The first time I got sober in 2009, my idea of “recovery” only pertained to my drinking. I didn’t see any other issue to personally recover from, other than the very clear toxic relationship I had with Cabernet (and Merlot, Chardonnay, Stella and all that gang). So long as I could find a way to stop drinking, everything would get better - I thought. And to a certain extent, it did.
I quit drinking using the 12-step program straight out of the Big Book of AA, following very clear-cut instructions with the help of an incredible sponsor. While the process felt counter-intuitive, strange and (very) uncomfortable, it worked. As much as I rebelled against the “just-follow-instructions and let go of your best ideas” approach, it was exactly what my broken brain needed. By addressing all the real problems (the ones temporarily solved by drowning them in booze) I was given relief from being a slave to red wine. It just...happened. What started on 11.11.09 would continue on for one day at a time, for several years.
I have to admit, though, I became a bit of a recovery-snob. I felt that the only way that was valid (to quit drinking) was the way I did it. In hindsight I realize it was not out of arrogance, it was out of ignorance.
If a principle or person fell in line with the AA big book, it was ok. If they were merely human opinions, I scoffed at them, or tossed them aside. I rolled my eyes slightly at ideas like co-dependence, anxiety and depression. I thought that once recovered through a 12-step program, all other spiritual malaises would dissolve out. I was quick to judge others and was riding an ego soap-bar headed to disaster. I was so incredibly narrow in my view.
Added to this unhealthy view of recovery, I did not account for the multiple issues bubbling under my very own sobriety from alcohol. My own codependency was escalating at a terrifying speed. My anxiety, depression, and stress were growing exponentially. My love addiction, workaholism and obsessive behaviors were painfully gnawing at my sense of Self. The roles of mother, wife, stepmom, daughter and employee had become places to hide, and filled me with anxiety. I had no idea who I was anymore. I was sober and I - conceptually - had recovered from alcohol addiction. But the rumble in my soul was shoved in a drawer every other second of the day.
Eventually, I decided I was too busy and “healthy enough” to stop attending meetings. I dropped the connection with my AA community, with the girls I was sponsoring, with the red dots on my calendar indicating places I would speak about recovery to others still in pain. What today sounds like an “asshole move”, was truly a desperate attempt to survive. The pain I was experiencing was not getting healed, and I thought that creating some space in my busy schedule would help me stay afloat. It did not.
With no spiritual toolkit to carry me through, and nothing but an obtuse idea of what recovery was, I soon found myself guzzling down warm wine in a parking lot. It was 2014 - and, after 5 years of being a poster-child for “recovery”, I started a long-ass relapse into the hell of alcoholism.
For the next two years, I tried desperately to get sober again. Nothing worked. My program knowledge. The contents of the Book (many pages of which I could quote by heart). The group and old ideas. It was just not enough. I could not stop drinking.
I lost my marriage, my job and my sense of Self. I lost my trust (in my own thoughts and actions - which is the scariest thing in the world), my self-respect, and everything I thought defined me as a woman. I was stuck there for 700 days. Each day a deeper dive into the inner hell that I managed to make look “functional” to the outside world.
The last straw was the look in my son’s eyes, as he picked me up from a bar, after locating my phone via GPS on a weeknight after work. How I remember the pain and disappointment in his pupils is beyond me, as I was drunk out of my mind. But I do. Oh, I do.
I realized I had to try a different approach this time. My old tools alone were not working. I had to shift and plan a different strategy. I had to unlearn everything I knew and start fresh. I had to redefine recovery, and look at it under a new light.
The process became an extremely personal one. But I was done with this pain, and I knew that I had to do something if I wanted to stay alive.
I don’t do that arrogant thing of reducing the process to a one-liner. It was a mountain, and there was blood involved. But I did not stop walking, one day at a time.
I started by sitting my ass down, naked, on the floor of my empty apartment, and having a good bawl. I decided the only person I had was ME, and so I would start with forgiving ME for this period in my life.
Rather than run to the idea of “quitting drinking”, I started by learning and implementing self-compassion. Self-forgiveness. I did a deep dive into the shame I felt - mine and the one others layered on - and decided to set it to the side. I looked at myself from a 10k feet view, and realized that it was not my drinking that sourced the problems. It was the drink that helped me hide from all the stuff that had gone wrong and was too painful to bear.
When I worked on RECOVERING the parts of SELF that were lost through codependence, love-addiction, depression, unhealed trauma, fear of abandonment - and all the goblins that started crawling out when I kicked the lid open - I found new ground. When I decided to start working on the true issues, and added the 12 steps again - now with an added dose of self-love, humility, and shamelessness – the miracle of sobriety happened again.
I can now look back and clearly see all the layers of myself that needed recovery; all the mental and spiritual conditions from which I needed relief. I embrace them as part of me, and I honor them with love, kindness, and self-forgiveness. There was so much crap bubbling under the surface, begging for attention, and not being addressed during my first 5 years of sobriety - it’s frankly no wonder I drank again.
I found that what works for me is a God-given recovery based on the original 12-step program. However, unlike before, I work on all the gray areas that are full of beauty…No more black and white approach for me. The missing piece I have found now, is the SELF that I bring into the process. Awareness of Self is JUST as important as the program as all its other parts. And the openness to honor that my path is beautiful because it’s mine. There are many others that can work and I know just enough to offer guidance and kindness - but I am done with judgment and narrow ideas.
For me, this is the magic formula:
Connection to God/Universe + Connection to ME + Service to others = RECOVERY. SERENITY. FREEDOM.
Simple. Wholesome. Beautiful.
Today, I see recovery as a BODY/MIND/SPIRIT process, in which daily curiosity and action brings deep transformation. I approach recovery from multiple sides. Quitting drinking did not happen to be by quitting. It happened as a result of healing the broken from the inside out, in tandem with a program of recovery, and a mega-large dose of self-compassion and self-forgiveness.
The twelve steps. Sleep. Yoga. Journaling. Silence. Meditation. Essential oils. A daily dose of information + inspiration + decision. Ownership of my truth. Integrity with my word. Pausing. Connection with mentors and sisters/brothers in recovery. Mentoring others. Being open, honest and LOUD about my recovery.
Recognizing my vulnerability, facing my fear, acknowledging my shame – and kindly setting it to the side. Constant knowledge, constant surrender. I honor all the broken parts of me as cracks – and that without them, there would be no space for light to seep in.
There is no more shaming, fearing or chastising others for their own ideas and perceptions. Every peak and every valley we experience in this ride is part of the beautiful journey. I explore the everlasting array of gray in-between, and surprise daily at the lessons that are lovingly waiting there.
We recover old parts of us that were lost. We discover new parts of us.
How could I not love recovery? It gives me a doorway to love ME better each day – one beautiful minute, hour and day at a time.