Sobriety is NOT that simple

Sobriety is NOT that simple

A huge part of my continued sobriety is reading. I love books. I love learning. My name is Sara, and I am a nerd. I also like inspirational quotes and passages. I get daily emails with motivational wordstuffs around sobriety. Sometimes, they are so damn on-the-spot that I feel like the writer is spying on me (or is that my anxiety?). Today was not the case. Today, my motivational wordstuffs pissed me off:

In the Sixth and Seventh Steps of the program, we become willing to let go of our defects of character – issues, behaviors, old feelings, unresolved grief, and beliefs that are blocking us from the joy that is ours. Then we ask God to take them from us.

Isn’t that simple? We don’t have to contort ourselves to make ourselves change. We don’t have to force change. For once, we don’t have to “do it ourselves.” All we have to do is strive for an attitude of willingness and humility. All we have to do is ask God for what we want and need, and then trust God to do for us that which we cannot do and do not have to do for ourselves.

We do not have to watch with bated breath for how and when we shall change. This is not a self-help program. In this miraculous and effective program that has brought about recovery and change for millions, we become changed by working the Steps.

All emphasis added was mine. The part in red was what, well, made me see red. So you get to see it in red too! #sharedexperiences

Sobriety is not that simple * youareagoodmama.com

ANYWAY, I hate the assertion that sobriety is simple. IT IS NOT. It is 100% not simple and easy to change a behavior that that is compulsive, persistent, and results in brain changes that challenge your own self-control. That’s why so many addicts relapse, and why there are so many different pathways to sobriety. If sobriety were easy and simple, everyone would do it the first time!

Compared to stories I’ve heard, my road to sobriety was relatively easy. I haven’t relapsed since my last drink on September 9, 2006. I haven’t been incarcerated. I haven’t lost my children, my spouse, my family members, or friends due to drinking. I never lost my job or became homeless. I never had to be hospitalized for health reasons related to drinking or detoxing. I don’t list all these things to brag – I’m grateful that these didn’t happen to me because I understand how easily they could have.

Sobriety isn't easy * youareagoodmama.com
I have all this, thanks to the hard work of sobriety

However, it’s not smart to compare your sobriety journey to that of others’. My sobriety journey was not easy, nor was it simple. Also, once I completed the sixth and seventh steps, I didn’t just sit back and let things happen. I continued to work. Instead of making snap decisions based on how I felt at the moment, I tried to consider all consequences that could occur (translation: I cared about how my actions affected others and didn’t just act on whim). I analyzed how I felt, and reached out for help from supportive people if those feelings were too big to handle on my own. Some might call that God working in my life. That’s fine. I choose to also respect the hard work I was doing.

I would also argue that recovery work IS a self-help program. I mean, if I wasn’t willing to admit I was an addict, or seek help, I’d still be blacking out from too many Jack & Cokes on the weekends. Self-help doesn’t have to mean you do it all on your own – it isn’t called All-By-Your-Self-help.

Sobriety isn't that simple * youareagoodmama.com

Motivational wordstuffs such as this mean well, but I feel they can be very damaging to recovery work. I could easily see someone thinking, my sobriety wasn’t simple, so what am I doing wrong? It’s dangerous to simplify sobriety work. It isn’t simple. It’s messy and complicated and hard and time-consuming. Is it worth it? YES. Absolutely. Just don’t call it simple.

www-youareagoodmama-com

When “You are your mother’s son” is scary

“You are your mother’s son.”

My husband said this affectionately to our son last night as we left the restaurant. Colt had just told him, “I didn’t do it. Mama did it.” He was referring to how I had picked him up and put him in his seat because he was dawdling too much to do it on his own…30 minutes ago. That greatly upset my very independent boy, so he sat and stewed on it for the entire meal.

Yep, he’s my son. When I got butt-hurt about something, I used to hold onto it and roll it over in my mind for ages. I used to let small misunderstandings ruin my entire day, which would frustrate my husband to no end. I didn’t like doing it, but I couldn’t help it. I was upset, you know, so it was important to chew on it because eventually he would see I was right and he was wrong, right? Right??

