I was in the process of scooping out a crude moat, using the only tool I could find in the back of my silverware drawer, a grapefruit spoon. I grabbed it, threw on my crusty old garden gloves and sauntered out into an expansive field of never-ending brilliant yellow mustard in full bloom. I was on my hands and knees turning over the soft earth with my jagged little spoon and haphazardly throwing out tiny mounds of fresh dirt to the left and right. All of a sudden, I stopped and thought - I’ll never be able to finish this.
And then, I woke up.
And that’s how it’s been over these last 365 days. I kind of sauntered into sobriety without the right tools for the job and just ended up grabbing onto whatever I could in the beginning that looked like it might do the trick. It was daunting and it seemed impossible at first, but I’m here to tell you it can be done.
An elimination diet jump started my journey towards abstinence from alcohol and then re-enrolling in college gave me purpose. Attending classes helped me conquer some of my fears and slowly my self-pity started slipping away. I set goals for myself and trained to hike four mountains by the end of summer, summiting Mt. Lassen on my six month anniversary of being sober.
Channeling my inner-cheerleader started to feel like second nature and I was bursting with pride for all of the hard work I was doing. On the outside things were good, I had lost some weight, my home was in order and I was tackling projects, making art and getting a lot of joy out of the process. My life was infinitely better than it was, my relationships were recalibrating and I should have been deeply satisfied. But on the inside? Well, things were still a bit of a hot mess and I still wanted to drink.
When my seventh month of sobriety rolled around, I realized a lot more was going on with me and my relationship to alcohol. I had approached my breakup from alcohol more like an experiment and it simply no longer felt that way. This was not a cute game I was playing. My drinking was a serious problem and I needed to tackle it head on and not by using distraction as my one and only game plan. I recognized that the tactics I had been employing had served me well as I warmed up to the idea of a life without alcohol, but they were no longer working and I needed something more. At the suggestion of a friend, I took myself to my first AA meeting on the day after my seventh month non-drinking milestone and that’s when things started to change for me in a much bigger way.
My fear of the unknown has steadily morphed over these last five months in AA and while I still have a great many fears, I’m learning how to work through them by dealing in a more direct, honest fashion. The AA meetings have become a safe haven for my unedited version of the truth. As I slowly opened up about my drinking, the hard truths came spilling out of me. My AA home group represented a makeshift confessional wherein I was safe to share the sins of my drinking past. Since there is no cross-talk in meetings, my truth-telling just floated out of my mouth, landed in the middle of the circle and melted into the linoleum floor. No one comments on your shares during a meeting and that’s just about the coolest thing ever. My words just land and are absorbed by the environment and the other people in the room. They are free from the confines of my mind and just saying the words out loud, being heard by other human beings who understand, has been one of the most profound and powerful experiences I’ve had in my entire life.
The acceptance in those meetings, coupled with the silent acknowledgment and the simple act of being truly seen by other alcoholics, started to immediately transform my story. I slowly absorbed the social etiquette of how the meetings ran and started to volunteer for service. After a few months, I accepted invitations to meet up with a few of the women for coffee after the meetings. I figured out how to get a sponsor, started working the 12 steps and began the uncomfortable search for my higher power.
The spiritual component to AA had initially made me wary of how far I wanted to delve into this recovery modality, but I was clinging to the words and phrases that kept coming up in the meetings and using them as mantras to reinforce my resolve to stick with this program and see where it would take me.
- take it easy
- one day at a time
- choose grace over drama
- be willing to be willing
- take what you want and leave the rest
- the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking
Four meetings a week is about all I can fit into my schedule. I’m designing my own program, which also includes listening to weekly HOME podcasts with Holly Whitaker and Laura McKowen; writing daily mantras from Holly’s Hip Sobriety School and taking her 8-week online course; working the steps with my sponsor (I’m on Step 4 now); managing my stress; exploring what causes my anxiety; and practicing extreme self-care (massages, facials, chocolate, hot showers, endless cups of tea, early bedtime, supplements, essential oils, etc.), and choosing every single day to not take a drink.
The main concept that rings through all of my practices now is this one simple tenet - rigorous honesty.
That’s it. Super simple. I tell the truth now - about EVERYTHING. I don’t hide things from my husband or tell a white lie to spare someone’s feelings. I don’t lie by omission. I tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don’t make up excuses. And as cliche as it might sound, the truth has indeed set me free. It’s actually been that straightforward. I was raised in an environment where secrets and gossip were the accepted currency. The more I participated in either of those activities, the more currency I had and, therefore, the more important and accepted I felt. But it was a double-edged sword because the more I lied, kept secrets or gossiped, the more I hated myself. To be able to tap into my truth and release it safely and lovingly into the world has dramatically changed me.
At 365 days sober, it feels like I’ve come to the end of something really big. My life changed for the better this year and I’m beyond proud of the work I’ve done. Upon celebrating this milestone, I noticed that I’m already eager to dig a little deeper and uncover yet another layer of who I really am and what makes me tick. The subtitle to my blog tagline states that I am a work in progress and I really feel like that’s true. I’m going to continue to evolve and explore my recovery over this next year and look forward to the growth I’ll undoubtedly experience.
The dream I mentioned at the top of this post was about me digging in the dirt with an ill-equipped tool for the job and isolating myself alone in the middle of the circle I dug. That dream is deeply symbolic to me and when I finally woke up, I was quietly sobbing.
That dream reminded me that over the course of this past year I actually did dig a metaphorical moat around myself and chose to be alone with my thoughts and memories in order to make sense of them and start to the process of forgiving myself. I had to spend a lot of time recalibrating the woman I was and think long and hard about the woman I wanted to become. Somewhere along the way I found better tools for the job of digging my imaginary circular moat - AA, the 12 steps, my sobriety toolbox of self-care, quality time with my friends and family, accepting the kindness of strangers, mantras, books, making art and writing.
Through my stumblings and successes, hard work, cravings, tears and stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ve created a life that I can now look at and be proud of. I wake up every morning happy to be alive + bursting with love for myself and others.
When I look in the mirror now, I actually like the woman I see reflected back at me. The imaginary moat I dug around myself over this past year is filled with the memoirs I devoured by fellow alcoholics, the podcasts I listened to like sermons, training hikes with my good friend and our kids, Friday nights at home, countless social invitations that I declined, and endless cups of tea. That moat was protecting me from myself. That moat saved my life.
But now that I’m all alone in this metaphoric field of blooming yellow mustard, the moat encircling me and keeping me safe, I feel the need to do the next right thing.
I’ll be working hard over this next year to focus my efforts on building a footbridge out of my isolation. I’ve accomplished so much foundation work over these last 12 months. The good news is that I have a stockpile of appropriate tools that I can pull from in order to commence the job that will take me to the other side.
Starting today, I’m breaking ground on my dream-inspired footbridge project. I've got my toolbox packed to the brim and I'm more than ready to start construction.