Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't cry for me

I don't know if I can ever fully put into words everything my life in recovery is, but I suppose I can start by telling you what it is not. It's not a sad and tragic existence. Active addiction is sad and tragic. People suffer and die from it all the time. I believe I came pretty close to dying from it. Recovery, on the other hand, is what keeps me well and gives me hope. We talk about it a lot in my family. Even my 7-year-old encourages me to go to meetings now because she wants me to stay well. And I am. I'm living well. However, I know that some people feel sorry about the way my life turned out. They feel bad that I have to deal with being an alcoholic. They feel bad that life is so hard for me and that every day is a struggle, as if my addiction hangs over me like a dark cloud. That is their perception and I think a fundamental misunderstanding of what recovery is. The beginning of my recovery was the end of my tragedy. There's no need to feel bad for me because living in recovery pretty much kicks ass.  

I was pondering why people think of recovery that way, and it occurred to me that I thought the same thing before I really started living it. My drinking was bad for a long time, but in the end it was incredibly bad. It was a struggle just to get through each day. It was a blur of waking up feeling terrible, obsessively planning where to buy alcohol that day, where to hide it and how to get it into the house, figuring out how and when to secretly drink around my family without appearing too drunk, and then staying up half the night to drink more and cover my tracks. This is an incredibly difficult operation to maintain in and of itself, even if you're not drunk and/or hung over 24 hours a day and simultaneously trying to raise children, work a full-time job, and train for whatever marathon or triathlon is coming up next. And yet, I wasn't sure I wanted to give all of that up and commit to sobriety because recovery didn't seem "fun".

The thing is, I didn't actually know anything about recovery. I hear a lot of people in meetings talk about the perception problem – sobriety must be boring and lame and pathetic and sad.  I get it. I thought it. I couldn't imagine doing most things without a drink in my hand. My relationship with alcohol is the longest relationship I've had in my life, and the thought of breaking up with it was daunting. I really only knew that quitting drinking was hard. I'd tried to do it on my own, and I knew for a fact that not drinking for a few weeks made me really, super irritable. Is that how I wanted to feel for the rest of my life? There was no example of long term recovery in my frame of reference to assure me that when I got well, things would actually get better. That wouldn't come until I finally got desperate enough to seek out help, which I was fortunate to be able to access fairly easily because I had resources and the support of my family and my employer. 

I was surprised (and a little outraged) at first when I would go to meetings and see people with long-term sobriety laughing and carrying on like they were normal people. Didn't they know that alcoholism is sad and depressing? Turns out, they had just stopped fighting their alcoholism and started embracing their recovery. I understand why some people give up early in the process. I like instant gratification as much as the next guy, and recovery is not a quick fix. The beginning is hard. Actually getting sober, dropping out of my life and walking away from my children to go to treatment, negotiating those early days of sobriety – those things were all incredibly painful and difficult. I was sick, and I was coming out of the deepest, darkest days of my illness and doing what I had to do to get well. Learning to cope with life and feel and process emotions without anything to numb them was going to take time. But it wasn't the same as all those times I didn't drink for a few weeks. I wasn't just giving up drinking. I was learning to live.

It's funny how much more clearly you can see things sometimes the farther away you get from them. I didn't realize when I was drinking that I was slowly dying rather than living.  I'm glad that I somehow found my way into recovery, and I'm grateful that I stuck it out to get to the good part, and I'm hopeful that it will continue to get better as long as I continue to stick with it. At the same time, I ache for those who are still trapped in that dark place where I felt trapped for so long. I want them to know there are options.  

Life in recovery, of course, is still life. Not every day is going to be grand, and I don't always feel happy. But I feel something, and that's better than desperately trying to feel nothing. At the end of my active alcoholism, there was a 100% chance that every day was going to be a bad day. Today, I feel like there's at least a 50% chance that any given day will be a good day, and I'll take those odds (my non-alcoholic, optimist husband asked if I really only think there's a 50/50 chance, and yeah, I'm still a hardcore realist.) There's no guarantee, but there's hope in that. So I want you to know – whether you are in recovery like me, whether you think you might need recovery, whether you know or love someone in recovery, or whether you are just a human being with compassion for other human beings (FYI, this list should be all inclusive) – my life in recovery is good. I no longer struggle through every day obsessing over my dysfunctional relationship with alcohol. We broke up, hopefully for good, and most days the thought of it doesn't even cross my mind. Instead, I get to participate in relationships and be present in my life. I don't want anyone to feel bad about the way my life turned out. Addiction is terrible, but recovery is beautiful. I only wish everyone who needed it could have it.   


  1. Thank you for you blog, Wendy. I look forward to reading your future posts! Take care! :o)