Every month, when it comes times to mark the passing of another 30 days of sober living on the calendar, I think I have so much to write about. Where should I even begin? And I get completely overwhelmed. Reflection can be a burden in times like this, but I’ve vowed to share this journey of my road to sobriety and as the calendar turned to January 3rd I felt excitement coupled with dread. I’m 11 months sober and feel like I’m only just now starting to scratch the surface of why it is I drank to excess for most of my adult life.
But first, I want to talk about December. Holy cow! That was one long-ass month. I pulled every tool out of my sobriety toolbox to get through the longest (and most stressful) month of the year and I lived to tell the tale.
Daily Gratitude Lists
I’m working with a Sponsor who gave me the daily task of writing a 30-item gratitude list each day and texting a picture of it to her for accountability. Initially, I didn’t want to do this task and that’s really no surprise. I’m finding it part of my personality to reject tasks that others want to assign to me. I don’t think that’s too unusual, as I think most people want to do what they want to do. The change in my attitude during month 10 was that I agreed to be willing to be willing and because of that little mantra, I must be open and at least try something out before I reject it.
Third Step Prayer
My sponsor also gave me the daily assignment to read the Third Step Prayer. Again, I rejected having to read a prayer at first and only acquiessed because I knew I would most likely grow from this exercise (for better or for worse) and that by my simple act of submission to this task, I was sure to see a change.
I’ve been struggling with this aspect of AA and recently just accepted (and really believe) that God can be of your own making and interpreted any ‘ole way you want. For me, God is most definitely the acronym G.O.D. - Grace Over Drama. God is more of an action or a feeling to me and not an invisible white-bearded man in the sky. I don’t know why I have categorized God in this way most of my life, but I just know that I have. I finally had to let that go and be willing to be willing to believe that there is a power greater than myself - a Higher Power, if you will. I know. It’s a big change coming from me and I just have to look at it like an experiment. Thinking the way I used to think only got me so far in this life. What if there is more? Or what if the Higher Power I seek is just my higher self? Or what if it is the feeling I get when I sit in the circle at an AA meeting is my Higher Power? Or when I’m in nature? Or hanging out with my family? Lots of work being done in this department over the last month, but when I got stuck or felt like the world was against me and started to go down a self-seeking path, I could just STOP and choose Grace Over Drama in ANY situation and it worked. It was an absolute revelation and I’m going to continue to see how this idea and concept transforms me over the next year. Again, I'm wiling to be willing and I’m trying to choose Grace Over Drama as much as I need to.
The first two and a half weeks of December were dedicated to wrapping up my fall semester and studying for finals. That was a fun little twist to the holidays. With the help of my husband and sloughing off some of the pressure I put on myself around the holidays, I got through it just fine. I let go of some of the self-imposed tasks I used to do and asked for help when I needed it. My final project in art was a Chuck Close-inspired self-portrait and that was a wonderful two-week project that gave me a lot of time to really look at myself, literally and metaphorically, and think about the me that was surfacing as I was filling in each square.
On the last day of class, I shared with some of my classmates that I no longer drank. Once it spilled out of me, I was like Why did you just say that?, but that self-doubt quickly dissolved as my fellow students just heard me and moved on. No. Big. Deal. Grace Over Drama in action. The truth is, I'm becoming more comfortable with who I am and my true self is emerging. The girl that once hid secrets and omitted the truth to protect herself is slipping away.
Around the middle of the month, and after my last day of classes, I jumped on a plane with my son to Arizona to see my mom for six days. Family can be a stressor around the holidays, right? So why did I jump into the fire this year and sign up for airline travel near the Christmas holiday? I felt like I have made significant changes over the past year and felt like I owed my mother a visit with the new me and time with her grandson. I used many of the tools I’ve acquired over the past 11 months - endless cups of tea, hot showers, daily journaling, drawing for hours each day and repeating the mantra Grace Over Drama, as well as quietly saying the serenity prayer when I started to get overwhelmed. And guess what? It all worked.
Somewhere along the way during this process to sober living, I've realized that anxiety is an issue for me. And while I don’t have a diagnosed disorder, I would confidently say that I think social anxiety has partially fueled my drinking for over two decades. In recognizing this about myself, I can kind of step outside of myself and look at a situation and think that is going to make me stressed out, so I better bring some tea with me or a good pen to write in my journal with. Or, I just simply decline an invitation. Or, set a time limit on things - like going to a crowded mall or a social function in a bar. Learning this about myself has been a revelation of the highest order. I used to drink to help me manage uncomfortable situations which, in turn, only made the situations more uncomfortable or unmanagable - a devilish cycle.
I feel like I have the key to something now. I can look at the world a little differently and use the knowledge I’m learning about myself to help guide me to making healthier decisions. Like, huge concert venues? No thank you. I break out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. Holiday parties? Dinner parties? Talking with my husband about about when we arrive and when we depart beforehand has made all the difference. Do normal people do this already? It’s new to me and it’s saved my bacon over the last month.