Luckily, I’ve since learned the value of letting go of small annoyances and working through larger problems so they don’t get blown out of proportion. But the memory of my past behaviors is there when my son shows signs of my less-than-impressive qualities. And that’s what makes the phrase, “You are your mother’s son,” slightly chilling to me.

WhenYouAreYourMothersSonIsScaryByYouareagoodmamadotcom

What else is he going to inherit from me? Will he be a slave to compulsive behaviors, as I was? Will he feel anxious in social settings because he believes everyone there is better than him? Will he lie and manipulate because he can’t handle the emotions he’s feeling? Will he be an alcoholic or addict?

These fears aren’t new; I’ve had them since before I was pregnant. Of course I only want him to receive my good qualities and I want my bad qualities to be left behind in the gene pool. Truthfully, I want him to be more like my husband. I’d rather Colt had my husband’s cool, calm and collected sunny day rather than my up-and-down emotional thunderstorm. So far, it’s looking like he’s more of the thunderstorm type.

I know it’s not just nature that decides how our life goes. Nurture plays a big role as well. I’m able to calm my fears a little because of the changes I’ve made in my life. I’m no longer the slave to compulsive behaviors, the self-hating girl who lies and manipulates because she can’t handle the emotions of addiction. I can do my best to mitigate the less desirable genes I’ve given him, by nurturing him with love, encouragement, empathy and respect. I am the best person for the job of his mother.

And I’m going to do my best so that when someone tells Colt, “You are your mother’s son,” it’s something to be proud of.

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The Gift of an Ordinary Life

Do you know what it feels like to regret something with every fiber of your being, but still be incredibly grateful for the lessons you learned from that shameful experience?

I do.

My heart silently aches while it pours out happiness like sunshine.
My stomach churns with equal parts sorrow and joy.
My mind struggles to forget what happened but delights in the place I am today.

I can’t believe that I’m here today. This life that I have now is beyond my wildest dreams. On the outside, there’s nothing extraordinary about it. I’m a stay-at-home mom who takes care of a busy toddler and keeps house for a loving husband. It’s a life that many women live every day.

What’s extraordinary is that it so easily could be different.

I made serious mistakes. The kind of mistakes that change your life. When it came time for the consequences, I had choices. The first choice I considered was ending my life. I thought I couldn’t live with myself, knowing the pain I’d caused my loved ones. A selfish desire to see my son grow up saved me from those thoughts when I was at my lowest.

Once I decided I was going to live, I had another choice. I had to choose how I was going to live that life. Would I continue to live as I had been, ruled by addiction and compulsive behavior? Or would I choose the path of healing? Staying the same would be easier, but I would lose my family. Choosing to heal would involve a lot of pain and no guarantee that I would keep my family.

I chose the path of pain and possibility.

A year later, there is still some painful healing to do, but I’ve come a long, long way and changed drastically as a person. I’ve become someone I can live with, someone I can love and respect. I take responsibility for my actions and I find it easier to choose the next right thing.

And the possibility? It became a reality. My family is intact and healthy. Every night, I get to kiss my boy good night and cuddle him to sleep. I marvel at how easily I could have lost that. Every morning, I get to hug my husband and ask him how he slept. That, too, could have been lost.

My actions almost ended life as I know it, but choosing to turn away from the person I used to be brought me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not really a Christian, but this Bible passage resonates with my journey:

Ephesians 4:22-24 (New International Version)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off the old self,
which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;
and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

With time, the happiness will overpower the ache; the joy will defeat the sorrow. My mind won’t struggle to forget because forgiveness will have vanquished the shame.

But for today, I will simply enjoy this beautiful gift of an ordinary life.

My name is Sara and I am an alcoholic

My name is Sara and I am an alcoholic

When I say those 9 words, I’m met with a mélange of reactions depending on who the receiver is: disbelief, respect, indifference, amazement, suspicion, joy, disapproval, surprise. I’ve had people argue with me about whether I was an alcoholic or not (that’s a really weird position to argue: “No, I swear, I really am an alcoholic. I promise. Pinky swear.”). I’ve been told that I was too young/too pretty/too healthy to be an alcoholic, or that I didn’t really have a problem with drinking.

