  I was a “dry drunk” and “white knuckling” my way through life because I was one of those “unfortunates” who just didn’t get the program (words in quotations heard, verbatim, from people in meetings).  Maybe I should just pray on it, they said.  Call my sponsor.

yeah, about that. 

As proud as I felt of my sobriety, I still felt a chasm in my life.  I didn’t have a sober network and to say I was spiritual was a blatant overstatement.  So I went back…and found what would become my home group for the next 18 months.

Here are the top three lessons I learned from AA that I still apply to my life: 

1) Be of service.

(To my fellow human—alcoholics, addicts, alcohol abusers, heavy drinkers, anyone who seeks help, family, friends, the homeless, coworkers; hell, everyone.)

YES, I was an (imposter) AA-er!  I opened my mind.  I found a sponsor who I worked all 12 steps with, I called at least one woman a day, and I became a “meeting maker.”  I volunteered for service positions and really immersed myself into the meat of the program.  And for a while, it really was wonderful.  Because I finally had a sober network and was feeding myself spiritual nuggets in the form of eastern philosophies, books from the likes of Don Miguel Ruiz, and going on retreats with other women in AA.

With The Sobriety Collective, I feel like I’m continuing that strong belief in serving others.  Having this community helps me, and in helping myself, I help others.  In helping others, I help myself.

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2) Do my part, let go of the outcome, and check my ego at the door.

When I think back on my time in the program, the key takeaway I always return to is letting go of the outcome.  Learning to let go brought me to Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

Ruiz advocates not taking things personally.  Hello ego!  We’re not talking the whole “Woe is me, I’m so sensitive” way—ensue waterfall of tears.  It’s more about people doing things because of THEM, not because of YOU.  We all have our own interpretations of the world, but we should be careful not to impose our world on someone else’s world.   Easier said than done; trust me.  It takes constant practice.  For what it’s worth, I’m way over-sensitive [which I craftily call COMPASSION and EMPATHY] and I have to remind myself that I can’t expect someone to experience life the way I do, because I have my own unique perspective.  Yes, we may have shared experiences—but there is only one YOU.  *Special snowflake dance*

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3) Recovery is a process.

One day at a time.  Progress, not perfection.  It works if you work itLet go and let God.  They’re cheesy, but their roots are deep. Recovery is an ongoing journey and we’ll have roadblocks and detours and traffic cones to maneuver.  I feel immense gratitude that I’ve been continuously sober for almost 8 years—to me, sobriety means a) no relapses and b) a constant quest for self-betterment.   That doesn’t mean I haven’t had hiccups and done things that I wouldn’t categorize as “sober” behavior (old habits die hard—I’m talking about selfish behavior, not boozing).   But I keep reminding myself that I’m human, I make mistakes, I own up to my mistakes, and I keep moving.  Not to mention that my therapist is a godsend.  

As long as we’re making progress, that’s all we can ask for, right?

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After 18 months, I quietly said my goodbyes to AA.  It just wasn’t for me anymore.  It played its part, just like it taught me to always own my part and let go of the rest. 

I always heard I could take what I want and leave the rest, so I did.  And it brought me to where I am today.

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[1] This is a separate manifesto—which, thankfully, has been written numerous times (for example, here and here).  I’m not the only one who believes that inpatient/outpatient programs need to incorporate a variety of treatment options, to give patients exposure to more than just the twelve steps.  SMART recovery, Women in Recovery, yoga, mental health treatment (therapy, medication for conditions, and so on), animal/music/dance/art therapy, etc.