When I’m feeling anxious, I attend an AA meeting. When I can’t think straight, I attend an AA meeting. When I feel like I want to start drinking again, I attend an AA meeting.
There is something magical that happens in those rooms that just calms me down. The openness, the sharing, the community, the beautiful humanity. It is like a salve for my soul when I enter those spaces and sit down on a cold, metal folding chair for 60 minutes. It feels like a form of meditation coupled with a dose of hard-core reality thrown in to keep you on your toes. I absolutely look forward to my 7 am meetings and attended meetings while I was in Arizona and Southern California last month. The meetings I visited outside of Sonoma County were different, but the same. They were welcoming and soothed my heart and mind just when I needed it most. That is magic, my friends. And, yes, if I'm going to entertain the idea of God, I'm going to entertain the idea of magic, too!
If all this AA talk seems like I’ve drank the AA Kool-Aid, I guess I kind of have. It’s working for me and I’m okay with it. I feel better than I’ve ever felt and I want to continue down this path and see where it takes me.
My Sobriety Toolbox
I want to quickly share what tools have served me this month, so I’ll just jot down a short list and add a few links for resources. Here goes:
Tea. Tea has been my savior this month. It’s a healthy stress-reliever and has a really lovely calming effect. I carry tea bags with me in my purse, my car, my book bag.
Podcasts. I’m hooked on the HOME podcast with Laura McKowen and Holly Whitaker, How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black and This American Life with my imaginary boyfriend, Ira Glass.
L-Glutamine. After reading this blog post about how to build a sobriety toolbox, I added L-Glutamine into my morning vitamin + supplement routine. My sugar cravings have subsided, but have not completely disappeared.
Security Sweater. I've been wearing a thrifted J. Crew wool + cashmere blend sweater every night (and sometimes the next day) while I'm at home. When I feel stressed or cold or hungry, I put this one and I immediately feel relief. Kooky, right? It's become like a security blanket to me and I'm okay with that.
Getting out of bed once I wake up. Instead of staying in bed and letting my mind race, I get out of bed and set a nice slow pace for the start of my day. This has been a key factor in determining how my day unfolds. I make a cup of hot water and lemon. I text with a friend on the east coast who is also sober. I tidy my desk. I write a little bit or jot down ideas. I start the day centered and that has been so valuable to my sobriety. Waking up without a hangover has been the number one best reason for not drinking over this last year.
Hot showers. If I feel stressed out or undone for some reason, I take the hottest shower I can. The hot water seems to melt away those feelings and it’s like I’m a new person when I emerge from the steam-filled bathroom. I’m lighter and can take on the world. This tool has served me well this month.
Each month, as a nod to all of my hard work in sobriety, I take myself to get a facial. My skin suffered immensely towards the end of my drinking and I developed little cysts along my neck and jawline, and general breakouts on my face and hairline. I booked a deluxe facial with my favorite esthetician and I’ve been using this organic sulphuric whipped moisturizer that has been a miracle worker and made such an improvement in the outward appearance and condition of my skin.
To commemorate my 11 month of sobriety, I went to the dhyana Center's Self-Care Sanctuary with a friend and spent two full hours submerging myself in hot and cold tubs, showers, a steam room, infrared and dry saunas. It was the best $24 I've spent in a long time.
Where I'm At Today
The new year usually infuses me with hope and inspires resolutions, but I feel like I’m a little off in that department at the beginning of this year. Upon reflection about this with a friend, we came to the conclusion that maybe because we are approaching this new year sober and with fresh eyes, we don’t need to make it all rosey and optimistic. Maybe we just sit in this space and acknowledge the realness of our life, with all of its imperfections, and accept that, well, here we are. Period. There’s something beautiful about the ordinariness of my life that’s hitting me smack dab in the middle of my heart. I’m grateful for today, this moment, now.
This past month has been so full, but it did not make me want to drink. When I found myself tipping out of balance, I quickly grabbed a pen and started drawing, or jumped in the shower and washed away the feeling, or hit an AA meeting. I took care of myself in a way that I have never taken care of myself and I came out on the other side.
Last year at this time, I was miserable, unhealthy and full of fear. To bear witness to my own transformation has been nothing short of a miracle.
As I approach the one year mark, I’m feeling a lot of feelings and I'm not masking them with wine or a cold martini. At 334 days sober, I feel clear and present in my life. I see my part in things. I’m excited to get up in the morning and start my day. I tell the unedited version of the truth - no matter what. My patience levels are at an all-time high. I'm learning to let go of the past. I’m inching towards being more centered and my fears about life are slipping away a little bit more each day. I'm not as reactionary as I used to be.
I'm so much happier now that I'm sober. That's the truth. I had no idea just how much my life would change (for the better) and that there would be so much abundance in my life - in love, in self-worth, in friendships.
I'm here to tell you that this is THE BEST thing I've ever done for myself and, in turn, for every single one of my relationships.
And, I've only just begun.