I haven’t drunk alcohol since 10 September, 2006. I was 24 when I decided it wasn’t healthy for me to drink alcohol. To be honest, that was a pretty late age for me to make the decision; I, and most everyone who loved me, had identified that I had a problem with alcohol years earlier. I have been sober from alcohol for almost 7 years, but have been sober from compulsive thinking for less than a year. What does that even mean? A little background, then on to making sense…

Me, from the drinking days. The makeup, hair and clothes hid an unhappy girl - even from myself.
Me, from the drinking days. The makeup, hair and clothes hid an unhappy girl – even from myself.

I come from a long line of alcoholics, with me having the dubious distinction of being at least the 4th generation to be afflicted with this disease. I was 13 when I had my first drunken blackout, 15 when we learned my estranged, paternal grandfather had killed himself (believed to be partly due to alcoholism), 16 when my father got sober from alcohol, and 24 when being raped by a good friend while blacked out finally convinced me that alcohol wasn’t right for me.

I used many tools in early recovery. At first, I was just dry – meaning all I did was stop drinking. I didn’t address any of the underlying issues. Then I went into outpatient rehab, where I did individual counseling, group counseling and alcohol education classes. I also went on depression medication for the first time, which was a game-changer for me. I just felt more even, less prone to exhausting highs and (more often) lows. After a while (and an insurance change), I stopped my treatment as I felt I was “cured.” I knew I couldn’t drink anymore, but I felt I had the underlying issues under control. Looking back, I can identify so many ways I still acted compulsively (meaning I reacted to situations without thinking about consequences), even though I thought I was “fixed.”

Fast forward to last summer when more bad decisions threatened to end my marriage, my sobriety and even my life. I found myself at another rock-bottom; this one was even lower than the rape that triggered my sobriety. I was convinced that my son deserved a better mother than me; my own selfish desire to see him grow up protected me from following through on my suicide ideation. For the first time in years, I found myself wanting to drink, wanting to escape the agony I was living with. I was terrified, and thank God I confided these fears in a trusted friend. She made me promise to go to a meeting and get in to see my doctor. I found a local meeting that wasn’t too scary and got back on depression medication. My husband and I started some couples counseling. I started seeing another counselor who right from the start helped me define the real underlying issues behind my drinking and compulsive thinking and walked with me as I began the hard work of healing. I attended group therapy that was focused on setting healthy boundaries in relationships. I engaged with an online 12-step group that did meetings through emails and eventually found a sponsor.

Since moving from England, the only therapy I’ve been able to maintain is the online 12-step group and my sponsor, but it has been a lifesaver. I recently completed Step 7 and continually work on managing my character defects. After all that hard work, I see so many benefits. I respond to the world and situations rather than react mindlessly. I’m more thoughtful in everything I do. I find joy in the simple life. I worry less about what other people think and more about what I think. I even find that I’m starting to like myself and who I’m becoming.

blue eyes
I’m blessed to be sober enough to see through his eyes

Also, I’ve become a better mother. I’ve become gentler with myself when I don’t do it perfectly. I’ve learned to slow down and see the world from my son’s perspective; the world is a fascinating place when viewed through a toddler’s eyes! I have more patience with him, and with myself. Our relationship has grown closer, even though we weaned from breastfeeding during this time. And I pray fervently and frequently that I have broken the cycle – that his father and I can teach him healthy habits about alcohol and help him avoid the pain of this disease.

So why write about this? I hope my story can help another mother. Many women don’t talk about their alcoholism. The stereotype of the alcoholic is the angry, middle-aged man, the (male) hobo on the street with the brown paper bag. If a woman has a problem with alcohol, she is a “party girl” or a “lush.” I tattooed my sobriety date on my left wrist – I’m as proud of that day as I am the day my son was born. I want women to feel empowered to seek help when they need it. When a woman says, I have a problem, I want her to be greeted with, “How can I help?” rather than “You’re a young woman; you can’t be an alcoholic.” Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate – it accepts all genders, races, sexualities, ages, socioeconomic statuses.

If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, I encourage you to find support. A 12 step program is working for me, but there are many avenues for treatment.

Find help:
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
SMART Recovery
Women for Sobriety
Dual Recovery Anonymous
SoberMommies

Find information:
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Centers for Disease Control – Alcohol & Public Health